For details of my latest house see the section "House with garage for sale in the centre of Mühlhausen".
There are people in the UK who would never dream of buying a house abroad, and some who can never even dream of buying a house at all, property in England having reached the sort of values that tie the average starter on the ladder to a millstone mortgage for a very long time. Now, however, that the British are allowed to work or retire anywhere in Europe without difficulty, it makes sense to look at a country where houses cost less than half what they do in the UK.
One of the areas you could start looking in is Thuringia, or, in German, Thüringen, right in the centre of Germany. Thüringen is the most westerly of the Länder that make up the former East Germany. As far as house and land prices go it is what the German call a Geheimtipp, insider information. Compare a three-bedroom house from Hampshire (left) asking £300,000 (approx. 384,000,000 € at an exchange rate August 2008 of £1= 1.2799 €) with a similar one in Mühlhausen, Thüringen, (right) at 180,000 € (just over £140,000):
Bear in mind also that the quality of workmanship is generally higher in Germany for a variety of reasons, so you are getting much greater value for your money.
One of the greatest benefits of owning a house in Germany, and especially in Mühlhausen, is not having to pay the dreaded Council Tax. The local tax, Grundsteuer, is minimal in comparison - for a three-bedroom house not likely to be more than 200 € per annum, and Mühlhausen has one of the lowest rates in Germany.
American and British investors have begun to take notice of the low prices in the German housing market. Rental property is causing some excitement and big companies have been buying up blocks of flats, even entire city social housing. If you look at any of the real estate websites, such asAllGrund, Overseas Property Online, German Property Finder or The Move Channel you find plenty of properties in Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Leipzig and other big cities with far more tenants than owner-occupiers, plus a lot of advice on how to go through the process of buying, but almost entirely aimed at investors who have heard that the market is about to rise in value. The intention on this website is to encourage buying property to live in.
When you contemplate a house purchase in Germany remember that, unlike in England, there is no chain. You sit down with the seller in a notary's office and sign a contract of sale, fixing the agreed price. The notary then arranges an entry in the Land Register (Grundbuch) called an Auflassungsvormerkung (priority notice of conveyance) which prevents anyone else from buying without your agreement. There are usually other matters which the notary has to clarify, such as whether the municipal authorities have any prior right to the land. This is a formality in most cases.
All being in order the notary then advises you that the money must now change hands, after which you can take over the property. The whole process takes a matter of weeks. You are formally the owner when you have been entered as such in the Land Register, which is held by the Local Court, about six months later.
Notaries and courts impose fees, of course, and there is a tax to pay, 3.5% of the house price. If you have bought through an estate agent you, the purchaser, will have to pay his commission of usually about 5% of the price. Generally it would be wise to use a reputable local estate agent such as König Immobilien Mühlhausen, who, as I can say from personal experience after having them handle two purchases for me, have very useful local knowledge. If you haven't already, then maybe you'd like to read about my adventure in house-building in the other sections of this site.
Some of the expatriate sites provide more detailed information on moving to and living in Germany, for example Expat Focus - global relocation advice for expatriates covering visas, residency, overseas employment, buying property abroad, international schools, offshore finance and more. Join our lively expat community today! Meet and learn from other expats in our forums, email discussion list and monthly newsletter. Get help finding overseas property, job opportunities abroad, international insurance cover and investment advice, including pensions and retirement planning.
How to move house to Germany is described in the section "Moving to Mühlhausen".