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How to find housing in Hamburg & Germany

By Thursday, October 09, 2014 , ,

Finding somewhere to live in Hamburg is notoriously difficult. We had a really difficult time of it, and there were a few instances where we were thinking of just giving up and going back to the US.

My husband and were both used to being able to ask around or search for apartment and housing complexes, and then contact then to see if they had any available apartments. Here, each rental is listed as a separate property through a real estate website. Of course, you can out about places through word of mouth, other classifieds or even occasionally flyers, but typically each flat is advertised completely separately from the one across the hall.

With that in mind, I thought I'd put together a guide to help new expats and longtime residents find housing in Hamburg, although I think a lot of these tips will help you throughout Germany.

Know the terms

Immobilien - properties.
Haus/Häuser - House/Houses

Miete/Mienten - Rent
Kauf/kaufen - Buy

Kalt - Rent without any utilities included
Warm - Rent with at least some utilities included Be careful, this means different things to different people. Our current apartment comes with everything, but we just looked at one advertised as warm that didn't include electricity or water, an extra 90 a month.

Kaution - Deposit
Courtage - essentially a finders fee. You pay this one time fee when you start to rent an apartment to the person or company that found you the apartment. This can be up to 3 times a month's rent, but not all apartments have this.

WG (Wohngemeinschaft) - A shared apartment, often with more than two flatmates.

Places to Look

immobilienscout24.de and wg-gesucht.de are popular websites.

If you are associated with the University of Hamburg try the International Housing Office.

Rumour has it there's a classifieds for Airbus employees only.

If you or your partner/friend/flatmate is female, join the Girl Gone International Hamburg facebook group. There are loads of people buying and selling things in their classifieds, including apartments to let, sublease or places in a WG. (not to mention the furniture and appliances you'll want to fit your future home out in!)

Other Facebook groups geared towards expats will often feature housing as people come and go and need someone to take over their lease.

Tips and Tricks

Getting an apartment here is a lot like applying for a job. There will be an interview, you may be asked to fill in an application with questions like "what musical instruments do you play?" And you will be competing with other people for the job. I mean flat.

Instead of arranging a time to go view the apartment, sometimes there will be an open house for a few hours, where a few people will be allowed to look at the flat at a time. It's not uncommon for a long line to be seen snaking out the door, down the stairs and out the building.

I can also be helpful to know which distracts you'd like to live in, which ones are really expensive, and which neighborhoods are kinda far away, but have a short commute because they're near a train station.

Bring a native speaker with you if you don't speak German very well.

When applying, if you have a Phd, MD, or any other fancy title, use it! Some places don't care about this kind of stuff, but some really do.

Similarly, make contact with your most official and impressive sounding email. We started looking for places to live before I got my official email set up, and no one responded to our inquiries. Once I had my university email, we contacted the same apartments and got loads of responses.

Ask about which appliences are included. It's not unusal for people the take the washing machine, fridge and oven with them when they move.

Ask about other monthly costs. No only can 'warm' mean anything from including just heating to everything, sometimes there unusual monthly fees, like for maintaining and heating the stairs and lobby of the building, or trash pick up.

They still use faxes a lot in Germany, so if you're looking for a place before you move, it might be ideal to find somewhere with a fax machine you can use.

If you're American, you're probably used to measuring rooms in square feet. Here, it's all going to be in square meters. If you can, get an idea for how big a 40, 50, 60 etc square meter apartment is.

A one room apartment means a one bedroom apartment, and may include a separate living room and kitchen.

Be prepared for some strange stuff:

  • One of the first places we tried to look at we didn't even get in the door. The current resident had locked himself in and was refusing the leave the apartment.
  • Another place we looked at came with a surprise at the end: although there was enough space for a couple to live there, only one person was permitted because of moisture.
  • Friends of ours thought they'd found a nice place, but couldn't take it because the ceilings in the kitchen and bathroom were so short the husband couldn't stand up in them.
How did you find your apartment? Any tips I've forgotten? Leave them in the comments and I'll add them to the list!

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  1. Hi Claire, I nominated you for a Liebster Award! I enjoy your blog...