Now, for the hard part. You may already have heard about the long lines at group visits to desirable apartments.
I want to say: don’t despair! Newcomers do find places to live.
But perhaps despair is part of the process. Or one adjusts expectations: it’s not unusual to sublet for a half-year or year as you look. I certainly did, and that was fifteen years ago. Think about this as a chance to explore different neighbourhoods of the city and meet new people. And you are much more likely to find a place if you ask around with friends.
Most rentals involve making an application to a Property Management group (the Hausverwaltung) that takes care of the building for the landlord. All your dealings will go through them. They will ask you for a dossier of information to apply to be principle tenant of an apartment. Many do not consider freelancers. You would do well to include as much evidence of financial stability (from Schufa: the German credit agency) and a steady paycheck as possible, and if you see a place you like, jump at it and send those pdfs right away. Be prepared when renting to have enough money on hand for the deposit (usually a couple of months rent).
Most people are looking at the same site: www.immobilienscout24.de . You would do well to find a short-term sublet instead through www.wg-gesucht.de and www.studenten-wg.de and then pit in, in order to find the right apartment where you are principle tenant. Sublets are easier to get, can be long-term, and are sometimes quite cheap (many people charge ‘old rents’).
Flatshares (called WG or Wohngemeinschaften) are extremely popular, especially with students and professionals, and also advertised on these sites (a Berlin average is about 600 EUR/month for a room, although there is plenty of variation). You can usually find the right fit — in any case you will be interviewed for the room. In other cities, flatshares might be a sign of poverty, but here they are often preferred by professionals who like some company. A WG in Berlin is not something that only young people do: plenty of older people like the company.
Note that the city is clamping down on holiday apartments, in order to fight gentrification, which is why it’s so hard to find a place on AirBnb, as properties now have to go through a lengthy process of applying for a license and declaring their earnings.
How long will all this take you? Well, I have friends who have found an apartment no problem in about a couple month’s time. But I also have readers writing in, looking for their own place on the lower end of the rental market who have had real difficulty finding anything quickly at their price point, battling 20-50 other applicants per rental, and applying “to dozens of adverts and getting zero replies”. One person commented that people end up “constantly moving from temporary to temporary accommodation until finally finding a longer term rental. I wish someone would have warned me, flat out, that Berlin rental market is so extremely competitive and desperate”. It’s all the more difficult if you arrive without a credit history here, history of renting in Germany, German guarantor, or a stable permanent job. If you can pay, or are willing to share, or sublet, or are really really patient, then it all gets easier.
For buying apartments, Berlin is no longer quite the deal it was. It is still cheaper than many other European capitals, you might check out (again) www.immobilienscout24.de
Most Germans rent (about 80% in Berlin), which makes the variety and quantity of places available to buy abysmal. Although availability seems to be increasing as interest rates hike up. Be aware many people also want to buy. Be prepared to pounce! Note you have to pay an extra 10-12% in taxes and fees on top of the asking price. If you care about noise, you might look into a rooftop apartment (Dachgeschosswohnung) in a pre-war building if you can find one (these are very very popular and increasingly mythical). You will want close access to a U or S Bahn train, and to be in a Kiez. There are plenty of fleamarkets, second-hand shops on Urbanstraße, and IKEAs in Berlin for cheap furniture.
Here’s the index to the Moving to Berlin Guide, click on what you want to read next!
This is an independent guide to Berlin, with no ghostwritten content and no sponsored links or tips, from The Needle.
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(the author asserts his right to copyright, revised 07/2023)