Buying a House in Germany – As a Foreigner

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Buying a house can be a good investment in Germany, especially if you are living in Germany for the long term. In this article, you will find everything you need to know when buying a house in Germany, including the purchase procedure, the costs, and other tips, etc.

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Properties in Germany

In the big cities of Germany, most people are living in apartments. Houses are more common in suburban areas. You may find some houses in big cities, but they are probably very expensive. German people tend to buy their properties for life. That’s why it is important to look for properties in good areas with good infrastructure like public transportation, schools, shops, job opportunities, etc.

As a foreigner, you can also choose to buy your own house instead of renting one in Germany. In fact, buying can be a good idea instead of renting. If you plan to buy a house in Germany, you should make yourself familiar with the purchase process and know what you should pay attention to.

Read also: Salary in Germany – Are You Getting Paid Enough?

Why should you buy a house in Germany?

In Hong Kong where I am from, owning a property is a dream for many. Many people see purchasing real estate as one of the best investments. In fact, we do not like to rent because we think that renting a property means helping the property owner to pay his mortgage. Why don’t we use the money to pay our own mortgages instead?

In Germany, the mentality is a bit different. Renting is still very popular. I know many local people who rent their homes even though they can afford to buy their own house in Germany. Many of them are just comfortable with renting, and they are paying such a low rent because they have been renting the same home for a long time. Besides, in my opinion, many German people do not like to take risks. Taking a big loan in Germany to buy a house is considered risky for them.

In fact, the homeownership ratio in Germany is a bit less than 50%. It is one of the lowest among the European countries. However, the ratio is rising due to the low interest rate. Besides, the real estate market is also seen as a good investment for overseas investors.

For me personally, I would definitely put money in the real estate market if I can. (Chinese people always like to buy properties.) Below are some reasons why you should buy a house in Germany:

Low interest rate

The interest rate from the European Central Bank has been very low and stable for some years now. It means that you may get a mortgage from the bank for as low as 1 – 2% interest rate. Therefore, it is better to invest money in real estate than to let your savings sitting in your bank where you get almost no interest.

Read also: 42 Moving Tips – Moving Locally or Internationally

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Stability

When you are renting a flat with low rent at the moment, you never know what is going to happen. I know people who have lived in their rented flat for many years. At some point in time, their landlord wanted to get back the flat so that he could move in himself. They had been paying very low rent for years as the landlord had not increased the rent much. They could never find a flat with such low rent anymore in the market once they moved out.

When you have your own flat, it is more stable and secure. At least you do not have to move out of your flat unwillingly. Besides, you also don’t need to worry about the rising rent over time.

Read also: Private vs Public Health Insurance: What is Better for Expats in Germany?

You have more control

When you own your house, you have much more control over how you want your house to be. For example, you can make structural changes like making an extra room; you can have pets as you want; you can decide what kind of floor or heating you want, etc. 

In our case, we built our house from scratch. So, we picked our floor tiles, we decided on an open kitchen, we built extra doors in front of the stairs as we have small kids and cats, we made a spacious bathroom…Basically, we tailor-made our house to fit our needs.

Good and stable investment

Unlike other investments like stocks, the price of the properties does not fluctuate as much relatively. Also, if you sell your property after you own it for 10 years, you do not have to pay the 25% capital gain tax. This makes buying a house in Germany an attractive long term investment.

To give you an example, our neighbors rented their house for around 1,500 Euro per month. For our house, we pay 1,500 Euro monthly for our mortgage. In my opinion, it makes so much more sense to own our house and pay this 1,500 Euro monthly for our mortgage, rather than paying the same amount monthly as rent.

It can also be a good investment to own buy-to-let property. When you own the property for more than 10 years, you can benefit from the capital gain if the property price increases. There can also be tax advantages. Besides, rent has increased a lot in recent years, especially in big cities. This makes it more attractive to invest in a buy-to-let property.

Read also: 20 Ideas to Make Money from Home that Anyone Can Do

Foreigners can also buy a house in Germany

There is no restriction in Germany for foreigners who want to buy a house. As a foreigner, you can buy a self-occupied house, or you can also buy a house for investment purposes in Germany.

So, if you are staying in Germany for a while, it makes sense to buy your own house. If you decide to leave Germany later, you can always rent out your property. It means that you can still benefit from your property investment even when you are not in Germany anymore.

A friend of mine is actually doing this. She and her family lived in Germany for many years already. Last year, she decided to move back to her home town in Finland. She bought a flat in Berlin and has rented it out for a while. After she moved back to Finland, she continued to own her flat in Berlin. There was not so much work involved as she had tenants who lived in her flat for the long term.

As a foreigner, you don’t even need to be in Germany to buy a house. The only barrier is your ability to get a mortgage.

Read also: Other Ways to Invest In Germany To Make Money

The best way to transfer money

If you need to transfer money internationally to buy your house in Germany, the worst you can do will be to do a bank transfer.

I used to do bank transfers in the first few years after I moved to Germany, until I heard about the services from CurrencyFair. I would have saved so much money if I knew it before!

I used to pay more than 30 EUR fee to transfer money to Hong Kong with banks. With CurrencyFair, the fee is only 3 EUR no matter how much I exchange. The exchange rate it uses is also much cheaper than the one used by the bank. Besides, I can also set a higher exchange rate and the transfer will only take place once this rate is reached.

By the way, Currencyfair is also offering 3 free transfers to our readers at the moment if you want to try it out for free.

Getting professional advice

Before you start searching for your dream property, it is better to have an idea first how much mortgage you may be able to get. This gives you an idea about what kind of property you can afford.

No matter if you want to buy a house in Germany for yourself or an investment property, the best way is to consult a financial adviser beforehand. Just let your financial adviser know about your income and expense situation, your preferred down payment amount, and some other preferences of your mortgage. He can then tell you the estimated maximum amount you can borrow from a bank.

A financial adviser can also 

  • give you all the details on the mortgage options
  • explain the property purchase process to you
  • advise you on any additional costs or available government subsidies
  • tell you what document is needed so that you would just need to collect them

Our recommendation

Financial adviser

If you are planning to buy a house in Germany, I would highly recommend our financial adviser to you. Our financial adviser looked at our overall financial situation and helped us to find the best deal. We found our house through him and he also helped us to get the cheapest bank loans for our house.

He does not work for a specific bank, so you can be sure that he can give you independent advice. I could not imagine buying a house in Germany without his English guidance. You can just write or call him and mention my blog “My Life In Germany to get a free consultation.

Tax adviser

Besides, I would highly recommend you to get professional advice from a tax adviser as well to fully understand every aspect before taking your loans. You can use Yourxpert to get a free online initial assessment from a tax adviser.

Simply write your question in the below question box. The initial assessment or recommendation is free of charge. If further actions are needed, you will get a non-binding offer with the price and you can decide if you want to take the offer.

Read also: Tax Return in Germany – Guide for Expats

What are the procedures when buying a house in Germany?

It can take quite a long time for property hunting in Germany. Once you find your property, it can take a month or so to finish the deal. In general, you can expect the below procedures when buying a house in Germany.

Procedures when buying a house in Germany

1) Know your finance

If you are thinking about buying your own house in Germany, the first step is to understand your finance. You should investigate into mortgages and understand how much you can borrow in principle. This gives you an idea of what kind of properties you can afford before you even start searching.

As mentioned before, the best way to do it is to consult an independent financial adviser. You can write or call my financial adviser and mention my blog “My Life In Germany to get a free consultation.

2) Property hunting

Once you know how much you can afford, you can start searching for your property. You can either search online or use an estate agent.

For the property you find, you can also use a free online mortgage calculator to quickly estimate how much interest rate you can get.  Just enter the house price, your first installment amount, and some other basic info. You can then see the different options in seconds.

3) Agree with the seller regarding the price and terms

Once you find your property, you should agree with the seller on the price and terms. Afterward, the notary can draw up a sale contract accordingly.

4) Finalize your mortgage

Now you have all the details regarding the price of the property. You can go back to the banks and get some official offers from them. Compare your offers. Pick the best one and finalize your mortgage.

5) Sign your contract

When you have your mortgage, you can now sign the contract with the seller. The contract needs to be signed at the notary. Once the contract is signed, the notary will register the sale in the land register.

6) Pay the property sales tax

Now the property is officially transferred to your ownership. You will need to pay the property sales tax four weeks later.

Read also: Water in Germany – Dealing with Hard Water

What is the role of the notary?

The notary is responsible for checking the land register to make sure the property you have chosen can be sold, and if there is any restriction on its use. For example, there should not be any outstanding property taxes owed by the seller. 

You can also choose to transfer money to the notary’s account (Notar-Anderkonto) so that the seller will only get the money once the notary has checked that everything is okay.

Once everything is checked, the notary will enter the property in the land register. The change of ownership can only happen after this entry has been made.

Please note that the notary only needs to make sure all paperwork is done correctly. It is not his responsibility to check the property physically or to check your financial situation. You should make sure that you have a mortgage offer already before signing the contract at the notary.

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What can you expect at the notary appointment?

When buying a house in Germany, you will need to sign the contract with the presence of a notary. During the meeting with the notary, the notary will read out your contract at a very fast speed. He needs to make sure that every party understands the contract fully.

The first time when I was at the notary appointment, I was shocked at how fast the notary can read out the contract. He spoke so fast that I could hardly hear any word and it still took more than one hour for him to finish reading. And obviously, I couldn’t understand what he said, especially when the contract was written in formal German. Fortunately, my husband is German and he had reviewed the contract already beforehand. So, I was required to sign a proxy to allow my husband to sign the contract for me. That was because the notary had to make sure I understood the contract if I were to sign it.

Therefore, I would highly recommend you to review the contract before attending to the notary meeting. In case of any questions, you could already clarify them beforehand so that it didn’t need to take too long at the notary.

If your German is insufficient, you can sign a proxy just like me in case you buy your house together with your partner who understands sufficient German. Otherwise, it is highly recommended to bring a translator with you during the notary meeting. Buying a house in Germany is a big investment and you should fully understand what you are signing.

Read also: Decoding your Reference Letter in Germany (Arbeitszeugnis)

What is stated in a contract?

A contract should include the property details; the names and addresses of all the parties involved; the purchase price and the payment conditions. Besides, the contract should also state what happens in case a party fails to comply with the contract terms. It is also important to include an exit clause in the contract in case you are unable to arrange a mortgage.

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Cost of buying a house in Germany

The cost of buying a house in Germany varies greatly depending on the regions. In general, house prices have increased rapidly in the past 10 years, especially in big cities. Not only the house prices, but the rent has also increased significantly. To give you an idea, the below chart shows the purchase price per square meter in some major cities in Germany.

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Note: Dr. Klein Trendindikator Immobilienpreise 2019

If you are interested in the actual purchase price now for your region, you can check out this website.

The rapid price increase in major cities is mainly caused by high demand. Many people want to move to big cities in Germany because of job opportunities or good quality of life. The supply of the flats fails to keep up with the demand, causing a rapid increase in price.

Read also: Cost of Living in Germany – How to save money?

Even if you want to buy a house in Germany, it may be difficult to get one

The crazy thing here in Germany is that even if you want to buy a house, it may not be easy to get one. In our case, it took us almost two years to find our house. We wanted to buy a completely new house in Germany and had been searching for a while. Our experience was that we had to be extremely fast to get one. There were times that we looked at a house. We told the agent that we needed a few days to think about it. A few days later, when we called the agent again, the house was already sold.

In the end, we saw an advertisement for building a new house. Once the advertisement was up online, we directly called and reserved our house, without even visiting the place. That was how we got our house.

In our case, our house was not built yet when we reserved it. So, it was only important to know where the house was located. When we were happy with the city and the location, we made our decision very quickly so that we could reserve the house.

Size of the properties in Germany

Another thing you should know is that the average size of the properties in Germany is relatively small compared to those in the U.S. The average size of a flat in Germany is around 85 square meter, and that of a house is around 150 square meter. That is because the population density is much higher in Germany compared to the U.S.

However, if I compare the size of the properties in Germany to those in my hometown Hong Kong, then the size in Germany is really huge for me. 

Read also: Insurance in Germany – Which one do you need?

What cost should you expect when buying a house in Germany?

On top of the purchase price, you should expect the below cost when buying a house in Germany:

Cost % of Purchase Price Notes

Notary’s and Registration fees

2-3%

Interpreter’s cost is on top if you need one
Estate agent’s fee

1.5-7%, plus 19% VAT

Depending on how the cost is split between the buyer and seller

Property transfer tax (Grunderwerbssteuer)

3.5-6.5%

Depending on your region

So, all in all, you should expect to pay around 7-16.5% on top of the purchase price of your property. These additional closing fees are normally not financed via a mortgage. You should make sure that you have money available to cover these costs.

Below are some details of each cost you need to consider when buying a house in Germany.

1. Your mortgage cost

Most people will need a mortgage (Hypothek) when buying a house in Germany. Most major banks in Germany like Postbank, Commerzbank, and DeutscheBank offer mortgages and have mortgage advisers at their banks. You can apply on their websites online and then have a phone call or personal meeting afterward. You should search for offers from different banks to compare and get the best offer.

It is important to take a mortgage that is affordable for you. In case you fail to pay back, your property may be repossessed and it can be difficult for you to borrow money in the future.

Below are some of the important elements in a mortgage:

Down payment

In Germany, it is recommended to pay at least 20% of your house price as a down payment. You may have to pay more if the bank considers that you have a higher risk, e.g. if you are an expat. 

However, it is also possible to pay less than that or even get a 100% loan under certain circumstances. For example, in our case, we paid 10% as a down payment for our house.

As mentioned before, if you need to transfer money from your home country to Germany for the down payment, it is better to use money transfer services like Currencyfair which is much cheaper than using regular bank transfer.

Interest rate

The interest rate of your mortgage will depend on the amount of your down payment and also the duration of your mortgage. In general, the interest rate at the moment is very low. Many banks forecast that the interest rate will be stable in the long term.

As mentioned before, you can also use a free online mortgage calculator to quickly estimate how much interest rate you can get.  

Mortgage duration

The duration of your mortgage depends on the amount of your loan and the annual repayment you are going to make. A mortgage period usually lasts for 25 or 30 years. 

In many cases, the interest rate is fixed for the first 10 years. Afterward, you have to make a new loan contract based on the circumstances by then.

Read also: Having a Baby in Germany – From Pregnancy to Postnatal Care

Additional annual repayment (Sondertilgung)

In many loan contracts, you may have the option to pay an additional annual repayment of around 5 – 10% of your original mortgage amount. By doing so, you can reduce the amount of your total interest payment. This is because the more annual repayment you made, the less interest you will have to pay.

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2. Estate agent’s fee for buying a house in Germany

If there is an estate agent (Immobilienmakler) involved, you will have to pay the estate agent’s fee. The cost can range from 1.5 to 7%, depending on how the commission is split between the buyer and the seller.

Once you agree on the property to buy, your agent will arrange a notary contract between you and the seller. You will have to pay the agent’s fee after the contract has been completed.

It is important not to sign an exclusivity contract with a single agent. Instead, you should get and compare offers from different agents. If you buy from one agent a house that another agent has already offered you before, you should let another agent know immediately to avoid paying double agent’s fee.

3. Property sales tax (Grunderwerbsteuer)

When you buy a house in Germany, you will have to pay the property sales tax which is around 3.5 to 6.5% of your property’s price. This tax is billed by the federal states (Bundesland) and the cost is different depending on the states.

Read also: Childcare in Germany – Kita and Other Options

4. Notary’s and Registration fees

Once you find your dream property and agree with the seller, you will need to sign a contract. The contract needs to be signed with the presence of a notary. The notary is responsible for preparing the contract, hosting the signing ceremony, and entering the sales of the property in the land register. It will cost around 2-3% of the property purchase price to pay for the notary’s and registration fee.

The notary also has to make sure that you understand the German purchase contract before signing it. So, if your German is not sufficient, you may want to bring an interpreter with you. In that case, you will need to take into account the interpreter’s fee as well.

5. Other additional costs

You may want to evaluate the value of your property to make sure the purchase price is reasonable. There are different ways to do a property assessment and it can cost from a few hundred to more than a thousand Euros.

You may also need to pay for house repair costs if you purchase an old property. One point to note is that for investment properties, your related repairs and maintenance expenses are tax-deductible against your rental income.

As mentioned before, you can use Yourxpert to get a free online initial assessment from a tax adviser. It is important to understand all the tax aspects when buying a house in Germany.

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Factors that may affect your application for a mortgage

Age

If you are older and closer to retirement, you are considered riskier by the banks.

Your employment status

Do you have a limited work contract or are you still in probation period? It is less risky for the banks when you have an unlimited work contract.

Your income

The higher is your income, the less risk it is for the banks. Be prepared to show evidence of your savings and payslips. 

If you are self-employed, the banks will also like to see your tax and bookkeeping documents.

Your assets and debts

The more assets you have, the more secure it is for the banks. It is because you can use these assets to secure your loan. On the other hand, the banks will not like it if you have a lot of other debts.

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Different types of loans in Germany

When I first got my offer from the bank, I was so confused. The offer consisted of many different loans and it was very complicated for me to understand. Below are some common types of loans in Germany.

Fixed-rate loans

These loans consist of both capital and interest repayments. The interest is fixed in the contract. You will have to pay usually between 2 – 3% capital repayment annually. 

At the beginning of the loan period, the interest portion of the installment is high. As time goes by, more capital repayment will be paid off. So, the interest portion of the installment will get lower while the portion of capital repayment will get higher.

Variable-rate loans (Flexible Darlehen)

These loans are similar to the loans above except that the interest rate is not fixed. Instead, the interest rate is adjusted every three months based on the Euro Interbank Offered Rate (Euribor), plus an adjustment of around 1%.

Building loan contract (Bausparvertrag)

In this contract, you have to pay money into a saving program for a fixed period. At the end of the period, you would have saved up a large sum of money and you could use that to pay off your mortgage.

Interest-only loans (Zinszahlungsdarlehen)

For these loans, you are required to pay interest only but no capital repayment for a fixed period. It is good for investment properties as the interest payment is tax-deductible. However, you will have to make sure you have other ways to cover the outstanding loan if you decide to take an interest-only loan.

Read also: Opening a Bank Account in Germany – Compare English Banking Options

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Allowance and subsidies for buying a house in Germany

You may be eligible for different allowance and subsidies provided by the government when buying a house in Germany. 

KfW (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau)

You may be able to get a KfW loan which has a lower rate of interest compared to the banks. KfW loans are for people who want to own their houses or make their properties more energy-efficient. Around 50-100k Euros can be financed by these loans. Note that these loans are not for holiday homes, or for restructuring your existing mortgage.

For the requirements and details for different programs, you can refer to this website.

Wohn-Riester

Wohn-Riester is a private pension scheme where you put and save money in a saving account. And you can use this money later to buy a house in Germany or pay off your mortgage. The government supports this scheme by providing tax incentives and paying some extra amounts to your scheme. 

This scheme aims to motivate people to take care of their pension actively. You can open a Wohn-Riester saving account from a regular bank in Germany. For more details about this scheme, you can refer to this website.

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How to find a house to buy in Germany?

In Germany, it is not common for the seller to put a “For Sales” sign in front of a house. So, you may not be able to find a house to buy in Germany just by taking a walk in the area.

You may find property offers published in the newspaper. But nowadays, it is more convenient to search for a property using an online property portal like this website. Besides, this website also lets you search for private properties with no estate agents involved.

When searching for your property, you should be careful if you see offers at cheap prices. They may be older properties and may require you to invest a lot more to renovate.

Properties in Germany can be sold privately or through an estate agent. If you see “von privat” in the advertisement, it means that no estate agent is involved. As mentioned before, there is a high demand in the German real estate market. Therefore, it is usually the buyers who try to find a property by contacting the sellers or an agent.

If you prefer to buy a house in Germany through an estate agent, you can find an agent using this website. As mentioned before, I recommend contacting a financial adviser as a first step before searching the house by yourself. 

Read also: How to find a place to live in Germany?

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How to choose a house to buy in Germany?

There are some questions you need to ask yourself before choosing a house to buy in Germany.

What type of housing?

Do you want to buy a house or a flat in Germany? Do you want to buy a new or old property? Do you want to build a house completely from scratch? If you want to buy an old property, be aware that you may need to invest some money to renovate.

Your finance

Make sure to include all the purchase costs of your property, as well as the recurring costs afterward. On top of your down payment and mortgage cost, you should also take into account all the additional costs later on like heating, water, services charges for building’s management, etc. If you are buying a new property, you will need to buy your own kitchen and furniture as well in most cases. 

You should check also if there are any tax advantages or government subsidies available. 

Location

Location is one of the main factors when deciding on a house to buy in Germany. Are there daycare centers or schools in the area? Is there any public transportation? Are there shops and supermarkets nearby?

Is the property currently being occupied?

In Germany, it can take a long time if you want to evict the tenants. This is because German rental contracts favor the tenants. So, it can be difficult for you to turn your property over to new tenants if the property is currently being occupied.

The neighborhood

You should walk around the neighborhood to see if you would like to live there. Are there more old or young people or families living nearby?

Don’t be afraid to talk to the people and ask if they are happy living there. 

Timing

As mentioned before, it can be very competitive to buy a house in Germany, especially in big cities. You should know your preference so that once you see an available property that meets your budget and requirement, you can make your purchase decision quickly.

Investment income

If you are buying a house in Germany for investment, you should do some research on the area to see how easy it is to find tenants and how much rent you can get. You also need to plan some savings as a buffer in case you do not find your tenants immediately. Besides, make sure you understand the tax impact when renting out your property.

Hire a surveyor (Gutachter)

Before you buy a house in Germany, it is recommended to use a surveyor to check if there are any problems with the property. Especially when you plan to own your property for the long term, it is important to be aware in case of any hidden issues in the property. You can read more info about surveyors here.

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Special thanks to my friend Jibran who makes a Youtube video based on this article. Be sure to check out Jibran’s Youtube channel Desi in Wonderland as well where he shares his traveling and other living experiences in Germany.

Pin it for later:

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Please be aware that this article is intended to provide you some guidelines about buying a house in Germany. If you need more details and specific advice on your personal situation, we would highly recommend you to consult a tax adviser, a financial adviser, or an estate agent.

Do you want to buy a house in Germany? Or do you prefer to rent? Leave a comment and share your experience below!

Moving to Germany or new in Germany? Check out our Support Page for all the resources you need!

2 Replies to “Buying a House in Germany – As a Foreigner”

  1. Avatar Arnold Odhiambo says:

    Very informative and interesting read.

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