The one with a checklist for after you bought a house
We hate to break it to you, but the celebration after you purchased property in Germany is not as glamorous as reality TV would have you believe. Instead, there’s a whole lot of work waiting for you.
Trying to model your life after Netflix reality TV programming probably isn’t a very direct path to either a stress free existence or happiness. In fact, you are probably best advised to incorporate a few specific learnings straight from the screen into your day to day to avoid unpleasant surprises. Don’t visit roadside zoos. Don’t sleep with people just because they are hot. And definitely don’t expect your glamorous realtor to attach a big red bow to your front door and treat you to a lavish dinner after you have signed the paperwork for the property you just bought. I am so sorry to say: German real estate unfortunately is nothing like Selling Sunset.
So if the celebratory moment doesn’t happen - what does? Again, I regret to be the bearer of bad news. Instead of champagne, there’s very likely something else in copious amounts. Yep, that’s right: work. “Free flowing” so to speak. Which at this point at least doesn’t come as a surprise given that you have laboured through a ton of bureaucratic steps (which we detailed here) and have overcome more than one hurdle to make this purchase happen.
This is the very real list of “things to remember after you bought real estate in Germany we wish we had known about”. It’s a checklist of sorts, to make your lives easier. And because we are feeling extra generous today, on this grey December day, it’s even sorted from “super important” to “not mission critical”. Let’s get to it.
Construction plans and technical drawings
If you have other, more urgent things to do and want to stop reading - do it after this bit. It’s the important one that we certainly didn’t get right. In our defence, a baseline floor plan is already included in the very early set of documentation that you receive when viewing a property (at least in most cases). We took that and an additional (more detailed) one that we got handed later and went our merry way. Big, fat mistake. The moment you are even thinking of renovating anything more substantial you will need detailed technical drawings. And even if neither the seller nor the agent have them there’s a way to access them with the municipal building authorities where they are definitely on file (the example we linked is from Bavaria - and different states will have different rules, just fyi). Our best advice: Make the effort and make it quickly. Unearth everything you can and keep copies in your possession. Sure, we are all hoping there won’t be another pandemic for a while - but you never know and it’s what screwed us. By the time we realised we didn’t have the plans we needed and that we could request access with the authorities - they had already closed their offices and we were left empty handed. Yes, we are absolutely making these mistakes so that you don’t have to.
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We get to the real keys a bit later down the list - this part is about key contacts. You know, the super, handymen and -women, suppliers and other important people. Especially in a multi-unit property, this list is likely to be long. Given this support-network is such an important part of making everything run smoothly, getting in touch with them is more of a process than it is a one-time task. During the sale, I’d ask the seller to supply a list with names and contact details. Later, as you introduce yourself to the tenants, gather some feedback on what (or better: who) works and where they see potential for improvement. As we talked about here, you are likely not going to hear about stuff if you don’t ask specifically. Equipped with all the knowledge you can then call around, introduce yourself, leave new contact information and already address any issues you have been made aware of.
Change of address
In a similar vein to the above, there aren't really a ton of places where you need to say hello and have your contact details changed to solidify that you are the new owner. If you are renegotiating contracts or even entering into brand new vendor relationships, this issue will be taken care of automatically.
Paperwork: contracts and documentation
One would think that zee Gerrrmanz not only love paperwork but are equally enamoured with talking about paperwork. I am not commenting on whether that’s true - instead I’d rather talk about paperwork. I’d suggest you basically make a relatively vague request to both the seller and the agent to have “everything handed over” as you finalise the sale and see what happens. Wouldn’t wait until you have signed because there is less incentive for the other parties to be super forthcoming. I am talking insurance policies, maintenance contracts and other fun stuff. What you’ll receive, though, will depend in large parts on how well organised everyone is. For us, what we got has ranged from a measly email with one attachment to an entire real-life folder (with tabs!). Your life will be made a touch easier if you have access to documentation.
While this might actually be one of the few things that everyone remembers … I’d argue that getting hold of all keys isn’t super critical. With an investment property, most of the units will be rented out anyway, meaning keys are with the tenants. Sure, ask for any additional sets that might be floating around as well as for those for common areas, storage rooms and the odd basement door. But all things considered, even if you have to change a few locks the investment will be minimal compared to the money you just spent. Things are a little different if your house has a super sophisticated lock system, possibly even connected to a computer / server / smart something - but apart from that … not your most important thing to worry about.
Warranty documents and instruction manuals
We are now safely in the realm of “nice to have”. If kitchens come with appliances, definitely ask for manuals and potential warranty documents. Funnily enough, this is a really murky part of German regulation: in most states, “a kitchen” is constituted by just having the power outlets as well as connection to water and gas in one room. So no mandatory appliances, let alone a built in kitchen. In other states, like Berlin for example, a stove must be included, though. So definitely do a bit of research on this before buying and/or renting out. Anything else technical in the house? Heating, air conditioning, intercoms or cameras? Same. They don’t have anything? Meh. Maybe it’s with the tenants. Maybe not. No biggie.
There you have it folks. A list as unglamorous as they come.
Getting back to Selling Sunset and how they celebrate big purchases: funnily enough, we have actually always found it hard to identify the right moment to celebrate these momentous occasions and huge purchases - when do you do it? Once your offer gets accepted? Too much can go wrong still. After the notarised signature? You are probably tired from listening to someone literally read legalese to you for hours plus the transfer hasn’t yet happened. And so it goes … So maybe I should add one last item to the list. Chill that bottle of champagne. And drink it when the mood strikes, when you are not too worn out by having to think about a random action item on your list and when things feel celebratory over all. Even if it’s more “Buying Gera” than “Selling Sunset” - you deserve to toast to all your real estate dreams coming true!
Next time, on Rente aus Stein: What we learned about finding the right tenants in order to avoid financial disasters.
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Disclaimer: We are not lawyers (sadly) and as such can’t give you legal and/or tax advice. We are simply telling our story in the hope that it’s inspiring to you.