8 Tips: How to find a property for sale in Germany

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Stephan Raczak

Apr 4, 2022
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As an expat, it can seem difficult to find the right sources of information when it comes to buying a property in Germany. Here are a few handy resources that can help you find your dream home. Besides subscribing to Hypofriend’s property radar when you sign up, you can use the following tips.

1. Hypofriend's property radar

Before starting your search, you will want to make sure you have determined your maximum property budget. If you sign up for Hypofriend's affordability calculator, you will not only understand your maximum property price but through Hypofriend's property radar you will also be automatically matched with suitable properties that you can afford.

The property radar aggregates listings from Germany's two largest real estate platforms and regularly sends you newly published listings. This way you have an easy to browse overview of 90% or more of the properties on the market.

Once you have signed up to the property radar, it is important that in your account you set the search filters which include:

  • City + districts

  • Property type

  • Minimum floor area

  • Minimum rooms

  • Vacant or rented

  • Commission-free

  • Further property features (balcony, floor number, Altbau, Neubau)

This sequence of setting criteria works best in our experience::

  1. Set the city, neighborhood, and price range (don't go for m² as price is the harder criteria)

  2. Then add additional features that are essential for you(e.g. balcony) but don't over-filter, certainly not at first. You want to see how much your filter reduces the supply. 

  3. Choose vacant to filter out the many rented properties, unless this is what you want

TIP: check the grundriss or floorplan first. This gives you the best quick insight if the house works for you and if the value is reasonable.

  • Effective M² is the main driver of the price. In M² calculations in Germany balconies count 50% , hallways 100%, but what is the M² usable for living (i.e. excluding stairs, hallways)? Is the calculation broadly correct--it frequently is not?

  • Sun exposure and light, ceiling heights are key to how you experience the space and thus also key to assessing the value.

  • Try to ignore paint colors, furniture, or kitchen cabinets: these are easy(er) to change.

  • For apartments: What floor it is on, is an elevator available? In Germany the higher the floor the more expensive the apartment.

If a particular listing is of interest, and you cannot get the real estate agent to respond or find it particularly hard, you can send a request directly to your assigned Hypofriend advisor who will try to facilitate you receiving the Expose, scheduling a viewing, or simply creating a connection between you and the agent – thus elevating you above other potential buyers.

2. Online portals

Online property portals are the go-to first step in finding the property of your dreams. Portals aggregate large volumes of properties, and it’s worthwhile to search thoroughly. Typically, these sites will feature detailed search filters, allowing you to narrow down your search to the properties that suit you best in terms of price, size, and location.

The portals are not always easy to use though. There is significant overlaps, dual listings. And there are many properties that are rented out and not listed as such. They can take a lot of time to scroll through the pictures. To facilitate the search we have created Property radar to consolidate Immoscout and Immowelt properties, thus covering the bulk of the market. You can select the frequency of your e-mail updates, based on criteria you selected. Staying up to date with new properties is extremely crucial, as reacting quickly is essential if you are looking to purchase in today’s competitive German real estate market. Do check out if other portals are useful and we are always happy to hear tips for improvement !

3. Project developers

Another option is to go straight to the source. Finding a property via a project developer can have many advantages. For example, by buying directly from a developer you most likely won’t have to pay any real estate commission, potentially saving you as much as 3.57% on the cost of your new home.

Buying from a developer also allows you to purchase your home before the property hits the market, so your chances of competing with other prospective buyers are usually lower.

Buying from project developers also means that you are acquiring an entirely new property that will depreciate less than existing buildings. Compared with older buildings from the 20th century, with a new built, you can expect to have much lower maintenance and repair costs in the coming decades. Another benefit is that builders will usually give a 5-year warranty from the completion date. With some new-built projects you also have more liberty in deciding on your ideal floor plan, interior facilities, and more details.

Contrary to what you might expect, finding projects that are in development isn’t too difficult. You can research new developments in all of Germany on Neubaukompass or InBerlinWohnen. Alternatively, you can check out the latest offerings from popular project developers such Project Immobilien, BUWOG, Pandion or Bonava directly on their websites.

Be aware that there are also developers involved primarily in up-scale projects such as PRIMUS or Ralf Schmitz. So, no matter what kind of property you’re looking for, there’s likely a development that suits your criteria.

If you are interested in building your own detached house on a plot of land using an experienced project developer, you will want to look into Helma, BRALE or Town & Country. These developers are able to offer fixed turnkey prices and will often also provide a plot of land to build on.

4. Real estate brokers & newsletters

One of the most tried and true methods of finding a property is by paying attention to real estate newsletters. Newsletters or e-mails form brokers will keep you informed of the latest listings in your desired area, and may come handy if brokers list their properties first on their own portals.

While it’s definitely helpful to get in touch with big-name real estate brokers thast have significant supply like Accentro, Engel & Völkers or Best Place, don’t hesitate to approach smaller brokers such as David Borck, Aden Immobilien or The Property Connection. There is also BePart that offers commission-free properties ready to move in attractive districts of Berlin.

Many of these brokers sell a large inventory of rented units that usually have a significant price discount (compared to vacant properties) and could be interesting for later potential own usage. We have written an extensive guide on whether it makes sense to buy a tenanted unit.

5. Classified ads & Ebay Kleinanzeigen

You might already be familiar with Ebay Kleinanzeigen through purchasing used furniture or electronics, but it’s also a great place to look for properties that not many people are aware of. As with the other methods on this list, acting fast is of the utmost importance. If you see a property that matches your criteria, call the buyer and arrange a viewing as soon as possible.

When buying through a classified ad, you’re less likely to have to pay a real estate commission because the listings are usually created by the property owners. Not only will this save you the realtor fee (up to 3.57% in Berlin) but also in many cases you will be able to negotiate the price to a larger extent. Just like the aforementioned property portals, you can choose to receive email updates about new properties once they are listed.

You can also check out Ohne-Makler.Netwhere predominantly private sellers list their properties to sell commission-free.

6. Specialised property search engines

This method is of interest to people who intend to buy-to-let their properties, rather than those who are looking to move into their own home. These meta-search engines work similarly to the Hypofriend property radar by aggregating a multitude of online property sources and displaying them in a data-driven property dashboard according to very detailed search filters. The most prominent search engines are ThinkImmo, Immometrica and Deskimmo.

Platforms like these take the listings from portals and filter them to find investment-worthy properties with the highest rental yields. This way, potential investors don’t have to go through hundreds of listings just to identify that one property that meets their investment criteria. WE do have to advise you that the highest yield is quite often not the best total yield. Undesirable areas do not appreciate well in price and this needs to be compensated by higher rental yields.

In a current market of declining rental yields and rising property prices, you can use a platform to deliver higher yield properties in pre-selected locations in Germany directly to your mailbox.

As you can see, there are a variety of ways to find the right property for you. Just be sure to have all your relevant documents ready, and prepare to move swiftly once you’ve found your desired apartment. If you want to calculate the maximum property price you can afford, check out our affordability calculator.  For your affordability of a rental property we do suggest to speak to a mortgage advisor after filling in your data, as special conditions may apply and special opportunities exist--using your current property as collateral, and optimising your overall interest rate risk exposure.

7. (Foreclosure) property auctions

Exploring foreclosure auctions represents another source for finding properties to buy that have been in distress due to the owners usually defaulting on their mortgage payments. Auctions are typically carried out by public courts in Germany. The registry of all upcoming property auctions can be found either on Zwangsversteigerungen-Online or ZVG (better usability of uploaded documents). All information/documents (Expose, appraisal, images, etc.) for foreclosures are free and publicly available – so steer away from services such as Argetra that try to charge a fee for this public information. Unlike foreclosure auctions, there are also auction houses such as Deutsche Grundstücksauktionen that will usually carry out public auctions on a quarterly basis.

When most people think of auctioned properties, one of the first thoughts that come to mind is the possibility of scoring a winning bid for a property well below the below-market price. However, the environment of Germany's strong seller's market since 2010 with fierce competition among buyers, has long carried over into auction houses and often results in participants overbidding each other to the point of irrational price bids that well exceed a property's value.

In addition to this, here are further important considerations for anybody that dares to take part in an auction:

  • 10% upfront equity deposit: To participate in auctions, you usually have to deposit 10% of the property's determined market value as a bank transfer to the court at least one week in advance. 

  • Financing an auctioned property is more difficult: German mortgage lenders will usually only finance auctioned properties up to the market value - this is then considered the 100% loan-to-value (LTV) benchmark. If the final bid ends up being higher than the predetermined value, the difference will need to be covered from one's equity. Often, the underlying appraisals are more than one year old during which local property prices have usually increased significantly. This inevitably leads to the equity portion being significant and downpayments needed of more than 20-30%.

  • Incomplete documentation: Access to relevant property documents is usually limited beforehand. Critical documents such as protocols of past years' owners' meetings, monthly Hausgeld cost estimates, declaration of division etc. are usually not available beforehand. This means that one might be buying a property that potentially has upcoming costs or the homeowners' association has underlying problems. Also, you are usually unable to view the property from the inside which might lead to one buying a property that turns out to be completely unsuitable.

  • German language: being fluent in German is imperative – not least to be able to diligently analyze the sparse property documents available before and possibly do upfront more thorough research about the property e.g. with the management company (Hausverwaltung).

In summary, unless you are an experienced German-speaking real estate professional with ample equity and a healthy risk appetite, foreclosure properties still represent an effective method of buying properties in a competitive seller's market.

8. Personal network

Word-of-mouth can be a powerful tool when searching for a property. Ask around to see if any friends or colleagues know of anyone about to sell.

There are many advantages to finding a property through your own network. For starters, you get a chance to speak with the current owners before the property even hits the market, so you can negotiate the house price. You also don’t have to worry about competing with other buyers because you are ahead of everybody else and could have the exclusive right to buy. A beneficial side-effect is also that you will usually not have to pay a buyer's commission which will save you up to 3.57% of the purchase price.

If you are currently renting a place and the owner decides to sell that property, you as a tenant will have the exclusive right of purchase. This is also known as the “Vorkaufsrecht” in Germany, and basically guarantees tenants the preemptive right to purchase the property they rent before it hits the market.

It might be a proactive move to ask your current landlord if there is an intention to sell the property that you currently rent. It may not be next month, but there is a chance that the landlord wishes to sell the property in the near future.

Finding an interesting property via your network requires a fair amount of work of asking around and talking to many people. Make sure that your network knows what kind of property you are looking for. If they are aware that you are looking for example for an “Altbau” 3-room apartment in the Berlin ring area for a max purchase price of 400,000 EUR" they will be much more clear about your desires and can potentially share it with their network.S

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Stephan Raczak

Stephan is one of Hypofriend’s Mortgage Experts.

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