Why is it so difficult for an expat who doesn’t speak German to get accepted as the new tenant of a sought-after rental apartment? And what can you do, as an employer and employee, to secure success despite these odds?
In Germany’s urban centres, there’s hardly anything more laborious in life than the task of finding an apartment. At least that’s what anyone looking will confirm to you without exception. And it’s particularly difficult for anyone from abroad. There are many different reasons for this.
One factor here is that demand is determined by supply: The availability of apartments is generally very limited, meaning that prices are enormously high, to varying degrees depending on the particular city and neighbourhood. And often, what they actually offer is a world away from what you would expect for the price. But if you’ve hit the jackpot and fallen in love with a particular apartment, you might well find – again, depending on the city – that there are 100 or more people applying for the same place. Not only does this make things more difficult, it makes things almost impossible – especially if you’re a foreign citizen. In addition to this, landlords often have their own ideas about who they want to rent an apartment out to: People with a secure income, preferably couples and, if they have a choice, ideally without any children involved. You know, the so-called DINKS (Double Income No Kids). As if that wasn’t enough, other more subtle things are then also factored in such as an applicant’s particular profession, how likeable they are, what nationality they are, and how good their German is. This not only sounds like discrimination – it is discrimination. But it is difficult to prove in the majority of cases.
The problem of certain groups of people being excluded begins – of course, in people’s heads to start with – but then as early on as reading the classified ads and listings in online real estate portals: No less than 37 percent* of all readers state that they are affected by this. An incredible 32 percent* confirm that they probably haven’t been accepted for an apartment or house in the past due to the fact they come from abroad and/or do not speak German. Most cases involving discrimination are the result of private individuals who rent out just one or a few apartments, but they also stem from employees at private housing corporations, real estate agents and state-run (i.e. municipal) housing associations. It’s worth repeating: Things are bad enough as it is for native Germans – but for people without German citizenship and lacking German language skills it is nigh on impossible.
So what can you do as an employer if you want to hire staff from abroad and want to support them as they look for an apartment to live in?
You can, for instance, help them set up a search profile on the relevant online real estate portals. This will save your employee an enormous amount of time, as it means they won’t end up attending endless viewing appointments for apartments that aren’t suitable in any case.
You can also help them put to together an application folder and, of course, check the small print of the rental agreement when it comes to the signing of the contract – which is usually in German. Although this only applies in the very unlikely case that things actually progress that far. Most of the time, if a landlord receives an e-mail that isn’t written in German, sent by somebody with an exotic-sounding name, appointments don’t end up being arranged in the first place. The best thing you can do is prepare at least a template text for them to send out. And this is even more important when it comes to attending appointments in person: They are usually held in German, as landlords often either think their poor English will embarrass them, or it really is the case that their English isn’t good enough. If someone from your company can accompany them to the viewing appointment, this is ideal!
What else can you do, as a foreigner, to increase your prospects at a viewing appointment? Especially if your future employer isn’t in a position to offer you any support? Attend as many open viewings as possible. In other words, viewing appointments where the place and time are stated in the advertisement itself. Whether you’re interested in the apartment or not. It’s a good way to practice. And to observe how applicants behave, how they conduct themselves, and how they’re dressed. The trick here is not to be dressed too casually, and not to be overdressed either. You’ll also find, at least in cities with a housing shortage, that any attempts to negotiate prices with the landlord are pretty counterproductive. If there are ten or more applicants attending the same appointment as you, caution should be exercised here. And only once you’ve had a chance to get to know how viewing appointments work should you apply for an apartment that really interests you.
Of course, as an employer you can take advantage of the services provided by a relocation agency like PROGEDO when looking for accommodation. We can take care of everything that’s necessary to find an attractive permanent residence for your employee: so-called Expectation Management, preparing them for what they can realistically expect from Germany’s residential market, for profiling for the online portals, searching for an apartment, contacting the landlord by e-mail or phone, arranging appointments, and all the necessary dealings with real estate agents and landlords. Of course, compiling documents for applicants, accompanying them to viewing appointments if so desired, and walking them through the most important parts of the rental contract are also all among the services we offer. More and more expats are booking this service privately with us. We owe our success rate of almost 100 percent to our 25 years of experience, and the trusting relationships we have built up over this time with the people and points of contact along the way that matter. And helping employers and those individuals affected is of course a great pleasure each and every time.
*Source: Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper