Sell your apartment in Berlin
Selling your apartment in Berlin is probably not you first challenge as a property owner: acquiring it in the first place is always the hard bit, isn’t?
This time: you are in control. You are on the right side of the negotiation table. How difficult can it be to put your flat for sale on the market and let the prospective buyers come to you?
While it is true you are more in control of timing, price and have the psychological edge, the process of selling an apartment in Berlin is not exactly void of hurdles that can lead to more frustration, losses of time and money.
My piece about buying a flat in Berlin got quite popular and was shared quite a bit on social media and per email, which lead to some requests for such a piece on the process of selling an apartment in Berlin.
I will try to lay out all the different elements, documents, stake holders and processes involved so you can make better decisions along the way.
Please note that this is an attempt to cover an excessively large topic, so it might be wise to make yourself a cup of tea before reading on. You’ve been warned. 🙂
A matter of timing: is the right time to sell your apartment in Berlin?
Not everyone has total control over the moment during which you have to sell. Many need a bigger place for a growing family, others are simply moving somewhere else. In these cases, selling a property answers to the need of a larger reserve to buy the next one. However, if you do have the opportunity to wait for the most favorable conditions, you might want to give a think before committing to selling your apartment in Berlin.
It is true that it is currently a very favorable environment on the supply side in the German capital as there is a very strong demand for properties, especially within the Ring. A simple word of caution is then to be aware of the market and make sure that you don’t sell during a downward trend due to a real estate bubble for example.
Assessing your property
Whether this property was your first investment or not, it all boils down to a bet you’ve made a few years ago; added-value when selling. You have put a lot of time, effort and money in your apartment for renovation works, new equipment, or possibly a new roof if you live in a house.
If you live in an apartment, price assessment might be even more complicated as there might have been renovation works in the common spaces of the building, or a new access to urban heating, etc. How do those transformations impact the value of your property? And who can put a price tag on all those factors?
This an optional step but it is recommended to have those questions answered by a professional. It might cost you a bit but it will help you during negotiation to firmly stand your ground.
What’s better than a bullet-proof confidence into the value of your home to push your asking price up?
You can reach out to different people for this:
Who else would be in a better position to tell a property’s value than its very own owner? That is a sound assumption because you could easily add up all your expenses on top of the price you paid, all those years ago. It might not be perfect but with a little bit of additional research similar properties on sites like ImmoScout24, you could reach a realistic number. That is definitely possible but prejudices and emotional bias can get in the way, especially if you are living in the place. Some people might overestimate the value of some cosmetic changes in the apartment, and others underestimate the extent of work needed to attract the right buyers for example. It leaves room to error.
You can use the following online databases to help:
Sometimes, all you need is a second opinion or a more objective one. It’s the role of Immobilien Gutachter (Real estate surveyor) services. They are sometimes called Baugutachter or Immobilienbewertung. They gather data from different databases and assess your property against criteria such as:
- The standard land value.
- The structural and technical condition of a property: materials used, wiring, piping, HVAC systems, etc.
- The location of the property
- The energy rating
- The current market situation: They take into account the sales data of comparable properties in a similar location.
After careful site inspection & inspecting of your documents, they are able to name a price.
Not all surveyors are created equal as the occupation is not regulated as such. Therefore when looking for one, make sure that they are registered with the Chamber of Commerce (IHK) or Chamber of Architects (Architektenkammer), or alternatively that they are certified with DEKRA. It will help you find independent neutral professionals who comply to higher quality standards. Expect costs between a few hundred to a few thousands euros depending on the value of your property.
If you are not ready to commit so much money for a second opinion when selling your apartment in Berlin, you might want to turn to online platforms. Within a few minutes and through a dynamic questionnaire (enter adress, size, construction year, etc), they are able to give you a fairly good assessment of what you can expect on the market. Costing less than a hundred euros, it might be a good compromise between costs, trust factor and accuracy. You can turn to:
This is sometimes lesser known but estate agencies can help you assess the value of your property and often at no costs for you. They have the data, experience and insights into the market to set a realistic price for your property. The service is free because it’s an opportunity for the agency to get to know you and your project, which could lead to a longer-lasting relationship if you like them. Think of it as a garage offering a free winter check for your car in the hope you will come back for something larger in the future. It’s fair business and it lets you talk to potential partners for the sale, without committing too much.
To sell an apartment in Berlin without an agency
This is a highly personal question and it might be of special importance if this is your first time selling your apartment in Berlin. Do you want to go through that process alone, without the help of an estate agent? The main reason behind this is often costs: “why give up so much money on a service I could very well not really need?“. It’s definitely doable but it’s difficult to pull off because it adds up a lot of work and stress. It’s a like a second-job on top of your normal one. Sometimes, a third-party can also help to smooth the communication out a little bit, which is often key to a successful sale.
You also have to consider the German market as well, which is not very liquid for private owners. In a nutshell; since Germans are reluctant to own the place they live in, the market “von Privat an Privat” is not so developed as in other countries. It’s hard to avoid estate agents altogether. However, you can turn to those dedicated platforms gathering offers from private owners only:
So should you hire an estate agency? I guess you need to answer this question: do you have the time and necessary skills to manage the promotion of your property, lead a successful negotiation to reach the best possible price with the best possible buyer, and all of that on top of your normal job and in German? Consider those parameters again if you have a time constraint on top of it all.
Preparing the process
This piece of advice is no rocket-science but i guess it’s always a good reminder; you need to do your homework before viewings and selling your apartment in Berlin
Make sure your property is as attractive as possible
If you have had small repairs or renovation works on your to-do list for a while, now is a good time to do them. First impressions count and prospective buyers will look at every small damage, crack, loose window hinges, etc to try to push the price down. Sometimes, a simple fresh coat of paint can do wonders.
All documents needed to sell your apartment in Berlin
One of your main jobs is make sure that the buyer has access to all necessary elements to make a decision fast. Some of those documents you probably already have, but you will probably to request or collect the others at your Hausverwaltung company or from the Amtsgericht. Here is a pretty complete list of document you need to sell an apartment in Berlin. I have sorted them out in terms of importance.
- Layout plan (Grundriss) – This shows the measurements of your property inside.
- Declaration of division (Teilungserklärung) – This shows where your property starts and ends in relation to neighboring properties in a building
- Certified abstract from the land register (Grundbuchauszug) – The official register from the city
- The last co-property accounting – flat owners – (Wohngeldabrechnung)
- The most recent economic plan – flat owners – (Wirtschaftsplan)
- Overview of reserves – flat owners – (Rücklagenübersicht)
- Reports of the last 3 co-owners meetings – flat owners -(Eigentümerversammlungsprotokolle)
- Fire Insurance certificate (Brandversicherungsurkunde)
Nice to have
- Description of the building (if available) (Baubeschreibung)
- Energy pass (Energieausweis)
- A copy of the current rental contract (if applicable)
This is probably the most time-consuming part of the process. It takes a lot of time to coordinate appointments, clean your place and attend those viewings to answer questions. This honestly one of the added-value of estate agents: they can take that off your back.
If you were to do this on your own, I’d do the following:
- Create a dedicate email address for selling your place on Gmail or GMX. This is will the center point of your apartment sales process in Berlin.
- Use a calendar appointement solution like Calendly so no phone calls are needed to take appointments. Simple enter your preferred times on the Calendly and let automation do the rest. Synch Calendly with the email address created above.
- Create a PDF with the main documents listed above and an FAQ to avoid losing time answering the same questions.
- Be respectful of your own time and others’
Again, this is where an estate agent is not completely useless: they can act as an intermediary between seller and buyer during negotiations. Although not completely neutral, they have the experience to lead this phase and avoid emotions to interfere too much and keep things cordial.
If you were to do this on your own, you could also hire a lawyer to be the intermediate here, but that can prove costly because they often bill on an hourly basis, instead of a percentage fee (maybe some lawyers could accept that). Screening the right candidates is key here to avoid losing time and money.
Sales contract & notary
In Germany, only a notary can oversee the property transfer process. It’s required by law to involve them in the sales contract process. Real estate agents can still be useful here to answer questions about this whole process, although they are not required.
This is how this part goes:
- Send the essential documents to the notary in order for the contract to be prepared. Obtain a comprehensive list from the notary.
- Make an appointment with the buyer at the notary.
- Before the notary appointment, go over the draft contract.
- During the appointement: the notary reads aloud the whole contract (as required by law) and clarifies legal terminology. You can ask questions here.
- Minor contract adjustments will be made if necessary.
- The buyer, seller, and notary will sign the final form of the agreement.
- The notary then takes over all further actions to complete the sale.
- The notary will contact you if any more steps are required or if any questions arise.
- Once all procedures have been completed, funds can be transferred as outlined in the contract.
About finances and taxes when selling an apartment in Berlin
As you probably know already; finding a buyer, working with an estate agent or setting things up with a notary are not all the battles you need to win in this little war of yours. You also need to fight one last time to figure out what will happen with the sum of money you will have on your hands then.
I wish it very dearly for you, there will be a nice benefit on your investment when all of this over. But what about taxes then?
The rules are pretty simple in Germany, you might be taxed with those 3 taxes:
- Spekulationssteuer as set in Einkommensteuergesetz (EStG) § 23 : if you didn’t live in the place yourself (Eigennützung), this extra tax is due if you are selling the property before a 10-year period. It is calculated on the added value and on your income tax rate. This tax is not due if you live in it the year you sell the place and the 2 years prior too.
- Gewerbesteuer: if you somehow had enough capital to buy and sell multiple properties at once (e.g 3 properties within 5 years), the Finanzamt might come after you with this tax and consider your case as a commercial activity.
- Umsatzsteuer: Private owners don’t pay added-value tax on the transaction, except if again the Finanzamt considers this a commercial activity.
Regarding your Steuererklärung that year
2 scenari are to be considered for most people:
- Property is sold and money is not reinvested somewhere else: In this case, you will need to make sure that you let the Finanzamt know about this exceptional income for that year (Sondereinkommen). Don’t forget that all expenses that went towards selling are “minuses” that will decrease the total amount of taxable income.
- Property is sold and money is reinvested somewhere else: this case is somewhat easier because most (or all) of the exceptional income will be invested somewhere else (a new home for example), balancing things out in the end. Same thing here, all costs in that process are “minuses” your Steuerberater can use to optimize your tax return.
It happens very often that timing doesn’t always work out perfectly in terms of cash-flow between the moment your sell your apartment in Berlin and the moment your buy the new one. You might need a bridge loan then (Brückenfinanzierung or Zwischenfinanzierung in German). Concept and conditions are quite similar than in other parts of the world, but make sure your understand all small prints in the contract with your bank.
I hope this post gave you a view on the bigger picture of things. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or add details in the comment.