Germany enjoys great popularity internationally not only because of great cities like Berlin, Hamburg or Munich and famous events like the Oktoberfest or the Nuremberg Christmas Market. Whatever the reason may be, real estate in Germany can be interesting for international investors who either intend to relocate or invest in a locatition unbothered by political constrains regarding the housing market. Currently, there (still) is a hype on attractive real estate in well-known cities which include i.e. Cologne, Stuttgart and Frankfurt am Main. Prices for apartments and houses have increased over the past ten years in a lot of areas. Many of Germany’s lesser-known large to medium-sized cities may offer attractive property that is worthwhile either for owner-occupancy or for generating a good return. Some may not. In this context, it should be mentioned that Germany has more than 80 cities with more than a hundred thousand inhabitants. This is not achieved by any other country in the European Union. Whether you already live in Germany or are looking for a retirement property there, it is extremely important that you get to grips with the details of the purchasing process and to familiarize yourself with basics of buying and owning real estate in advance. Be prepared to experience a heterogeneous market and a lot of paperwork. We will explain all the important issues on this topic in the following and also give you numerous tips to ensure that nothing goes wrong when buying.
In Germany there are owner-occupied homes and apartments
Basically, you have to distinguish whether you buy a whole property such as a detached house or an apartment building or a condominium. If you buy an entire property, you are its owner and do not have consider the needs and issues of others in its use – within the framework of the applicable laws that is. With apartments, it is actually quite different. When owning an apartment in Germany, you should know that you will be part of a homeowners association, called „Wohnungseigentümergemeinschaft (WEG)“. And no, there is no way around it. In other countries, the term might vary from „condomonium corporate“ to „commonhold“ or „strata council“. What you are buying yourself into is a community with rules and even more rules, and you may wonder how it all works out.
Advantages and disadvantages of property in Germany
In essence, you buy special property, which is the actual apartment, and moreover shares in the so-called common property (condominium = special property + co-ownership shares). The non-divisible common property belongs to the community of owners as a whole – and this community usually consists of several owners, depending on the size of the property. Whereas designing your apartment is totally up to you, common property is an entirely different matter. This construct comes from the Condominium Act, which also prescribes other rules in detail. Condominiums are quite popular in Germany because they are often much cheaper than houses. Especially in urban areas, houses have become almost unaffordable, thus many prospective buyers opt for apartments that they can support financially. Houses and apartments in Germany therefore have different advantages and disadvantages, so that before making the final decision, you should always weigh up which form of real estate suits you better and actually is in compliance with your lifestyle, budget and personal choices. Bear in mind that only a well-administered condominium should be taken into account, those with a long list of construction measures can be risky. Identifying those risky ones can be difficult, even for those who are fluent in German and already have experience in buying real estate.
Every homeowners association (HOA) has an administrator
The elected administrator or „WEG-Verwaltung“ manages the property and has numerous duties to fulfill. Owning an apartment in Germany comes with several advantages as well as disadvantages. This merely depends on how well the property is managed and, you may have guessed already, on your co-owners. Some of them can only be seen when the annual general meeting or „Eigentümerversammlung“ takes place, some may be unavoidable on the lawn. Every condominium owners‘ association has to appoint a property manager who represents the association, both internally and externally, and who assumes important tasks. The duties of the administrator shall include at least:
- Sending invitations to the annual general meeting at least 3 weeks in advance
- Receiving and presenting the agenda („TOP“) to be discussed
- Drafting and presenting the previous and future annual plan (resolutions to be passed)
- Presenting the financial status report plus information on upcoming or due maintenance, repairs carried out and previous resolutions that have been implemented
This is just a small glimpse of what is to be discussed and what is being voted on. You do not have to attend the annual meetings, however skipping those events may not be particularly wise as important decisions regarding maintenance are discussed.
Joint decisions – a curse or a blessing?
Generally speaking, everything in a condominium association works like parliamentarism, but on a much smaller scale. At the annual owners meetings, the owners vote on proposed resolutions, which the manager then has to implement accordingly. Take the business plan as an example. It can be seen as the community’s budget, and it must be approved annually. The same applies to the annual statement of the house charges, which all owners have to pay on a monthly basis. The community of owners can also elect some sort of advisory board. With this advisory function, usually given to three co-owners, comes the responsibility of monitoring the tasks of the property management. This can be time consuming and is a nuisance for many. Before the annual statement is decided, an audit should always take place with a close inspection of the administrative documents.
Things to consider before buying an apartment in Germany
Before buying an apartment in Germany, you should nevertheless take a very close look at the last three protocols of the annual meetings. In them, you may find crucial information about upcoming maintenance and renovations and indications of the overall financial situation of the WEG. Beware of terms such as „Sonderumlage“ (special contribution) or „nicht zahlender Miteigentümer“ (non-paying co-owner). These are red flags to watch out for. While most countries in Europe have a strict set of rules for aspiring property managers, this is not the case in Germany. Pretty much anyone can manage property in Germany, regardless of how much money is involved. So you have to be very careful when it comes to property management in general. It is not uncommon in Germany for a property manager to do a poor job and cause severe financial damage to his clients. There are hardly any consequences for those professionals who simply do not lift a finger. So before you start looking for an apartment, you need to watch out for potential red flags. It is also important to remember that property managers sometimes change and you can never be sure that the same property management company will continue to do a good job. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a seal of quality for property management companies that you can rely on in Germany. Furthermore, it is very important to verify before buying that the administration uses a certain type of bank accounts. Escrow accounts („Treuhandkonten“) are not safe, as in case of insolvency, the WEG will lose their money. The only correct option when it comes to bank accounts are those types of accounts that hold the home owner’s association as the rightful account owner („WEG-Eigenkonto“). Although escrow accounts should not be chosen by the administrators ever since a legal reform in 2007, they are still in use today. Make sure you clarify this issue with the seller or estate agent before buying.
Possible problems with condominiums
Based on the above, it is clear that you are in a certain extent quite dependent on others when you buy a condominium in Germany. You cannot assess how they might vote and which choices are made – decisions with major financial implications. Some of your co-owners care about solid repairs, others just want to save the last penny. Troublemakers may ruin the entire meeting. There certainly are several basic rules that apply to the management of home owners‘ associations, called „ordnungsgemäße Verwaltung“, but unfortunately these fundamental principles too often have to be rigidly enforced. While a good management can keep the costs at bay, poor management can lead to escalating prices or even decay. If you intend to buy a condominium, you should be familiar with all the potential issues around the related administration. Well-informed owners are the best force against dubious and incompetent administrators who can’t cut the mustard.
What are the costs of buying property in Germany?
Depending on your budget, expectations and standards, buying property in Germany is sometimes a fairly large financial undertaking, and always involves an appointment with a notary. Please keep in mind that there are various mandatory costs involved in addition to the actual sum for the property. These include among others:
- Real estate transfer tax (between 3.5% and 6.5%, depending on the federal state)
- Notary fees: an additional 1,5 – 2,0% of the property purchase price
- Costs for the required entries in the land register
- Fees for the preparation of the administrator’s consent – only for condominiums administered by a property manager
In Germany, it is not uncommon to expect incidental purchase costs of around 10% of the actual purchase price. And when owning German property, there are of course regular costs for the management and maintenance to be paid such as property tax, insurance, waste disposal, road cleaning, and possibly monthly installment payments to repay a loan.
How can a real estate agent be of assistance in purchasing property in Germany?
Many properties sold in Germany are brokered by real estate agencies. Real estate agents are supposed to assist both sellers and buyers. Not all real estate agents are in the know regarding the property’s details, but they should. Some are good and helpful. Over the last years, some have expanded their services to international clients and will be prepared to all of your questions regarding the entire process. Look before you leap. There are regional differences regarding the costs for a real estate agent in Germany. These always consist of a percentage of the purchase price, usually 3.54% for the buyer. The seller who hires the real estate agent pays the same amount. In some regions, however, you are only expected to pay a provision of 2.38%. Please note that the fee is only due after your signature at the notary. Always bear in mind that no reputable broker will ask you for money in advance!
Hausverwaltung-Ratgeber.de is an information platform for buyers, owners and tenants!
Hausverwaltung-Ratgeber.de provides detailed information as well as an array of resources and free templates with focus on property administration. Since the topic of real estate financing is strongly represented in the media, but only very little attention is paid to the areas of management and maintenance, we are striving to fill this gap by offering in-depth insights and helpful hints. In order to expand our existing platform, we started to build up an extensive business directory in 2020. This business directory includes the presentation of property managers, real estate agents, real estate appraisers and janitorial services. With a coverage of more than 250 cities in Germany, you will certainly find what you are looking for. If you are in need of a service provider for real estate in Germany, Hausverwaltung-Ratgeber.de is the right place for you.