Finally - your own four walls! How to find a suitable apartment.

Katja Mayer 25.03.2016
For a lot of freshmen, the start of college is synonymous with moving away from home. But for most of them it’s a big challenge: a housing shortage breaks out in college towns at the start of every academic year and good, reasonably priced accommodations are in short supply.

Added to this is the huge time pressure on the hunt for a roof over your head, because offers from colleges don’t land in your mailbox until just before the start of the semester. With adequate preparation, however, your hunt for an apartment can be relatively relaxed.

Student residence, shared apartment or your own pad?

Before you start searching for your new place, you should think for a minute - what do you value most when you get home: Do you prefer...

  • being able to shut the door behind you and then have some peace and quiet, or
  • having people around because at home alone you go stir-crazy?

Apart from that, your budget is also obviously a key factor when choosing accommodations. But one thing at a time:

Student residence: Definitely the cheapest option. Places there are assigned by your student union [], your college or your local college authority. If you’re looking for close contact with your classmates and want to meet a lot of people quickly, you’ve come to the right place. In lots of residences, however, you have to share your room with several complete strangers (at least to begin with). And since places in student residences are in high demand, they are also usually allocated early.

Private room: This type of housing is almost a seamless transition from family life. But you pay for this comfort by sacrificing almost any chance of a private life in your own home. You’ll strike gold at the private accommodations office at your student union, the daily newspaper or a short-term leasing agency [].

Shared apartment: The shared apartment is a classic when it comes to student accommodations. They range from a purely functional shared apartment, where everyone looks out for themselves, to a group of friends who cook, chat and party together. You’ll have to pass an interview before you can move in; this gives you a chance to hear more about what kind of communal living they are going for. You can find a room in a shared apartment on the bulletin board at your college or online on sites like Vierwände [] or WG gesucht [].

Your own place: This is definitely the most luxurious option, although you can often find cheap student apartments. Purchasing the property is an alternative to renting - that’s probably more of an option for your parents, if they are looking to invest. The advantage of your own apartment is that you are your own boss - but on the other hand you are always alone unless you do something about it, and, to top it all off, you are responsible for absolutely everything. You can find apartments on real estate portals, in the local newspaper or through an agent.

How to find your student pad

There are just as many opportunities to find a roof over your head as there are different kinds of housing. For some you do need to visit your college town in advance - this is a good opportunity to get to know it before the start of the semester.

Bulletin boards: Private rooms or rooms in shared apartments are often advertised on the college bulletin boards. Of course you can also put your own ad up there saying you’re looking for a place to rent.

Newspapers and magazines: Local newspapers and ad pages tend to advertise a wide range of rooms - private landlords, public housing associations and real estate agents advertise here. Since these offers are also almost all available online, you can find the local newspaper’s name and real estate pages on []. You can also place an advert for an apartment there.

Student union: Your student union doesn’t just allocate student residence places, they also have lists of landlords and private rooms, and can usually give you plenty of tips on where and how you can find a room in a shared apartment.

Public housing associations: Municipal and co-operative housing associations offer extremely good value housing. But because of that there are long waiting lists, and at co-operatives you frequently have to acquire shares before you can move in - in exchange you usually don’t have to pay a deposit.

Online: Even real-estate agents place adverts online. Immowelt [] and Immobilienscout24[] are the online leaders and are used by most vendors for this reason. If you are looking for a shared apartment you’re more likely to find something on Vierwände [] or WG gesucht[].

Real-estate agents: Lot’s of landlords hire an agent to make appointments with potential tenants and recommend a tenant to move in. But agents need money to do that - your money. Two to three months rent (excluding service charges) is the usual fee for a successful negotiation.

Door to door: In some college towns there are fully fledged student districts full of shared apartments - for example in former barracks converted into housing. If you don’t have any luck with the bulletin boards, just knock on the door of an apartment and ask if there’s a free room. You can find out about districts like this from your student union.

What to look out for when viewing: 

It’s best to arrange appointments for viewing apartments en bloc so that you can avoid making as many advance trips to your new hometown as possible - after all, that costs time and money. You should find a place to stay for the night before and after the appointments to make sure you have enough time for the viewings - that way you can keep looking the next day if need be, in case you aren’t successful on the first day.

Your appearance is important. Make sure you pay attention to the following things:

Punctuality: Even if it’s not a group viewing, getting there on time is of utmost importance. So determine in advance where the apartments are and how much time you will need for the distance in between. If you’re running late for an appointment, make sure you let them know immediately - you should have your cell phone and your contact’s number just in case.

Clothes: This is a difficult one - agents and traditional landlords like more formal clothes, but formal attired is less suitable at an interview for a shared apartment. Play it safe by wearing jeans and a shirt - and have a sports coat with you just in case. And pay attention to the weather: Turning up all sweaty or drenched will not leave a good impression.

Company: If you want to take someone with you to viewings (because four eyes are better than two), make sure you choose the right person: While bringing your parents with you comes across as serious to an agent or landlord, in a shared apartment it gives the impression that you’re not ready to fly the nest - a total no-go.

You really need to check these points at any apartment viewing:

Apartment condition: Does the apartment match the description? And do the conditions and the facilities justify the price? Even real-estate agents are quite creative when it comes to putting a positive spin on weak points. If it smells musty, you can see mold stains or any mold growth, you should stay away from the apartment - regardless of how cheap it is.

Infrastructure: Is it easy to get to all the stores for your daily needs? Is there a secure place available to park your car or bike? Is short-range public transit within walking distance? If not, would your daily commute take long? That won’t just cost you time and money - it will detract from your studying and leisure time.

When you then get the lease agreement, you should check these points:

Formalities: Is the lease agreement correct? Are there any hidden costs? You shouldn’t pay anything until the lease agreement is actually signed. In addition to the address and apartment description, it must also include the name and address of the landlord. If you’re asked to pay cash in advance or transfer money into an overseas account: hands off!

You’ve got the place - now you need furniture

In a residence or a private room, the furniture is usually provided. So, as a sub-letter in a private apartment, you sometimes have the problem that it’s not really set up for working: A real desk with an office chair should be on hand, as well as a bed and a closet - an armchair and the coffee table are definitely not suitable for relaxed working.

Bring your own: Of course you can bring your own furniture from home with you. That’s definitely the cheapest option, in terms of investment costs. But don’t forget about moving expenses, and the fact that you’ll have an empty room when you go home to visit your parents. Besides, your childhood room might not be quite as appropriate anymore, right?

Discount store: In every big town you’ll find a furniture store where you can buy really cheap furniture. If not, there’s always online shopping. This furniture is usually fairly low quality, so make sure you have help when putting it together so that it doesn’t all fall apart.

Second hand: With a bit of luck you can find great furniture at fair prices in second hand shops. If the design doesn’t quite fit in with your other furniture or personal taste, just spruce it up with a bit of color or decorations - all you need is a bit of creativity.

Do it yourself: With a bit of manual skill you can even make your own furniture. In cramped student rooms, this will enable optimum use of space with customized solution. If you don’t have any manual skills yourself, your dad might be happy to put his handyman talents to good use for you.

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