Before we arrived in Heidelberg, we heard that it is nearly impossible to find an apartment rental without already being in Heidelberg. It is definitely not a renters’ market, so competition is high. In the meantime, before our move, I scoured rental websites on Google Chrome (which would translate them somewhat into English for me) to get an idea of prices and locations.
We arrived on a Saturday, and since everything is closed on Sundays, I spent most of the day Sunday compiling a list of available apartments. Chris had to send the rental agents a very specific email that included his title (Dr. Chris), where he worked, the type of contract he’s on, and the fact that he has a wife (a plus to many agents). One sublet listing I saw even said that the landlord preferred at least one female to live in the flat.
We also heard that landlords want a long commitment (~5 years), but you don’t sign contracts based on time. From what I understand, you can move out whenever you wish without a break-in-contract penalty.
The majority of listings that I looked at were listed by an agent. To lease one of these properties, you generally have to pay the agent about 2.4 months cold rent (rent without heating costs) when you sign the lease. So, the costs up front are relatively high than what we have in the U.S.
The rental agents we interacted with did not have fluent English skills, which was surprising given the international clientele in Heidelberg. The agent we ended up leasing from would write us emails in German, and then we would plug them into Google Translate and write him back in English (he did the same translation trick). The translations were not always perfect, but it worked for the most part. It was much easier to communicate in person.
Rent is listed in either “cold” or “hot”. “Cold” is rent that does not include your heating or hot water charges. We asked some friends before we started looking to get an idea of what cold rent should be per square meter.
When I was in the U.S. looking at properties, some were listed as “furnished.” To me, this meant with beds, couches, etc. In Germany, though, it means with a kitchen and light fixtures. If you rent an “unfurnished” apartment, you must go to a store, like Ikea, and purchase kitchen fittings (e.g. sink, stove, counters, cupboards). Luckily, the apartment we liked the most came with a kitchen… even though it has purple cupboards.
When we were getting close to making our decision, we asked for a draft of the lease. Since it’s a contract entirely in German that we would be signing, Chris asked one of his German colleagues to translate it for us. It was very detailed about rules, which seems fitting in Germany, and even specifies exactly when we can and cannot shake out our rugs.
Meeting the landlords
The last step in signing the lease was actually signing the lease. To do this, we met the agent and our landlords at the apartment. We had heard that landlords can be very selective and you should watch what you say. Our landlords were much different and seemed very enthusiastic to show us all of the features of the apartment, especially the closet (a real luxury here) and the shutters. They gave us a history of the building and told us about the previous tenants (an Australian couple). They were also very interested in Chris’s work. We signed the lease (comparing it to our translated draft version), and since the apartment was empty, they gave us the keys 15 days early so we could start moving things over from our temporary apartment.
Due to the competitive nature of the market, we were lucky to find the place we did in a good location and with a kitchen so quickly. One benefit is that we were looking at the beginning of December rather than September, the peak academic season. I would advise anyone moving to search and write or call the agents quickly and to not hesitate when the right apartment comes along. You never know when you’ll find another purple kitchen again!