Tips for Renters
Where to look
Paying realtor fees ( Provision ), which can run you as much as two months rent, is unnecessary in the current market. You should have little trouble finding as nice or nicer places on your own that don't come with the extra price tag. Skip the rental agents ( Makler ) and look for ads that use the words von Privat or Provisionsfrei . Alternatively try an online real estate databases eg: Immobiliensuche.de or Immobilly.de .
The exception that may be worth the investment is membership in a Wohnungsbaugesellschaft or Wohnungsbaugenossenschaft . For a couple of thousand Deutschmark deposit, you can join one of these rental organizations, and select from among the apartments they own, which tend to be less expensive than the rents you'll find elsewhere. When you move out, you get your deposit money back. Look for their ads among the classifieds in the local papers.
Speaking of papers, although every major newspaper carries apartment listings, there are three which consistently seem to have the best offerings, in terms of both number of Provisionsfrei apartments, and rent per square meter. They are:
Berliner Morgenpost : the apartment listings come out in the Saturday edition, available starting Friday evening. Huge selection, few Makler.
Die Tagesspiegel : as with the Morgenpost, apartment listings are in the Saturday edition, on the stands Friday night. The Tagesspiegel also has a good selection of apartments, though they tend to be a bit fancier and pricier than the Morgenpost, and they carry more Makler ads. Still, it's a popular paper among apartment hunters, especially because of the classification by district.
Zweite Hand : Not a newspaper, but rather a classified ad magazine. On Saturday, there's a special Immobilien (real estate) edition containing the apartment listings. The Tuesday and Thursday editions have all classifieds, including apartments, folded into one.
Zitty : This city magazine appears every second Wednesday and has a range of classified ads. Appropriate to its readership, the flats & rooms on offer tend to be at the younger and cheaper end of the market.
Each of these papers also has online classifieds. Click on the name of the paper to reach these.
When to look
As soon as possible. For the Morgenpost and the Tagesspiegel, this means Friday night - phoning people Friday night. By Saturday morning, you're likely to already be at the end of a long list of people coming to see the apartment, and most will be rented on a first come, first serve basis. For ZweiteHand, this means Saturday morning, or, even better, on Thursday, when some of the Saturday listings will make their first appearance, and when few people bother to check them.
What to look out for
Once you've found the apartment of your dreams, make sure it also comes with the lease of your dreams.
Watch out for leases that specify that you are renting the apartment for a fixed amount of time. In German law, this translates into you being responsible for paying rent until the end of that time period, even if you move out. Unless your landlord agrees to let you out early (and one who would is not likely to make you sign that kind of a lease), your only way out is to find a subletter, or to keep on paying. Instead, look for a month to month lease, which is by far the most typical and allows you to move out whenever you want, with 3 or 6 months notice, depending on how long you've lived there first (if you stay put for a really, really long time this can go up to a year or more, but it takes a while).
Also watch out for rents that automatically increase every year by a percentage of the previous year's rent ( Staffelmiete ). You'd be surprised how much your inexpensive apartment starts costing you after a couple of years, especially compared to your friends who signed leases without this extra clause. Luckily, it shouldn't be difficult to find a place without such a provision.
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