If you are in Germany already, you know how it is like when you are searching for a place to live. When I was still in Hong Kong, I was trying very hard to find an accommodation in Berlin. After weeks and weeks of searching online, I realized that it was almost impossible to find something! Firstly, many websites were in German. Almost nobody replied me as I was writing in English and was still in Hong Kong. Therefore, in the end, I had to fly to Berlin first without having a flat there.
I booked a cheap hostel in Berlin for a week or so. And I was hoping to find a real flat during these days. It was really stressful. I sent out so many messages and almost none of them got a reply. After two days, my hostel got a problem with their wifi so there was no more internet! I had to go to an internet bar in order to continue searching for flats. It was in September time frame, where all the universities were starting. So, everybody was looking for flats at this time. I met another Belgium girl in the hostel who was having the same issue looking for a flat. She was crying and begging the staff in the hostel to let her use internet at their reception with a cable…
Luckily I found something in the end…
In the end, I managed to find a shared flat after one week. The flat owner was from Spain. She could not speak German well. And I was the first person who arrived at her flat. Therefore, she decided to rent it to me. I didn’t like the flat so much as it was very small and crappy. However, it was better than being homeless on the street.
After three months, I was able to move to a room in the student dormitory which was much nicer. I lived there for eight months until I got my internship offer nearby Munich area. So, my flat hunting started all over again. I found a flat in a small city nearby Munich. Within the 15 months living there, I moved 4 times inside that city!
Why is it so crazily difficult to find a flat in Germany?
(1) The demand is MUCH more than the supply
This is the case, especially if you are moving to a big city. There are more jobs and study opportunities in the big cities and many people want to move there. Not just the international people, but also the local people.
(2) Many landlords prefer to rent out to local people
I mentioned this also in another post: How is it like living in Germany without speaking German? I have met many landlords who did not want to consider international people. It is probably easier for them when they can communicate with the tenants in German. (That is why it is important to learn German!) Besides, the German people know better how things work in the flat, e.g. looking for their own electricity plan, doing the ventilation properly, etc.
Although this is not always the case, I do find that international landlords tend to be more willing to rent out their flats to other international people.
(3) Many landlords prefer long term tenants
Most landlords do not want to change their tenants every few months. It is a lot of work for them as they need to search for new people. For me, my internship and thesis were six months each. I had to find a flat for only six months, which most landlords did not want.
(4) Most of the flats are not furnished
I would only consider a furnished flat. I was alone, with no car and no money. I had no idea how I could buy all the furniture and carry them to my flat. Moreover, I did not even know where I would be next. I wouldn’t want to have the furniture with me when I left or had to find ways to get rid of them. However, most flats for rent are unfurnished. The only way for me was to find a student dormitory, or a room in a shared flat.
My strategy was to look for a shared flat. A lot of students in Germany like to live in shared flats. And it is common for students to go abroad, or to do an internship in another city for one semester. During this time, they like to sublet their furnished room. This is beneficial for them as they can have someone paying for the rent during the time when they are away. And when they come back, they can move back to the same flat without the hassle to search for a new flat.
Read also: Buying a House in Germany – As a Foreigner
Flat hunting is almost like job hunting
I felt like I was going through an interview process during my flat hunting. I was assigned a time slot to meet the landlord, maybe half an hour or so. I had to introduce myself, answered all the questions the landlord had, tried to make him like me and left a good impression, etc. Once time was up, I was kicked out from the flat as the next candidate was coming in. I had to write down my name and basic information on a paper form (ten other names were already there) so that he did not forget about me. Then he would tell me to go home and wait for the result. Doesn’t it sound similar to your job interview?
A crazy story I heard from my friend: She was invited to the “interview” for the flat. When she got there, she found out that it was actually a “group interview”. Ten people were there and everyone introduced himself. The landlord asked some questions that everyone had to answer. Once time was up, they had to leave as the next group with ten other people was coming in….
Another friend of mine was trying to sublet one of the rooms in his flat. He just put the advertisement online for one hour, and he got already more than 50 emails. He had to immediately deactivate his advertisement to stop the emails…
I once also tried to sublet my room from the student dormitory. It was in 2011. Even in 2015, I was still getting emails from people, asking me if the room was still available. You can imagine how desperate people are here to look for a flat.
Tips and tricks when searching for a flat
(1) Use different online portals
I used WG-gesucht the most in the past. They have an English version as well. You can choose if you want to find a shared flat, one room flat or a house. Immobilien Scout 24 is very similar. If you cannot read German, you can use the translation function in Chrome (I did that a lot at the beginning). Alternatively, you can check out the English website of HousingAnywhere.
Try to be very fast when a new offer is there. If you contact them a bit late, it is likely that the flat is already gone. I tried to contact the landlords right away once I saw new offers there. You can also set up an email alert from the websites so that you are informed once there is a new offer.
This I used a lot in Germany. Not only for searching for flats, but also buying or selling second hand stuff. It is free and easy to use. If you pick the category “Immobilien” and choose the area you are searching for, you can see different flat offers. You can contact the providers directly.
Remember, be fast!
(3) Facebook group
If you have a Facebook account, you can search for accommodation under the group category. Put in your city name, and search for groups with names like room/housing/WG (sharedflat). Join those groups and look for offers in the groups.
(4) Contact from your company or university
Connection is always good! If you are going to study in a university, there are always students who finish their studies and need to move out. The same if you are going to do an internship. The internship normally takes a few months, so there can be students who are moving out when you are looking for a flat.
Before my master started, I did a simple search in Facebook with my university name. I could easily find different groups there with students who were already at my university. I connected to people and asked if they had any flat offers. People tend to trust you more when you have something in common (going to the same university or working in the same company) and they may consider you more than someone who is a complete stranger to them.
You can also contact the Human Resources department from the company you are going to work for. They know best who is going to leave and can provide you the right contact.
Another option is to pay attention if there is any notice posted on the paper board in the university/company (you may also find posts in some supermarkets). Yes, sometimes the German are still quite old-fashioned.
(5) Student dormitory
This would be the most economic option for students. There are different student dormitories in different cities. Note that they are not linked to a specific university. It means that students from different universities are living in the same dormitory. There are different options : single room, single apartment, twins room, etc.
I was living in a very expensive shared flat when I first arrived in Germany. After three months, a very nice German buddy took me to the student dormitory office and helped me with applying for a student room. I was so lucky to get this room almost immediately. The good thing about student room was that it was very cheap. I had my own room, with a shared common area (kitchen, bathroom) with 10 other students in a house. I paid only around 160 EUR per month back then in 2010. (Keep in mind that price has increased by now!) This helped me so much financially as I was paying such a little rent for the first year in Berlin!
Search in google “Studentenwerk” plus your city name. You should apply as soon as you can in order to grab a room.
(6) Websites in your mother language
People from the same country normally try to help out each other. There is a big Chinese forum for Chinese people who are living in Germany, which is called Kaiyuan. This website includes all kinds of info you can think of: buy and sell, accommodation, news in Germany, networking, etc. I did find a room offered by another Chinese girl there. It was easier for me if I tried to search for a room which was offered by another Chinese. At least we speak the same mother language!
I am sure this kind of websites exists also in other countries. Try to find out your own community and seek for help there.
What is your experience in flat hunting? Leave a comment below and share your experience!