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EXPLAINED: What’s happening to house prices and rents in Germany amid the coronavirus crisis?

There's an increased demand on the real estate market in Germany at the moment, and there's drama looming for tenants in Berlin. Here's a look at what's going on.

EXPLAINED: What's happening to house prices and rents in Germany amid the coronavirus crisis?
Frankfurt am Main. Photo: DPA

Ever dream of owning your own home in Germany? Well, sadly, it has become more expensive since the beginning of the pandemic.

In the second quarter (April to June), condominiums were on average 1.3 percent more expensive than at the beginning of the year. Compared to the second quarter of 2019, the increase was 5.9 percent. That's according to Research and Consulting Company for Housing, Real Estate and the Environment (F+B), which Spiegel reported on Monday.

Surprisingly, the price increase for single and two-family houses was even higher than that of apartments. Compared to the previous quarter, the prices of houses increased by 2.9 percent – and even by nine percent year-on-year.

This is unusual because prices for condos in Germany have almost always risen much faster than those for houses over the past 10 years.

Experts said more people are choosing to buy homes in Germany.

“In view of historically unparalleled low lending rates, it seems to be more economical for many buyers to invest in owner-occupied properties instead of renting,” said F+B Managing Director Bernd Leutner.

READ ALSO: Housing in Germany – here's where demand and prices are soaring

It is not known for definite whether the sharp rise in the price of single-family homes is due to increased demand resulting from the coronavirus crisis, for example because families are looking for more space and gardens – but it could be a factor.

The F+B Residential Index measures the rent and price developments on the German real estate market. The index is based on the supply data of more than 30 million properties throughout Germany.

What's happening to rent?

Unlike homes, rents have hardly risen at all in the past two years. Even in the second quarter, there was only a minimal increase in new contract rents, researchers found. Compared to the previous quarter, rents rose by 0.4 percent and by one percent year-on-year.

Rents for existing properties rose by 1.3 per cent year-on-year. “On a national average, the increase in rents is therefore manageable,” said Leutner.

Berlin tenants face paying back millions of euros

There could be major problems looming for Berlin tenants

The controversial rent freeze came into force on February 23rd this year which resulted in lower rents for many tenants. But experts say it could be overturned at any moment, leaving tenants liable to pay pack the difference.

The core issue being debated in courts is whether the state of Berlin is allowed to legislate in this area.

Housing in Berlin. Photo: DPA

If the Constitutional Court overturns the rent cap, many tenants in Berlin will face paying back huge amounts, according to F+B.

Due to the still unclear legal situation, there is currently a split rental market in the city. There are “shadow rents”, i.e. “the market rents”, which are usually higher than the price of the rent cap.

And on the other hand, there's the “official” rent costs corresponding to the rental price cap. The research company analysed the advertised rental apartments before and after the law came into force and “observed the existence of two rent indications in one and the same apartment advertisement”.

READ ALSO: Berlin's district court rules in favour of rental price cap

This is often associated with the remark that “the landlord reserves the right to retroactively claim the difference between the rent cover rent and the market rent”. The tenant has to agree to this in the rental contract.

SEE ALSO: The complete guide to how you can (still) live cheaply in Berlin

According to F+B the difference is clear to see: for 3,133 apartments offered between February 23rd 2020 and June 30th, F+B assumes a capped average rent of €7.05 per square meter

However, the market rent for the apartments is an average of €13.63 per square metre – a difference of €6.58 per square metre. With an average apartment size of 60 square metres, this would mean a total difference of €1.2 million per month which tenants would have to cough up.

“The longer the decision drags on, the greater the threatening additional claims,” says F+B managing director Leutner. At the same time, the massive difference in costs shows the advantages of the new rent freeze for tenants.

In any case, a quick clarification would be in the interest of all parties involved, said the research firm.

READ ALSO: 'We're setting a clear stop sign': Berlin passes five-year rent freeze law

Despite receiving the support of Berlin's state parliament, the law is opposed by Germany's federal government which argues that regulating housing costs is a federal rather than a state matter.


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INTERVIEW: International students ‘vulnerable’ to Swedish housing shortages

People moving to Malmö to study now have to wait as long as a year to receive accommodation, Milena Milosavljević, the president of the Student Union in the city, has told The Local. The situation, she says, is "urgent and acute".

INTERVIEW: International students 'vulnerable' to Swedish housing shortages

The Sofa Project, run by the Student Union Malmö, received 80 applications this year from students who wanted to rent short-term accommodation, showing just how acute the current housing shortage is.

These 80 applicants were vying for one of seven spots, ranging from a spare room to a sofa bed – from hosts who sign up to offer their spaces to new arrivals.  As the programme only had seven hosts registered this year, the project had to close its application page to others, otherwise the number would have surpassed 80.

“They are ready to come to Malmö and sleep on a sofa bed at a stranger’s house before they find accommodation,” Milosavljević told The Local. 

Malmö recently received a red designation from the Swedish National Union of Students, which publishes an annual report assessing the housing situation in university towns and cities across Sweden. A red designation means that finding suitable accommodation as a student takes more than one semester. The report found that 61 percent of students live in a city that has been designated a red ranking.

READ ALSO: Sweden’s student union warns that housing shortages are back this semester

“The reality of Malmö and the reason why it became red is that to find suitable accommodation you have to wait up to a year,” Milosavljević said.

Some individuals, she said might have to wait up to three years to find their own accommodation, making do with second-hand contracts, long commutes, and living with family members in the meantime. For newly-arrived international students, who lack personal numbers when they move here and so cannot join Swedish housing queues, looking for suitable housing becomes a complex task.

“International students are more vulnerable because they don’t have a personal number to enter the system before they come to Sweden,” Milosavljević explained.

Milosavljević herself moved to Malmö as an international, fee-paying student. Because she paid tuition, she was offered housing by Malmö University. Based in part on her own experience, Milosavljević explained that the housing issue cannot be reduced to a shortage in the number of flats and rooms. There is also a shortage of appropriate housing options for different needs.

“They offered me accommodation in a student building,” she said. “Not an apartment, but a room – and I came with my husband. The room was not enough for two of us.”

Student accommodation must accommodate the different needs of different members of the student body, Milosavljević said, including those who move with partners or spouses, or even with their children.

In the past year, one new student apartment building was built in Malmö, with 94 new spaces for the city’s student body. This is inadequate, Milosavljević said. While Malmö is growing, and there is residential construction being carried out around the city, it is unclear how many of those new buildings will prioritise the city’s student population.

The city’s student population, too, is growing. As the pandemic era ended in Sweden, students returned to campus. And new students joined them. While student ranks grew, housing options remained stagnant.

“From our perspective from the Student Union, we have talked about, in the previous years, how the situation after the pandemic is going to get even worse for the students,” Milosavljević said. “There’s an increase of students coming back, new students, and already not even enough housing.”

Milosavljević has fielded calls and emails from students who say that they cannot move to Malmö because they cannot find housing.

“They are already working on it,” Milosavljević told The Local of the university’s response.

There are plans to create more housing for international students, but these proposals focus mainly on students from European Union, leaving other international students out. All international students should be given priority for student accommodation, Milosavljević said, because none of them have access to the Swedish housing market.

“I do believe strongly that the City of Malmö and Malmö University need to have urgent negotiations and start building straight away,” she said.

Because Malmö University is a public university, it must follow the lead of the Ministry of Education and Research. Milosavljević acknowledged that in the aftermath of Sweden’s recent elections, which put the right-bloc in power, student housing shortages might not rank highly on a list of national priorities.

“The Student Union Malmö considers this situation quite urgent and acute,” Milosavljević said. “We are more than prepared to sit down and talk so we can actually do something, instead of just having meetings. The students will continue to suffer if the living conditions and the bostad [housing] situation in Malmö is not improved.”