Apartment or bust

The first order of business was clear: find a place to live. In the U.S., I was so used to surfing Craigslist.org for apartment listings, setting up viewings and picking an apartment relatively quickly. Even when I moved to New York for college…

Moving to Germany with no job offers and even fewer plans was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I quickly learned how different cultures can be; although many people in Germany speak English, everything from humor to manners can be anything but transparent to outside eyes looking in.
An ex-pat’s real life experiences
Santana I.

Apartment or bust
The first order of business was clear: find a place to live. In the U.S., I was so used to surfing Craigslist.org for apartment listings, setting up viewings and picking an apartment relatively quickly. Even when I moved to New York for college, where the rental market is among the gnarliest in the world, I could confidently, if not frustratingly, navigate the choices
of neighborhood, the broker vs. no broker question, and all of the pitfalls that come with apartment hunting in the city.

But Germany, that was another story. There’s not one central site one which everyone seems to find apartments: there are tons. Immowelt.de, Immobilienscout24.de, Quoka.de, Immonet.de and other sites all fight for your attention. This is not to mention local sources and online classifieds. Some ads have pictures, others don’t; some ads even show pictures for apartments that don’t exist (sound familiar, New Yorkers?). Old ads often aren’t removed, and landlords are often hostile to renters that obviously don’t speak German. So what was a girl to do?

Getting down to brass text
The first decision you need to make when looking for an apartment in Germany (or Austria, and to some extent Switzerland) is whether you’re willing to pay a broker’s fee or not. Current or former New Yorkers are well versed in evil brokers and their exorbitant fees. For others, this comes as quite a shock. The pro of a broker in Germany is that they can help foreigners navigate the rental market more easily, often help you from abroad, and generally lessen the hassle of searching. There’s only one con: the price.
Broker’s fees in Germany are calculated by some multiple of monthly rental price, excluding Nebenkosten i.e. utilities. The multiplier can range from 1 up to three months’ rent. You’ll see the fee listed like this: 2,38 Netto-Monatsmiete(n) (inkl. MwSt). Read: 2.38 times the monthly rent including tax. If your desired apartment only costs €500 per month (which is still possible in many German cities), then your Provision aka broker’s fee will only be in the €1,200 range. That’s still a chunk, but it’s definitely manageable when considering how much time and effort a broker can save you. Renting a larger, family apartment in a trendy Munich neighborhood for €3,000 per month? You see then just how quickly costs can rack up.

Trying to dodge a bullet?
When I lived in New York, I was one of those die-hard anti-broker people. I would go to extreme lengths to avoid a broker’s fees (often much more than in Germany). Admittedly, I tried the same tactics here- I used websites like Quoka.de, Null-provision.de where no-fee apartments are often listed. What did I learn? Surprisingly, every other person in Germany would also prefer not to pay a fee. After weeks of searching, showing up to long queues, landlords missing appointments, skepticism about my status as a foreigner, and some downright bigotry (hang-ups, pretending the place no longer available)—I finally let my boyfriend convince me to take a broker. The difference? Night and day.
Take it from me
– After all was said and done, I love my apartment and my community
– Moving was totally scary, but being on-the-ground helped a lot
– Using a broker? Expect high fees but (usually) great help
– Trying the no-fee route? Be prepared for the long haul; try not to get discouraged
– Use any of the websites I mentioned- they all allow apartment searches in most cities
– Quoka and Null-Provision help for those braving the no-fee battle
– Someone rude because you don’t speak German? They’re more likely embarrassed to speak English! Roll with the punches- it makes it all the easier
– Be patient, be open, be understanding, but above all else, be explicit! Don’t become another statistic affected by language barriers!

Happy hunting.


Saskia Petz

Tanja Traut

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