How to find a cheap flat as an expat in Berlin

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There are three topics Berliners can spend hours talking about: which club is overrated, their favourite new restaurant, and why finding an affordable apartment in the city is impossible. 

Berlin is unique in the European housing market in that unlike other metropolitan cities, it’s still almost affordable. But years of high demand and constantly shifting public policy have made the experience of trying to find an affordable apartment an absolute nightmare. 

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to make the experience easier. Here are our tips on how to find an affordable apartment in Berlin without having to search for half a year.

Use a realtor

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This tip might cost you some money upfront, but it can save you a lot more down the road. German real-estate agencies, in German “Makler”, have access to listings that the general public does not. They send these out to a mailing list of potential clients, and offer exclusive viewings, instead of posting the ads on websites like ImmoScout, where hundreds of people apply within minutes. 

To give you an example, I moved to Berlin in late 2020, when apartment-searching was even harder than normal. I wrote to an agency, and within days I had a first offer: an apartment in Mitte for 440 euros warm (which means bills included). I ended up finding an even better deal, but none of the listings I saw online even came close to the affordability of the listings the agency gave me. 

If you choose this option, be aware that the agencies usually charge about 2.3 months rent as a commission. But you pay nothing to get on the mailing list, and if you find an apartment through other means, they don’t charge you either. 

Avoid the big listings websites 

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I know that it sometimes feels like your only place for apartment listings is ImmoScout or WG-gesucht. But there are a ton of smaller places where you can find apartment listings without having to be faster than 1,900 other people. 

Here’s a tip: find a listing on one of those sites, and look for the management company renting out the apartment. Most of these companies have websites with listings, as well as mailing lists you can subscribe to. Like realtor lists, they’ll give preferences for viewings to people who contact them from there. 

Before you go to one of these lists, do your research by googling the name of the management company first. If it’s known for flouting rent laws, you’ll likely find an article or two in local German media. 

Get a professional application package 

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When I was apartment hunting, many of my Berlin friends told me to get a premium subscription to ImmoScout, because it meant priority access to listings and the inboxes of landlords. In the end, I didn’t find that part helpful at all, as almost everybody pays for the service, which means you’re still competing with hundreds of other potential tenants. But there is another feature I did like: ImmoScout allows you to upload your documents, and makes a sleek application package for you from it. A monthly membership also gets you a free SCHUFA Bonitätsauskunft, which usually costs 30 euros, the same price as the premium membership, which includes a monthly Bonitätsauskunft anyway. One caveat: you need to be a member for at least two months. If you don’t want to pay that much and have some basic layout and pagination skills, you can make one yourself. Remember to include:

  • Your Mieterselbstauskunft, where you describe yourself, how many people are in your household, whether you have pets, and your previous addresses. Landlords will often have their own version of this document to fill out 
  • Proof of income: the easiest way to do this is to upload your last three paystubs. If you’re a freelancer, including invoices as well as bank statements can be a good alternative. If you’re a student, the landlord might ask for a Bürgschaft, which is a guarantee from someone that they’ll cover your rent if you can’t 
  • Your SCHUFA Bonitätsauskunft
  • A letter from your previous landlord declaring you’re not in arrears on your rent

Finding your perfect apartment in Berlin takes patience, money and a bit of luck. But if you follow this advice, you might be able to avoid competing with everyone else in the city, and save both time and money. Good luck!