The situation on the rental market in major German cities – what do you need to know?

Finding an apartment with an affordable rent isn’t all that easy in Germany. In fact, in many large cities it has become extremely difficult. Especially if you don’t speak German and aren’t familiar with the “rules” that govern how to submit applications and attend viewings. The search process has become even more tricky by amendments made to the German Real Estate Agents Act (also known as the “Orderer Principle”) in 2015. Since this change in the law was introduced, the person who commissioned the agent must pay the agent – and that is usually the landlord. This brings financial relief for the tenant – who in the past would usually have had to pay two months’ rent plus VAT to an agent if the landlord had hired one. But unfortunately, this change in the law hasn’t just brought positive repercussions with it.

What exactly are these knock-on effects? Many landlords are now trying to avoid the brokerage fee by letting out their property on their own. They don’t want to spend all their time providing information about their rental property over the phone, so instead they often place online rental ads on the relevant portals like Immobilienscout24.de or immonet.de, which can only be replied to by e-mail. The chances of success for anyone who doesn’t speak German here are already pretty slim. With sought-after apartments, landlords often receive several hundred enquiries in response to a single listing. So to make it easier for themselves, landlords can afford to ignore any enquiries they’ve received from foreign prospective tenants. Increasingly often, they are also stipulating a minimum rental period of 2-3 years and including this term in rental contracts. It is then usually a difficult process to withdraw prematurely from such contracts. Even if the landlord has hired an agent – and in most cases now pays them a reduced agent’s commission fee of one month’s rent – they will then be keen to use the agent’s services to find more tenants where they think it’s likelier  they will want to remain longer in the apartment. After all, they don’t want to pay the agent a commission fee only to then have to let the apartment out again just 12 months later.

So what if, despite all this, you manage to get an invitation to a viewing appointment? You then have to distinguish between two fundamentally different types of appointment: the individual, one-on-one viewing and the collective group viewing. Particularly when it comes to inexpensive, smaller apartments with lots of prospective tenants applying, owners, property managers and real estate agents often prefer to opt for mass viewing appointments. If you receive an e-mail back from an enquiry inviting you to an appointment like this, you will at least have cleared the first hurdle. Once you arrive you will then get a better idea of how many other applicants there are. It might be 10 people, or could even be anything up to 50 people. As a general rule, you’ll then have up to 30 minutes to view the apartment, ask any questions you have, and hand in your documents. There are many things you can do right here. Or wrong! You can read more here about increasing your chances of being accepted for an apartment at the appointment itself. Article: Discrimination on Germany’s residential market?

If you do get invited to an individual viewing – the exception to the rule in the case of inexpensive and/or sought-after apartments – then you’ve already made it onto a shortlist of applicants. Usually, no more than 10 appointments like this will be granted. If you want to boost your chances of being invited to a viewing appointment, whether individually or with others, you can also find out more here. Discrimination on Germany’s residential market? By the way, if you spot an announcement for an open viewing appointment online, you might well find that 100 or more other prospective applicants are stood outside the door when you arrive to view the apartment. The chances as a foreigner of being successful here are slim. In our opinion, you can actually save yourself the time and effort of attending viewing appointments like this. Unless you want to “practice” for appointments where your chances are much higher. Which we would certainly recommend. 

One thing you can also do though to increase your chances of success considerably is to call in a relocation agency like PROGEDO. We’ve been successfully operating in many cities throughout Germany for 25 years now and have found thousands of apartments for our clients – having supported more than 15,000 expats in their search. We enjoy an excellent reputation with many real estate agents, property management companies and owners, meaning that we’re often offered apartments before they are even advertised online. This is, of course, also due to the fact that we don’t operate as an agent ourselves, meaning we do not cost anything for the landlord or the companies hired on their behalf. We’re also always up to date with the latest developments on the residential rental market. Our employees know exactly what levers to pull and where they need to focus their persuasive powers to increase the chances of our clients being invited to a viewing appointment. And, of course, ultimately signing the rental agreement contract. You too can benefit from this.