Places to live in Hamburg

As most of you know I’ve been living in Hamburg for over 6 years now. And, though I moved here partly forced by a job, I fell in love with this city and don’t consider moving away to be an option anymore. So, I’m stuck with the specific Hamburgian situation to find a place. And, as most Hamburgians will also know, this is a pure nightmare.

In our example – we do live in the Wallhöfe project close to the Großneumarkt, created by Hamburg Team and rented out via Hanseliving – we made a couple of mistakes. First of all we believed in what the real estate agent told us. She is a nice person, but clueless. She promised several things she didn’t know about and that turned out to be completely wrong (like that Telekom will be able to provide phone lines from day one on or that we’ll live in a raised ground floor) and worst of all we seem to be stuck with the worst housing management company (Wentzel Dr. Nachfahren) that you can find in Hamburg: (see http://fret.de/hwas59 for details about other opinions).

An aquaintance has put this in a very drastic, but also very simple form:

“Aber besser als nichts, und man hat immerhin ein Dach überm Kopf.” (better than nothing, and at least you’ve got a roof over your head)

This was his answer to a brief description of the problems we face with our new place at the moment (and there are quite a few, especially if you take into consideration that the place has just been built and is considered to be a better-equiped place aiming for DINKYs)

It symbolizes the desperateness that people in Hamburg have, if it comes to finding a place to live. As this is a common topic in conversations, I’d like to share my view on this subject (and of course, other Hamburgians may have a different view on that or simply more patience / better luck finding the right place):

Basically, you have a couple of options when living in Hamburg:

a) you pay a s**tload of money for a place in a not so very nice part of the city and the place is somewhat decent in terms of building age and renovation

b) you pay even more money for a place in one of the “more trendy” parts of Hamburg, but the place itself has some (major) drawbacks

c) you pay a somewhat decent price for a place far out that you wouldn’t want to live in, even if they paid you to do so

d) you forget about living in Hamburg alltogether

e) you decide to sell organs to pay for a somewhat decent place in a somewhat nice part of the city (and start by selling a couple of your kids to bribe the real-estate agent on top of the mandandory fee which is 2,38 x monthly rental fee)

We decided to go with a combination of a), b) and e). But, this won’t be the last place we’re staying in, that’s for sure (and this is something that is decided on only after a couple of months staying there).

Opposite to other cities, a significant part of Hamburg’s market for housing is provided by cooperatives (called “Wohnungsbaugenossenschaften”) where the tennants own a share of the co-op. Another major infuence is the housing society “SAGA GWG” which has specialized on providing affordable, sometimes even subsidized housing for the not-so well off in Hamburg. They both together provide a large amount of rental space, if not the majority of all avaliable flats in the city. Both of them have their own drawbacks: the waiting list to get into a co-op is normally very long except of the parts of the city that are not as attractive as others. Sometimes you have to move to those places first in order to get part of the co-op in order to be able to move to another co-op owned place in a better part of the city – of course not without having to wait a decent time (read: couple of years) first. One big advantage: once you’re in, you can’t get kicked out that easily.

The same more or less applies to SAGA GWG places, but their focus on social housing also carries some significant drawbacks: the neighbors first and foremost. My significant other has lived in a SAGA place for a couple of years and has seen it all: blood-covered staircases, nightly concerts from her guitar playing and singing Greek neighbor Angelos, other neighbors screaming and shouting regularly at 3am and of course the usual drunk subjects that could be found in the local watering hole directly next to the entry of her place.

As those two options are basically either no option or too hard to get in to, this leaves the private housing market. But, this market is again split into two: first of all there is the undercover market: places that are handed over from tennant to tennant (sometimes through special housing exchange boards or private mailing lists) via word of mouth or a good social network. I’d estimate that every other flat in Hamburg and especially a large amount of those in the “trendy” parts of the city never really reach the open market, the one that happens in Newspapers and on web sites like Immobilienscout24.

The rules to this open market are quite clear:

  • You as a tennant are never the real estate agent’s customer – though you pay his fee.
  • A real estate agent won’t bother to show you a place in a single viewing (at least not normally), but you’ll view the place with roughly 3-30 other people (depending again on the “trendiness”)
  • You won’t find a decent listing for too long online. Especially if it’s a 1-2 bedroom place in the Schanze or Sankt Georg, it’ll be online for about half a day – during the week of course. After that the real estate agent has enough potential tennants that he can all invite them to the viewing, which of course takes place at three in the afternoon on a Wednesday (or other completely crazy times)
  • You’ll only have a chance if you are a couple, don’t expect any kids, both have a well paying job and are prepared to bribe the agent on top of his fee (which is 2,38 times what you pay for the place per month)
  • And even if you are prepared for all of this, you still won’t be successful in 19 out of 20 or so times

Finding a new place to live is a full-time job in Hamburg. And even if you’ve found one (such as we did) in a nice part of the city, there are drawbacks to each and every place. The secret in Hamburg is to find the place that has the least drawbacks, not the one that is flawless.

After my experience with Hamburg and places to rent here, I start thinking about buying my own place. Of course this is also very difficult. Good, newly built places (which I – after our experience in the Wallhöfe – wouldn’t consider to buy before end of construction anymore) are expensive (on average up to 4.000 EUR per square meter), affordable places are too far out and require a car or two to own and maintain. If you look at the total cost generated by that, I doubt that it’ll get less expensive.

After a nice experience staying on a houseboat for a couple of days, I consider this to be at least an interesting alternative to look at. They start selling at 2.000 EUR per square meter and you’ll have a house feeling in the middle of the city. Unfortunately Hamburg – despite being a maritime city with a large harbour area – hasn’t come up with good concepts about this alternative way of living yet. http://fret.de/fPKo6C provides a bit of insight into this area, but it seems that there are some basic problems: How to get a postal address, how to register the place you’re living in? What does provisioning of water, sewage, power and phone line cost? It’ll be something worth to watch over the next couple of years.

What is your experience with Hamburg and it’s places to live in? What are your thoughts on buying here, on moving to the suburbs or to live on a house boat? I’ve collected a few thoughts on Facebook already but look forward to others joining the discussion.

One Reply to “Places to live in Hamburg”

  1. But actually, Angelos was a nice guy. Whenever he started singing around midnight, and i knocked on his door to remind him that it’s late and i have to go to school/work the next day, he always stopped singing and apologised 😉

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