I moved to Frankfurt, Germany in 2019 and have been loving life in Europe so far. I started this blog while living in South Africa and life has now taken me to Europe. Can’t complain! I stayed a few months in corporate housing when I first arrived, followed by a month in a flat share using WG-Gesucht, and now finally to a long term apartment in the city.
This post is all a part of my guide to living in Frankfurt, Germany where I list out all the things you need to know as an expat in Frankfurt and Germany.
Real Estate Competition is Fierce
The housing market in Frankfurt is very strong. There are more renters than landlords in this city and it’s been this way for some time. With Germany’s strong economy and an influx of new jobs because of Brexit in 2019, you can expect competition to be very high for the foreseable future. This is not to say you can’t find an apartment here but just know that you’re competing with many well paid professionals also looking for apartments.
This is especially the case if you’re looking at prime real estate neighborhoods like Westend, Nordend, Bornheim, Ostend, Bockenheim and Sachsenhausen, and even more the case if you’re looking at renting high quality Altbaus (Old style houses). The name of the game in Frankfurt is to act fast. This means to have all your documents ready and to decide on an apartment within 24 hours of viewing it if not sooner. Someone else will if you don’t. I learned that the hard way after losing out on an amazing apartment in Sachsenhausen.
Similarly, I’ve found there to be more availability of apartments in the new Gallusviertel districts behind the Hauptbanhof. This is a new neighborhood and there are loads of new construction condo buildings with lots of units. If you’re keen to live in this neighborhood, then you will have an easier time.
To better understand Frankfurt’s neighborhoods, make sure to read my Frankfurt neighborhood guide.
How to find apartments in Germany
Finding apartments in Germany is pretty standard. There are numerous websites and methods to finding your dream apartment in Frankfurt that I will talk about below
Immoscout and Immonet
There are numerous websites you can use to find apartments but I found that the two main websites you need are immobilienscout.de, and immonet.de. Almost all apartments will be listed on these two websites. Sadly, neither website offers English language but you can get around this by just using the translate feature on Google Chrome. Note that these websites are mainly for long term rentals. If you’re looking for short term and/or furnished rentals, then use something like wunderflats.de.
I found that the websites have largely legitimate and honest lists. There are no spam or fake listings on these websites, and the landlords all mean business. To apply, simply send a message from the websites and you will be in contact with the landlord to schedule a viewing.
In addition, make sure to save your search criteria so you can access it easily as new apartments become available. Alternatively, download the app and turn on the notifications so you get notified right away when there’s a new apartment that matches your criteria.
A great deal of apartments in Frankfurt never even make it on to a website like Immobilienscout. They are settled offline through personal or professional networks. Often times, someone at your office may be moving and their apartment will be available so it’s up to you to utilize this network if possible. This will likely be the best case scenario if you are lucky enough to have someone because it will save you a lot of time and the prices are generally better.
How much to pay for a flat in Frankfurt, Germany
Make sure you have a budget set and ready to go for an apartment search in Frankfurt. Knowing what the market is will be crucial. I spoke to many people living in Frankfurt, as well as obsessive perusing of Immoscout to understand the market. Like any major city in this day and age, everyone complains about the rent being too high. As I came from New York, the rent here seemed much more reasonable and perhaps even cheap!
Cost of Real estate in Frankfurt
I will only talk about renting in this section as I’m not considering buying anything. As of 2019, I found prices to be on average about €15-€20 per square meter. So a 100 square meter apartment would generally be €1500-2000 a month. This of course can fluctuate wildly depending on the location, and whether the apartment is renovated or not.
For €1,000-€1,250, you can find a solid 1 bedroom apartment in the city center and two bedroom apartments will be in the €1250-€1750 price range. As for neighborhoods, I found that Westend, Nordend, Bornheim, and Sachsenhasen are the most expensive and are similarly priced to each other. Ostend, Bockenheim, and Gallusviertel as slightly cheaper but not by a significant margin.
If you’re willing to live further out like Eckenheim or Offenbach, you can expect a decent discount.
What to look for in an apartment?
To find your perfect apartment, there’s many things you need to consider. Before I delve into the details, I will go over some key criteria and differences in Germany when it comes to apartment hunting.
Altbau vs Neuehaus
Being in Europe, you can expect a lot of old style buildings that have been around for some time. Germany, and especially Frankfurt has a really distinctive style of architecture that I very much like. Altbau or “old house” are the term for these buildings. There are loads of Altbaus around Frankfurt particularly in more residential neighborhoods like Sachsenhausen and Nordend. Of course, Frankfurt is also a city and there are loads of new development condos for those that prefer a more modern touch. I love how charming these neighborhoods and buildings are so I focused my search only on Altbaus.
German’s love their balconies and outdoor spaces. It’s common to have some sort of outdoor space for new and old apartments so make sure you look if there is a “balkon” or “terrasse” in your listings.
The definition of “Rooms” in Germany
Whenever I thought about “rooms” when it comes to an apartment, it’s always been bedrooms. So if you have a living room, dining room, kitchen, and two separate bedrooms, I would call this a two bedroom apartment. In Germany, the living room/dining room also counts as a “room” (or zimmer in German) so if you’re looking for a two bedroom apartment with a living room, you’re looking for a 3 “room” apartment.
As well, make sure to look at bathrooms or Badezimmer. A full bathroom means toilet, sink, and shower. There are lots of apartments with a smaller half bathroom without a shower. They call these the Frankfurt bathrooms as it is a bit thing in the Frankfurt area.
This is of course one of the most important. Make sure you target an apartment that you can afford. Make sure your salary (salaries) are enough for the apartment where it won’t make you seem too burdened. There is no rent to income rule that I know of here but i think if the rent is below 35% of your net income you’ll be in a good situation. So if your apartment is €1,000 a month, then you should make around €3,000 on a net basis after tax and you’ll be totally in the clear.
Furnished vs unfurnished
One of the first things you need to decide is whether you want to target furnished or unfurnished rental apartments. The majority of apartments in Frankfurt and the rest of Germany come as unfurnished so if you really want a furnished apartment, you’ll have slim inventory.
Compared to the rest of Germany, you will find proportionally more furnished rentals in Frankfurt but it is still not the norm. Expect to pay 10-15% high price if you want to rent furnished. If you’re worried about buying furniture in Frankfurt, don’t worry as there is an ikea close by.
Some apartments in Frankfurt ask for a 2y minimum lease. I’m not sure if this is actually legal but I’ve seen many landlords at good apartments ask for this because they can. Of course, the less they have to turnover an apartment, the better it is for their sanity and profit margins so this is understandable. Most apartments are okay with a 1y lease but make sure to understand this before viewing the apartment to save everyone time.
Strange German specific real estate things
Like moving to any new country, there will be things you discover that may appear strange to downright non-sensical. Germany is no different. For the most part, the apartments don’t stray too far from what I’m used to but there are a few things everyone needs to know before beginning your search. You’ll want to take a deep breath for this.
No furnished kitchen
By far the biggest shock to the system is the fact that German apartments don’t come with furnished apartments. Yes, in Germany the tenant is expected to bring their own fridge and dishwasher. In fact, some apartments even make you provide your own sink and shelving! There’s many many things I love about Germany, but this is just downright nonsense in so many ways.
Firstly, moving kitchen furniture is not cheap and not easy. Second, kitchen layouts and sizes are different with every apartment. There is no guarantee that what you have purchased to furnish one apartment will fit your next one. Germans have tried explaining why they do this but honestly, there is no explanation I’ve heard that makes any sense.
Nevertheless, I’ve found that many of the apartments I’ve looked at in Frankfurt do come with furnished kitchens. Perhaps it’s because half of Frankfurt consists of expats who are not keen to have no kitchen when they move in or perhaps the younger generation sees the light. You can actually filter on Immoscout to search for only furnished kitchens. This was a no brainer for me. I had zero interest furnishing a kitchen only to sell the appliances at a steep discount when I moved out.
No ceiling lights
The next contentious German trait is the fact that many apartments don’t come with a furnished ceiling light. You’ll find that wires are hanging from the ceiling for you to use. The renter is expected to buy the light and the ceiling cover for all lights in the apartment unit. Depending on how fancy you want to get, you can look to spend at least €30 per light.
Like with kitchens, I found many apartments in Frankfurt also came with the lights furnished as a likely way to appease expats who find this strange.
Bedrooms in Germany almost always come with no closets. This goes for altbaus and new construction. The bedroom is just a large 4 wall room with nothing built in. This means you’ll either have to buy a wardrobe of some sort. Like with ceiling lights and kitchens, I saw apartments with built in closets that were very nice to rectify this problem. However I found built in closets a much rarer perk than furnished kitchens and ceiling lights.
Pictures are awful
This isn’t that big of a deal rather just an observation I’ve made. The photos that you see on the websites like immoscout are absolutely terrible. Even the listings done by real estate brokers employ camera phone photos (and really bad phones at that) and look like complete garbage.
Thankfully, most apartments I saw looked much better in person. This is unlike what I’m used to in NYC where real estate brokers use high end cameras with wide angle lenses to make the apartments look much more appealing than they are. But seriously, would it kill Germans just use a real camera and turn up the brightness a bit?
Great German things
There are plenty of good things about German real estate as well which I will cover in this section.
German / European Windows
The one good thing I can say about German apartments are the windows. I’m not sure if this is a regulation or an European thing but all German windows are tilt and turn windows. Tilt and turn windows can be opened fully like a casement window (inwards) or they can be tilted from the bottom so that the top of the window is angled into the room, giving a smaller opening at the top for ventilation. I absolutely love this feature!
Good quality apartments
I came from New York where you can pay extremely high rents but receive a terrible apartment in a terrible building. Because there is so much money and demand there, landlords can get away with doing the bare minimum. You end up with buildings that look terrible on the outside, and even worse on the inside, sometimes with cockroaches, mice, bedbugs and the like. Overall, when you say the word “landlord” in New York, you always think negatively.
I’ve only spent a few months in Frankfurt but I’ve visited at least 20 apartments and have been to many of my friends apartments as well. To sum it up, I think the standard of maintenance and construction is very high in Germany. Whether it is just the landlord’s willingness or strict regulations, I don’t know, but the apartment construction on average is quite nice for new and old apartments alike. The outside of the altbaus are impeccably maintained and I’m not just talking about the super fancy ones, but even an unassuming old style house is very well maintained inside and out.
Cold vs Hot Rent
Warm rent in Germany (Warmmiete) usually corresponds to an “all inclusive” rent. It means that all extra-costs are included, should they be electricity (“Strom”), gas or water expenses. Depending on what you have signed up for, it can also include internet or/and TV although it is not usual. Make sure to have an understanding in the contract.
Cold rent in Germany (Kaltemiete) is no more than what you owe the landlord every month. All other extra costs will have to be undertaken by yourself. Contracts with gas, electricity, water and internet providers will have to be made by you only. The landlord won’t be involved there.
When you see a listing on Immobilienscout, you will normally see the cold and hot rents advertised as two different numbers so you know exactly what is in the extra costs. Largely from my experience apartment hunting, this extra cost includes everything except electricity. This is a separate fee that you will need to pay on your own and you’ll need to pick a provider. Internet and TV are of course never included.
My personal apartment hunting search in Frankfurt
And finally, one to my personal apartment search in Frankfurt! In total, I spent about 3 weeks looking for an apartment before signing a final lease. I started my search about 45 days before my move in date because you don’t want to start too early as landlords will want a sooner move in date.
My Apartment criteria
After living in Frankfurt for a few months already, I was able to gauge the market and decide what I wanted to have in an apartment. Here are the things I was looking for:
- Altbau or on a quaint street with many altbaus. There are many newer buildings in older neighborhoods as much of the city was bombed, but I did not want to live in a big highrise condo building
- 3 rooms: This means 2 bedrooms and 1 living room.
- Balcony of some sort
- 80 square meters and above
- €2000 maximum warm rent
The next thing is to know where in Frankfurt you want to live. I was pretty adamant about staying within the city center so I kept my list of neighborhoods pretty small. I focused my search on the central Frankfurt neighborhoods. I didn’t want a long commute and wanted the conveniences of being in the city. This is of course, also the most expensive and difficult areas to find available apartments. I wanted to be within a 20 minute train ride of the Innenstadt which is where my office was.
- Innenstadt (only some areas)
I left out Westend which is a hugely popular area for Finance professionals because I found it to be too quiet and close to the financial area.
Applying for the apartment
Once you find an apartment, there is not too much to do when it comes to paperwork. The landlord will draft up a contract in German which you can feed directly to Google Translate to understand the terms.
What documents are necessary
You’ll need to make sure you have all the right documents ready to go before you are apartment hunting. It’s imperative to have everything ready to go and to be able to submit an application on a whim. As an non-German expat, these are the forms I needed to provide:
- Photocopy of my passport and my EU Blue Card Permit
- Letter from my employer that states my title, start date, salary, etc.
- Three months pay stubs
Three months security deposit
In Germany, the standard security deposit that you give your landlord is three months. Yes, THREE months of the rent price will be given to your landlord as a deposit if you damage things. This is thrice as high as what I’m used to paying which is one month. I’ve seen a handful apartments that are two months of security deposit but that is not the norm. Make sure you have plenty of cash saved up for this endeavor. Thankfully, the security deposit is based on the cold rent, and not the hot rent.
When you have found the flat in Berlin, the pearl you would like to chase, that’s where the fun begins! If you have just arrived in Berlin, it’s going to be slightly more difficult. Most of landlords are asking this infamous SCHUFA record. However, some of them are happy to give you keys in return of a 2 or 3 months-rent-worth deposit. It is no doubt that you maximize your chance when speaking to them in German as it shows you have been/will be here for a long time. (Commitment powa!)
To be honest, it can be quite hard if you want a flat in the hippest corners of Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain. That’s because EVERYONE wants to move there. In the most wanted areas, it can be become quite intense and some potential tenants don’t hesitate to come to directly with all necessary papers to directly take the flat if they are interested. It might be a good idea to do the same. It’s also reasonable to expect mass group visits in those areas.
A useful paper that might help your case is a “Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung” (Roughly; free of rent-related debts certificate). It is a paper provided by your former landlord that states your left your tenancy without any debts. If you come from abroad, make one in English with this long German word as a title. It it not guaranteed every landlord will accept it, but it’s better than nothing. Here is one in German for reference.
An alternative strategy might be to find people soon leaving their flat and looking for a “Nachmieter” to take it over, the new tenant starting a new contract with the landlord.
Apartment Hunting in Frankfurt
I spent a lot of time apartment hunting and ended up seeing 10-15 apartments during my escapade. Most of the apartments were absolutely fantastic. The landlords really take good care of the apartments and I was impressed with the condition of the altbau style houses. Lots of them were remodeled with a new kitchen, flooring, and paint.
For those interested, here is a sampling of the apartments I saw around Frankfurt. Of course I won’t release the addresses but I will list the neighborhood:
This was a new construction apartment which I thought I’d just check out. The apartment itself was fantastic but it was in a souless neighborhood that I did not want any part of.
This was an absolutely amazing apartment in Nordend on the top floor with panoramic views of the city. The price was a bit higher than what I wanted to pay (€2,200 warm) and it was so huge that furnishing the place would have cost a lot of money.
I saw many apartments in Sachsenhausen, primarily altbau’s and one new construction. There are some fantastic apartments here and there is loads to do in the neighborhood.
And Finally, my new Apartment in Frankfurt
In the end, I settled on an apartment in Nordend in an absolutely stunning Altbau. I got very lucky with this apartment with a landlord that was in a very favorable situation compared to me. We negotiated a one year lease and the apartment itself is absolutely stunning. The apartment was also mostly furnished with a kitchen, closets, and lighting which was great for me as it is pointless for me to buy such things if I’m not certain how long I would be staying.
Also, once you’ve moved in, make sure to register your address (anmeldung) at the local town hall (Burgeramt). Even if you’ve done this once before, you’ll need to do it again once you’ve moved apartments.
Here are some pictures of my new home in Frankfurt!
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