In many cities, the hunt for a flat share or flat in general is a real headache. You're looking for something that's reasonably priced, in a good location, preferably not a run-down building, and the flatmates should preferably also match you. To make matters worse, the housing market doesn't offer much in the student hotspots. After x number of moves & years of flat-sharing experience, I share my experiences here on what you should keep in mind during a flat-sharing viewing appointment in order to find a great flat-sharing apartment 🙂
Hurdle number one is taken - you have managed to get one of the few treasured viewing appointments! That is indeed a reason to be happy. I can only speak for my flatshares in Augsburg, but before Corona there were a whopping 100-200 flatshare applications on WG-gesucht.de at the beginning of the semester, 5-10 of whom were allowed to come to my place for a viewing. The situation is similar in other shared flats. In order to be able to compete against the others, you should at least keep the following basics in mind.
- Be on time! If something unexpected happens, let the flat-share people know that you will be late - if possible, tell them the time (e.g. "I'm sorry, the train is late... I'll be about 10 minutes late despite I planned a buffer"). Despite my planned buffer, I will arrive about 10 minutes later"). But being on time also means that you shouldn't show up too early 😉
- Dress neatly, but don't overdo it. A suit is no more appropriate than sweatpants. Well put together, but not overdressed.
- Write down the master data of the new flat (size, price, location, move-in date (+ if applicable, limited period), number + names of flatmates) somewhere where you can have a look at it shortly before (or even during) the viewing. It is important to avoid being in the flat without a clue and having to ask everything that was already in the flat-sharing ad. If the flatmates were described in the free text, it may be possible to start a conversation with them about hobbies, course of study, etc..
- If possible, find a viewing date when all potential future flatmates are present. It's good to know what you're getting into - for both sides! Quick tip: Ask before (!) you enter the flat if you should take off your shoes.
- If possible keine Begleitung . It doesn't seem very convincing to bring your mum, dad or boyfriend along to a flat-sharing tour. This is about you!
- Corona: Ask in advance by message if you should come with a mask. Regardless of the answer, bring one in case of emergency.
- Most important:Don't pretend! The point is that you move into a place where you feel comfortable later on & which suits you (if you don't want to have a flat-sharing party in your flat, you don't have to pretend to enjoy it). Be as honest as possible without selling yourself short & make it clear that you expect honesty & openness from your hosts.
- Don't forget: Don't expect any flat share to be perfect. People & flats always have their quirks - find a trade-off that works for you.
The surrounding area
Besides the basics & the actual flat share, the surroundings in which the flat share is located also play a crucial role. Here are a few points you should consider.
- If you're not from here, what's the weather/climate like in the area?
- What is the neighbourhood like? Low-income & dorky, or upper-class & chic?
- Take time to explore the area either before or after your visit. Walk a few steps around the block & look around. Is there a main street right in front of the house? A bar? A kindergarten? Is there a town festival held here several times a year? Is the street accessible by car & is it easy to park here (relevant for a visitors later)? Is the street at the end of the town's party area? Is there a large intersection right next to the house where cars slow down a lot & start up again loudly? Do trams, trains or buses run along here?
- Is there a nice park, river or other places in the immediate proximity to spend leisure time? e.g. a missing balcony or garden can be well compensated with the park across the street, or you can go jogging along the river or even have a barbecue.
- Shopping facilities nearby? Supermarket, drugstore, pharmacy, shopping, post office, ...
- Public transport? Parking spaces? (Rented) underground car park/parking space? - Your potential future flatmates can certainly help you find out.
- Accessibility of your workplace, school or university? (Google Maps or ask in conversation)
Shared flat life
Here I have summarised what I have already been asked or what I have asked during flat-sharing visits. The list is neither complete nor intended to be ticked off completely during your interview. Help yourself with the points that are useful to you 😉
- Who are your flatmates? It's best to get to know everyone personally, or have them described in detail.
- What is a typical daily routine in the life of your flatmates? During the week & at the weekend?
- How many visitors come to the flat? Are your flatmates people who like to socialise a lot? Hint: Partners & friends increase exponentially with the number of flatmates!
- Are food supplies shared & cooked together, or does everyone do their own thing?
- Are there any particular eating habits? Vegan, vegetarian? Does anyone have a problem with you eating meat/fish/omnivore or vice versa?
- How often & do people like to cook? Morning, noon, night, 7 days a week?
- If applicable: how much time do your potential flatmates spend together or alone in the living room?
- What is the character of the relationship in the shared apartment? Is it a functional flat-share, polite togetherness or a friendly relationship? Are there many (obligatory) group activities?
- How much do people like to drink and/or party? Are there even flat-sharing parties in the flat?
- Interests of your flatmates? Film & series tastes, sports, ... Unusual hobbies that also play a role in living together, such as playing the trumpet?
- What is your flatmates' taste in music? Headphones or subwoofer system?
- Room door open all day, or always closed, or something in between?
- What do your future flatmates study or work?
- How much are your flatmates at home? Do they need silence to work or to recover from shift work?
- Sole wolves or communal people?
- Early birds or night owls?
- Is the flat noisy because of paper thin walls? Do you have to be particularly aware of each other?
- Morning or evening showers? (especially relevant if bathroom + WC are not separate and/or the room is directly next to the bathroom).
- Approach to tidiness and cleanliness? Cleaning plan? How are responsibilities regulated & how often (& how reliably) is cleaning done?
- What is paid for together? Purchase of cleaning products, toilet paper, if applicable spices, ...
- Why is your previous renter moving out? Were there any disputes? If so, what about? Would you have the same potential for conflict? Was there anything in particular about the flat that bothered him? Would that affect you too?
- Do your flatmates smoke? If you smoke yourself, where would smoking be allowed? Balcony, room, outside or not at all?
- How long do your flatmates plan to stay in the flat? Are they planning to move out? If so, why? Is someone planning a semester abroad & would like an interim renter for the period?
Even if the location of the flat and the flatmates are perfect, the flat itself or hidden costs can make you unhappy. As a preventive measure, I've put together a few questions to help you avoid this.
- How does the room feel to you? Can you imagine how your furniture could be placed in it? Is the room well laid out? Does it offer enough space for your belongings & lifestyle?
- What costs are listed in the flat-share advertisement? What are the additional costs, if any? Broadcasting fee, flat-sharing fund, internet, additional costs, parking space, deposit, payment for furniture etc., ...
- How are food supplies stored? Open chaotic shelving, cupboards with individual compartments, or other? Does the fridge offer enough storage space for the number of flatmates?
- What equipment can the flat-sharing household need? Washing machine, fridge, dishes, hoover, coffee machine, pots, router, ...? - This is often a reason for being given first preference (especially in functional flatshares).
- Does / can furniture have to be paid off?
- Will the flat/room be handed over white or do you have to paint it yourself?
- What is the relationship with the building management/landlord & facility manager?
- Who else lives in the house? Especially the flats directly to the right, left, upstairs & downstairs! Are there other flat-sharing communities among the neighbours? Do you hear anything from them? What is the relationship with the neighbours like? Do they know each other?
- Will there be an increase in expenses, or are there more likely to be repayments?
- Separate bath room and WC?
- Where are the sockets in the room? Are there several distributed around the room, or do you have to cover everything with multi-sockets?
- If necessary, take measurements of your furniture beforehand if you are not sure from the photos whether it will fit in certain corners. Ask if you can take some measurements during the viewing. If there are few or no photos in the ad, ask if you can take photos.
- Washing machine in the flat or in the basement? Shared with other residents?
- Basement compartment, attic, bicycle basement/storage available? Is it possible to have a look at it? How much space is there and has it been used much so far? Is it stuffed to the rafters?
Last but not least: the rental contract
Rental contracts are tricky and can contain one or another pitfall. It is therefore important to find out or clarify points that are important to you in advance.
- Could the room be sub-rented? Does each renter have a separate rental contract, are they all equal or are you even a co-renter? This is especially interesting if you want to go abroad or to another city for a longer period of time but can' t / don't want to pay two rents.
- Is the rent contract (initially) limited in time? If so, until when & can it be extended? Some contracts are fixed-term because you never know who you're going to have living in your home & whether living together will work out. Others are fixed-term because there is a special reason for it.
- Notice of cancellation 3 months, or other?
- What about pets? Is a dog/cat allowed by the landlord or okay for the flatmates? Allergies?
- If applicable: Is the move-in date negotiable? Is it possible to move in a little earlier or later? (Would the rent then have to be adjusted accordingly for the first month?)
I came to this realisation only after years of living in shared flats, which is why I'm sharing it with you again: Don't expect any flat share to be perfect. People & flats always have their quirks - find a trade-off that works for you.!
You can rock a dump with cool flatmates & learn to love the quirks. You can complain every day in a luxury flat because the flatmates get on your nerves. But you can just as easily be happy to have an affordable roof over your head in a competitive student city. Every flat-share has its own character and every experience you gain there depends not only on the flat-share itself but also on your current living situation. Try to find what works best for you. If it doesn't work out right away, there's no shame in moving again & trying your luck again - it's better than being stuck for months & years because the flat-share doesn't fit what you need & want.
Do you have anything to add from your flat-sharing experience? I would love to hear it!
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