Sunday, February 19, 2012

House Hunters International: Foltice Edition Part 1

In case you missed our last post, we have news - we're moving again! This time we're only going 60 kilometers (aka: 37 miles) from Borken to Münster. It is bittersweet leaving Borken because it really is a special town and we've loved living here, but if you've read Bryan's recent "Year of the Schedule" blog post, then you know Bryan isn't home very much and we think quitting basketball and moving closer to Bryan's job will overall be better for our family.

Since we've started searching for a place in Münster, we've learned that there are some MAJOR differences between finding an apartment in America to finding one in Germany. In fact, other than the end result of moving into a new place, every other aspect of searching for an apartment is different.

Let's start with the basics...

Step 1: The Online / Newspaper Search
In America you'd pull up the handy website and type in your city and a massive list of just about every available apartment complex within 100 miles shows up with photos and all the details you'd ever want. Searching for an apartment in the newspaper isn't so hard either, because at least I can read and understand English. See below for what a newspaper ad for an apartment in Germany looks like and tell me if you understand what this says:
MS-Gievenbeck ruhige 3 ZKBB, mit EBK, Grg., NR Whg. 77 m2, ab 1.5., 520 Eur KM + NK Zuschriften unter, WN 6784129 ZGM 48135 Münster
Germany also has it's own version of, but you won't find any apartment complex listings because those don't exist here. Every single apartment unit is individually owned (like a condo), so the results in searches end up being specific flats available in buildings or the top/bottom floors of people houses that have been converted to apartments. They may or may not have photos and important details (like when it's available, do they accept pets, etc), and they are most likely listed by a rental real estate agent whose going to charge you (yes, YOU the renter, not the person who hired them to list their apartment) 2 1/2 times the monthly rent as a fee if you get selected as the renter for this apartment.
How I wish the German equivalents were as informative and organized as this website. 
Step 2: Viewing the Apartment

In America, not only is there a TON of information online, but you can just show up at that apartment complex, walk into the office and someone is there to show you a model and answer all you questions - so easy!

In Germany, you have to make an appointment with the landlord or, more likely, the real estate agent that the landlord has hired to find a tenant. This sounds easy, but as we've mentioned before, we're terrible phone talkers in German. We're so bad that Bryan has asked one of the research assistants at the University to make all the initial phone calls for us on apartments we want to look at because if I did the calling no one would call us back. Think about it - if you were trying to find a renter and someone called and left you a message that sounded like this in a heavily accented broken language, would you call them back?

"Hello. I interesting in apartment you. Have I appointment for seeing can? Please back call mine at 1-234-5678. Thank you."
I'm pretty sure that this is how I sound to a German person when I try to speak German. You probably wouldn't call me back either.

If we're lucky enough to get an appointment, we have no say in when that appointment it. The real estate agent simply says "Saturday at 5:30 pm. Be there." And if you can't be there, then you lose out on the apartment because it's such a sellers/renters market in Münster that real estate agents aren't going to bend over backwards to show one person (nonetheless a foreigner) an apartment at a special time when there are 20 more people willing to do whatever it takes to get there on Saturday at 5:30. For whatever reason (maybe it's a law, I'm not sure), apartments are only shown on Saturdays, which sucks for us because Bryan is in Münster every weekday and can easily slip out to check out a place, but Saturday's are really hard for us. He has basketball games, so if we're going to look at an apartment I have to go by myself (or with Dylan, which would be extra stressful). There are limited busses on Saturdays, so if the appointment is too late in the day (like at 5:30) then I'll miss the last bus home and will either have to take an expensive 2.5 hour train ride with multiple legs or just stay in a hotel an come home on Sunday when even fewer busses run between Borken and Münster. That's a super expensive day to just look at 1 apartment. Trying to explain this to a German real estate agent conjures up zero sympathy. They seem to just shrug their shoulders and say "best of luck."

Step 3: So, What's Included?
Ok, this will blow your mind, Americans. Not every apartment here comes equipped with a kitchen. For real. All those years I spent in advertising and marketing homes and condos means that I know that the kitchen is pretty much the most important room in the house. And about 90% of the apartments on the market here require that you BYOK (bring your own kitchen). When touring a typical apartment, here is what the kitchen looks like:

That's right, it's a big empty room with holes in the wall for appliances and zero cabinets.  So, if we moved into one of these apartments we'd have to scrounge up an extra 4,000-5,000 Euros (or more) to buy and install a fitted kitchen into this space.  Some apartments (about 10%) come with kitchens, but you have to read the fine print because some times it will say "New tenant can purchase this kitchen from current tenants for 2,000 Euros" or "New tenant can rent this kitchen for 200 Euros."  Occasionally the kitchen is just part of the apartment, but there's usually some catch.

Another thing that you have to ask about is lighting.  When someone moves out of an apartment they take all of their lighting fixtures (as in, those affixed to the ceiling) with them, leaving either no lighting at all or a bare bulb hanging down from the ceiling on a cord.  Sometimes all they leave is just a cord with no bulb at all.  It's just another expense to moving here that is easy to forget and can be quite costly in the end, unless you're OK living in a dark home.

Step 4: Getting The Apartment
So if somehow we manage to find an apartment in our budget, with a kitchen, that is available starting June 1, our next step is filling out the paperwork and hoping we get selected.  This doesn't sound too different than an American experience, but just wait.  Unless you're acting as landlord, you have an agency handling all the details (like more places here).  The difference is that in America the agency vets the applicants, makes a selection and gets it all set up and the owner doesn't have to deal with it (because that's what the owner is paying for).  But here, the agency brings the applications to the owner and lets them decide.  This is bad news for us because the agent is surely going to tell the owner that we're the Americans and we've been warned that we'll be prejudiced against as future tenants because people don't want foreigners renting their homes.  We've experienced this a little bit so far and expect more of it.  There is apparently no such thing as "Equal Housing Opportunity" here.
I've never had so much respect for this little logo found in every real estate ad and marketing piece in America.
So, wish us luck and send us prayers in findings the right place in Münster over the next few months.  We'll keep you updated on how the search goes and will hopefully have some photos of the actual apartment candidates a'la House Hunters International.


Anonymous said...

Es gibt leider zwei groooße Probleme in diesem Jahr in Münster: Zum einen wurde in Deutschland die Armee-Pflicht abgeschafft, so dass relativ gesehen mehr junge Männer ein Studium anfangen. Zum anderen wurde in vielen Bundesländern die Schulzeit von 13 auf 12 Jahre verkürzt, so dass doppelt(!) soviele Teenager Abitur machen, ein Studium beginnen und in Münster eine Wohnung suchen. Darum ist die Situation leider katastrophal. Viel Glück bei eurer Suche!
Wenn ihr möchtet, versuche ich morgen einmal die Abkürzen in den Announcen zu erklären.

Anonymous said...

I'm an American living in Germany and found your blog via the expat website. As a student here I lived in student apartments which was super easy and economical. I remember foreign families living there too. After finishing university I moved to another city and luckily found an apartment with a built-in kitchen included. We really just got lucky with that though- we only had about 4 apartments to choose from with built-in kitchens included and the other 3 were awful. There was no way we could have afforded to put in a kitchen at the time.

I wish you luck in your apartment search!