Before moving over, I was pretty optimistic about my chances of finding permanent digs in Berlin. Within days of accepting my job offer, I had plastered pleas for an apartment near Mitte across social media, determined that my contract and deposit savings would be enough to convince any landlord that I was the tenant for them.
Little did I know that the rental market in the German capital is fiercely competitive. For many in the city, flat hunting is characterised by mass viewings, sending hundreds of emails daily, and spending months in temporary accommodation. With mass migration to Berlin (an average of 40,000 since 2011, not including refugees) the demand is much higher than supply, making the flat hunt a hellish experience for many a young hopeful. A solution doesn’t appear to be on the horizon anytime soon; about 10,000 apartments are built in Berlin per year, yet demand currently sits at around 18,000.
That’s why it took us two months to find somewhere permanent to stay, which is actually a victory compared to many horror stories we’ve heard! Last week we finally signed the lease on a gorgeous flat, and we spent yesterday bickering in IKEA, as any self-respecting couple should prior to a move.
But even though the flat hunt is over, I’m still shocked by just how tricky the market has been. Since I’m still receiving daily updates from Immobilien Scout, transporting me back to when I spent at least three solid hours a day on that site, it seemed like a poignant time to share my own tips for finding a place to live in Berlin.
It’s no secret that non-German speakers get a pretty easy ride in Berlin. As I’ve discussed before, many locals in the city speak English on a near-native level, and can switch easily when you stumble. But when it comes to flat hunting, I don’t advise relying on your letting agents or landlords to speak English. Chances are that some of them were born before the Wall fell, meaning they may not have learnt English at school.
In the last flat viewing we attended, the letting agent was one such person. There were two other British couples, all of whom had lived in Germany for over a year (!) but couldn’t speak more than basic niceties. They each asked me to translate their questions to the letting agent, including how much the deposit was and if the flat came furnished.
As a lettings agent, would that inspire you with confidence? No, probably not. They’ll want to feel reassured that they can communicate with their tenants with ease.
We got that flat. Get your sheisse together and learn some German.
Find a printer – you’ll need one.
If you’ve read this blog since its humble beginnings, you’ll know that Germans love paperwork, and flat hunting is no different. With such wide pools of candidates, landlords are in a position to be much fussier over their choice of tenants, meaning that you need to show solid evidence that you can afford to rent their apartment (usually three times the Kaltmiete/”cold” rent – not including bills).
To be considered, you’ll need:
- Proof of income (your last three payslips or your work contract). The majority will ask for payslips, but our landlord accepted our work contracts and whatever payslips we could currently show.
- Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung: a word testing how your German lessons are going, and the note from your current landlord confirming that you aren’t in any debt with them.
- SCHUFA Auskunft: the German credit check. Again, this is proof that you’ve paid your bills and aren’t in any major debt.
- A delightfully wholesome bio: this is optional, but with so many potential applicants, it’s a handy way of standing out! Write a short document covering a little about yourselves and what brings you to Berlin. Maybe don’t include pictures of you snorting a mysterious powder off your mate’s back in KitKat. This is about showcasing your suitability as a trustworthy, reliable tenant.
Take these documents to each viewing. Some will require them immediately if you want to be considered, others will insist not to bother, but be prepared to spend a lot of time awkwardly ambling next to your office printer.
Think outside the box – or the ring.
Everybody wants to live in Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg or Prenzlauer Berg. We were no different. We love all three of these areas. We were even happy to move to – shock horror – west Berlin.
However, as the flat hunt dragged on, it became obvious that our chances of successfully securing digs in these areas were fairly slim. These were prime locations for the dreaded queues pouring out of the apartment buildings and onto the street. So when we found out we needed to move from our current place sooner than we thought, we knew it was time to start looking elsewhere.
To boost our chances, we started hunting a bit further out of “the ring” (the S-bahn line circling around the A zone of the city). We’re now going to be living in a district which is just one stop outside of it. The area might be a little less trendy, but we’ll still enjoy a short commute to work and slightly cheaper rent. We’re actually looking forward to exploring a less touristy spot in the city.
Berlin is an incredibly well connected capital, and unlike many others, it won’t take you hours to get from an outlying suburb to the city centre. Sure, it might take you longer to reach your old haunts, but looking beyond the ring could spare you time on your flat search and possibly money in the long term.
Don’t lose hope – seriously.
Yep, as if I ever gave off the impression of being a shining beacon of optimism about the whole thing – I wasn’t. You will send hundreds of emails which won’t get replies. You might show up for viewings with tens of hopefuls, all of whom can provide more documents, some of whom will even offer to pay more. It’s hard out here.
But speed, persistence and resourcefulness are key.
- Sign up for alerts from lettings websites, and check them regularly throughout the day.
- Be quick to enquire when you do find a suitable listing.
- Join Facebook groups (like this, this and this) If you like the look a place you see, try to leave a comment more memorable than “PM” with a blunt message in their inbox.
- Send your emails in German, and get a native speaker to check them.
- Regularly ask your friends and colleagues if they know of any places soon to be free. Seriously, “no stone unturned” is the operative phrase, here.
With all of this in mind, you too might find yourself fortunate enough to be arguing with your flatmate in Lichtenberg IKEA over crockery colours. Viel Glück!
Email, lipstick recommendations: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to everyone who took the time to message after my last post! It really helped. Some days are easy, some days not so much, but I’m doing my best.