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INTERVIEW: Is there a solution in sight for Berlin's housing crisis?

Aaron Burnett
Aaron Burnett - [email protected]
INTERVIEW: Is there a solution in sight for Berlin's housing crisis?
Housing complexes in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Monika Skolimowska

Housing is getting more expensive around the Bundesrepublik, with the problem particularly pronounced in cities like Berlin and Munich. While there's no quick fix, experts told The Local's Germany in Focus podcast that not all hope is lost.

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Even many Berlin veterans will tell you it’s hard to remember the German capital without its crazy housing stories.

Having arrived myself in late 2011, you’d hear all sorts of anecdotes even then of the kinds of things people who had a room to offer would ask for.

Whether it was advising that one of the flatmates slept in a coffin, to requests for nude pictures as the household was explicitly nudist – it didn’t take long for a newcomer to realise that those offering rooms had the upper hand over those who needed them. “Casting parties” where 50 people would view a flat at once were common.

It’s only gotten worse. A lot worse.

READ ALSO: PODCAST: How bad is the housing situation in Germany?

Red Tape Translation Founder Kathleen Parker came to Berlin herself in 2012 and started working in relocation. “There was an apartment shortage then, but that is nothing compared to what is happening right now,” she told The Local’s Germany in Focus podcast. “It’s extremely difficult.”

Parker says relocating to Berlin is itself becoming time-consuming and costly – and that’s before you’ve even put down a deposit. Relocation firms offering flat search packages are booked out until October. Many will often only accept people who have “reasonable” enough expectations and a high enough budget.

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“Everyone else seems to be left to fend for themselves,” Parker says. “Supply is low, demand is high. That’s the main issue.”

Parker says she hears stories consistently now where real estate agents will take an ad for a flat down within an hour of posting it online, simply because there will already be 200 applicants within the first 20 minutes.

“If you are not online at the right time or you haven’t figured out a bot to apply for the right place at the right time, then you’re too late,” she says.

Flats in Berlin's city centre.

Flats in Berlin's city centre. People relocating to the capital with a high enough budget often hire relocation firms to help find a flat amidst hundreds of fellow applicants. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

Parker says that if you have the money to spare, hiring a relocation firm may be a good idea. Many will also guarantee a certain number of viewings.

If you’re going it alone though, there’s still a few tricks you can use.

“Have a ready-to-go application package with all of your documents saved as one PDF and have it ready to go in the blink of an eye,” Parker advised, adding that your documents should be in German. “Have it saved on your phone so you can send it off with one click.”

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Any relief in sight?

Unfortunately, flat seekers can expect the capital’s housing crisis to continue for quite some time.

Thomas Beyerle, a real estate professor and Managing Director of Catella Property Valuation, told the Germany in Focus podcast that the problem can only be fixed by increasing housing supply.

“Build, build, build,” he said. “The demand is definitely there.”

Beyerle says governments can certainly do a lot more to help address the problem, but rent brakes – like the one Berlin tried in 2020 before being overturned by the Federal Constitutional Court – won’t help.

“It totally failed,” He says, as it no longer became financially viable for some landlords to rent. “Over 40 percent of the listings online disappeared overnight.”

Instead, Beyerle says governments would do better to provide stimulus packages to help build housing, as skyrocketing inflation has made many construction materials increasingly unaffordable. He adds that demand is still rising, but supply is stagnating – but governments can help by putting in some relief money to help construction companies pay for materials – and thus more affordable housing.

READ ALSO: Why Germany’s housing crisis is expected to drag on

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