Making the first first step on the Frankfurt property ladder took us – a mere weekend. We arranged ten viewings for two days, and number nine has become our new home: in Frankfurt Sachsenhausen, the ground zero of apple wine south of the river.
The battle plan for buying a flat wasn’t rocket science. I had started to scan the property portals quite regularly a couple of months earlier and concentrated just a few parts of Frankfurt: the Nordend and surroundings as well as Sachsenhausen. My husband and I had lived in the Nordend more than 20 years ago during an internship in Frankfurt, and we loved it. And several Frankfurt-based colleagues of mine recommended Sachsenhausen strongly. (Make sure to restrict the search on the northern bit north of the railway tracks – everything south is suffering badly from noise pollution from the airport!)
We were looking for flats in old buildings with high ceilings, double doors, wood floors and a balcony or garden – in something what is called an Altbau. We were willing to compromise on the part of town if we found the Altbau flat of our dreams. And we also included one newly built flat because we fell for the area. It was built in a backyard in a street which was lined with lovely Altbau houses in Rödelheim.
Yes, in Rödelheim, known for the Rödelheim Hartheim Project, a rap group from this part of Frankfurt. The music is not really my cup of tea and a number of Frankfurt-based colleagues warned Rödelheim was not the best part of Frankfurt. We nevertheless decided to see the flat.
A few of the properties we were interested in were sold before we could arrange a viewing. Quite a few others were ruled out quickly. Too expensive, too dark, too loud because of aircraft noise, lacking a man cave where my husband wants to fiddle on his bicycle fleet. Two flats were left in the basket: the newly built one in Rödelheim and the Altbau in Sachsenhausen. Rödelheim – cheaper and a bit more on the ordinary side. Sachsenhausen – a tad pricey but with much more character, and in a really charming area.
The decision for Sachsenhausen actually fell within minutes when viewing the property. There were other viewings after our appointment, and we prowled around the house for quite some time as we wanted to speak with the estate agent again. We filed our offer immediately.
A decade ago, before moving to London, we toyed with the idea of buying property in Duesseldorf. Back then we thought we would rope in some experts to assess the the quality of the building and the pipes, the roof, you name it. All this was forgotten that day in Frankfurt. We wanted the flat and we knew from our experience with flat hunting in London that such decisions need to be made quickly.
In Frankfurt we were faced with another risk, though. There were still tenants living in the flat. Germany is considered Europe’s only sane property market but getting tenants out can be a rather impossible as long as they pay their rent on time. The seller of the flat and the tenants have agreed on an annulment contract, and the tenants were obliged to move out by late August. After seeking some legal advice, we agreed with the seller that we had to pay him once the flat was empty.
We had to clear some other hurdles, too. Securing a loan with a German bank as a non-resident paying taxes in the UK wasn’t the easiest project. It seems literally impossible if you work in a different EU country and are paid in a different currency than Euros. Luckily, as I have German based employer and receive my salary in Euros, this did not become an obstacle. But we had to travel to Frankfurt twice to deal with the technicalities of the purchase, once to sign the contract in front of a notary and then to instruct the notary to put the mortgage into the property register.
The bottom line is buying property in Germany includes many different steps and involves coming to terms with words like Grundschuldbestellung (creating a land charge in favour of the bank which gives you the loan), Auflassungvormerkung ( deed of conveyance) and Fälligkeitsvoraussetzungen fuer Kaufpreiszahlung (time for payment when certain preconditions are met). It also requires some patience, at the notary is legally required to read out 28 pages of the purchasing agreement word by word.
Eventually, however, we made it. The tenants left the flat ahead of time, the money is transferred, the painters are preparing the flat for our move. One thing still missing is the bill from the taxman, which will be rather whopping. Stamp duty in Hesse is at 6 percent of the property price. Costs for the notary and the property register add another 2 to 3 percent. And the real estate agent treated himself to another 6 percent. Unlike the taxman, he had no flies on him. We received his breathtaking bill just hours after we first listend to, and then signed the contract at the notary.