If you are looking for a place to live in a big German city, you might have to say goodbye to your wish for a dream home. It now costs €1150 to rent a 60 square metre apartment in Cologne and €1100 for only 38 square metres in Munich. Tiny, student-like flats are becoming more and more acceptable.
“This is how it goes. We have to save on square metres,” says a real-estate expert from the Cologne Institute of the German Economy, Michael Voigtländer. A city like Munich is the forerunner rather than the exception.
“Only a few years ago we generally preferred big apartments to small ones”, continues Voigtländer. Since then however, city dwellers have been living in increasingly small spaces, with generously-sized homes only affordable in more rural areas.
“Many would prefer to live in a larger apartment, but they cannot afford it”, says Thomas Bauer, Vice-President of the Federal Association of German Industry (BDI). According to Bauer, the problem can only be solved if more people move from big cities to the countryside. However, the current trend is the opposite of this.
One of the main causes of the housing issues is the changing demographic of the population. Germany currently has an aging population and because of this there are a lot more one-person households.
This, has led to a rapidly increasing demand for housing in Germany’s cities. As a study found earlier this year, a consequence of this is that German cities have some of the fastest rising house prices across the globe. In fact Berlin’s housing market is growing faster than any other city in the world and experts predict that it will continue to grow.
However, for many years there has been a lack of investment in city accommodation, and even if developers wanted to build new apartments, there is not enough land in most German cities. In June Frankfurt's mayor, Peter Feldmann, backed plans to build two new districts around the A5 Autobahn in the Frankfurt suburbs. Projects like this will become more common as Germany’s cities continue to become overcrowded.
For years Germans have become accustomed to living in increasingly roomy apartments. Since the turn of the century, the living space per person has grown almost continuously according to figures from the Federal Statistical Office (StBA).
In 1999 it was at around 39 square metres per capita, and rose to 45 square metres over the next 10 years. However, last year the number was at just 46.5 square metres and now the tides could turn in Germany’s big cities.
The largest German landlord, Vonovia, has responded to the housing crisis, which is described by CEO Rolf Buch as “dramatic”, by offering an increasing number of smaller flats in German cities. With floor-to-ceiling windows and large livings areas to make up for the cramped hallways and small bedrooms, residents are at least given the illusion of roominess. There are still some housing steals on the market: if you fancy a flat in Bochum, near Dortmund, the company asks for only €10 per square metre.
As Vonovia renovates and builds new buildings, they are aiming for flats to be around 55 to 60 square metres; sometimes they divide a large 160 square metre apartment into three small apartments. “In cities which are running so low on free apartments, some people live in huge spaces,” says Buch.
“It can be problematic introducing higher prices per square meter for smaller flats,” says Ulrich Ropertz of the German Tenants Association (DMB). The idea of smaller apartments makes sense as a solution for growing vacancies in large flats which can be difficult to rent.
However, the apartment must be empty in order to carry out renovation. “You cannot and must not terminate a lease in order to do this”, says Ropertz.