Before you begin your house hunt, take a hard look at your disposable income and set yourself a budget. The reality in Germany is that most people spend up to one-third of their gross salary on rent. Statistically, about six out of 10 Germans rent their home - and the figure is higher in major urban areas. The amount of rent you pay reflects the location, the standard and age of the building, as well as the market value. The more convenient the apartment/house (i.e. proximity to public transportation or shopping districts or schools), the higher the rent.
Most newly-arriving expatriates are surprised to discover that, in contrast to other countries, the apartments in Germany are usually rented empty - not only of furniture, but also appliances, even kitchen cabinets. Most apartments do not have a stove, light fixtures, built-in wardrobes, a dishwasher or a washing machine. Tenants are expected to purchase or rent their own. Landlords in many parts of Germany have become accustomed to renting to expatriates, and increasingly apartments and houses are fitted with built-in kitchens as well as bathroom equipment - but expect to pay extra for this. Another alternative is to rent your furniture, a service which is growing in popularity. One company which offers this service is www.furtnitureleasing.de
If you plan to reside in Germany for a relatively short period of time, it may be more advantageous for you to choose to live in a fully furnished flat (möbliert). Due to the large international community living in various parts of Germany, furnished apartments are not hard to find, although your search may be more laborious in other cities where fewer expatriates have settled down. Such apartments are not cheap, but if you do the math, you may find it cheaper to pay the extra monthly fee to live in a furnished apartment for a few months or years - where you usually get a flat rate for costs such as heating and water - compared with the total costs of buying new furniture and other allowances you would otherwise have to pay for to live in an unfurnished flat.
The rent is classified as either Kaltmiete (you pay separately for heating, maintenance costs and other utilities), or Warmmiete (heating and other costs are included in the rent). Electricity is contracted directly by the tenant from the local utility company. Although your utility bill will be based on your usage, you should ask the landlord what the previous tenants paid, so you can get a rough estimate of the additional monthly payments. There are restrictions on increasing the rent, but utilities can be increased at any time - for example, if the city authorities raise the water price. Utilities are annually balanced over the year (i.e. your heating bill will be the same in winter and summer) and adjusted by the landlord.
The housing market in most parts of western Germany is tight, and there is an obvious shortage of reasonably-priced properties. If you are on a budget, don't expect to have a wealth of choices. Indeed, apartments in beautiful restored buildings dating from the beginning of the last century are rare and landlords ask for - and get - a premium rent. In general, apartments here are solidly built and in good condition, with modern insulation and plumbing. It is a good idea before you commit, to check the cleanliness of the communal areas and the availability of parking.
If you choose to live in a city, you will likely have to live in an apartment - houses there are rare. If you have your heart set on a house, then you are better off looking in the outlying areas, or suburbs. There are three different types of houses in Germany: the townhouse (called Reihenhaus, abbreviated RH, or Reihenendhaus, abbreviated REH); the semi-detached house (called Doppelhaushälfte, abbreviated DHH); and the freestanding house (called Einfamilienhaus, abbreviated EFH).
There are no rules on size or layout. Statistically, Germans have an average of 1.6 children, so houses with three bedrooms are the norm. Houses are measured in square meters rather than the number of bedrooms. A house of approximately 130 sqm living space is considered average, and a house of 260 sqm would fall into the up market section.