We’re moving to Germany!
It can be a little bit scary but it can also be a huge adventure. Moving to Germany and finding homes for rent is one of the most difficult aspects of being stationed in Germany. This series of articles will seek to explain the process and point out the common mistakes and pitfalls along the way. Don’t worry! By getting off the base and renting a house out in town you greatly increase your German experience. In this first article I am going to describe the process of finding a house and what you can expect.
How much house can I have?
That is always a very good question and something everyone needs to know. Being stationed in Germany is not like living in America. Here you receive exactly the amount of rent your contract states. No lump sum payments here my friend. Once you arrive in Germany you will probably be forced to attend hours of dreadful briefings. Here they will be sure to tell you exactly what your overseas housing allowance or OHA is. However, you can do yourself a huge favor and go to the OHA Calculator to see for yourself. You can pretty much ignore the “day” drop down field as the results will show you the allowance for the whole month. It just changes slightly based on when it is calculated with the current exchange rage.
When you see that OHA rate you will see a few different fields. The first is allowance. This is the maximum you will be allowed to pay for “cold” rent. That is, just the rent for the house with no utility payments. The next field shows your monthly utility allowance. This amount can vary based upon the agreements you make in your rental contract. If you agree with your landlord that all the utilities are included in the base rent then this utility payment will mostly disappear. If you write in that all of your utilities are separate payments then you will receive the full amount. Many people have a fear of utilities and often write a contract that has them all included in the “warm” costs. In my opinion this is a mistake. You lose a lot of control over your bills and you also lose a substantial amount of funds. The third field is your one time move in allowance. These funds help offset the costs of buying things like lightbulbs, lighting fixtures, hangers, and so on.
By writing your utilities in under the warm costs you basically give all the control to your landlord. He takes the money from you and is responsible for paying the “warm” costs such as heating and electricity. Normally when the year ends every house receives a bill from the gas or electric company stating exactly how much was used for each item and if you owe more or get a refund. If these bills are in your “warm” costs then you will never see them (unless you ask your landlord) and there is a decent chance you won’t see any refund. Unless you owe more which in that case I can assure you your landlord will be coming by soon to collect… The bottom line is keep your big utilities such as heating and electricity as separate costs. Other items such as water, garbage, snow removal, common area cleaning, and insurance can be left in the warm costs or “nebenkosten”. This will give you your full utilities payment and complete control over your larger utility bills. Even if you have problem with speaking German, every major base has a UTAP (Utility Tax Avoidance Program) office that will set up and manage all your utility accounts. Plus you will get utilities tax free by going through them!
For the most part, the OHA you receive is more than enough to rent a very nice house. How nice is up to you and how hard you look. You can always pay more rent out of pocket if you want a particular house that is above your rate. I paid 200 EUR extra for a single family house in Stuttgart for three years. It wasn’t a huge amount and I covered it mostly through that extra utilities allowance. However, be careful about paying extra. Lately, especially in the stuttgart area, landlords and realtors have gone on a greed spree that will shock you. People have been asking upwards of 3000 EUR cold for monthly rent. And the properties they are asking these rates for are nothing special. I believe it has a lot to do with contractors and civil employees who sometimes earn more and feel free to spend more. The bottom line is it drives rent up for everyone and it stinks.
Finding a house to rent.
Once you have seen what your rate will be you can start looking. There are a few choices but the military will want you to use the Automated Housing Referral Network . There you can register and browse approved homes for rent through the military rental system. This is not to say you can’t look elsewhere. Immobilienscout24.de is a large and well known property site in Germany. There are always tons of rentals for you to browse. The one downfall of such a site is that most properties are represented by realtors. In Germany, realtors tend to make as much if not more off of rentals. Realtors or “Maklers” often charge 2.38 months rent for their services. That means if you RENT a house for 1500 EUR you will pay the realtor around 3500 EUR just for getting you in that house. For some it seems like this system is a little unfair given the amount of work the realtor does for a rental. Especially when you consider most of the homes you rent will be free again in three years after you leave.
There are ways around the realtor fee which, by the way, are often not paid for by the military. Only in extreme circumstances where no approved housing is available through the military system will realtor payments be allowed. Most just work around this by adding the realtor fee to their rental payment for the next three years. Alternatively, you can shop through the military system or simply look for houses to rent that have no realtor fee. If you are searching online you can look for houses that are “provisionsfrei”. This means that the house is either being rented by the owner or the realtor is receiving their payment some other way.
Once you have found a house you want to look at it is time to make an appointment. Viewings go much like they do in the states but be aware! In Germany it is common for verbal agreements to be quite binding. Telling a landlord you like their house and want to move in may become a big headache later if you change your mind. You will often find realtors and landlords pushing for you to say something of the sort. Just remember, don’t agree to anything on the spot. View the property, ask your questions, and make a decision later.
I will leave this article here today. For the next article I will focus on what you should look for in a house and what kind of costs you can expect. There are a great many differences between houses and they can greatly affect your pocket book. I have listed the links to some common housing sites that you can browse. If you aren’t sure of the area you are going to live in or what neighborhoods you want to search just send us an email. We will be glad to get you pointed in the right direction or hooked up with the right people. Happy hunting!
Keep going with your house hunting by reading Renting a house part two!