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Finding the Right Accommodation in Germany

By Carolin Schlack

Whether you stay in a guest house belonging to your host or you opt to rent a flat or house - Germany's property market offers many ways of finding the accommodation that you require.

Finding the right accommodation in Germany
In Germany it is the custom to rent out flats and houses unfurnished. While furnished accommodation is available, it is a bit more expensive. However, it depends on the town or the neighbourhood. For instance, in the capital, Berlin, there is a greater range of accommodation, including furnished rooms, than in university towns like Heidelberg and Freiburg.

Clarify the rental situation in advance

In many cases your host will be able to arrange or provide you with a flat. If a university has invited you, there may also be guest houses for foreign academics. If you wish to rent a house, flat or room for yourself, you should be aware of the tenancy laws in Germany. As a tenant, you can have a long-term notice period (often 3 months) so that, on the one hand, you enjoy protection against your tenancy being terminated, but on the other hand this protection can be a problem for a guest stay because it is rather inflexible. If you decide to rent a property you should look very carefully at the terms of the German tenancy and the relevant legal protection.

How do I find the right property?

You can either find a property through an estate agent or do it yourself, independently. An estate agent can help you to find accommodation - they take a commission for this. You can find estate agents in the local yellow pages. If you choose not to use an estate agent, it is simple and quick to use the Internet to find something.
Foreign guests in particular, who need accommodation quickly and without complications, can find the "Mitwohnzentrale" service very useful. This is an agency that has a lot of furnished rental accommodation that is tied into a specific time-frame. There are "Mitwohnzentrale" branches all over Germany that act as agents for all sorts of property, from rooms in flat-shares to detached houses. In contrast to the estate agents' expensive commissions, a "Mitwohnzentrale" only charges a percentage brokerage fee. For available properties and more information, go to www.mitwohnzentrale.de».

About renting a flat or house

To calculate the size of a property, the key factor is the dimension of the living space, which is expressed in square metres. Another important factor is the number of rooms. The kitchen, bathroom and hallway do not usually count as rooms. So for example, if you are looking for a flat with a bedroom and an office, you should search for two-room flats.

What the rent covers

The rent for flats and houses is often quoted as a "Kaltmiete," or "cold rent." But this sum only relates to the use of the space. To work out the rent that you will actually be paying, you need to add on the monthly running costs such as heating, water, waste collection, etc. If the property advertised stipulates a "Warmmiete," or "warm rent," however, this refers to the total rent. Electricity, phone, Internet and possibly cable TV are other expenses that are not included in the advance payment that you make for running costs. So you should ask the landlord or estate agent about the "Warmmiete" and find out what the running costs consist of. In contrast, when single rooms, furnished or in flat-shares, are rented out, it is the "Warmmiete" that is usually specified.

Be properly prepared when renting

As Germany's tenancy laws result in a lot of bureaucracy, private landlords and estate agents usually try to protect themselves within the law. As a foreign visitor, you should prepare properly when you are entering into a tenancy agreement. The landlord will want to see your passport or residence permit (so you should keep these documents as up-to-date as you can in case people need to see them). You might be asked personal questions about where you were born and your job. Whenever you have an appointment to view a property, you should bring all the documents that the landlord might wish to see with you, such as your employment contract, evidence of earnings, birth certificate and residence permit. In certain cases, you might need to provide these to the landlord in advance.