My last article hopefully answered your basic questions about renting a home in Germany. Generally you should know about how much housing allowance you will receive and where you can start looking for a house. I also covered some basic topics about the contracts and how it will affect your funds. In this article I am going to go more in depth about which kind of house you should be looking for and what you want to stay away from. Most of us only have three years in Germany and one chance to pick the right house. That choice can make your time very enjoyable or hell on earth…
The first question on your mind is?
For the majority of people this question is always the same. Where are the school bus routes? This simple little fact plays a huge role in where you look for a house. For some of us without children or who choose to drive the kids to school the search is much easier. Each post housing office should be able to provide you with a bus route area map. For more information on bus routes you can always contact the school bus office at your local base here.
Once you have determined where you are looking to live you can start searching. Now you need to decide what kind of place to rent. Do you want a single family home? What about a duplex or an apartment? Each comes with its own challenges. Since moving to Germany I have lived in one apartment, one duplex, and two single family homes. The most maintenance free of them all was certainly the apartment. However, the most freedom I have enjoyed has been in my latest single family place. You just have to decide what fits you best. There are some really awesome luxury apartments available as well as some nice single family homes.
Each place you look at will have a different utility setup. Gas heating is becoming more popular in the larger areas and new construction. If you opt for an older house, there is a chance you will end up with a very large oil tank in your basement. Neither system is terribly painful to use but the gas system is less “work”. You simply set up your billing through the UTAP office and pay a monthly price for heating. The system runs as you set it and though some of them are like reading greek, others are easier. As with any dwelling, the efficiency of the unit is directly related to the age of the home.
With oil you get the freedom (and work) of managing it yourself. I personally go down and measure how much oil we have left every week. When it is time to fill up I have to call and make an appointment for the oil to be delivered. I also have full control of when and how much I heat. I generally turn the heater off completely from March till November. You also get the choice of providers with oil. You have the freedom to shop around with different companies to find the best price. For an idea of oil prices in your area you can visit heizoel24.de. Just put in your zip code (PLZ) and see what oil costs around you. I can also assure you that you can find a better price from a small German company than through AAFES. Most of those German companies also gladly take VAT from and speak English. The same efficiency rule can be applied to oil heating. My current residence was built in the late 1800s and while it is a charming place, it and my pocket book don’t exactly see eye to eye.
Electricity and water are going to be almost the same anywhere you go. If you live in the area of an American base you will be able to get your electricity tax free. The rates run between 25-30 Euro cent per Kilowatt hour and usage is generally determined by your family size and the home. In my current home we pay around 150 Euro per month (really old house) but in our last place we paid less than 40 per month (built 1998). Don’t be afraid to call the electricity company and tell them what you want to pay. They automatically set rates on you family size and billing history but your monthly rate is up to you. Don’t let them charge you 75 Euro per month when 40 or 50 will do. Water is fairly simple and that is the one bill that must remain in the landlords name. You just have to keep your own records on water usage and make sure you check up with your landlord every year.
The rest of your utilities such as recycling and garbage will depend upon where you live. In Stuttgart for example, we had a blue can (paper), a black can (normal garbage), and a green can (leaves and grass) as well as yellow recycling bags for plastic and metal. Sometimes the fees for this will be paid by yourself (put it in the contract!) and sometimes they will be included. Each town has its own schedule for picking up the various garbage as well. You can normally find the schedule at the local town hall or “Rathaus”. You can also find them online by searching for “Entsorgungskalender” followed by the name of your town. The local town should also do a decent job of getting you the calendar in your mail box each year or half year.
On with the house!
So now you have a firm grasp on how much you can spend, where you want to look, and what kind of utilities you want. The next question is what do you want in your house? What about parking? Is the kitchen new or old? When was it last remodeled? Does it come with a washer and dryer? How about a fireplace? These are all questions you need to be asking. Parking is a large issue in some cities and bigger towns. What kind of vehicle are you driving? How about this one: Your landlord has a parking spot but he wants another 100-150 Euro per month for its use. A washer and dryer in house is certainly a rare find but not impossible. You can always get a set from the housing office for the duration of your stay as well. That goes for things like American sized fridges and other furniture too.
What about old yeller?
Pets are a hard thing to deal with in Germany. First, many of us don’t speak the language. Second, many rentals don’t accept them. Third, living space is very small. That doesn’t mean you should leave Fido back in the states. You simply have to know how to work with a potential landlord to get their permission. We have two large dogs and I can tell you that a “NO” on the house ad doesn’t always mean no. You should come prepared though. Make sure your pets are fully registered and chipped as well as up to date on shots. Having a well trained animal doesn’t hurt either. Another way you can help yourself is getting pet insurance or “tierhaftpflichtversicherung”. Yes, that is a very large word I know! It is basically insurance incase your pet does something wrong like oh, eat the wall… This can be the deciding factor for some landlords.
That is all for this article. Next time I will cover moving in and adjusting to German life. I have copied an ad from immoscout24.de and added my notes to it below. This graphic basically shows everything I talked about above. My notes are in red on the right side. If you want to see the full house ad you can go see it here: immoscout24.de
Check out the third article in this series: Renting a house part three!