A Year-Long Flat Hunt as a Crash Course in Culture and Persistence

Learning how the local rental market worked also taught me a great deal about cultural values and how you should always try one more time.

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Photo by Marcus Lenk on Unsplash

Stage 1

I was unemployed, empty bank account, not taking the fact that people want to see documents seriously at all. I thought a person’s good will would help me out. That was hoping for a miracle that would never happen.

Stage 2

Still unemployed, empty bank account, but this time with documents. A good friend signed a personal guarantee to help me out and increase my chances of getting lucky. Amongst the average 60–100 viewers who hoped to get lucky this time, the strength of my application got flushed under those that did have job security and bulky pay slips to show.

Stage 3

Armed with experienced gathered from the dozens of viewings and failed tries from the former stages, this time I arrived with a complete stack of documents, and a new permanent job for which I had documents to show. With all these pieces in place, I was prepared and I finally got lucky.

  • How rental scams look like. It’s best to be inside the city during your search. To avoid scammers with their classic “I am not in Berlin right now, but if you transfer a €2K deposit via Western Union, I will send you the keys of this beautiful, too-good-to-be-true, dirt-cheap apartment on an A-location that looks like a penthouse”.
  • Don’t be fixated on one property. Stay in motion. That dream flat you just viewed might tick off all the boxes, but the second you hand in your documents, it’s on to the next one. Leave it behind and spend no more thought on it. There is zero guarantee that you’ll be granted this flat. Don’t sit around waiting, but move on with the search immediately. Flats move fast in a saturated market.
  • Know where to look. I went so deep in the rental market. Tell me what you’re looking for and I’ll tell you where to get it.
  • Be ready to go to a viewing in one hour from now. Flats that got published today could be rented out hours later. You’d have to be on top of your game at all times, to get in contact with the land owners, make an appointment for a viewing, and show up, on time, and prepared.
  • Preparation makes the difference. Once I reached stage 3 in my search, I had learnt to have two stacks of documents on me, in paper, at all times. Just in case I needed to hop on the train for a viewing right now.
    These stacks were in a neat, uncreased envelope that contained every and any document that could support me in accomplishing the goal. I stuck small, colored notes between the stack to sort documents per category. And at home, I had ten further stacks already sorted, ready to go. I even had a pre-written email, in German, with files attached to it as well as a Dropbox link, ready to be sent out.
    Thanks to these different formats I always had at hand, owners could choose their preferred format, putting me one step ahead of the “competition”. Often enough I saw people show up at viewings and then plead the owner for mercy because they “forgot their documents”. How even?
  • Conclusion: Make life easy for the landlady or -lord to choose you.
  • German land owners like (love) their documents. The bureaucracy stereotype is true. Give owners the security they yearn for and you will increase your chances of getting what you want. There are no exceptions. If a document is missing? That is a sign of sloppiness from your side and a reason to discard your entire application. Much like screening resumes for typos.
  • Pünktlichkeit (punctuality) is a thing here. Treat it with respect.
  • Speaking the local language makes life so much easier. It took me over a year at the time to find a comfortable flat, within the budget, in a location that I wanted to live in. I nailed all three demands. I attribute part of that to being able to speak to owners in their own language. Why so? In case any issues arise, your landlady or -lord wants to be able to communicate with you without getting a headache or bringing in an external translator.

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Writing my way to progress. Topics: personal growth, life lessons, tooling & (failed) ventures.

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