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How real estate in Germany has rocketed in the pandemic

Many industries have suffered in the pandemic, but Germany's real estate market is thriving, a new report shows.

Apartments in Hamburg's Eimsbüttel area.
Apartments in Hamburg's Eimsbüttel area. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

While restaurant owners, retailers and cultural organisers have been feeling the burden of the pandemic in Germany, at least one sector of the economy has come through relatively unscathed: residential real estate.

The price dampener feared at the beginning of the pandemic did not materialise last year, in fact, quite the opposite happened: purchase prices increased at an above-average rate.

Since a low point in 2009, homes have more than doubled in cost. A report by the Council of Real Estate Experts (Immobilienweisen) presented earlier this week puts the price increase since then at 146 percent, reported German newspaper FAZ on Tuesday.

READ ALSO: The German cities where property prices are soaring

What did the report find?

In 2021, condominiums rose in price by an average of 14.3 percent nationwide, to €3,140 per square metre, according to the report. Compared to the previous year, the price increase has intensified: from 2020 to 2021, the increase was 11.2 percent.

Prices for homes in eastern Germany have recently risen more strongly than in the west. Large cities in the east – excluding Berlin – recorded an increase of 19.6 percent last year to a price per square metre of €2,621. In western cities prices rose by only 12.5 percent, although the level is also significantly higher at €4,096.

READ ALSO: Why Frankfurt could have the biggest housing bubble in the world

What about rents?

Rents also rose, but not at the same rate as real estate. According to the real estate experts group, they went up by 3.7 percent to an average of €8.46 per square metre. The authors of the survey observed the strongest increase (4.1 per cent) in asking rents in western German districts to €8.27.

In the so-called ‘A-cities’ – Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Cologne, Hamburg, Munich and Stuttgart – new leases rose by 2.7 per cent to an average of €12.27 per square metre.

Berlin continues to be an outlier, with asking rents rising by 4.7 per cent to €9.70 on average. The absolute front-runner is still Munich, with rents averaging a shocking €16.99 (plus 2.6 percent).

READ ALSO: Why rent prices in major German cities are starting to fall

The number of new-build flats in Germany is rising, but it’s not near the current targets.

Flats in Cologne.

Flats in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

After around 306,000 flats completed in 2020, the real estate report estimates the number of new-builds for 2021 to be 315,000.

Germany’s government has pledged to increase the annual number of new builds to 400,000 per year, but experts say that will be difficult to reach.

Housing is a major social problem in Germany, especially in cities. 

According to a study from last year, around 4.1 million households in Germany’s big cities have to fork out more than 30 percent of their net income on rent, including utilities and heating.

Among social scientists and real estate experts, a rent burden ratio above 30 percent of household income is considered problematic, especially for households with lower incomes.

Many landlords don’t allow people to rent a flat if they reach this threshold because they doubt that tenants can afford their flats long-term under these circumstances.

The study released in 2021 and funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation, also found that around 2.2 million households in the 77 major German cities have to spend at least 40 percent of their income on rent, and for just under 12 per cent – or almost one million households – more than half of their take-home pay goes on rental costs. 

On average, tenant households in large cities pay 29.8 percent of their income for gross ‘warm’ rent (rent including associated costs like electricity and gas).

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PROPERTY

How Germany’s property boom could be slowing down

Prices continue to rise steeply in the German property sector - but experts are seeing signs of a trend reversal.

How Germany's property boom could be slowing down

What’s going on? 

The Federal Statistics Office has just released its latest figures on property prices – and let’s just say it’s not great news for would-be buyers. 

In the first quarter of 2022 – from January to March – house prices shot up by an average of 12 percent compared to the previous year. It was the fourth time in a row that properties had gone up in value by more than ten percent in the space of a year. If these latest figures are anything to go by, Germany’s property boom is still in full swing.

Nevertheless, there are few things about the property market in the Bundesrepublik that are giving experts pause for thought. 

The first is the fact that, from quarter to quarter, property prices don’t seem to be rising as rapidly as they were last year.

READ ALSO: How soaring German property prices are out of reach for buyers

In fact, from the fourth quarter of 2021 (September to December) to the first quarter of 2022, the cost of buying a flat or a detached and semi-detached house only went up by around 0.8 percent. 

In the previous two quarters, prices had risen by 3.1 percent and 4.1 percent respectively.

“This indicates a slight weakening of the dynamics,” the Statistics Office said. 

The second issue is that, with interest rates on the up, demand has all but collapsed. The third issue is the concerns of the Bundesbank that property prices could well be over-inflated. 

Does that mean people aren’t buying property right now?

Kind of. In any case, far fewer people were seeking out places to buy in the first few months of 2022 than they were throughout 2021.

According to the online property portal Immoscout24, the demand for properties for sale in the first quarter of 2022 dropped by 17 percent within one year.

Adverts for residential properties are staying up for far longer than they used to, and sellers are having an increasingly tough time finding buyers.

High-rise buildings in Erfurt

High-rise flats and older buildings make up the Erfurt skyline. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Martin Schutt

Instead, it seems like Germans are returning to their age-old love affair with renting rather than buying. This could partly be to do with the fact that interest rates look set to rise over the coming years, making cheap mortgage deals increasingly hard to come by. 

“These developments could have a dampening effect on price trends in the medium term,” said ImmoScout24 managing director Gesa Crockford. This could offset the slight uptick in interest rates.

READ ALSO:

So what’s the outlook? 

Not all too rosy, unfortunately. Though prices could continue to rise in the medium term, some experts believe that the property boom will slow down after a decade or so. 

This is partly due to stuttering construction rates: at the moment, the construction industry is struggling against some serious headwinds, from ultra expensive building materials to endless supply bottlenecks. 

Germany’s Central Bank (the Bundesbank) has been warning for some time that property prices are inflated beyond their actual value.

In cities in particular, prices are between 15 and 30 percent above a level that can be justified by longer-term economic and demographic factors, the Bundesbank stressed in February.

This trend was amplified by the Covid pandemic, which saw people increasingly seeking living space outside of the cities where supply is scarce. 

Experts from German bank LBBW also say they expect a price correction if interest rates continue to rise strongly and the economy fails to recover. 

In this scenario, LBBW believes that price declines of 20 to 25 percent are possible.

Of course, this may not apply to all regions of the country equally. There tends to be big differences in price trends, for example, between the former East and West of Germany. 

One other area that’s still going strong is the buy-to-let market. While demand for homes for personal use is slipping, it seems there’s still a big appetite for so-called “capital investments” that are occupied by renters.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The German property tax declaration owners need to know about

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