Advice on apartment rental in Berlin

134 posts in this topic

Posted

Hello everyone

I have been in Berlin now for almost 6 months. After few months of flat sharing, I decided to start the search for a place on my own. I have been using Toytown, WG gesucht / studenten wg/ craiglist/ immobilien scout/ expats.com/ few attempts with an agency (provisionfrei)/ word of mouth and so on. Nothing has worked so far. Some agencies don't even bother to reply and anything that is on immobilien scout is gone in a minute (or you have to compete with 10 other people ). I am looking in K berg and Mitte, KreuzKolln, but also Treptow.

I am a freelancer but have proof of income and all the required papers (schufa etc). With the amount of artists and freelancers in Berlin, I thought things would be more "freelancers friendly".

Is contacting an agency and paying a provision worth it? Shall I hire someone to do the job for me?

I know that there are probably hundreds of posts about this topic on this site but I am in desperate need of advise on how to go about it. Is it just bad luck or am I doing something wrong? it seems that people who have been here for a while or even only for few years have a total different experience about flat hunting . It seems getting worse and worse year after year.

I am about considering giving up on Berlin... as crazy as it sounds this would be the very first time I give up the idea of moving to a new city because I could not find a place.

I have managed to find a place in London, Paris and other major cities.

Any advise about Berlin would be very much appreciate it.

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Posted

Edee,

Thanks a lot not only for your tips and advise (very helpful) but also for your words of encouragement.

I guess I am rather tired of flat hunting but also very discouraged as most of my attempts have come down to nothing so far.

I basically go to group viewing with the idea that my application is not going to be accepted or that the landlord would prefer a german applicant to a foreigner future tenant.

The language (my german is quite basic at the moment) feels indeed like a major handicap in these situations. I have sensed myself that getting a german speaking friend to make the necessary phone calls or to come along to viewings would be of great help.

As for the papers: The SCHUFA is obviously the one for Germany. I am a new comer here, have no credit record yet in this country (no rented flat, not even a bank account set yet).

I was wondering : Would my german SCHUFA be relevant then for my future landlord?

Same for the other papers: I have a letter of my landlord in London stating I was a reliable punctual tenant. The letter is in English. Would that be ok?

Same for my proof of income (UK accountant and tax declaration) . The fact that all this is in EN would this be a problem?

Thanks again, G.

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Posted

@Gabi,

I was in the same position a few months ago - looking for an apartment several months, using all the websites etc., with very little luck. Got very depressing. Here's what eventually worked for me: I went to a bunch of apartment viewings (Besichtigungen) held by apartment management companies (Hausverwaltung), looking of course very responsible, neatly dressed, etc etc. I got the business cards of the agents doing the showings and wrote to them afterwards telling them what I was looking for. One of them told me about an apartment that was just coming available - I got to look at it before they showed it to anyone else, and had all of the paperwork signed in a couple of days. I'm sure it helped that I have an employment contract from a German company, but this still seemed to work better than competing with the masses for advertised apartments. And by the way, pretty much all of the people I talked to spoke decent English.

This is the company I rented from - on their site they list apartments and viewings: http://www.hachmann-hausverwaltung.de/

(if you send me a PM I can send you links for a couple more companies too).

As for your specific situation, other people probably know better about this than I do, but I suspect that your lack of rental/work history here in Germany is a big part of the issue (as much as your freelance status). And not having a German bank account could be a deal breaker - but then, that's probably something you can do something about. You should definitely use your German Schufa (since presumably it doesn't show anything negative). Also, landlords are usually looking for a particular document from your current/previous landlord stating that you don't have any rent debts (called a Mietschuldenfreiheit). If you have been renting a room in a shared apartment you do have some history here, so I'd think you could get something written by whoever you're paying rent to (maybe somebody else here can add something to that - I don't know how it works with WGs).

Hope that helps.

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Posted

Excellent replies to the OP :) . Can only endorse them. When I read the OP I thought of the the things they had not directly said: (1) how you present your financial situ (2) use of German and (3) need to approach directly - you will just be one of a slew of emails (and it only emphasises point (2)). On (1), you need to actively shout about your cash and status and big clients and any good connections you have etc - don't be modest, it works here!

I may perhaps add a (4). Although there is an over-supply of property in Berlin overall, you've listed some of the the (generally) "better areas". In all German cities, competition for the best areas is particularly fierce. We can all live in the "commodity" ones that are not sought after, no problem, but even well-paid and wel-connected Germans find it difficult finding a rental in the places people want to live in most. And immigrants (doing freelance work who can't speak the language properly) may usualy well behnid them in the queue of course.

And, yeh, if all else fails, pay the provision. What's a bit of cash against leaving and starting up somewhere else again? False economy surely? One of the reasons we earn money is that it allows us to buy our way out of tight spots. For a start, opening yourself to a wider market might make you feel a whole lot better - that you have a wider choice. Second, think about the impression "don't want to spend money" gives. Does it make you look financially well-position and secure and so a good risk for agents and landlords? Or does it indicate "might not be able to afford it" to parties who expect to get your cash? Surely it is better to play it cool and look at everything and quietly ignore what you don't want to pay - rather than give the impression you can't pay? Sure none of us want to pay provision - but making out we happily will is all part of the game. You get way further by appearing affluent and profilgiate than tight-fisted and watching every penny!

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Posted

Thanks a lot to all of you for your help and support. I will keep trying (I am not a easy quitter:)

I just don't get why there is this pro-german thing going on when it comes to apt rentals. Foreigners have contributed to make the city as it is these days, including the fancy coffee places in P Berg and the higher rental fees all over the place. This is the way other major cities have developed and changed through times.

Anyhow, I am sure there is a good reason to explain what sometimes feels quite as a discriminatory attitude towards foreigners.

As for the 'presentation" when going to group viewings: I have been to many many group viewings and honestly the majority of the people (germans and not germans) were casually (very) casually dressed , especially in K berg or KreuzKolln.

I agree with you Swimmer: I don 't mind paying a provision if it really comes to that point (and I am also aware that I am targeting quite popular areas (K berg or Mitte) where competition is hard even amongst germans.. )

Anything else in Berlin has been so far a great experience, It would be hard and sad for me to leave now.

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Posted

No offense, gabi, but please don't play the "discrimination against foreigners" card at this point. I'm sure it's your basic German that's more the "problem", if that's what you can call it, than general discrimination against foreigners in general. If you had a place to rent back home in Italy and half the applicants didn't speak any Italian (or any other language you can speak), which ones would you drop off the short list first because you'd expect to have problems communicating with them later on?

I think the best advice that's been given in this thread is to take a German-speaking friend with you to the viewings, and even if you don't get the place in question, follow up with the management company as StephS suggested. This should help your chances quite a bit.

Good luck!

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Posted

Hi JeffZ

Thanks for your tips.

I did not mean to play any card: I was just wondering why this happens and yes the language issue is one of the major ones, I am fully aware of it.

By personal experience and as it has been confirmed by others in this forum, I can say though that most of those agents (including the ones of the house management companies ) they do speak fluent EN and if Berlin is the International city that we all know, the language by itself should not be a burden when it comes to business relationships.

I don't feel comfortable myself speaking a language different than the one spoken in the country where I have decided to live: I will get my German going soon. Hopefully by that time I will be comfortably settled in my cosy Berliner flat :)

Thanks, luck is also what I need!

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Posted

As for the 'presentation" when going to group viewings: I have been to many many group viewings and honestly the majority of the people (germans and not germans) were casually (very) casually dressed , especially in K berg or KreuzKolln.

Well if you dress smart, then it will certainly help you to stick out (in a positive way).

On craigslist, make sure to check the short-term/sublets section there as well as the main flat rental section - although most are "I'm going away for two weeks, stay in my room" there are a few longer-term sublets, that's where we found our 9 month rental from.

Just an idea: if you're willing to pay a provision to an agency, and you possibly don't have a german-speaking friend to take with you to viewings and meetings with landlords, or to make phonecalls for you, why not pay a little and recruit someone for this purpose? It will surely be much, much less than a provision, and could get around the language barrier that is preventing you from getting very far. You could advertise on here, or on craigslist. Maybe a native German would be better for you.

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Posted

Thanks tree,

The "presentation " issue is not the problem really. I am a freelancer graphic designer, I meet clients on a regular basis, I am aware of how important the "looking smart" sometimes can be..:)

I do have german friends who can make the phone calls for me but they are not always available for the viewings. So yes, it sounds like a great idea to try to hire someone to do the job for me.

I will advertise here or craig . I am also going through my contact list now to see who could be suitable for the job. Have to say that while flat hunting with zero success I had the chance also to establish few contacts with locals who could maybe help.

Thanks a lot , G.

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Posted

I think hiring an "assistant" is really the way to go. They could then make calls and go with you to all of the appointments. I've been paying two super qualified native German speakers to help me out with starting a business for the last several months, and I don't know what I would have done without them. You could offer to pay someone around 10 euro an hour with a bonus of 100 euro when you sign the contract, and it would be cheaper than paying a commission. Since you don't speak German well you might also consider having a real estate attorney look over the contract before you sign it.

Good luck! I'm sure you'll find something soon!

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Posted

Gabi, the first apartment i had in Berlin was through this firm: http://www.lion-immobilien.de/

If you look on their site, they have a link called Formular- you can download and fill in the application details in advance, so if there is an apartment you really like, go to the viewing (dressed super smart as already discussed) and hand over your application straight away. Also the makler speaks good English and will help with translation at the meeting with the landlord's agents. His staff dont speak much English, so you might want a translating friend for that.

Unusually enough, Herr Lion seems proactive and aware of the potential of foreign investment. We found him super helpful. We also told him that we owned property in the UK, which he noted, but didnt ask for proof.

Foreigners are a bother to maklers, i think, because they prefer traditional germans who arrive, move in and stay there. Which of course makes no sense as a high foreigner turnover means easy price hikes and lots of commission. On both occasions that i rented, there were comments to the extent of "you need to stay at least a year or we wont let it to you". So you need to look utterly reliable and utterly square. I dressed like the Queen, nice skirt and twinset etc...

Best of luck, i really feel for you, its crappy when you want to get settled in your own place and things keep getting held up.

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Posted

Thanks again! all the replies have been vey helpful and thank you also for sharing your information and contacts.

I guess I have enough tools now to use for setting up my new strategy:)

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Posted

In my limited experience, landlords discriminate a lot more against the unemployed than they do against the un-german. Have you considered a job? I've got one, and while I don't speak a lick of German, I've rented two apartments. Both were the first ones I tried for after searching for a week or so.

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Posted

Hi golmer ,

I do have a job an I believe is a good one : I am professional freelancer illustrator/g. designer . I have a regular steady income with my job. I am not going to change my lifestyle because landlords don't like it :)

I have rented flats in other cities for more money than I would pay here, never had a problem with that. I need a flat not a new job:)

I can imagine though that it would be even harder to get a flat while being unemployed and that people with a corporate job would not have the same problems finding a flat.

Different choices different lifestyles ..

Thanks for your advice!

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Posted

"Freelance work" is most often synonymous with "no work" or at best "occasional work", and suggests unstable income. If you have a local contract or some other thing like that, even just german bank statements showing regular deposits, it would help a lot. Tax documentation from the UK is a far cry from evidence of steady income. While it may show you've had income, it was income in another country. Put yourself in the landlord's position. While some people who use that word freelancer to describe themselves surely have significant steady income, the opposite is probably the norm. It sounds like you have very little to reassure the landlords that you will have a regular income. I would guess that a freelancer is pretty high on the list of people to avoid. Being a foreigner will of course not be a bonus when trying to rent a place, but I doubt it's a very big blemish in comparison to something that suggests unstable income. I have loads of non-German work mates who had no problem when applying for apartments. I really don't think that being a foreigner is the problem here.

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Posted

That's not necessarily so. I am also freelance / self employed and had no problem getting an apartment. My accountant wrote up a letter for me stating my net income and that was apparently sufficient for proof of income. I was actually offered 2 apartments (both found on immobilienscout24.de) and had to turn one down. So the OP can take my experience as one of hope... I am non-German, can't speak much German (hubby helped me out with that), self-employed, and was able to get a nice place in a very desirable area of Berlin. I will admit that I did spend a lot of time searching and going to viewings beforehand though.

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Posted

Thanks winklet,

I agree with you and believe that being self employed/freelancer in a city that is mainly populated by freelancers is not really the issue. Thanks for sharing you experience. It definitely encourages me to keep trying.

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Posted

To start off, I wish you the best of luck gabi... Here is my complete experience with getting an apartment here.. I hope it helps. Some of this is repeating what others have already suggested.

First of all, when I moved here 2 years ago, I had already bought an apartment here so I didn't have to worry about finding a place to rent. However, last year was a real financial hardship for me and I had no other choice but to sell the apartment I bought. But in finding a place to rent recently, here is what I needed to do:

1. make sure you have a German bank account. I don't know how manditory this is, but it makes things convenient and easier. I sent up a bank account here before I even moved here for good. It was really really easy. You can do this.

2. proving your income: if you don't already have one, get an accountant here. I have one, and have used his services since I moved here. He was able to produce a very convincing letter stating my income as well as my ability to be a reliable person which apparently convinced my landlord to approve my application to rent. I can PM you the info if you need an accountant.

3. Schufa. this is the equivalent to the credit reporting system they have in the U.S. It's just a credit report, showing if you have debt or not. You need this document. You can go to the Schufa office and get it the same day. I can PM you the info if you need this. It needs to be up to date.

4. Letter from previous renter that you are not in debt of rent etc. If you can get this from your current renter that is great. In my case, since I owned my last apt. I just had to show proof that I was the owner of my last residence. But if you are renting from someone, then you should be able to get a letter from them stating that you are a good tenant and that you pay rent on time.

This is just my experience. I hope this works out for you, but I am sure it will :)

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Posted

Thanks!

Although your story and situation might be slightly different than mine your advice and suggestions are very helpful indeed.

I will PM for the details , thanks again for offering to share the info.

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Posted

I just don't get why there is this pro-german thing going on when it comes to apt rentals.

Well, put yourself in the landlord's shoes. Getting rid of a bad tenant takes ages and costs a small fortune here, which means landlords will do anything they can to avoid future problems, and as an expat you have a couple of strikes against you:

-You're more difficult to size up. It's easy enough to get a feel for a person in a brief conversation, but that doesn't really work if you don't share the same culture or language.

-You don't have much of a track record. For all the landlord knows, you could have wrecked 10 apartments in the last two years in Italy and be up to your eyeballs in debt.

-Possible communication problems.

-If you do wreck his place, stop paying rent and disappear to Italy over night, there's not much he can do.

-It's generally easier to deal with a tenant who knows the ropes. If you look around on TT, many expats have had trouble with things that would be obvious to people who grew up in Germany (lost keys, recycling, Nebenkosten etc.), and it's not hard to imagine how that could be a problem for landlords.

Not trying to knock you, just saying that from the landlord's perspective it makes sense to prefer established locals, all else being equal.

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Posted

I think there are arguments for both options. If you keep looking you will hopefully get somewhere that is good value. But if you want somewhere quickly, you want to avoid the issue of income and you'd rather communicate in English going with an agency is the answer. We used city-wohnen.de but there is also Homecompany.de. Both of them have English speakers. They did not care if we had a job or not (which we didn't at that point), as long as we paid the deposit and then each months rent in advance.

The thing is that the provision does bring up the overall cost quite a lot. Plus I think the actual rents are probably higher than you might find elsewhere. The provision is as follows in city wohnen. That meant we paid over eur700 in provision fees for a six month period.

But other benefits are the fact that they are furnished and there is not usually a minimum rental period, unlike the regular apartment agreements where the lease is often a minimum of two years. So you could stay there for a few months and if you wish, you could continue to look for something else.

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Posted

Hi,

I am moving to Berlin in September and would like to start looking for an apartment. I have read all your postings and if I am not mistaken, all the trouble comes when you try to find the apartment directly with the landlord, right?

If you go to an agency, do you have to pay the commision? In that case, how much that commision is?

Can anyone give me a list of agencies so I can start looking?

Also, if you don't go with the agencies, how do you find the apartments? I read craigslists, but can't understand the other sources.

Thanks so much,

Lourdes

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Posted

I've used Rooms in Berlin before -> http://www.rooms-in-berlin.com/

Its more expensive but quite handy if you're looking for a short term rental. You can find all the commission costs etc. on their site.

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Posted

We just finalized the rental of a new apartment in Wilmersdorf and German landlords have no issue with discrimination. The husband is German, works for a big corporation, wears suits, etc, but landlords said" We don't want children, they are too noisy. Sorry.", and so on. The prejudice is also very strong against all foreigners, particularly Black. There was a documentary about it recently, but friends who are Black have told me, and there also plain old lack of desire to rent to non-Germans, travelling, executives, people who aren't bound here by blood and whatever: they want a tenant who will never move and never cause problems. And because rent never really goes up (although nebenkosten might) they really want someone they can deal with for the next thirty years. Foreigners and travelling professionals should look at corporate firms that handle lots of apartments. They also generally don't cahrge provision and hopefully are decent about returning security. I don't know for sure, because our first apartment was a private owner who took his corporation bankrupt without returning ours security first!

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