04 February 2010

What's been happening recently? Or, Moving Again.

(It's actually a bit painful to pull myself away from the Amazon-Macmillan (perhaps now HarperCollins) spat, but since it has simmered down, I'm going to relegate it again to the post that's not up yet about my Kindle.)

So, moving again, you wonder?

Yep. Since it looks like we will be here for at least another few years and since we have made the decision to stay in Berlin rather than go to Munich (and with the last few weeks only being 60% travel, rather than 100%), we decided we weren't stressed enough so we should move again.

Our current apartment has pluses (we live here already, huge amounts of light, very central, unbelievable view-especially of fireworks) but it also has minuses:
  • two floors, with the bedrooms separated by a winding tile staircase ,
  • the hideous and always dirty-looking terra-cotta tile (when we moved in, looking at the floor made my stomach queasy),
  • the thirty foot ceiling without proper ventilation so that the heat benefits nothing and goes out the skylights,
  • the enormous amount of heat required to keep me always in a state of constant bronchial distress,
  • the water-pressure issues the landlord keeps fixing but which result in the bathroom with the bathtub always being freezing,
  • the 155 qm of which we actually use only 100 because of the terrible lay-out, but for which the nebenkosten are terribly high. Then the nebenkosten went up amazingly this year, although we did nothing.
  • The neighbors who don't separate their trash and for whom the entire building (based on qm) pays the fines... and so on.
So we decided to start looking for an apartment. As German residents are aware, that's not so easy here. One of the only consumer-friendly laws here is that one can always give three months notice (Kundigung) on an apartment, regardless of any lease terms. On the other had, German landlords generally won't show apartments until they are empty because what if they rented it and the prior tenant was not out in time? (Easy because there are no penalties for that written into the lease and because it's, as I will show, so hard to move here.) Therefore, most apartments that one sees are available immediately. That's true even when they have no kitchens (they all have no lights, because the German Way is to leave wires dangling from the ceilings: tenants provide and install lights and therefore take them with them). That can also make seeing apartments difficult, as they must be viewed in daylight (a scarce commodity in Berlin in November and December).

It's been a hard two months looking, with our move-out date (three months after the Kundigung) approaching. We were looking for a relatively large apartment (the goal was smaller than our current apartment but better laid out) and Germans don't move very often. In particular, we were looking in the middle of the winter, when even fewer Germans (and everyone else) move. And we constrained our search into a large area in a circle around our current apartment because the German needs to remain on our current U-line in order to make his commute to the airport every week a reasonably short one with public transport.

We found several we liked, within our constraints (including cost) and off we went. The first we wanted was already under contract by the time we got home and called the broker (makler) back. Why waste our time showing it, one might ask? The second one was even cheaper than we had expected, so the 2.38 months commission wouldn't hurt too much- but they didn't like the industry my husband works in (the same as that of the owner's brother-in-law), according to the broker. The next one was supposed to " need a bit of renovation": by which they meant we would need to replace the bathroom, build a kitchen and re-do the walls and floors. They would negotiate free rent in lieu... according to the broker, the owner had no money after the purchase. Our estimate was over 25,000 Euros to make it decent. No thanks.

Then another one- the address wasn't listed on-line and when we arrived for the appointment the street was so busy we didn't bother to look: the German told the owner it was too unsafe for the kids. She took us off to look at another of her apartments in Schoneberg which was larger, cheaper and had a private playground. The tenant wasn't around but after we went back to look around inside we decided that the lay-out was terrible (although large!) and the distance from the kids' school great enough that the benefits did not outweigh the cons.

Off to a wonderful address (and a gorgeous Art Nouveau building) by the Lietzinsee. Another terrible layout (kitchen down a very, very long corridor, walking through one room to reach onother, not a single item newer than 1945 (I have never even seen a washing machine that old!) and the owner felt it was worth top price. I don't think he'll get it: it was previously utilized by students who camped out in sleeping bags on the floor and while it would be a great apartment to buy (at a reasonable price!) and completely renovate, in its current condition it would need 6+ months free rent to make it worthwhile.

Then we saw a wonderful Altbau, across the street from us (truly, although perhaps more accurately across the avenue). We fell in love. Not as much sun, the kitchen was well-cared for but a bit decrepit, but bookshelves! Built-ins from floor to Altbau height ceiling. And charming details. The owner was offering to rip everything out and we said that we would love to keep them. We gave our application and details in immediately (here in Germany, one walks about with document folders with all one's details in multiple copies).

Then we waited.

And waited.

And called. The owner liked us- but his other tenants are older (the current occupant of the apartment we looked at is retiring to a Senior home) and he feels that, with our having children, we might be too noisy. He said he was sorry, that our application was the first and the best, but that for the sake of the other tenants, he didn't want a family with young children. As I said to the German- what are the odds of anyone moving into a 4+ room in this area without children? This is a family neighborhood with good schools! I'm not certain why he feels that our two girls, out at school all day then tucked into bed at 19:30 after ballet, would not be preferable to a new-born, but hey- his choice. What really amazed me was the total comfort with disclosing illegal discrimination: in Germany it is illegal to discriminate against families with children. But why should I be surprised? I recently hear an excerpt from a documentary on the news wherein German landlords blatantly and openly discuss their discriminatory rental and employment policies.

We had one other apartment on the back-burner , which we had seen before this, and we waited to hear (we had learned our lesson and sent our application in on that apartment before we had seen the Altbau). I had liked it very much (also Altbau, well-laid out, better kitchen, some nice plaster ceiling details) but the across the street location of the second had seduced me.

When we sent our application in, we asked for a reduction in the base rent (after looking at the publicly disclosed average area rent) and for a month's free kaltmiete, as the apartment would be turned over unrenovated (not painted and with one bedroom having no floor). I think they were hoping to get a full offer, but they wound up meeting us in the middle on the rent and we signed the contract and got the keys on the 1st.

For the first time ever, we will have an actual overlapping period in our move and I am very grateful. What with the German still being out of town it will be a real luxury.

Tune in to hear how we progress with our list:
  1. Dishwasher
  2. Refrigerator
  3. Painting the apartment
  4. Putting a floor in the bedroom
  5. Setting up utilities
  6. Getting beds for the kids (1 himmelbett, 1 hochbett)
  7. Medicine cabinet with bathroom light
  8. Curtains (and shower curtain)
  9. Quarter rounds, all round:)
  10. Moving. First time we have used professionals, but I'm still packing the whole apartment by myself, with one day of help from the German on Thursday this week (the movers come Friday).
  11. Taking the lights from the old apartment and installing them in the new
  12. Renovating the old apartment for turn over to landlord
It will be exciting! Or, more accurately, extremely stressful.

Also, we changed T1's school today. Perhaps in another post.


Formerly known as Frau said...

Wow I can see why Germans don't move often. It was the oddest thing for us moving here and not having lights, just wires. But thank god we had a kitchen.Good luck!

Lynda said...

What a drama... and how rude to just admit that you can't move in because of the kids.

We have been in here since october.. but still have mainly lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling... we managed to select and put up the ceiling lights in the living area and foyer just last weekend. I hate my kitchen... and will eventually get a new one... eventually.

Good luck with the move... Hope it all goes smoothly.

Dr. J said...

This post made me realise how used to it all I am now!

In my experience- having been and still mostly associated with the mid-20 to mid-30 yr old age group (now with young kids) - I actually feel that Berliners DO move a lot. Germans outside of Berlin perhaps not so much, and the more sedate area of the west may also be more settled. But it's my observation that moving is a city-wide sport and on my 300m long street there will not be a weekend that goes by from May to October when there isn't a moving truck in it. Spend a Saturday morning sitting in a cafe in P'berg in summer and I guarantee you'll see at least two groups of sweaty folk traipsing up 5 flights of stairs with fridges! (we helped a friend move once on a day where 2 flats were moving out and 2 moving in to different ones- it got confusing!)

I lived in 11 flats in 9 years, and I realise this isn't quite normal ;) but it does mean that I'm fully in the moving groove as it were, and know what's coming. (as well as having all the bits and pieces you need to furnish these bare-as-bones flats).
So far I've never looked longer than 2 days for a good flat (thank you Berlin and your largely empty real estate!) although we don't have to worry about kids. They do have a hang up about them here don't they? Most owners were ok with us having a dog but aren't happy with young kids. That's put a number of our friends in more difficult rental positions.

All the best for the move and enjoy the new place!

christina said...

Whoah - I got stressed just reading that! But I'm sure glad you found a new place without too much runaround.

It's common practice here for landlords to reject prospective tenants for any number of reasons - kids, no kids, nationality, job etc. Not allowed but they do it anyway and quite blatantly.

Fiona said...

Oh good luck with the move. Things are similar (but not quite as bad) here in Switzerland.

When we originally decided to leave our rental property we got so stressed with all the stuff you outlined in your post that we just bought a house instead!

Milly said...

Too bad you're in Berlin and we're in Cologne.... we've got a lovely 6-month-old dishwasher and refrigerator that we need to sell immediately (bought for the last abode, too big for the new one). Here's to hoping your experiences with moving will be as wonderful as they can be!

S said...

wow. I hope your move went smoothly so far. I'm just glad that the military moves us and we don't have to haul things around.