English Translator Requirement for German House Closing

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My wife (who is a German citizen) and I have started the process to purchase a home in Germany. I am finding conflicting information with regards to having an English Translator at the Notary for the German equivalent of a "house closing".

 

Do we still need to have a translator present if my wife is there to translate? I can speak some German, but I'm not at the level I would need to understand complex legal documents.  Hell, even my wife who is a native speaker is concerned with understanding them! 😁

 

I have read that German law allows you to hire your own Notar and one could find one that speaks both English and German. Would that negate the need for the translator? We are also exploring just putting the house 100% in my wife's name so I would not need to sign it and thus negate the Notar translator requirement.

 

Does anyone else have any experience or tips with this process?

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If your wife is German I don't see that there is an issue, but you could phone the Notar to check.

 

We are both Crapdeutsch Brits, the first time we took a mate who is a simultaneous translator for the Stadt, there was no way he could keep up because the Notar has to read the whole document out loud, and does so at a racing commentary pace. He just highlighted the main points every now and then and eventually gave up.

 

Second house, we didn't bother and the Notar just stopped every paragraph and said - that's normal, all good, or - that's a bit strange, that bit is in there because blah blah... so that when we signed we were all happy that there were no misunderstandings. Unless there are regional variations then I think you are all good just with the wife.

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I took a friend with me. We went through the contract before the appointment, and then when he was reading it she followed what he said, and one point was slightly different so she stopped him and checked with me, then he continued. Its mostly standard things and easy enough to go through with your own lawyer if you want to before the actual day.

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We had an interpreter because my husband doesn't speak much German and the house is in both our names. We received the contract in Germany ~2 weeks before the signing and sent it to the interpreter (recommended by the notary). She did a translation after a few days so he had about a week to read it. During the signing, she interpreted while the notary read out the contract. Reading out from her already prepared document while he did the same (basically next to my husbands ear) and simultaneously interpreting any discussion that was going on or questions that were asked. 

It was expensive, it gave him a migraine ^_^, but I would not have wanted to do it any other way because we both signed that document and while I speak pretty good legalese, I could not have interpreted while reading along to make sure the text was as it should be, clarifying some points, following the questions of the other party etc. I trusted the notary, but I wanted to focus my full attention on making sure we knew what we were getting into and I think my husband did as well. 

IIRC there is even a paragraph in there that said it was translated for xyz due to his status as a non native speaker and the interpreter signed as well. 

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We chose the Notar as buyers and I specifically looked for someone who knew English. The one we chose did an LLM in the US, so he knew English legalese. For the signing, however, he said he would not do an interpretation day of but suggested I bring a translation of the contract.
 

I paid to have the contract professionally translated and it was absolutely worth it. I brought that to the signing so I could follow along with the Notar’s reading. At the meeting, he gave us and the seller the opportunity to ask any questions, and did explain things to me in English (even though legally he was not required to).

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The point is that the Notar must be 100% satisfied that all parties have understood the contract before it is signed.

My German wasn't great when we bought our house, but my wife and I spent several days going over the contract in detail with me asking her lots of questions and making sure I understood key passages.

Then we discussed with the Notar and he was satisfied I understood what I was signing so it all went ahead without a translator. If he hadn't been happy then we would have needed someone professional to help.

 

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Just to add the missing note of pedantery here: If needed, you will need to look for an interpreter. Translators do written work, interpreters do verbal translation.

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6 hours ago, Bier_me said:

Do we still need to have a translator present if my wife is there to translate? I can speak some German, but I'm not at the level I would need to understand complex legal documents.  Hell, even my wife who is a native speaker is concerned with understanding them! 😁

The aim for translator is that you understand the contract and its implications that you are going to sign. Now your goal should be to find and understand that are all the contract's terms are just normal or are there any play of words which can makes things difficult for you. Therefore you as buyer can choose the notary. At the same time notary should be neutral. 

 

What I did (I am not a native German speaker) was to get the contract translated in English line by line in two column document format (you get the contract text in advance) . Left column for German text and the corresponding English text in right column. There was minor/few changes during the contract signing, mostly about follow up payment process, minor date change etc. 

 

With this I didn't needed any translator during contract signing. I also did the translation myself with the help of Internet. Some of the words were tricky, but either I could find the exact corresponding English text or I marked it and asked notary to explain in simpler terms which he did. 

 

So notary will see if you understand the contracts. If your preparedness and behaviour (not asking every line to explain, attentive to contract terms being read) convince the notary that you understand the written terms, then you don't need the translator. 

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I wasn't allowed to translate for my husband (we are both Brits but my German is better than his). If you are buying a house together, a spouse is an interested party and could have different interests.

Our interpreter wanted to prepare a translation in advance and then just go through it with my husband on the day - pointing out the relevant parts, similar to what Vivanco says he did.  Our notary objected to this and insisted that the interpreter interpret everything that he said on the day.  He said that he would usually deviate quite a lot from the 'script'.  Our appointment took 5 hours! 

 

One tip I have, is if you do need an interpreter, make sure that this is NOT mentioned in the contract.  Our notary added into the contract that an interpreter would be present. Our mortgage provider saw this and panicked and insisted we get our mortgage contracts translated into German.  In the end we found a shortcut, but it still cost us extra money and stress.  

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3 hours ago, sluzup said:Our notary objected to this and insisted that the interpreter interpret everything that he said on the day.  He said that he would usually deviate quite a lot from the 'script'.  Our appointment took 5 hours! 

One tip I have, is if you do need an interpreter, make sure that this is NOT mentioned in the contract.  Our notary added into the contract that an interpreter would be present. Our mortgage provider saw this and panicked and insisted we get our mortgage contracts translated into German.  In the end we found a shortcut, but it still cost us extra money and stress.  


To highlight that everyone’s experience will be different... we had no problem with the translation paragraph inserted into the contract. Our lender didn’t mention anything about it. Also, our Notar did not deviate from the “script” at all, except letting everyone ask questions before the official part. Our appointment was maybe 1.5 hours.

 

My suggestion is just call the Notar’s office before selecting them and ask. It’s probably not the first time they’ve dealt with the issue. If you don’t like their answer, call another one and ask. 

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I agree with MollyWolly - choose your Notar carefully.  Our sellers had inherited their house and there had been issues with the inheritance, so they asked if the Notar that had dealt with that could deal with the sale.  However, the Notar was not really a big problem, but our mortgage lender was. 

 

Our mortgage lenders were insistent on the translation even though they had already signed the contract and despite the fact that I said my husband's German was good enough to understand written documents, he just wouldn't have been able to cope with the (spoken) contract signing.  Hopefully our mortgage lender was an exception but I would still try and ensure that the translation paragraph is not in the contract.

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Thank you everyone for the advice. Indeed, it looks like everyone has different experiences. We will definitely contact the Notar and see what our options are. Thanks again for the help!

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Interesting that sluzup's mortgage lender got involved.  In my experience (which as Bier_me notes they all seem to differ) the lender was not involved in actual logistics of the transaction in any way.

 

Remember that even though Notars are a little "special" as compared to Rechtsanwaelte -- they are still service providers and there is more than one in town.  In other words: don't feel bad about asserting your wishes as a paying customer to ask to do things the way and when you want to. And if you don't like how the Notar's staff is or s/he, then take your business elsewhere.

 

All that said, any property purchase is a big expense and you should be sure you know what's going on.  If you don't think the Notar is explaining everything to you as well as you like, get your own English-speaking Rechtsanwalt that can/will explain and if necessary advocate for you. 

 

Good luck.

 

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more on this along line of what I wrote before.  The Notar is supposed to be sort of neutral, in the sense they aren't on your side or on the side of the other party to the transaction - they are making sure everything is done right.

 

Don't let that neutrality confuse you as to being a customer, you are paying your money to fund that Notar's lifestyle and the salaries of the office staff etc.  You are not a helpless foreigner asking a government official to help you,  you are a customer paying for a service.  

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