If you’re looking to buy German property, learn about the quirks of German mortgages and get some special tips for expats looking to buy a home in their new country.
If you’re looking to buy a German property as an expat, you won’t find any restrictions – but you should still make sure you’re up to speed on the German mortgage system before you go ahead.
Hypofriend, a mortgage broker that specializes in loans for foreign buyers in Germany, gives advice on the best course of action for getting a mortgage.
The certified German mortgage broker Hypofriend combines advanced algorithms to tailor the right mortgage product to your personal circumstances. Unlike most comparison websites, they do not solely focus on the cheapest product, but on the product that is right for you, ensuring long-term financial security.
Is now a good time to buy property in Germany?
While German economic policies have traditionally favored renting over buying, house prices in Germany have risen significantly – and some say unsustainably – over the last few years.
Indeed, in late 2018, the German government hosted a housing summit amid protests at the rising costs of buying and renting homes in major cities.
At the same time, mortgage rates have been falling to historic lows, with the influence of the negative Euribor rate resulting in cheaper deals for home buyers and people looking to remortgage.
Buying property as an expat in Germany
The primary buyers of German homes are local real estate investors, but there is plenty of room for foreign buyers – especially if you intend to let the property out for at least part of the year. Find out more in our guides on how to buy a property in Germany and where to live in Germany.
It remains to be seen whether the continuing uncertainty around the UK’s departure from the European Union – and the decline of the pound – will have a significant effect on UK residents looking to buy German property.
How much can you borrow in Germany?
There are no restrictions on foreigners purchasing German real estate, regardless of whether or not their country of origin is a part of the European Union (EU).
The maximum amount you can borrow, however, does depend on your residency status. German residents can borrow up to 80% of the assessed value of the property, but non-residents can be limited to approximately 55–60% of the assessed value.
Borrowers must also have an annual income in excess of €20,000. What’s more, your monthly mortgage payments can never exceed 35% of your monthly income.
Online mortgage calculators for Germany can help you determine how much you can borrow and estimate your monthly rate:
Cost of getting a German mortgage
A combination of the low default rate on German mortgages with historically low Euribor rates has led German mortgage rates to be among the lowest in the world. In 2018, the average mortgage rate was 1.85%, according to data from Statista.
Mortgage application fees are typically 1–2% of the total loan amount. If the property is valued at more than €500,000 then the buyer must pay for a property assessment, which typically costs around €300–€600.
Upon signing the deed, fees will be due:
- the notary’s fees and registrations fees at around 1.5% of the assessed property value,
- the real estate agent’s fees ranging from 3-6% of the sale price. In Germany, buyers often pay estate agent fees (or split them with the sellers) – though this is subject to negotiation.
Thereafter the buyer will have up to four weeks to pay the real estate transfer tax, which ranges from 3.5–6.5% of the value of the property, depending on the state where you are buying.
Tax deductions for German mortgages
Interest on German mortgages for owner-occupied properties is not tax-deductible.
However, if you rent out your property in Germany, expenses incurred for generating rental income can be offset on your tax bill. Allowable expenses include mortgage charges, maintenance, repairs and home improvements that cost less than 15% of your property’s value. Major home improvements are taxed differently.
Rental interest in Germany is taxed at the standard progressive income tax rates In 2019, the first €9,169 (€18,338 for married couples) is tax-free. For earnings above this amount, rates start at 14%, rising to 42% for earnings above €55,961.
After rental income tax is calculated, a 5.5% solidarity surcharge is placed on the levied tax.
In addition, foreign property owners will be subject to capital gains tax if the property is held for fewer than 10 years. Hence, if you sell your property after nine years and show a gain of €60,000 as an individual, that amount will be subject to a 42% tax rate. However, if you hold your property for 10 or more years, any capital gains are not counted as taxable income.
Requirements for a German mortgage
The mortgage application in Germany is straight forward, but the level of scrutiny of the applicant’s financial and other records can be daunting.
The documents you will need to provide – translated into German – include:
- German self-disclosure (Selbstauskunft) questionnaire;
- property assessment;
- proof of employment (2–12 months of payslips);
- self-employed individuals must provide additional proofs of income and net worth including two years of balance sheets, business and economic evaluation, and prior year’s tax returns;
- latest tax returns;
- documentation of rental income (if the property has been previously leased out);
- proof of available equity;
- extract from the Land Register for the previous six weeks.
In addition, foreign buyers will need to provide copies of their passport and, in some cases, a residency permit.
How to apply for a German mortgage
Applying for a German mortgage is similar to other countries, the main difference being that bank’s investigate your financial status more thoroughly. Part of that due diligence process will require obtaining a Schufa report – the equivalent of a credit report.
As a foreigner, you may not have a Schufa record so you may need to show proof of your creditworthiness from your home credit reporting agency.
The banks listed below are welcoming to foreign real estate buyers and, in some cases, may be able to offer translation services. There are also many German banks to choose from, and some specialize in expat mortgages.
Some of the main German banks include:
- Commerzbank: a leading commercial international bank with a core market in Germany;
- Deutsche Bank: one of the largest and most respected banks in Germany;
- Postbank: one of Germany’s largest banks specializing in private customers;
- Sparda-Bank: a large retail bank which is part of the Cooperative Bank system.
Expats could also consult a German mortgage broker, who will compare the rates of multiple lenders on your behalf. LoanLink offers mortgage advice in English and compares more than 400 German banks, and Hypofriend, an independent digital mortgage platform, checks the rates for you every day.
Types of German mortgages
A common German mortgage is the fixed-interest loan. The borrower is allowed to set the terms for the rate of principle repayment (typically between 1% and 10% of the principle amount over the term of the loan), and whether to make additional principle-only payments (up to 10% of the outstanding amount).
At the end of the loan term any outstanding principle must be paid in full either with cash or further financing.
Interest-only mortgages are favored by investors seeking rental or buy-to-let properties. During the term of the loan, only the interest portion is paid; the principle is due in full at the completion of the loan term.
It is possible for German residents to deduct the interest payments from their annual income taxes.
Building Society loans
Building Society mortgages are a hybrid of fixed-interest and interest-only loans. During the course of the loan term, in addition to paying the loan interest, the borrower pays into an annuity which goes towards paying the principle balance when the loan term is reached.
Variable rate loans
Variable rate loans are linked to the Euribor and adjusted every three months. Additional principle payments can be made quarterly as the loan’s rate is adjusted.
If the borrower believes the rate is going to rise above a certain amount, the variable rate loan can be converted into a fixed-rate loan.
German mortgage guarantees
One peculiarity of the German mortgage industry is the lack of mortgage guarantees. This makes it incredibly difficult to get a mortgage in Germany in certain situations, for example:
- if your credit is subprime;
- if you have less than five years until retirement;
- if you do not have the available cash to cover the down payment and closing costs;
- if your current and past income cannot be verified as being above the bank’s threshold.
Instead, individuals may purchase private mortgage default insurance from their bank or a private insurance company.
Other peculiarities of German mortgages
The German government offers special subsidies for individuals living in and paying taxes in Germany.
The most important are the Riester Pension Program (available to anyone who is legally covered by the German statutory pension program) and the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau Bank Home Ownership Program (KfW).
The pension program provides certain pension subsidies – paying for some of the mortgage costs or providing tax incentives for purchasing used real estate.
The KfW Program can offer loans of up to €50,000 for those buying new-build homes or existing properties. The program can be used in conjunction with a mortgage bank’s products and often comes with a lower rate of interest than the bank’s mortgage.