(This is a long one, those of you familiar with – or sick to death of the rental market are advised to skip to the end past the break.)
I’ve arranged a meeting on Wednesday night with some guy I’ve never met to discuss how much I’m going to bribe him to get an apartment.
It pisses me off how much this smug asshole is probably going to manage to get away with but we are so ready to move and are so tired of looking. What really bites is that if you look at what goes into finding an apartment, even if we pay him everything he wants we’ll still be ahead of the game.
The apartment hunt is probably the first major experience for every expat moving abroad. If you’re lucky and your company is the one moving you then it’s easy: You get to work with a relocation company that more or less holds your hand throughout the move and your employer foots the bill.
If you’re someone like me though, who came over without a job or generous relocation package, it’s an entirely different and eye-opening experience. I moved in with my boyfriend and his roommates, and once we were sure we actually still liked each other, we started looking for our own place.
This was when I learned how expensive and complicated it was to find a new apartment in Munich.
“Furnished” went from meaning an apartment with major appliances and basic furniture to meaning an empty apartment with a kitchen. Most places in our price range are unfurnished. It boggled my American mind to imagine that when people moved here, they really brought their own kitchen sink. Back then, Oliver and his roommates got by with a bare bones excuse for a kitchen that cost about 500 euros, but building a decent kitchen for grown-ups runs around 2 – 3 thousand.
Then there’s the issue of double rent. The typical notice period here is three months. Apartments normally get listed about two to three weeks before move-in date. That means that if you find an apartment you want, you can typically start moving in (and building your kitchen) about two weeks later. The downside is that even if you give notice on your current apartment the moment you sign the lease for the new one, you’re still looking at three months’ double rent until you’re clear of the old place (notices are effective after the end of the current month). If you’re lucky your landlord is flexible and allows you to find a replacement renter and you can get out of paying all three months, but only if you’re lucky.
Gone are the hectic weekend moves of yore where all was accomplished during the limbo zone of the end/beginning of the month in San Francisco, where double rent may be all of fours days.
Realtors are also a different breed over here. Back in the Bay area, if a realtor was used at all they would book you for go-sees to a variety of properties matching your preferences and price range and then escort you personally there and back. No one I knew back then used a realtor for rental properties, it was cheaper and easier to search for yourself on Craigslist.
In Munich all the good properties go to a realtor – or Makler as they’re called – who collects two months’ worth of rent (plus 19% tax) for their trouble. You can call a Makler and tell them what you’re looking far and ask them to contact you if they have a matching property, but you’ll never hear from them. The demand for apartments is so high in the city that all Makler has to do is advertise a place, tell people when they’re allowed to see it (always during working hours it seems) and then collect their 200 dollars when someone passes go. Like shooting fish in a barrel, it seems too awfully easy.
Now this can always vary from city to city, but the Maklers I’ve seen in my years here are an overwhelmingly seedy and lazy bunch. I’ve had Maklers not even know basic information, like the size of the apartment they were showing. Many have just stood there, mute, opening the door and handing out rental forms, leaving you to show yourself around, not lifting a finger. One I saw recently clearly hadn’t bathed in days.
Me, I like paying someone who puts in a little effort and takes a bath now and then. Call me crazy.
All in all when you count in double rent, Makler fees, moving costs and renovation of the old place (yep, you have to repaint it), you’re easily looking at ten thouand euros, just to move into a rental.
So what about this bribe thing? Well an apartment we know well will be coming available in three months. It’s new, has a great kitchen, all the appliances including a huge freezer, balcony, parking space, two bathrooms… it’s great really. Technically, because we knew of the vacancy before it was listed and contacted the owner ourselves, no Makler has the right to collect money for this transaction. Except for some reason the owner doesn’t want to handle anything himself and is insisting on using a Makler. Maybe he’s getting a kickback (also illegal), maybe the guy is his deadbeat son-in-law and he has to keep the idiot employed, maybe it’s his drinking buddy, who knows.
The point is, if we want the place, regardless of the law, we have to pay him. He hinted he could negotiate, we hinted that perhaps a receipt wasn’t necessary. This is what has led to a meeting in the apartment in question with this Makler of questionable ethics. Oliver is in the US and not of much help with the negotiations. Our brother-in-law has offered to step in and be on-hand, which will be really useful given the fact that the asshole speaks no English.
He refused to talk about it over the phone. He’ll be coming to the meeting with the contract ready to sign, I’ll be coming with as much cash as I’m willing to give him. Taking the apartment will mean we get a built-in kitchen and skip double rent. That in itself is a huge chunk of change. But handing over cash to an asshole that has done nothing more than print out a piece of paper?
It’s really hard to swallow.