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PROPERTY

EXPLAINED: The hidden costs of buying a house in Germany

Buying a house in a foreign country can be a stressful experience, so the last thing you want is any unforeseen costs taking you by surprise. Here's what you can expect when purchasing your dream home in Germany.

A couple is shown around a flat by an estate agent
A couple is shown around a flat by an estate agent in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

Germany is well known for being a nation of tenants, but with rents rising fast across the country, a significant number of people are opting for the security of home ownership over life in the rental market. 

Aside from escaping spiralling rents, there are numerous other reasons that drive around 45 percent of people to buy in Germany, like security in their old age, an inheritance for their children, or the freedom to truly make their home their own.

Though house prices have seen a steep increase in boom cities like Berlin and Munich in recent years, many towns and cities around the country are still very affordable to buy in – but there is a slight catch.

Along with all the paperwork, there are a number of additional costs you need to take into account when putting down money on a new home. Most of them affect everyone, but some are more likely to fall on the shoulders of foreigners. 

READ ALSO: Bargain ‘B-cities’: The places to buy property in Germany if you’re on a tight budget

In general, be prepared to budget an additional 10-15 percent of the house price for administrative and tax costs – though a lot does depend in which state you’ve opted to live in. Here are the costs you need to know about so you don’t get caught unawares.

Estate agent fees

Like death and taxes, paying estate agents fees seems to be an inevitability of selling a house almost anywhere in the world. In Germany, however, you also pay commission when buying one, as if to say a big thank you to the estate agent for being such a good salesperson. 

Up until December 23rd, 2020, this commission was often paid entirely by the purchaser, and could be as much as 7.14 percent of the purchase price in states like Berlin and Brandenburg, or 5.95 percent in places like Hesse. 

Since then, however, a new law stipulates that people selling houses in Germany can no longer funnel all these additional costs onto the buyer. Instead, if they hire an estate agent and draw up a contract with them, they must pay at least half of the arranged fee, while the buyer in turn pays no more than half.

An estate agent shows a man around a property
An estate agent shows a man around a property in Wittenberg, Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

That means, in Berlin for instance, the cost of commission could be reduced from a maximum of 7.14 percent of the property price (which would mean additional costs of €14,280 on a €200,000 house) to 3.57 percent (€7,140 for a €200,000 house). 

Estate agent fees do vary from state to state and contract to contract, so until you know what the agreement on your preferred house is, it’s best to budget for an additional 3-4 percent commission on top of the purchase price to be on the safe side. 

There are some exceptions, however: if you buy what’s known as a Kapitalanage – a form of investment property that you get rental income from, but cannot live in for a certain period of time – you will often find that you are spared from having to pay commission. Alternatively, if the owner of a property is looking for a quick sale, they may also try to make the property more attractive to buyers by making it commission-free – but those types of deals are unfortunately a rarity. 

Land transfer tax

After you’ve bought your new home, you will probably get a tax bill from the state you live in for your land transfer tax. This will once again be calculated as a percentage of the property price, and can be anywhere between 3.5 percent to 6.5 percent.

Below is the amount of land transfer tax you’ll have to budget for in each of the federal states. As you can see, you’d be paying €7,000 on top of a €200,000 house in Bavaria, whereas in Brandenburg, you’d have to budget a whopping €13,000.

                                            Federal State      Land transfer tax
                                      Bavaria and Saxony           3.5 percent
                                             Hamburg           4.5 percent
Baden-Württemburg, Bremen, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony Anhalt            5 percent
Berlin, Hesse and Mecklenburg Western Pomerania            6 percent
Brandenburg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein & Thuringia            6.5 percent

Notary costs

Much like legal fees you might pay in other countries, expect to pay a fairly big sum for your notary. In Germany, you are legally required to have your contract drawn up and witnessed by a recognised notary.

Though they won’t physically go round the house to check if the house is physically solid like a surveyor might, their job is to draw up a contract that protects both the buyer and seller, check all the paperwork is correct, and review the records to see if there is any reason why the sale cannot go ahead. As mentioned, the notary also witnesses the contracts being signed and ensures that your ownership of that property is entered in the Land Registry (which is known as the Grundbuch in German).  

READ ALSO: Where in Germany it now pays to buy a home instead of renting

Once again, the fee for the notary is generally linked to the price of the house you’re purchasing, so you can expect to shell out up 1-1.5 percent on top of the house price. For our fictional €200,000 property, that would equate to €2,000-3,000. 

Interpreter / translator fees

If your German isn’t at an advanced level, you may need to hire an interpreter who will read the contract to you in your native language in the presence of the notary before you sign it. But beware: these skillful linguists tend to have a hefty price tag, so you’ll likely have to budget another €500 or so for this – or more if they have to travel.  

A woman connects with an interpreter via video link on her tablet.
A woman connects with an interpreter via video link on her tablet. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

If you want to read the contract for yourself in English or another language beforehand, you might also consider getting a certified translation of it too. With translations of tricky legal texts often coming at a high cost, you should set aside at least a few hundred euros for this as well if you plan to go down this route, depending on the length and complexity of the contract.

Foreign currency exchange / banking costs 

Once again, this all depends on your circumstances, but if you’re using savings in a foreign currency to put down a deposit then you may have to reckon with exchange rates and bank charges as well.

Though you can’t control the foreign exchange markets, you can generally get the real exchange rate and pay fewer fees if you use a service like TransferWise rather than a traditional oversees bank transfer. When you’re spending thousands on a house, decisions like this may seem minor – but they can all help keep things within your budget.

If you want to see if the house you’ve got your eye on is really such a Snäpchen (bargain), this online calculator uses the property price and the federal state to estimate how much extra you’re likely to pay in additional costs. Bank fees and interpreting or translation costs aren’t included in the calculation, but it should help you get an idea of what you’re likely to be spending and what your house budget is. 

Finally, here’s some vocabulary that may come in useful for your house hunt – and deciphering the bills that come with it:

Makler – Estate agent

Provision – Commission

Notar – Notary

Grundbuchkosten – the cost of getting your name entered into the land registry

Gebühren – fees

Grunderwerbsteuer – Land transfer tax

Nebenkosten – additional costs

Dolmetscher – Interpreter

Member comments

  1. Still want to buy a house with all these parasites lining up to fleece you for a percentage by basically doing the job of a robot?
    Buy somewhere better.

  2. It is possible to find zero Estate agent fees at certain websites. The owner lists the property directly.
    And the translation cost could be more, 800 – 900. Don’t forget the 19% VAT!

  3. We bought a property in France and were told to calculate between 13-14% on top of the purchase price, which proved to be correct. The purchase price quoted includes the estate agents fee (between 5-7% depending on value of the property) plus the % above.
    In fact, purchasing in Spain is very similar, about an additional 14% above the purchase price.
    The difference to the UK is that here we can stipulate with the Notaire the date at which to exchange contracts whereas in the UK one is at the mercy of the conveyancing solicitor.

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For members

LIVING IN AUSTRIA

Austria vs Germany: Which country is better to move to?

Thinking of a move to a German-speaking Europe but aren't sure about Germany or Austria? Here’s what you need to know.

Austria vs Germany: Which country is better to move to?

Both Austria and Germany are German-speaking countries with similar cultures and a high standard of living.

But in many ways, the similarities stop there and life in Austria can be very different to Germany (and vice versa) – depending on which part of the country you live in. 

So which of these two Central European countries are better to move to? Let’s find out.

Taxes

The tax systems in both Austria and Germany are complicated, so it will of course depend on your individual circumstances as to where you’d pay less tax. 

In Austria, the general income tax rates for 2022 are:

0 percent for up to €11,000 in earnings.

20 percent for €11,000 to €18,000.

32.5 percent for €18,000 to €31,000.

42 percent for €31,000 to €60,000.

48 percent for €60,000 to €90,000.

50 percent for €90,000 to €1,000,000.

55 percent for earnings above €1,000,000.

FOR MEMBERS: Explained: How to understand your payslip in Austria

While in Germany the tax rates for 2022 are:

0 percent for earnings up to €9,984.

14 to 42 percent for €9,985 to €58,596.

42 percent for €58,597–€277,825.

45 percent for €277,826 and above.

As you can see, it’s likely you will end up paying more income tax in Austria than in Germany – especially in the higher earnings brackets.

Then there are mandatory social security payments to consider, which cover healthcare, pension and unemployment insurance.

In Austria, both the employer and the employee are required to pay social insurance contributions. The amount will depend on income up to a ceiling amount of €62,640 per year or €5,220 per month.

In Germany, there is a similar system (both employer and employee pay) and the average total social insurance contribution for employees is around 20 to 22 percent of your annual salary.

In the case of self-employment, individuals in both Austria and Germany make payments directly to the social insurance provider.

How much you ultimately pay in taxes and social insurance will depend on how much you earn. In Austria you can expect to pay out around 30 percent of your gross earnings, while in Germany the amount is usually slightly higher, i.e. 36-38 percent. 

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about your German tax return

You could end up paying more in income tax in Austria. Photo: Firmbee / Pixabay

Visas

For people from non-EU countries that want to move to either Austria or Germany, a visa is required.

In Austria, there are three types of work permit to apply for: restricted (for one year), standard (two years) and unrestricted (for five years). What you can get will depend on your situation.

There are also student and graduate visas, as well as a start-up founder route, which requires a €50,000 investment in a company. 

Another investment-style visa in Austria is known as the Self-Employed Key Worker permit and involves investing €100,000 into the Austrian economy, as well as the creation of new jobs or technologies.

FOR MEMBERS: How to apply for a residency permit in Austria

In Germany, there are several visa routes including a job seeker permit for recent graduates of a recognised university, study permit, work visa, au pair visa, internship visa or a self-employment/freelance permit.

Like in Austria, there is also an investment route in Germany for people that want to set up a business in the country. There is no official minimum amount of investment but there is a recommendation that it should be at least €360,000.

In Germany, there is also the ability to apply for dual citizenship. The law currently allows EU citizens to take German citizenship without relinquishing their country of origin, but the government has pledged to overhaul the rules to allow all eligible foreigners to apply for dual citizenship in Germany.

In Austria, dual citizenship is only allowed in very few cases, so Germany comes out on top in this round.

Digital nomad friendly?

Unlike Italy, which recently announced the launch of a new digital nomad visa, there is no specific visa for digital nomads in either Austria or Germany.

However, Germany does have a freelance visa called Aufenthaltserlaubnis für selbständige Tätigkeit. It allows freelancers and self-employed people to live in Germany for up to three years, and costs €100 to apply. 

There are several different categories of self-employment, such as journalists or artists, but keep in mind that these do differ from state to state. 

Applicants also need proof of self-sustainability (income) and an address in Germany.

Austria, on the other hand, has the Self-Employed Key Worker visa (detailed above) but it requires a financial investment and is not really suitable for digital nomads, so Deutschland wins this one.

Cost of living

Both Austria and Germany are known for having a high cost of living.

However, Germany is significantly cheaper for some everyday items like bread and domestic beer. Germany is also cheaper than Austria when it comes to eating at restaurants, but is much more expensive for items like rent and petrol.

Here is a breakdown of some of the average living costs in both countries, according to Numbeo.

Austria

Rent (one-bedroom apartment, city centre): €723

Loaf of bread: €1.94

Domestic beer: €1.07

Utilities (monthly): €217

Petrol (1 litre): €1.71

Meal for two at mid-range restaurant: €55

READ MORE: Austria unveils €2 billion relief package to fight rising cost of living

Germany

Rent (one-bedroom apartment, city centre): €886

Loaf of bread: €1.63

Domestic beer: €0.57

Utilities (monthly): €234

Petrol (1 litre): €2.20

Meal for two at mid-range restaurant: €50

Please be aware that these average costs can increase in larger cities or popular tourist destinations, or decrease in more rural areas and smaller towns.

A customer wearing a face mask makes purchases at a German supermarket

The cost of living is cheaper in Germany for some items. Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

Lifestyle and culture

Life in Austria is very much influenced by the concept of Gemutlichkeit. In English, it means “comfort” or “cosy”, but in the context of Austrian culture it means “enjoying life”.

The benefits of this aspect of Austrian culture is that there is a healthy work/life balance in the country and people make an effort to spend time with friends and family. The downside is that there is sometimes a lack of urgency, especially with bureaucracy or official matters.

Austria is also a Catholic country, which is evident in some laws and customs, such as Sunday trading laws (most businesses are closed on Sundays) and a Church Tax.

READ ALSO: What is Austria’s church tax and how do I avoid paying it?

But then there are other elements, like Vienna’s famous coffee house scene and the outdoors lifestyle that can be enjoyed in the mountains. The result is a culture that is rooted in tradition while also looking on the bright side of life.

Germany, by comparison, is a much bigger country with a more diverse culture, especially between regions like traditional Bavaria (which has a similar culture to Austria) and Berlin, which is home to a modern international population and a party-loving crowd. 

The differences in Germany can be pronounced. While it may be hard to communicate with someone in English in smaller towns of the former east of the country, ordering in German in some parts of Berlin will be met with a blank stare and a request to speak English. 

However, there are a few aspects of German culture that apply across the country. For example, people are generally punctual and hardworking, and they like to take care of each other and have fun.

There are a couple of false stereotypes about German culture too – most notably that the people are cold. The reality is that most Germans are friendly and welcoming, even if there is a tendency to be honest which can at first be difficult to get used to. 

When it comes to whether Austrian or German culture is better, it depends on what you’re looking for. If you want big cities and more professional opportunities, go to Germany. If you want a smaller country with interesting traditions, then Austria is the place to be.

Nature and landscapes

Germany might have the Bavarian Alps with the Zugspitze rising to 2,962 feet above sea level, but that’s nothing compared to Austria’s Grossglockner mountain which is 3,798 metres above sea level.

But Germany does have a coastline along its northern borders – something that land-locked Austria can’t compete with.

Germany’s coast is split between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea and stretches for over 3,700 km – including islands and bays. Just don’t expect Mediterranean vibes in northern Germany.

While temperatures can be warm in the spring and summer months, both the Baltic Sea and North Sea are cold waters. This doesn’t stop German holidaymakers though who flock to the white sand beaches and pretty islands along the country’s northern coastline every summer. 

So if you would like to live in a country with the possibility of one day living by the sea (without having to relocate elsewhere), then Germany is the place to go.

On the other hand, if the mountains are calling, then head to Austria where you can spend your days exploring the Alps.

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