From house hunting to home in Germany
Finding a home in Germany can seem intimidating. Depending on the time of year you arrive, it may seem like either feast or famine. But once you understand the process and get going, you’ll find the right place to call home.
Before house hunting, make sure you’ve in-processed and checked the status of your application for on-base housing. You may have to wait several months, even up to a year or more, before housing on your installation is available, so have a backup plan. Also establish your Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA) to cover expenses while you look for a home. Visit your local Housing Office for a list of approved available properties and visit www.housing.af.mil or www.homes.mil.
Look for homes that fall in a range equal to or below your Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA). Rental prices are determined by the home’s size, location, age and amenities. Your OHA is based on these prices, your rank and number of dependents, and the current housing market and euro value. You may need a supervisor’s approval before signing a lease for rent above your OHA. Choosing a home that is priced near your OHA limit can also lead to unplanned out-of-pocket expenses when you receive bill adjustments for utilities. This often happens because your utilities are charged at a flat rate that is typically much lower than the amount used. To avoid receiving these extra bills at the end of the year, contact your utility companies and request to be charged more each month. Remember that your expenses can be further affected by fluctuations in the exchange rate.
Prioritize your needs and desires to help you evaluate houses quickly. Do you need to be on the school bus route? Desire a shorter commute? Need a home that accepts pets? Pets can be an issue when looking, so be prepared to have your list of available homes decrease significantly.
Search tools & resources
Your sponsor should be available to take you to tour prospective homes. But be prepared to make your own arrangements, as circumstances may prevent your sponsor from providing transportation.
Check out home listings in local newspapers for the military, including Stars and Stripes, online yard-sale sites like Bookoo, and other websites such as www.immobilienscout24.de. The Automated Housing Referral Nework is also a great tool, but be aware that the site is no longer sponsored by the DOD. Posts may be by tenants, landlords or agents, and finder’s fees may apply.
Other available resources are German realtors and real estate services, known as Makler and Immobilien Services. Realty liaison consultancy agencies also assist with finding homes, financing and contract negotiation. Many agencies charge finder’s fees totaling between one- and three-month’s rent. And you still need Housing to inspect the house and contract before OHA is approved. Never sign German rental contracts before you have them translated and reviewed.
Expectations for German homes
German houses are different from what you may be accustomed to. Homes may not be free-standing, or may lack some amenities, such as garages or backyards. Rooms, hallways and stairwells are smaller, so take a measuring tape to determine room dimensions. This will help you visualize whether your furniture will fit. Some homes may not have closets or cabinets in the bathrooms and kitchens; wardrobes and other essential furniture may be borrowed through the Furnishings Management Office (FMO). Browse classified ads, yard-sale websites, on-base thrift stores and local flea markets (Flohmärkte), or stop by IKEA, for deals on must-haves. And once you sign a lease, you may receive a move-in housing allowance (MIHA) to help offset expenses.
When touring houses, ask about Internet service, as connection speeds may be slow or non-existent. Take your cellphone with you to determine if you have reception. Also, find out about snow-removal service (Schneeräumdienst). That incredible hilltop house is probably vacant because the village doesn’t plow the roads, which means you won’t be going anywhere when it snows. And keep in mind that the house you’re eyeing with the huge backyard or beautiful garden will be yours to maintain — to the landlord’s standards.
Inquire about average utility costs and the type of heating — gas, oil or electric — as they each have pros and cons.
Gas – Gas heating is efficient and affordable. It is billed monthly by the city utilities (Stadtwerk) if you use city lines or by a utility company that will come out to fill a tank on the property. There is a risk of lethal carbon monoxide when using natural gas. Ensure you have carbon monoxide detectors on each level of your home and near all sleeping areas; you can buy them at your AAFES Exchange.
Oil – Oil heating is quite effective for keeping you toasty during the winter. You must have your home’s oil tank refilled periodically. Monitor the oil level because you don’t want to have to take a cold shower or do without heat when it runs out unexpectedly. Filling your oil tank is costly, and the price of oil is constantly in flux. You can purchase oil through many companies, including your local Exchange.
Electric – This heating system can be quite expensive but is a very dependable energy source.
Your OHA can be used toward a mortgage, but there is a great deal to consider when buying a home. Learn more by contacting the Housing Office. And whether you rent or buy, you should purchase household insurance (Hausratversicherung). You also need personal liability insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung) to cover family members, pets, car and home. Companies providing insurance coverage in Germany include USAA, Geico and AIG.
- In-process, attend housing briefing and set up TLA.
- Determine OHA amount and prioritize needs/wants.
- Contact Housing Office for list of available homes.
- During home tours, ask about utilities and communication services.
- Contact Housing regarding inspections and rental contracts.
- Contact FMO and check out classifieds for furniture needs.
- Don’t sign anything before speaking with Housing.
- Get household and personal liability insurance.
- Ask for your landlord’s contact information, preferably a cellphone number, so that you can get in touch if problems arise.
- Test your home’s locks and smoke detectors as soon as you move in and alert your landlord if there are any issues.
- Determine if your home has insulated pipes and find the location of the emergency water shut-off valve.
- Locate the circuit breaker box and learn how to troubleshoot your heating system.
- Obtain user manuals from your landlord for provided appliances.
If a German appliance, such as your washer or dishwasher, is not working efficiently, try switching to German detergent. Remember that 110-volt items require plug adaptors and possibly transformers. You’ll need high wattage transformers for appliances, such as mixers, crock pots and vacuums. Transformers may be tough on appliances, zap electricity and pose fire hazards; turn off and unplug them when not in use, or buy 220-volt appliances. Some electronics are suitable for 220 voltage without the need for transformers, so always check labels.
Don’t feel overwhelmed by all of these dos and don’ts. Even though you will not be granted a TLA extension if homes do not accept pets or are not in the school zone you desire, take comfort in the fact that you will not be forced to settle on something that doesn’t meet the size needs of your family. The Housing Office will work closely with you until you find a suitable living situation. Soon, you’ll be moved in and ready to enjoy your new home. For more helpful information about living on the economy, visit www.housing.af.mil.