on the lookout for an urban base which I could really call home. In 2010 I explored the idea of a house in Brittany but realised that I did not need another rural retreat but rather an urban base for winter. Living in Koln these past 2 months has made the idea of a German base one worth further study. Notwithstanding the sourness of a lot of German journalistic comment at the moment, their transport systems; greenery; civilised behaviour and general costs make this a very attractive place to live.
I’ve been looking (casually) at the housing market during my present 2 month stay in Koln – the internet and also the VOX television programme called “Mieten, kaufen, wohnen” allow me to get a good sense of what the market is like. Furnished rented accommodation is not easy to find – I’m paying 8 times here what I pay in Sofia for my central flat – which, unlike food, petrol and communal services, is about the right relationship given incomes in Bulgaria. And there are signs of stress – the free copy of Der Spiegel which I was given this week as part of a special offer has a story about the extent of decay in the country’s infrastructure which I had not expected to read in a German paper.
And another story tells of an apparent shortage of housing accommodation which, on closer examination, is not quite what it seems -
Long lines stretch out in front of apartments in Munich, Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Frankfurt during house showings. Desperate apartment hunters are even starting Facebook campaigns, writing chain emails or posting ads on streetlights: "A small family is looking for a home in this area! Please give us a chance!"
Politicians are starting to react. Hamburg has proposed housing students and trainees on ships. In Berlin, Federal Minister of Transport, Building and Urban Development Peter Ramsauer of the conservative Christian Democrats plans to convert vacant military barracks into dorms and is urging the city to be imaginative. Meanwhile, Peer Steinbrück, the centre-left Social Democrats' candidate for the Chancellery, is promoting subsidized housing during his campaign. Even the ever-hesitant chancellor, Angela Merkel, suddenly seems to feel inclined to put an end to rising rents.
Merkel even surprised many in her own party with her campaign pledge a few weeks back to cap price increases on properties coming up for re-rental to 10 per cent of average rents in the area. But when the Green Party, which has been touting the issue for two years, tried to push a similar initiative through parliament on Friday, Merkel's coalition parties rejected it. The chancellor appears keen to chalk up a victory on the popular issue in her next term in office.
A Run on Fashionable Areas
The overall impression is that Germany's big cities are facing a housing shortage as bad as the one caused by Word War II. But experts, real estate associations, German renter groups and municipal building companies convey a different message: There is no general housing shortage in Germany. Instead, there is a massive run on certain fashionable areas in popular cities, which inflates prices. Too many people want to live in the same neighborhoods and yet they are surprised that prices for apartments are increasing.
Comparisons to Hong Kong
"A much greater number of people today exclusively focus on the hip districts in spite of prices. So rents continue to rise and the search for apartments is growing increasingly harder," says Axel Gedaschko, president of the Federal Association of Housing and Real Estate Associations (GdW). That's the reason why many people get the impression that the housing shortage in large German cities has grown to dimensions comparable to Hong Kong.
Often it's only two or three subway stops that make all the difference. According to an analysis by Internet portal Immobilienscout24.de, which runs classified ads for rentals and property for sale, five times more inquiries are made for apartments in Cologne's city center compared to the district of Bilderstöckchen -- which isn't much further out.
"It makes my blood boil," says the manager of one property management company is responsible for around 4,000 apartments. "Those who claim that there are no affordable living spaces in all of Cologne and in other big cities are lying," he insists.
The average rent excluding heat and utilities in Cologne has risen by 9 percent. But dramatic increases in price have only occurred in re-rentals in some popular neighbourhoods. He says the hikes in price are also a result of the government encouraging homeowners to conduct renovations to make homes more energy efficient -- costs that are in part then passed on to the renter.
He also places some blame on today's generation of renters, who he says make it easier for property owners to raise rents on a regular basis. "Today's renter tends to be unsettled," Pass says. He points to singles as an example. At first they're satisfied with 50 square meters (538 square feet), but after they receive their first pay raise, they move into a 70-square-meter apartment. That gives apartment owners the perfect opportunity to turn the screws: They have no problems whatsoever increasing the rent when the re-rent the old apartment to a new tenant.
Already today, around 50 percent of the people residing in large cities are living alone, in some cases occupying living space that would be suitable for up to three people. Something urgently needs to be done for families with low incomes.
If true, that's an amazing statistic - 50% of people living alone in large German cities. I feel we need more flexibility. Take my case - I want to buy somewhere - but only for use during the winter. The place I'm currently renting (upper floor of an old house) would be ideal - but the market doesn't cater for such eccentricities......
Coincidentally, The Guardian has today a story about developments in the English market for rented accommodation