How a young professional in her early 30s bought an apartment in Berlin
32-year-old Kateryna Kosenkova built up her savings in a matter of a few years and decided to invest in real estate. She recently purchased her first home, and we've interviewed her to get an inside look at the apartment-buying process in Berlin. Find out how she saved without sacrificing her love of travel, as well as what challenges she faced, what was surprisingly easy, and her best advice for apartment-hunters.
EE: What made you decide to buy?
It’s my seventh year that I’m living in Berlin, and I think over the last four or five years I started saving. I was always thinking about how I could invest my money, because in Germany, savings in a bank account don’t generate any money: now with the negative interest rates, you pay for your own savings. So instead of letting my savings lose value, I decided to invest. I think it’s important to understand and be confident in where you’re investing—in the industry or the asset type—and since I work in real estate, I know how the market is developing and I feel it’s a tangible investment that I can own. Plus, it’s a way to settle down and have a place to call your own.
EE: How did you build up enough equity for a down-payment?
It's not about saving and having no life, but actually managing to do both in a smart way. I feel like a lot of people think saving is difficult and you need 15 years to have enough money to afford to buy, but that's not always the case. It's possible to save in a smart way by not putting yourself in a very tight time-frame. Meaning you can decide how much money you want to put aside each month and make it your untouchable reserve. If you have a higher salary you can gradually increase your savings goal, but it should not be more than 1/3 of your salary. In this way you can still travel to nice places, go out with friends, buy nice things that make you happy, and enjoy life without feeling like you are overspending.
EE: What attracted you to this property?
I took a look at the listing on our website, and the visuals were very beautiful. It’s an Altbau from 1906, it’s a beautiful building, very warm and emotional. The apartment images are very professional, so I could see the renovations that were done, the brightness of the apartment, and all the beautiful details. When I contacted Lilly, my agent, she brought me there to see it in person. I had a good feeling walking down the street, and I fell in love with the area and the apartment. It was just how I imagined it. Sometimes when you know, you know. I didn’t have a lot of time to decide because there was a lot of interested people, so I had to act fast. But if I wasn't sure, then I wouldn’t go for it. It was a match between what I saw online and reality.
EE: What were your “must-have” features for an apartment?
I was flexible between Altbau and Neubau, but I decided not to go with Neubau because of increased construction costs. With an Altbau, it’s easier because you can already see it. And in the end, I prefer Altbau, because they have more soul: I love the history and charm. I was looking to have at least two rooms, so I can have more space for sleeping and working. A balcony was also a must, and I didn’t want to have an apartment on the ground floor. South facing was also important, so that the rooms have a lot of natural light. I also wanted something turn-key because I didn't want to organize the renovations myself.
EE: How long did the process take from start to finish?
From the moment you put a reservation on the apartment, and you have financing approved (which can take up to two weeks), it takes about 30 to 40 days to get the keys to the apartment. It depends on how busy the notary office is, and how soon you pay the property tax. Then the developer changes the locks, and you get the key. It happens quite fast.
EE: What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?
To be honest, I’m very happy with Lilly: she’s very good and organized all the documents super fast. Financing, though, I didn’t know so much about how it works. It works differently with different banks. For example, if you buy an Altbau, banks cannot give you an offer right away, only an estimate. They send an auditor to the property to assess it and give you the final rate. International, bigger banks don’t do that, and the rates are fixed. So depending on your situation, you can play around with what kind of interest rate you are getting. It can be a time-consuming process.
EE: What was the most surprising part of the experience?
When I asked when I could move in, and I was told in the next couple of months, I was shocked. If everything is ready, then it can happen so fast. One evening you’re in your rented apartment, and a few months later you have your own home. It’s a big change. It’s important to change your mentality from a renter mentality to an owner mentality—-one minute your savings are there and then they’re gone. But it’s just shifted, and now it’s invested. I can see how it could be difficult for people who work hard for their savings to adjust to living without that at first.
EE: What advice would you give to other first-time homebuyers?
I would say, if you’re buying for yourself, it’s really important that you have a good feeling for the apartment. Besides all the other things that are considered good for an apartment, you should go there and visit and see if you can imagine yourself living there. Sometimes you find a perfect apartment on paper, but you go there and realize it’s not for you. That fit, that match, between you and the apartment, it's super important. You should be able to imagine yourself living there or having a family and growing there; it’s super important. With this kind of long-term commitment, you don’t want to feel like a stranger in your own place. When we rent, it’s very different, since we never imagine ourselves there for 50 years. With buying an apartment, you need to feel that way, and it’s something you can’t quantify - when you visit, it speaks to you.
A happy ending for a new homeowner
Katya ended up working with Tayfun from ZEE's financing department to find her ideal mortgage option as a non-German buyer, and has already finalized the purchase of her apartment. She plans on moving into her new home later this summer. You can find Katya leading the online marketing and creative teams as Head of Marketing at Ziegert EverEstate.
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