How to Find a Flat in Berlin

by Sarah Dudley

If you want to move to Berlin and the prospect of finding a flat in this competitive market seems daunting, don’t worry! Just follow our step-by-step guide to help you navigate through the process.

Berlin is an exciting, rapidly-growing city that has become Germany's IT and Tech industry hub. People from all over the world are moving here and contributing to Berlin’s multicultural, hip vibe. It’s one of the reasons so many people love the city. This does also mean that everyone is looking for a place to live.

Here are a few tried and true best practices for how to find a flat in Berlin.

About the Author

I moved to Berlin 13 years ago with no idea of how things work here. Since then, I’ve gotten to know the city inside and out, launched a company as well as my freelance business, and for over four years have been helping other expats settle in. I’ve assisted over 100 clients to find an apartment in Berlin and jump through all the bureaucratic hoops. It’s not as hard as it seems once you know what to do!

Step One: Find a Short-Term Place to Stay Where You Can Register Your Address

The flat market in Berlin is famously competitive; depending on your professional situation, it can take a while until one of your applications is successful. It’s so stressful to look for a long-term flat in Berlin when you’re under time pressure so make things easier by renting a furnished, all-inclusive temporary flat for at least the first three months. These are the most expensive of all rental flats, but this will give you time to focus on getting all of your documents together. The landlord will provide you with a confirmation form, the Wohnungsgeberbestätigung, that is essential for you to be able to do the Anmeldung (register your address) with the local citizens’ office. This is the very first step you should complete as soon as possible after you arrive in Berlin since so many other things are dependent on it.

Step Two: Get to Know the Housing Market

The easiest way to get a quick overview of what’s available and how much flats cost is to look on www.immobilienscout24.de. It’s the most popular, although not the only online site for finding a flat in Berlin. It's certainly worth checking out.

First, let’s talk about some of the terms you’ll come across in flat listings. The rent in Berlin is split into “cold” and “warm” rent; The difference being that the “cold” rent is the cost only for the space itself, and the “warm” rent is the cost of the space plus the monthly fee for the building’s running/maintenance costs, the Betriebskosten or Nebenkosten, and often (but not always) heating and hot water. Most flats have central heating, in which case the “warm” rent includes heating and hot water costs. Some flats have what is called Etagenheizung, which means that you’ll sign up with a gas company and pay for heating/hot water supply separately from the rent.

Flats in Berlin are rented according to their surface area, described in square meters. And the number of rooms listed refers to all rooms except for the kitchen and bathroom. A two bedroom apartment in Berlin translates to one bedroom, one living room plus a kitchen and bathroom. Although most new builds (Neubau), have a fitted kitchen included, this is a relatively recent development in Berlin. In older buildings (Altbau) there is a separate room for the kitchen, but the appliances and cabinets are usually not included. Sometimes landlords provide a basic sink and stove, and often the previous tenant will want to sell you the kitchen that they bought and installed themselves. What will be included with the kitchen is usually listed in the flat description.

Another thing to keep in mind is that in Berlin the ground floor is called “EG” (short for Erdgeschoss) or “0”, and the first floor is the one just above. The top floor or penthouse is called the Dachgeschoss or “DG” for short. When they say in the ad that a cellar (Keller) is/is not included, what they mean is a large storage locker in the basement.

Now that you have a sense of how flats are classified in Berlin, you can start thinking about your criteria: How many rooms, how many square meters, maximum monthly budget including heating/hot water, etc. The next thing to decide is where in Berlin to live.

Step Three: Choose Your Neighborhood

Rental prices vary widely depending on the neighborhood, and each has its own distinct character. Having a temporary flat for a few months will give you time to explore the different districts (Bezirke), and choose the one that best suits your needs. The most central areas are also the most expensive, with Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, and Friedrichshain topping the list. However, you only have to look a little further out to find lower prices. It’s worth viewing flats in Pankow, Wedding, Tiergarten, Moabit, Charlottenburg, Wilmersdorf, Schöneberg, Friedenau, Tempelhof, Neukölln, Treptow, and Lichtenberg.

Step Four: Prepare Your Application Package and Start Contacting Landlords

Once you have the Anmeldung done, a German bank account opened, and have spent some time exploring the immobilienscout24 website, it's time to start getting your application documents together. We highly recommend two things:

  1. Wait until you have your entire application package complete before contacting landlords

  2. Sign up for the MieterPlus subscription on the immobilienscout24 website

This subscription costs €30 per month with a minimum term of two months, but as part of the deal you get a free credit report (SCHUFA), which would otherwise cost you the same amount. There are plenty of other benefits as well, it'll be money well spent.

The reason your documents should be ready before reaching out to request an apartment viewing in Berlin, is that some landlords won't give you an appointment until they've pre-approved your application. This doesn't guarantee that you'll get the flat, it just means you‘ve made the shortlist. And if you do happen to get a viewing before submitting your documents, and decide that you want to apply, it's best to send in your application as soon as possible. Hundreds of people request viewings, dozens apply, and of those, you want your application to be at the top of the pile.

Step Five: Sign the Contract and Attend the Key Handover

Once your flat application has been accepted by the landlord, you’ll receive the contract to review and sign. It’s a good idea to have this checked if you don’t get an English copy.

Then you’ll be given an appointment to meet at the flat to get the keys and do what is called the Übergabeprotokoll. This is a document with a detailed description of the flat, its contents, and its condition. Go through every room and note down any damage to walls, floors, ceilings, windows, and door frames, as well as any damage or leaks in the kitchen and bathroom. Don’t be afraid to appear nit-picky — it’s better to list everything and protect yourself from being made responsible later on for damages you didn’t cause. Also, check if all of the light switches and sockets work. Turn on stoves, extraction fans, and any other appliances that are included with the flat. Make sure to photograph and note all of the meter readings (electricity, gas, water). And, perhaps most importantly, make sure all of your keys work before leaving the flat.

You and the landlord will both sign this flat inventory document and you should be given a copy for your records.

Step Six: Sign up for Utilities

Now you can start shopping around for your utilities and internet service. Start with the internet, because that might take some time. If your flat only has a DSL connection, then most likely the provider will send a technician to check and confirm that everything is working, and getting these appointments often takes two to three weeks. If you have cable internet, this is usually quick and simple — once your router arrives in the post, you can just plug it in and you‘re up and running.

For electricity, have a look on a comparison website for utilities in Berlin like www.check24.de to see what plans are available. There are a lot of small power companies so it‘s a good idea to check the number of positive customer ratings to be sure that the provider has a good reputation.

If your flat has a gas stove or Etagenheizung, you can look for gas contracts on check24 as well.

Step Seven: Update Your Address Registration

At the key handover or shortly afterward, you should receive the confirmation form, the Wohnungsgeberbestätigung from your landlord so that you can register your new address at the Bürgeramt. You have up to 14 days after you move in to update your registration, so look for available appointments as soon as you have the landlord’s form.

Step Eight: Move Your Stuff and Settle In

If you need to buy furniture but the shop’s delivery time is a long way away, try a furniture taxi — an independent delivery service for bulky items. Just do an internet search for “möbel taxi berlin” and a few reasonably-priced options will come up. Now the fun begins and you can settle in, decorate, and enjoy your new home.

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