An Insider's Guide to Buying an Apartment

There are a huge number of things to consider when buying a home, particularly if it’s in a foreign country, or it’s a first-time purchase. In this article, we try to break down some of the things to consider, with particular reference to buying an apartment in Berlin.

Financials

When it comes to the financial aspects of buying an apartment, there are two main areas to consider: budget and ongoing costs.

Before you even begin looking at apartments, you will need to work out what your budget is, how much money you can afford to spend on a property. Sounds relatively straightforward? Well, it is not as simple as looking at the purchase price; there are a number of other expenses which go toward the final acquisition costs. Things such as the sales commission, legal fees, and various taxes can all make your final acquisition costs substantially more than the initial purchase price. Take a look at our purchase process guide for more detail.

Once you have settled on a budget, make sure to research the market, to see what kind of value you can get for your money. Check recent comparable sales in the area, and look at how prices have changed in recent years.

The other financial consideration to keep in mind, is that there will still be ongoing costs once you have bought the apartment. The upkeep and operation of the building is generally handled by the homeowners’ association, and you will have to pay them a regular fee known in Germany as Hausgeld. This will cover things like general maintenance, garbage disposal, and management fees. Make sure you are aware of how much these costs are likely to be.

Location

It’s a familiar refrain, when discussing property; location, location, location. It can also be broken down into two parts: a macro-level and a micro-level.

On the macro-level, this is really deciding in which neighbourhood you would like to live. If you are already familiar with Berlin, then you probably already have an idea of where you would like to live (and if not, take a look at our pages detailing everything you need to know about Berlin’s top neighbourhoods).

Each area has its own distinct characteristics, and its important you feel completely at home in your own neighbourhood. Do some research into the demographics of the different areas, find out what kind of people live there, and what the local culture and lifestyles are like. Berlin is blessed with a lot of green spaces, and lots of water, so look for your closest parks. It is also useful to know how far you are likely to have to commute, so make sure your journey to work isn’t too difficult.

Then once you have decided on an area, and are looking at possible options within that, you can examine the location on a micro-level. What are the immediate surroundings like? Are you close to shops, cafés, transport links? Do you have a host of bars and restaurants just outside your front door, or does your building back on to a large park? It is also good to note if there are any other planned developments nearby, as these may affect both your day-to-day life and the local property prices.

Type of Apartment

Now you’ve settled on your budget, and decided on a location, it is time to think about what kind of apartment you want to look for. Buildings in Berlin are loosely grouped into Altbau (pre-1945) and Neubau (post-1945). Altbau buildings are on the whole more desirable, with their solid build-quality, high ceilings and attractive decorative elements, and they are a feature of the most popular neighbourhoods.

You also need to decide on how many rooms you would like, and other considerations like which floor you would ideally like to live on, whether the apartment should have a balcony, and what the parking situation is like. Berlin is a city with relatively low levels of car ownership, so parking garages are comparatively rare, particularly in Altbau buildings, though some newer builds do have underground parking.

Other considerations

There are a number of other, perhaps less obvious things to consider as well, before making that final decision on which apartment to buy. You might want to check the noise levels; if the building is close to bars and clubs, or a hospital, this can make things rather noisy.

If you would like to make any alterations to the property, you first need to check whether it is heritage-protected. If it is (known in Germany as Denkmalschutz) then you will need to get the local council’s permission before making any structural changes to the property.

Vacancy rates are often listed as a potential consideration, as an indicator of an area’s or building’s desirability. However, with Berlin’s 98% city-wide occupancy rate, the chances of finding significant vacancy in any building or neighbourhood are very slim.

If, after all of that, you are ready to look at some potential apartments, then follow the link below.

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