“A home is a man’s castle until his queen arrives.”  Looking for the right home in the KMC (Kaiserslautern Military Community) can be very challenging especially when you decide to start your European vacation during the summer when everybody is looking for the perfect house. Some of you might have moved to Germany without your family hoping that it would be easier to have the family join once you get situated.

If this is your first time coming to Germany you might experience a mild case of “culture shock” when you start looking at German houses. What you thought was a walk-in closet turned out to be a bedroom for the kids. The refrigerator was so small that you cannot even imagine getting half a day’s worth of food in there. The freezer is big enough to hold a couple of ice cubes, and oh my god, there is not even a garbage disposal or a trash compactor! The German landlord/lady has never heard of such thing and will attempt to explain how to recycle the garbage.

Luckily for you, the house does have a single garage but it has to be opened manually without a remote but why worry; the truck won’t even fit into the garage. The bedrooms are tiny and a measuring tape would come in very handy. You are now convinced that your oversized American furniture will not fit into what you perceive as a small house. Your American box spring will not make up the winding staircase and the landlord is not willing to take the staircase apart just to get your furniture up the stairs.  The only option is now getting the furniture through the windows. Hopefully they open up all the way!

Anyway, here are my five tips on how to find the right home for you and your family. I hope this information helps you to make your decision.

The right school district

You need to make sure that you find a house within the school district that you are planning on having your kids attend. If you are not within the school district limits, your kids will not be allowed to attend that particular school. It’s best to get an updated list from the school itself of what village or town belongs to what school district or you can download the list by going here.

Types of Homes in Germany

The average home on the economy for E-1 through E-7 will have 2-3 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, built-in-kitchen, garage or carport. The bedrooms will be much smaller than the bedrooms in the US. There are fewer bathrooms and most of the times the second bathroom only has a shower, a toilet and a sink. Freestanding houses with a small backyard are always preferred over townhouses or apartments.

Utilities

It all depends on how much you use. Most of the time you will pay your landlord directly for heating if you have gas heating. The utilities are estimated based on the consumption of the previous tenant. If the previous tenant was German then the energy bill was most likely half of the energy bill of the American tenant. If you have oil heating, which by the way is currently cheaper than gas heating since everybody converted to gas, you might be required to fill up the heating oil tank yourself and consequently will not be required to pay the landlord.

Garbage and electric can be set up as a direct deposit once you register those services under your name. The German landlord/lady will most likely remind you to get energy saving light bulbs and to turn off the lights when you are not home. Make sure you sign up at your VAT office for UTAP which will allow you to save a lot of money on your utilities.

Remember, it might be worthwhile finding an energy efficient house or just get into the habit or turning off your lights or turning down the heat. At the end of the year the German landlord/lady will provide you with a reconciliation of your utility usage. If you are lucky you might get money back and if you used too much energy, well, then you could end up paying hundreds or thousands of euros at the end of the year.

Down Deposits

Most landlords require at least a 2 month deposit unless your rent is very high and then it is normal to give one month deposit. The landlord/lady will deposit your money into an interest bearing savings account and will refund you the money plus interest once you move out minus of course the damages that you did to his/her property.

Finding a Realtor

If you are military you will not get reimbursed for a realtor but civil service employees and many contractors may do. You will, however, get a dislocation allowance based on your rank which could be quite high. You can use this money to pay a realtor, purchase curtains for your new home or buy additional transformer which most German landlords/ladies sometimes disapprove of.

Keep in mind that the realtors will have the best homes on the market. A lot of times they also get a commission from the owner who wants to make sure that the realtor pre-selects the right people who want to view the house.

Also, a realtor knows the area and has access to houses that are not on the Housing list or AHRN. The realtor will also be able to greatly assist you in getting to know the area and will serve as an interpreter in case the landlord/lady does not speak English. If you are lucky enough to stay off post in a TLA apartment, then there is always the possibility that the owner of the business can help you find a house fast since your time in a TLA will usually run out after 30 days. Some TLA owners offer free househunting assistance if you stay in their TLA for 30 days or longer. In other words, you will not be charged a “finder’s fee,” and the owner will help you find a nice house and assist you with the housing contract.