Here’s how to rent a flat in Germany—the ultimate guide
Apartment, flat, flatshare, WG, housing, accommodation—whatever you want call it, we’ll show you how to get it.
11 min read
Apartment, flat, flatshare, WG, housing, accommodation—whatever you want call it, we’ll show you how to get it.
Finding a new place to live is one of those universally-loathed experiences that we all endure, and promise to never do again. If you live in a city where the housing market is especially competitive, the search for a new home can be an all-consuming, full-time occupation. The truth is that it can be as easy or as challenging as you make it.
This comprehensive first-hand guide comes with tips and tricks on finding somewhere to live in Germany—in Berlin, in particular—while keeping your sanity and helping you avoid getting ripped off by predatory listings.
Figuring out what you want
The first thing is the most obvious—start looking well in advance of actually having to move. In the face of factors potentially outside your control, time is your strongest asset. A general suggestion is to give yourself three months to comfortably search and secure a new flat, so get moving and answer a few basic questions about the place you want to move to:
- Do you want to live alone?
- Do you want a flatmate?
- How many?
- Is it okay if your flatmate is a stranger?
Then move onto the concrete details about the space itself:
- What neighborhoods are you interested in?
- How close to public transportation do you want to be?
- Are you comfortable on the ground floor? Or in the attic?
- Facing the street or facing the courtyard?
- How many rooms?
- How many total square meters?
- What’s the maximum amount of money you’re willing to spend on rent each month?
Obviously, your answers can be flexible, but they’ll serve as filters for your search on the many platforms you’ll have to use.
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Searching on all available platforms
There are three housing websites that the vast majority of real estate/property agencies, landlords and independent property holders use to post their listings—Immobilienscout24 (most popular), Immonet and Immowelt (less popular). Create a profile on each of these sites and provide as much detailed information as possible. Your profile will include details like your current address, occupation, employment status and net household income.
Open several tabs and create different searches with different filters to get a feel for the kinds of listings in each neighborhood. Top tip: use Chrome because it will automatically translate every page into English.
Popular listings are often posted and taken down the same day from the overabundance of interest, so being one of the first people to see a listing is essential. Immonet and Immowelt allow you to save searches as well and receive email updates. Once you’ve spent some time on these sites, you’ll begin to recognize a few realty companies by name. It’s not a bad idea to look directly on their company websites to see if there are listings that haven’t been posted to the other classifieds sites yet.
The next platform you need to look at is eBay Kleinanzeigen—a classifieds website that’s essentially the German version of Craigslist or Gumtree. Go to the Immobilien section of your city, select Mietwohnung and then Angebote. While you can create an account, you can’t save searches or have new listings sent to you, so be diligent about refreshing your searches and saving them to your favorites. On eBay Kleinanzeigen, you’re far more likely to find listings from current tenants rather than professional brokers. This allows you to communicate more casually with people and get invited to more personal one-on-one viewings.
You should also check Craigslist’s Immobilien section, but be wary of fraudulent listings that seem too good to be true. These usually have professionally shot photos and descriptions that sound robotic or copied, and pasted from a template. If you message one of these, you’ll discover that it’s fraud once they claim that you should set up a visit immediately, or send money in advance because they’re “out of town on business.”
Next, you need to join local housing groups on Facebook. Here’s a sample of the groups just in Berlin:
- Flats in Berlin
- WG, Zimmer, Wohnung, Flat, Room — Berlin !!
- wg zimmer wohnung in berlin room flat apartment rent
- Berlin Housing
- Short-term accommodation Berlin: WG, Zwischenmiete, flat-share, Zimmerbörse
- Temporary Flat Rentals In Berlin
- Berlin Startup Flats, Flatshares,Offices,Wohnungen, WG
- Wohnung und WG Berlin
Most of these groups are private, but you’ll typically get approved within a day if you request to join. Facebook has made it easy to message the person who posted the listing, but there are no search filters, so you have to manually scroll through all the listings.
The final platform is WG-Gesucht—and the entire site is available in English. WG (pronounced veh-geh) is the acronym of Wohngemeinschaft, or flatshare, but there’s a variety of listings at any given time. WG-Gesucht has arguably the most attractive and user-friendly interface that makes it easy to see the size and price of the listing, time it’s been online, address, availability, details and pictures. With that said, many listings are for temporary accommodation only, so cast a wide net.
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Learning the key terms
As you look, you’ll begin to see a lot of German words repeatedly, so let’s define some key terms and phrases.
- Kaltmiete — cold rent, or the base monthly rent without building utility costs or heating.
- Warmmiete — warm rent, or the base monthly rent plus heating.
- Nebenkosten — additional building utility costs, e.g. the price of maintaining the hallways and stairwells.
- Gesamtmiete — total rent, or the base monthly rent plus building utility costs and heating.
- Kaution — security deposit, typically three times the cold rent.
- Möbiliert — furnished.
- Saniert — refurbished, or a partial renovation.
- Renoviert — renovated, or a complete renovation.
- Altbau — old building, in which rooms typically have parquet floors and high ceilings with decorative mouldings.
- Neubau — new building, in which rooms typically have laminate floors and low ceilings.
- Wohnfläche — living area, or the total size of the entire place in square meters.
- WBS (Wohnberechtigungsschein) — permit for subsidized housing. If you see a listing that says WBS, it’s only available for people who have this permit.
- EBK (Einbauküche) — fitted kitchen. In Germany, an unfurnished flat typically means it doesn’t contain any furnishings at all, like a built-in kitchen. Don’t be surprised if you attend a viewing and the kitchen is completely empty, which means you’d have to purchase an oven, refrigerator and cabinets on your own when you move in.
- Vorderhaus, Hinterhaus, Seitenflügel — front house, side wings, rear house, or all the parts of a multi-building complex.
- Erdgeschoss — ground floor, sometimes at street level, sometimes elevated above street level.
- Dachgeschoss — attic floor, sometimes with normal ceilings, sometimes with arched ceilings.
- Aufzug — elevator, sometimes only available to tenants on certain floors.
- Schlafzimmer, Badezimmer, Wohnzimmer — bedroom, bathroom, living room. Be advised that a “2-room flat” means there are literally just two rooms, not two bedrooms.
- Provisionsfreie / null provision — no broker fee. In Germany, the Bestellerprinzip law dictates that whoever orders the brokerage service to show a property must pay the broker fee. So, if a landlord has hired a broker to show the flat, he/she must pay the fee. If you hire a broker to find a flat, you must pay the fee. The fee can only be two to three times more than the cold rent amount.
- WG (Wohngemeinschaft) — flatshare.
- Zentralheizung — central heating.
- Etagenheizung — floor heating.
- Balkon/Terrasse — balcony/terrace.
- Garten — garden.
Once you see a listing you like, be prepared to send a message immediately. Have a default message prepared in both English and German that explains your interest in the listing. In your message, introducee yourself with my name, age, occupation, monthly income, how long you’ve been living in Berlin and how regularly you spend time at home. This is meant to be an informative forecast of what you’ll be like as a tenant, so be honest. Always address the listing owner by their given name, or by the generic and polite “Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,” and tailor your message to any particulars of the listing as you see fit.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back from many or any listings right away. For most of us, this is a numbers game. I recognized that there were essentially three categories of people searching for a flat with increasingly higher budgets. These categories were newly graduated students, mid-to-late-twenties professionals and thirties-plus professionals who were married and/or had children. Landlords will try to pick the applicant with the most stable status, and that means category two will take precedence over one, and three will take precedence over two. The more applications you submit, the better your odds of being in the preferential category out of the applicant pool.
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Thinking about price
You should already have a decent idea about how much you’re willing to pay in rent per month. Typically you must make at least three times the cold rent to be considered. For example, if the cold rent of a flat you’re applying for is €500 per month, your monthly income after taxes must be at least €1.500. If you’re applying with your significant other or otherwise flatmate, your combined incomes must be greater than €1.500. If you’re a student and have insufficient income, your parents can provide their financial information—proof of income and Schufa scores—to act as your guarantor.
Organizing your search
Create a spreadsheet to organize all the details of your search so you have a single reference point. It may feel like you’re overdoing it, but it makes the whole process more convenient.
For reference, a spreadsheet could have the following columns:
- Viewing date
- Viewing time
- Cold rent
- Total rent
- Water and gas (included or not included)
- Broker name
- Broker email address
- Link to listing (if online)
- Status (viewed, applied, rejected, accepted)
What you need
Before you attend a single viewing, you’ll need to have the following documents ready to submit at a moment’s notice.
- Personalausweis/passport — it’s obvious, but make sure it hasn’t expired.
- Einkommensnachweis/proof of income from the past three months.
- Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung — a signed document from your last landlord confirming that you’ve paid your rent in full and on time during the course of your tenancy.
- Schufa Bonitätscheck — your Schufa score that also hasn’t expired.
- (Optional) bank statement — your most recent bank statement is also helpful if you have a sufficient amount of money saved. If you use N26, you can easily export your balance statement up to the current day. Just log into your N26 Web App on a desktop and download your statements in a few clicks.
Create a single PDF that includes all of these documents so you can attach one document to your application instead of several. It’s a small difference, but it makes it easier for landlords to view all your information at once.
Getting an offer
If you get invited to a viewing, be early, get a feel for the neighborhood, get an application and speak with the broker to establish some rapport. The best way to get an offer is to demonstrate that you’re a trustworthy tenant, and that extends beyond your paperwork. It certainly helps to speak German, or to have a German-speaking companion, but it’s not a dealbreaker. Public viewings will feel intimidating because you’ll arrive at the front door of the building where many people are already waiting, and you’ll feel like you’re being rushed through the property. All that matters is getting a copy of the application form, and making a good impression if it’s possible.
Your rental application is called a Selbstauskunft, and it typically asks for the following information:
- Name, marital status, birthday, current address, phone number, email address, job title, monthly income after taxes, company address, current landlord information, pets. Sometimes they ask more specific questions about whether you have any outstanding debts, whether you’ve been insolvent, whether you play an instrument, etc.
There are no hidden secrets about getting an offer, but if you’ve followed this guide, you should have a list of realistic applications, and a strong chance of getting one approved.
Reviewing your contract
You’re almost there. Once you accept an offer, you’ll get your Mietvertrag—or rental contract—which you should definitely review with a German speaker before you sign. Look for the following points in particular:
- Gesamtmiete — the exact total rent price may be slightly different from the one that was advertised.
- Staffelmiete Vereinbarung — the potential for gradual increases in rent. There are legal restrictions on the % of the current rent that the landlord can raise in the future, so be wary of anything in the double digits.
- Kaution — you’re allowed to pay your deposit over three months along with your rent to ease the burden of having to pay all at once.
- Übergabeprotokoll — transfer protocol, the official document of the property inspection between you, the landlord and the previous tenant. You’ll see if everything is in the same condition it was at the beginning of the previous tenancy, and take all the gas and electricity meter readings. This is also the time you officially receive the keys.
- Hausordnung — house rules, of which there will be many. Don’t be intimidated by the pages of conditions about the house, as most of them are just common sense bullet points about regular maintenance.
Most rental contracts are going to be very similar, but research the realty company that owns your flat just to make sure their reputation isn’t abnormally bad. If possible, arrange to meet in person to sign your contract, so you can ask any last minute questions you may have.
And that’s it—sign your name, move in and enjoy your new home!
Moving to Germany means navigating a lot of bureaucratic red tape, but opening a bank account doesn’t have to be so complicated. With N26, you can open a German bank account in minutes, right from your smartphone. All you need is a German address—no Anmeldung necessary. You’ll get a local German IBAN, which means no worrying about inconvenient T&C’s that sometimes come with foreign IBANs. There are no hidden fees and you’ll always have access to English-speaking customer service, so the only thing left to worry about is settling in to your new home.
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