Berlin is (still) one of the most interesting real estate markets in Europe right now. This city offers a unique urban & international environment. With high living standard, and plenty of parks and recreational areas, it can be the right choice for living or looking into buying your apartment in Berlin.

As I started my investigations in the real estate market, I came across a few things that one should know about when looking into that topic. I have gathered most important aspects to consider if you want to invest in the Berlin real estate market. It is mainly focused on buying a flat in Berlin since don’t have the means to buy a house. It is still relevant for other property types though.

buy an apartment in berlin - guide for first time buyers

DISCLAIMER : This is rather long piece, an introduction to a pretty big broad topic with many elements to consider. Bear with me and make yourself another cup of tea. 🙂

Is it still worth buying a flat in Berlin?

In 2021, it is still more financially sound to buy property in Berlin, than to rent. This has been confirmed by the very official “Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft” in this Wohnkosten 2021 report.

Purchases prices for an apartment in the center of Berlin are still “moderate” compared to London, Paris or New York. Positive expectations for the city and low interest rates make Berlin an attractive place for an investment.

While some parts of the cities like Prenzlauerberg or Kreuzberg has largely gentrificated and are more costly, many areas like Moabit or Neukölln are still interesting choices to consider. However, even in Prenzlauerberg or Kreuzberg, the price difference can play in your favor if you extend your search to just a few streets away.

Can I buy property in Berlin to rent it out?

If you are just investing in property to rent it out, rental returns in Berlin are still more attractive than in other cities like Munich, as stated in this 2021 study.  However, do know this when buying an apartment in Berlin; any existing tenant agreement cannot be legally terminated to allow the owner to move in. In worst cases, it can be 10 years later. German law is particularly tenant-friendly. This is particularly important to know most Berliners are renting (85% in this 2017 study.

On the Berlin housing market, investors and residents’ demand has been steadily increasing over the past 20 years. The main explanations behind this are growth in both population and numbers of households due to the increased attractiveness of the city. In addition, economic performance is improving in the capital of Germany. Thus the purchasing power is increasing.

Is it better to buy or rent in Berlin?

As a tenant, it’s always hard to to commit to a loan, especially if you still have an old rental contract. If you are unsure of your financial situation and want to make projections to validate your estate project, you can turn to simulators like this one. It lets you compare how much your net worth would be, if you were to buy vs if you were to rent.

The current shortage of living space

Another factor impacting investors’ confidence in Berlin’s future is the shortage of living space in the city. This 2021 report estimates that there are at least 200 000 units missing on the market to satisfy demand. This is due in part by public policy which has delivered a low amounts of building permits over the years.

A tax consultant is recommended to assist purchasers with any tax issues related to buying property in Berlin. Additional fees can be up to 15% of the purchase price as follows:

  • Notary costs (Notar): 1-2%
  • Land registry office fee (Grundbucheintrag): 0.5%
  • Property transfer tax (Grundwerbsteuer): 6%
  • Agents fees up to 3.57% (from 2021 on)

Take also good note that the German law has also taken steps to avoid speculation and fast increases in estate prices. A hefty tax has put into place onto the benefit made over reselling an estate if you don’t respect some conditions, literally removing that benefit. This means that under German law, in case you want to sell your apartment again, you need to have lived at least 2 consecutive years in the said apartment prior to the selling contract. Another alternative is to resell after 10 years if you don’t live in the flat your self.

There might also be some additional domestic regulations in your home country that you might want to check as well before you buy an apartment in Berlin. (I can’t help you there 😉 )

What are the possibilities to obtain a credit with a local bank?

If you are a German resident with a permanent residence status (or an EU citizen), banks will mostly consider you as a German national. However, there are some subtle discriminations, as pointed out in this post.

International buyers that are not German residents can obtain finance for up to 50% of the property value. Banks and other lenders may offer loans based on the equity available in another property. Many estate agents will assist buyers in finding suitable financing options and renting out the property, if required. You can of course go to your domestic bank to see what’s possible but it is not guaranteed they will agree to a loan involving an estate abroad or/and there might be some translation to do for the bank to have a look at all the documents. Just get in touch, you might not know what comes out of it.

Another alternative could be one of the innovative platforms like Hypofriend, which brings much needed transparency for expats in that market. They help you to find the optimum mortgage for your case by letting banks and credit institutions compete to provide the best rate. They are also able to tell you very fast how much you can afford with your current situation, income etc… All of this 100% digital and with no strings attached. That’s a pretty clever way to go about this. Look at this as the next-generation finance advisor.

I have also covered more in details what factors are taken into account when requesting a mortgage with a German bank as a foreigner in this post.

Which documents should I request from the owner to learn more about the property ?

It is simply not enough to see the place and knock on the walls. You have to take a look at bigger picture of your commitment to the place.  You should ask the following minimum :

  • Wirtschaftspläne (Budget/Economic planning) : This describes what has been decided by all the owners of the building financially speaking, giving also more details about the different expenses and their evolution in time. Look for the mention “Rücklage“, the reserve of money in the common budget of the property. Look also for “Hausgeld” which are the monthly expenses.
  • Teilungserklärung (Declaration of division) : This document is showing what belongs to the apartment and what belongs to the joint-property like the stairs for example.
  • Energie Ausweis (Energy consumption assessment) : Gives details about the energy efficiency of the property.
  • Grundriss (Ground view) : The lay-out of the property.

Who are the different actors on the market and what are their roles ?

Estate agencies

Agencies are necessary middle-men in the Berlin market as direct transactions between private owners are quite rare. Again, the local culture & market conditions hasn’t led to a lot of small private owners but rather to several big-scale property management companies. Thus the culture to do deals between small private persons is not mainstream when it comes to buying an apartment in Berlin.

Agencies gather your requirements and help you find your dream apartment either by working with other agencies or using their first-party database. As anywhere else in the world, there should be no fees involved hiring an agency as they work on a performance basis.

Steuerberater – Tax Consultant

A tax consultant can help you find the best system so there are as little costs as possible owning or renting out the flat. They can often help you grasp you a better picture of what the total cost of ownership could be. Many variables come into the deal so it could be a good idea to spend a bit of money on a tax consultant to potentially save thousands in the future. It’s not a necessary to involve a tax consultant but it’s advised.

Anwalt – Lawyer

Lawyers are not necessarily involved in the process of buying an apartment in Berlin either but they can be helpful to draft a sales contract or even pre-sales agreement one. Just as a tax consultant, they can also guide you through the different technicalities of owning and optimizing the costs of a flat. Some Steuerberater have a lawyers’ practice they work with, or even have one internally. In addition to analyze the contract, they can also represent the buyer at the notary. This is often the case if the buyer is not living in Germany or does not speak German. So a perfection option especially for investors as they have to come only once for selection the flat. The notary has to check if all parties involved understand the contract when he reads it in front of all parties involved. If a person who does not speak German wants to buy an apartment in Berlin without a lawyer an interpret has to be a the appointment at the notary.

Notar – Notary

Unlike in some other countries, notaries in Germany don’t have a advisory role during the transaction. They stay neutral and are purely there to execute and make the transaction visible & official to the eye of the German state. They also make sure that all documents are valid to put your name of the land register. Their fee depend on the value of the property. Don’t expect to understand any of their administrative German while making their deed, it’s purely formal that they enunciate orally all elements of the transaction and the contract.

Hausverwaltung – Property Management

While not directly involved in the process for people who look to buy an apartment in Berlin, they are a valuable contact to have as they often provide all the documents to prospective buyers. Those documents give away important information about the property as we have seen. Most of the time however, the agency representing the seller has gathered those documents for the buyer already.

Where do I find apartments to buy in Berlin?

The usual estate platforms

I won’t surprise you too much by telling you to look at platforms such as

The digital landscape is not that all competitive. This also due to very bureaucracy-driven culture here, where handling matters directly between private people is fairly unusual. Alternatives that tend to highlight inserts from landlords directly are the following:

Don’t expect miracles, but it’s still interesting sources.

Classifieds, newsletters & social networks

This is a less usual route, but it can yield interesting results. It can also lead to a cheaper acquisition cost.

A lot of estate agencies have their own newsletters. This is often where newly available flats to buy in Berlin will be made public/available first, before they go on Immoscout and such. Don’t forget to sign-up for those.

Estate project developers

If you are willing to look a Neubau, there is no better option than to source offers directly on the developers’ websites or on platforms listing Neubau projects around the city:

Consider auctions

This option is often little known but several properties are being sold at auctions. This could also represent a good opportunity to bid and make a bargain and buy an apartment in Berlin but involves a few issues.

  • You are almost always not permitted to visit the place since it is an auction.
  • The tenant or the owner is not obliged to let people see it so most of them just don’t, making this a wild card sometimes.
  • You do have access to all regular documents though.
  • Auctioning in German can be tricky .

You also have be present physically at the auction and transfer 10% of the estimated value to enter the auction. All apartments for sale in Berlin are listed on this website.

This option may not the best for first-time buyers in Berlin. Consider it your wild card.

How do I maximize my chances of success?

Make sure your bank/broker is aware of your wish

Once you have reached an agreement with the seller, it is important to go as fast as possible. Since a bank will likely be involved, you need so make sure your contact person at the bank is aware of your search. Something I did for example is to send my bank an “alert” about a flat I was “about to buy” to rehearse the process with them and keep me in their top-of-mind.

Provide a financing confirmation

Your bank or broker can provide you with a document called “Finanzierungsbestätigung” or “Finanzierungsnachweis“. It’s a document stating that your current financial situation can indeed give you access to a mortgage for x amount. It’s additional security for the seller that the process will go smoothly if they decide to a make a deal with you.

This document is however non-binding for the bank because it needs to have details of the property in order to approve for the mortgage completely. It’s a subtle difference.

Quick look at prices in Berlin:

With purchasing a flat in Berlin comes the question: how much is it going to cost me? The unfortunate answer is: “It depends”. I won’t go into details on factors impacting prices (location, Altbau/Neubau, condition, tenant/no tenant, etc.). This is best done by an expert. I will instead insert the following map that shows the cost for a 80m2 Neubau in 2021:

Click on the image to see updated figures on ImmoScout (Source: ImmoScout)

It’s an imperfect representation of the current market, but it’s a good start. You can also look at this detailed report, district by district. It even boils it down by neighborhood.

This is how you buy an apartment in Berlin

  1. Set your requirements and get real about your search/priorities

    My first priority was always location-location-location when I wanted to buy an apartment in Berlin but you might feel differently. Try to get a sense of the market and know what’s reasonable to expect. Don’t hesitate to widen your net at first as it is by visiting many apartments that you will know which requirements should be considered with more flexibility.

  2. Create alerts on all estate platforms to get the latest offers

    Set search agents to get alerts by emails as soon as a property matches your requirements. This way, you are sure to put a foot in the door early. Signup to agencies’ newsletter too.

  3. Talk to a few agencies for guidance & reality check.

    Agencies can be powerful allies when you pick the right ones, they help you to get through all the administrative stuff especially if you don’t speak German. They also represent the chance to be brought-in first (or at least early) when something new is being put out for sale, which is really important in the Berlin estate market. Just make sure to pick the right ones.

  4. Go and visit interesting properties even if they don’t match your requirements exactly

    This relates to my first point. This is really important because it will teach you the reality of the market and allow you to make a more qualified search. You also don’t want to dismiss a property that might have been “above par” after all. So go see a property that’s a bit further than that Ubahn Station. Go see that flat that looks like it’s been in a war zone. Go see that house that doesn’t have central heating. I can’t stress how important this is.

  5. Check ALL parameters of the property (location, location, location but also…)

    In my search to buy an apartment in Berlin, location was my first priority so i naturally had special eye for this when weighting my decision. However, try to push away the “sexy” parameters for a second and consider the other very important parameters. Space, location, orientation and lay-out are all important but make sure to check how the finances of the property looks like, how expensive the monthly expenses are, if there are any renovations already planned, etc. Those parameters can make the difference between a good deal and a bad one.

    A lot of people, even experimented ones, often dismiss an opportunity because they only look on the surface of things and don’t look at the actual potential of a place. A poorly equipped kitchen, a really dirty living room shouldn’t put you off. Look at the bigger picture and think about the potential you could uncover with a bit of work & time. Little gems can hide under gravels. 🙂
  6. Make your bid fast, but take your time too…

    If you are convinced you have found your dream property, be fast ! Others may be faster than you. However, you still need to be remain cool-headed. Don’t rush and ask all the necessary documents but be quick about making the decision. You might also want to use the service of a building surveyor (Immobilien Gutachter/Bewertung) too to check if walls are sound.

Photo by Peter Geo

I hope this all-around guide about how to buy an apartment in Berlin was useful to you. Don’t hesitate to suggest improvements or ask questions in the comments.

PS: this post got quite popular so I decided to make one about how to approach the issue and sell an apartment in Berlin.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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