The Saga of Finding Our German House

Ahhh, house hunting. It’s fun, it’s frustrating, but we’re finally through with it!

Ever since I was a kid, I loved watching those real estate shows that would run on Sunday morning. Then HGTV became a thing, and I’d be watching that all the time if I had cable (which is another reason why it’s a good thing I don’t have cable)!

As it turns out, I’m a house person. It’s hard to get things just right when you move every 3-5 years, but I enjoy the challenge of making a cozy space for the family.

Most of the time, we do a house-hunting trip beforehand. I like to know where EXACTLY we’re moving, with an address and a sense of what to bring (and what to get rid of!) for the new place. It just makes everything easier.

That wasn’t an option this time, and even after we arrived it took us months to find a place. People describe house hunting in Stuttgart as a sort of “Hunger Games” experience, and after going through it myself, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. In addition to the military and government community out here, there are professionals working for big multinational companies like Mercedes, Porche, and Bosch all looking for somewhere to live with a limited supply of available housing. It’s not uncommon for landlords to have dozens of potential tenants to choose from, so competition is fierce!

Still, it helps to have a goal in mind, and here was my idea of an ideal house:

  • 4 bedrooms (a bedroom for each of the boys AND a guest room!)
  • 2+ bathrooms
  • Space for my office
  • Space for working out
  • A garden and/or a yard for Phoebe to play outside
  • A patio for the yard furniture
  • A garage
  • Walking distance to the train station as well as shops and restaurants
  • Nature trails or meadows nearby
  • Within the school bus zone

Basically, it’s like a dream home I’d have in the US, which is pretty much the house we just left!

Househunting is very different in Germany. Things I learned:

  • Single family houses are rare
  • Homeownership is low in Germany, and landlords tend to prefer tenants who intend to stay 5+ years
  • People often take their kitchens and light fixtures with them – so you need to check if the kitchen is included!
  • Landlords want to meet the whole family, so be on your best behavior
  • If you have a pet, the landlord can request to meet the animal (or even walk your dog!) to see how well-behaved they are
  • Find a place you like? Better mention that you want it right then – you might not have time to think about it before someone else gets it!
  • Verbal agreements can be as binding as written contracts in Germany

Back when we were still in the States, I joined a few Facebook groups for Expats to learn more about the process and best practices. In addition to a Craigslist-like site called Bookoo (which is closed on Sundays, btw), there is an app called ImmoScout24, the website, and Facebook posts that departing families often share for their landlords. Every day, I checked the new listings to see what was available. Even if it was too early for us to pursue these properties, at least I’d have a better idea of what was possible.

As we got closer to the move, I signed up for the “Plus” (paid version) of ImmoScout24 which would bump your inquiries up to the top of a landlord’s inbox. Turns out that even if you send a note, it’s no guarantee that you’ll hear back, especially if you’re not yet in Germany and don’t have a German phone number. After all, they DO want to meet you in person! But eventually, I started getting responses by fine-tuning my intro email with a description of our family and what we liked about the house, all in German (thanks, Google translate!).

Of course, we went through our share of struggles, too – like being ghosted by property managers and not being picked by the landlord. It was like being on an emotional rollercoaster for months while schlepping from place to place with all of our suitcases. But now that we are solidly moved in, it’s easier to reflect on this harrowing experience with a bit of objectivity.

In the end, we got close to renting three very different homes before finding our forever spot.

The Gärtringen House

This one we looked at virtually before even leaving Omaha. It had a gorgeous backyard with a Frank Lloyd Wright vibe and a meadow for Phoebe across the street. In the end, the house went to a retired fire chief and his wife who wanted to stay for 10 years. Can’t compete with that!

The Weil der Stadt House

Soon after we arrived, this house came on the market. I sent a note via ImmoScout24 right away, and the next day Ralph and I were driving to check out the area when we got a call from the landlord. It felt like it was meant to be! We were the first (which I discovered is one of the keys to getting a place) and she coordinated with her caretaker to let us in. Well…this house was a diamond in the rough with high ceilings, great views, a yard – and the oldest kitchen ever. In fact, it needed a completely new one. And all new floors. Not to be deterred, we had a great meeting with the landlord (who promised to install new flooring) and agreed to rent the house. Our anticipated move-in date was mid-July, but the date came and went. Eventually, we learned that a family dispute between the landlord and her two sisters meant that the house would no longer be available for rent. After waiting six weeks to move in, we’d have to start the home search all over again. I cried myself to sleep.

The Metzingen House

In a panic, I came across this listing. It was outside of the school bus zone, but desperate times called for desperate measures. We arranged to see it the next day. And what a house! It was huge, with more space than we needed and a two-car garage. The best part was that it backed up into gorgeous vineyards, but the tradeoff was that there wasn’t much in the way of a yard. What really gave me pause though was how far away it was from the closest school bus stop – a 20-min drive. Still, it was our best option. And it was solidified by a meeting with the landlord and his wife to meet the family (including Phoebe). They were willing to rent to us! The only hitch was that we had an appointment the next day for a place that looked absolutely perfect. I couldn’t say yes without seeing it first. That made for an interesting conversation with the landlord, who agreed to allow us a few days to give him our final answer. But I imagine you can guess what happened!

The Nürtingen House (Our House!)

The second I saw this house, I knew it was worth a look. One of my strategies during the search was to do a little recon on the neighborhoods before the appointment. That way if we needed to make a split-second decision, we’d have more data. So Ralph and I drove out to Nürtingen on a Saturday morning, a town of about 40,000 just east of Stuttgart. We parked on the street and scoped out the vibe. It was delightfully quiet – a mix of multi-family and single-family homes with lots of green on a dead-end road. A quick Google search showed that the town center was a 7-minute walk away. You know we had to check it out! And as we arrived, my excitement grew. The square was buzzing with people taking advantage of the “Wochenmarket” – vendors selling fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat – basically, everything! There were restaurants, shops, and fountains galore. Everything was within walking distance. There was even a train!

Later that week when Ralph was at work, the boys and I took the train out to have a showing. It was a good lesson in public transit for the kids – two trains, a bus, and a walk. But doable. We started with a tour of the backyard. It was like the Shire, straight out of The Hobbit. The biggest and most beautiful yard yet – with lovely landscaping, a vegetable garden, and even a shed with water and power! I could imagine Phoebe running around with her favorite ball, lazing in the sunshine. And us inviting friends over for a barbeque. I spotted cherries, raspberries, apples (more on that in a future post), and two giant rosemary bushes. Not bad for the outside!

Inside, the space was just what we needed. On the first floor, there was a modern kitchen, sunny living and dining rooms, and a guest room with a full bath (hear that? come on over, people!). On the second floor, there were three large bedrooms, and the main bedroom even had a walk-in closet. That alone was enough to elevate this house to unicorn status! I was sold right then and there, even if it was out of the school bus zone. Now we just had to convince the landlord to pick us.

I made sure to let the realtor know that we were 100% prepared to take this house. She gave me a packet and I filled it out right then and there to show how serious we were. I wasn’t going to take any chances that it would get lost in the mail! And then, I kept on top of it – calling and emailing the realtor periodically. The waiting was awful. It’s all a blur now but it seemed like forever until we got the call that it was ours.

The sense of relief was immediate. Finally, the search had come to a close – after almost 3 months in Germany, moving from place to place. We had an address. A space to call home.

In the end, the journey was worth it – maybe we had to go through all that drama just to truly appreciate what had come our way. Our landlord is great. He’s in Munich, but very responsive and helpful. And so are our neighbors! One brings us eggs, another helps me train Phoebe. Strangely enough, we’re still in touch with the landlord from the Weil der Stadt house. We might meet up in Mallorca one day. Life is weird like that.

More pics to come once we’re totally organized…

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