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House hunting and moving house

Fotograf: Roger Richter, Wiesbaden

Finding a house or a flat will probably be your most immediate concern if you decide to move to Hessen. Newcomers face a host of – sometimes unsettling – questions: Will I be able to maintain or improve on my current housing situation? What can I afford? Which area will suit my personal needs? Answers have to be found quickly. If you are well-informed – and with a little luck – there is every chance that you will be successful. You may have to make some compromises, but you will almost certainly not be obliged to make any sacrifices.

Before embarking on your search, you should first of all have a clear idea of your budget. Statistically, about six out of ten Germans rent accommodation – and more than this in major centres. Rental prices depend on the area, the condition and age of the building, and its market value. The more convenient the house or flat’s location (e.g. by proximity to public transport, shopping opportunities and schools), the higher the rent.

German flats are generally rented out unfurnished. Most do not have a stove, light fittings, wardrobes, a dishwasher or a washing machine. Tenants are responsible for all furnishings and appliances. In some cases, the kitchen fittings can be acquired from the previous tenant. Many landlords have now adapted to the requirements of international tenants and rent out houses or flats which include kitchen and other fittings – but the rent will reflect this.   

If your stay in Hessen is temporary, it may be worth renting a furnished flat. These flats may be expensive, but it is worth paying slightly more for a furnished flat in certain circumstances – as then there will often only be the flat rate for heating and water to pay, and you avoid spending money on furniture and fittings.

There is a distinction between Kaltmiete/‘cold rent’ (in which the cost of heating, maintenance and other services is charged extra) and Warmmiete/‘warm rent’ (in which all additional costs are included). Electricity is obtained by the tenant from the local provider. Although the cost of utilities depends on your personal usage, you should ask the landlord about the previous tenants’ bills in order to get a better idea of your monthly expenditures. Rent increases are limited by law, but utility rates can be raised at any time, e.g. if the town council decides to increase the price of water. Utility bills are charged at an equal rate across the year (i.e. heating costs remain the same in summer and winter) and are adjusted by the landlord according to usage.

The rental agreement

Whether you are renting a flat or a house, you will always have to sign a rental agreement. In most cases, this will be a contract recommended by the proprietor protection agency (Haus & Grund Eigentümerschutz-Gemeinschaft). The contract should specify the following:

  • Names of the tenants and landlord
  • Rental property (address; number of sqm; additional items, e.g. fitted kitchen, garages etc.)
  • Rental price
  • If necessary, a clause on rent increases
  • Starting date of the tenancy
  • Services, listed individually
  • Number of tenants
  • Additional stipulations (e.g. regarding breaches of contract, provisions on subtenancy etc.)
  • Landlord’s bank details
  • Condition of the rental property at beginning of tenancy (redecorated/unredecorated)
  • Items included in the rental price
  • Landlord’s permission to keep pets
  • Deposit (normally three months’ rent)
  • How the deposit is to be paid

Note that most rental agreements contain a clause stipulating that the property must be redecorated upon moving out. Make sure that the contract specifies exactly what work is to be carried out.

Die Dauer von Mietverträgen ist grundsätzlich unbegrenzt und beinhaltet eine dreimonatige The duration of rental agreements is generally indefinite, with a three-month notice period. However, because there are exceptions and German tenancy law is relatively complex, the consequences of signing a contract without exact knowledge of one’s rights and obligations can be very costly.

It is therefore advisable to have your contract checked by your company or a lawyer before signing. You can also contact one of the region’s numerous tenants’ protection centres, which offer guidance and legal representation. The membership fee of €50-70 will include legal costs insurance. Note that three months will elapse between joining a tenants’ association and its legal protection taking effect. To find an advice centre, please contact:

Deutscher Mieterbund
Landesverband Hessen e.V.
Adelheidstraße 70, 65185 Wiesbaden
Tel: 0611 – 4114050
www.mieterbund-hessen.de

Looking for a property

There are many ways of finding a suitable home. Make a list of your priorities, followed by one of desirable bonuses. For instance, you may be prepared to forego a guest-room, but not a garden. Decisions will be easier if you are clear about which compromises you are prepared to make.

Take care to dress appropriately for a property viewing. Desirable properties will often have so many applicants that the landlords will be able to choose their tenants.

Please do not be offended if you are asked to elaborate on your financial circumstances (e.g. with a copy of your employment contract and pay-slips for three months). This is common practice.

If you are lucky enough to be able to employ a relocation agency, this will make your search easier. Relocation agencies know the property market well and can save you unnecessary trips to different estate agents by compiling a shortlist and taking care of contract negotiations. A range of price bands and services is available.

listings include pictures of the rooms, the building’s exterior, the view and the surroundings, searching on the Internet can make your decision easier. For instance, this allows you to save time on viewing properties whose description clearly does not match the pictures. The leading online property gateway is www.immobilienscout24.de, ollowed by www.immowelt.de  and www.immonet.de.

If you are interested in a flat-share arrangement (the typical housing solution for students), the Germany-wide search engine www.wg-gesucht.de is the place to go.

Regardless of whether you are searching in the papers or online, most properties are offered through estate agents, who will usually charge tenants a commission equivalent to two months’ rent plus 19% VAT. From time to time you may find listings marked ‘provisionsfrei’, which means that the estate agent will charge no commission. In such cases it is important to act quickly. Check the description and address of a property before arranging a viewing – the same property will often be advertised through several estate agents.