There are two schools of thoughts when it comes to moving abroad. Either you pick a place to live before moving to the country and hope for the best about the accommodation and its surroundings. Or you move in first, live in a more or less temporary shelter until you find a suitable long-term place to dwell. Both have pros and cons and really depend on how flexible you can be, and whether you travel alone or with a family. I like the move in, then improvise option, but it is a matter of taste and, in the end, essentially of luck.
To live in a big city means to dedicate a significant amount of your budget for housing and a significant amount of your time to find the aforementioned housing. Hamburg is no exception to the rule with expensive square footage and a strong competition for each rental lease.
No pain, no gain
Whether shared rental, one-room apartment or full house, you’ll want to be prepared. Competition is strong and you will want to look your best when applying for the rental. Some brokers will expect a full application with your income, your situation and contact details. I have seen apartments so full with potential lodgers that some had to queue outside the building. My tip: talk to the broker a bit and tell them something about yourself. You want them to remember you. Going for a shared rental? Put your bubbly personality forward. Make one up if you have to, a killjoy won’t be taken in.
Location, location, location
According to the German website Wohnungbörse, the average price of the square meter across Hamburg in 2016 was 11,83 €/m². For comparison, Berlin was at 10,40 €/m², Munich at 17,70 €/m², and Cologne at 10,91 €/m². Of course, this rate varies strongly depending on where in Hamburg you decide to live. In the south-west of Hamburg (Finkenwerder, Neuenfelde) the prices are still below 8 €/m² while around the Alster Lake (Harvesterhude, Uhlenhorst) you should expect over 15 €/m². Before renting, and especially buying, you ought to know the area, how it is connected with public transports and the local facilities.
A house in Hamburg: mission almost impossible
A town house with garden in Hamburg? Difficult, but unlike Paris or New York, not impossible. Among the new buildings, terraced houses are sprouting all over Hamburg. Though not directly in the city center, these can be found in Bahrenfeld, Eimsbüttel, or Barmbek – a mere 15-20 minutes away. If you are looking for a stand-alone house with a larger garden in a more traditional way, you may have to commute a bit further out of town. If you can afford a villa, Blankenese in the west has the most beautiful ones with a view on the Elbe. Otherwise you can try up north (Langenhorn, Volksdorf) or the east (Bergedorf, Lohbrügge.)
Good luck with your house hunt! One last thing: due to the strong demand, scams around housing are rampant. Watch out for anyone who asks you to transfer money before handing you the keys or at least showing you the place. They’ll disappear into thin air and you’ll be left with nothing but a good lesson.