Housing how-tos: Berlin flat-hunting basics (part 2)

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Our tips on finding, searching and applying for accommodation as a graduate student in Berlin.

Now that you’re familiar with some of Berlin’s neighbourhoods and accommodations from our previous post, here’s an overview of how to search for a place, as well as what you’ll need to apply.

Avoiding scams

We urge you: be cautious! Do not agree to something too soon, make large payments without having received the key or contract, and do not sign anything without reading and understanding the whole document first. You can never be too safe, and if it sounds way too good to be true, it probably is.

Helpful housing search groups and websites

Something that the sites listed below have in common is that the onus is entirely on you to be on your toes and apply quickly. Here is a non-exhaustive list of resources where you can search for housing in Berlin:

  • WG-Gesucht – One of the most effective and most-used sites. Filter for neighbourhoods, rent ranges, duration of stay, your move-in date, and more. There’s a lot of competition, however, so don’t be disheartened if people don’t respond to your request. The key is to be quick with your messages and keep trying.
  • immobilienscout24 – This is more helpful if you’re looking to rent an entire apartment by yourself. It’s more for working professionals who are looking for long-term unfurnished spots. However, this might still be a good option if you have someone to share a flat with.
  • – If subsidised student housing is what you’re looking for, this would be worth looking into.
  • eBay Kleinanzeigen (in German) – An online local classifieds section that is quite popular. It also has a housing section. As always, exercise caution during your search.
  • Berlin’s craigslist is also an option, but please beware of scams and fraud!
  • Berlin Housing, Rooms, Apartments and Sublets – a larger Berlin-wide Facebook group. Given that it’s so big and the members on the group are strangers, exercise caution.

After you enrol at the Hertie School, these two closed groups for our community are great resources:

  • Hertie Housing and Marketplace – A Facebook group especially designed for Hertie students to find housing and buy and sell furniture. It’s safe and effective. Look for shorter sublets and send the owners messages once you find something that fits you.
  • Hertie School Connect – Our internal networking platform, where members of the Hertie School community post both professional opportunities and housing availabilities!

Necessary documents

Finding a free apartment is half the battle won. To prove you can legally rent a place, landlords in Germany typically want to see the documents below. It’s good to keep them handy so you can proceed with any potential offers without delay. Note, though, that depending on the type of housing, not every document may be necessary (especially for short-term or student housing).

  1. SCHUFA-Auskunft (credit check) – SCHUFA is a German organization that provides official credit checks. Many rental agencies and landlords will ask you to provide one, especially if it’s for a long-term contract. You can easily apply for one on this website. Some short-term and student-focused places don’t require a SCHUFA, however.
  2. Einkommensnachweise (proof of income) – Most rental agencies and landlords will require proof that you have stable, regular income, e.g. your last three paychecks, a confirmation of scholarships payments, etc.
  3. Bürgschaft (guarantor) – If you don’t earn enough money yourself, you can ask someone to be your guarantor and promise to pay your rent if you do not. They would sign an official document and provide an ID to ensure this (you can find templates online or get a form from the landlord or housing agency).
  4. Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung – Confirmation from your former landlord that you are not in arrears.
  5. Ausweis (photo identification) – Your passport or a national identification card.

Tips for your search

These tips might help you get replies from landlords and make the process more rewarding:

  1. Begin your search for a long-term spot after you’re in Berlin – This is a sure-shot way of knowing what you’re getting into. In-person viewings and meetings with potential landlords and flat mates will increase your chances.
  2. Have a message template so you can send requests quickly – Time is of the essence here. Keep search engine filters and notifications on and your message template for landlords ready. As soon as an apartment pops up, make sure to personalise it a bit and hit send!
  3. Take your time drafting the first message – The only way for potential landlords to get a good idea of who you are is through your first message. Be sure to include not only the professional side of your life but also the more personal aspects. What are your hobbies? How do you spend your free time? When can you move in? It need not be too long; just an elevator pitch is fine.
  4. Include a social media handle – It can help to let people know that you’re a real person. Including social media handles may increase your chances of getting replies.
  5. Read the full ad – Often people see photos of a place and send a message without reading the description. Not only can you miss important information this way, but also sometimes people include code words at the bottom for you to use in your message so that they know if you really read the ad or are just sending messages to everyone. Also, it’s generally a good idea to read everything before applying, just so you know what you’re getting into.
  6. The accommodation should allow for an Anmeldung (city registration). You want this in order to have a registered address in Berlin and to be able to proceed with other bureaucratic processes in Berlin (e.g. opening a bank account, applying for your residence permit if you need one).
  7. Make the apartment hunt your priority – Be persistent and devote at least two weeks, if not a month, to finding an apartment. Also, be flexible with meeting times and places.
  8. Don’t forget to follow up – The competition is high! Each landlord gets many messages. Don’t get lost in the crowd, and follow up periodically (not excessively) with places that you really like. This will keep you on top of an inbox and show that you’re interested.
  9. Keep all necessary documents handy – Having all documents on hand and not spending too much time scrambling for them will help you be quick and flexible when the right place comes around.
  10. Find groups and connect with people – Sometimes you can skip messaging the landlord if you know the previous tenant who can put in a good word for you. This saves time and energy for everyone involved. Social media groups can be great for this.

Once you’ve gotten an offer…

  • Watch out for step-up leases – Sometimes landlords include a step-up lease in their contract, meaning your rent would increase regularly over a period of time or per year. Take note of this when you’re going through the contract.
  • If you’re looking to rent an entire apartment together with other students and create your own WG, be aware that one or more of you will probably be asked to function as the main tenant or Hauptmieter. The Hauptmieter pays the entirety of the rent to the landlord and is therefore also liable for the other flat mate(s). Therefore, just pay extra attention and think over who will be the main tenant.

That’s it for the basics of Berlin flat-hunting! In sum: be persistent, have your application materials ready, and watch out for scams. Soon you’ll have your very own place to call home in Berlin!


Check out our master's programmes and don't hesitate to get in touch with us at grad-admissions[at]hertie-school[dot]org if you have any questions about the application process and studying in Berlin.

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