House hunting it Germany is NOT fun like they make it seem on House Hunters International, that I can say with confidence! Instead house hunting here is tedious process not for the faint of heart or those with little patience. Needless to say we fall into the ‘not so patient’ category and it’s been a crazy experience!
When I say crazy, what I really mean is that when housing sends you out to ‘house hunt’ here they should issue you two pairs of boxing gloves, because boy does it become a battle! At first I thought maybe it was just us but after talking to many other people both old and new to the area, it’s a common occurrence here. I guess because your resources are so limited and each person has different expectations of what they consider will work for the family, as well as who has the most patience to wait out the house hunt, it’s hardly ever both people ;p
My wish list isn’t super unrealistic, at least not to me. All I want is:
At least 5 bedrooms OR 4 bedrooms and an office or bonus room
At least 2 bathrooms with 2 showers (more on this later)
Kitchen on the first floor
Laundry not down on the 4th floor
A garage, no off street parking, and we need the extra storage.
And in between Bitburg & Spangdahlem as we’ll be driving to both bases often
See that’s not so crazy! Sure there are other things that would be awesome like a Master bathroom, closets, ect but those things are almost nonexistent in Germany so I’ve lowered my sights for the ‘bigger’ things.
First let’s start off with what happens when you arrive to Spangdahlem and go check in at housing. Let’s go back even before that, before we even arrived we filled out paperwork and got on the housing list. We checked a week before we were to arrive and we were #5 on the list but several people ahead of us were in contracts off base and couldn’t be offered a house. Great, that meant we’d get a house within a few months. But as we all know things can’t always be as easy as it seem, especially when dealing with the military.
First thing to know is that just because it says something on their website, it may not be true. According to their website they do not offer stairwell housing to certain ranks. So during all my planning I did NOT even consider that we would be offered stairwell housing, just that we would just sit on the list until a townhouse opened. Well guess what, when we arrived we were #2 and they offered us stairwell housing! Stairwell housing is basically apartment living, we did that in Iceland and it wasn’t fun, now with 3 teenagers, a dog, and 13,000 lbs of stuff on the way it really isn’t even an option for us. So we had to turn it down and that then caused a tail spin of chaos!
Townhouses on base, where we thought we would be living…
If you turn down a house that is offered to you, you automatically get only 15 days in TLF (Temporary Living Facility) on base. While if you are not offered a house, and therefore don’t turn one down, you get 20 days which can also be extended 15 more days. Then we were notified that they had NO townhouses coming open and they would be offering us a stairwell house the next week. That meant that we would be OFF the housing list and have to wait 90 days to apply and get back on the list. I sat there stunned, my brain reeling as I was trying to come to terms with living off base, I had not prepared for that! We had to watch a 15 minute video and then were sent on our way with the off base housing list and told to find a house in 15 days or plan on moving off base to the German Hotel, the Weidenhof. More to come about it.
Stairwell housing aka apartment living, notice that it’s identical to TLF here.
Panic mode sets in as you try to process the fact that you now are being forced to live off base, it’s low PCS season and not many houses are available, and the housing office is not very helpful. We get back to TLF and open our email with the off base housing list. It’s an excel worksheet that is a nightmare to navigate and offers little information and no pictures. I immediately started stalking the Bookoo sight, refreshing it too many times to count each day. I tried the trusty old AHRN but was shocked to find only 18 houses listed. We were finally told by housing a few days ago that they no longer use the AHRN site here. They house use homes.mil but that site is a kinda a hot mess and making a password is a nightmare. I did the research and Mr. B starts making the phone calls to set up appointments to see houses.
Some of the most helpful house hunting information came from the guy who works at the bus transportation office. He was explaining the different areas where the buses go for which schools, which is SUPER important, and he showed me the large map they have them marked on and told me I could get the map at the housing office. I immediately ran to the housing office to grab a map, and used the bus transpiration list, and Bea and I found and color coded all the bus pick up cities for Spangdahlem and Bitburg. The hardest part was deciding what school to put the younger two in, because whatever we decided would then determine where we had to look for housing. Since we arrived the week of Thanksgiving we waited until the following week to decide and enroll them in school.
It is also hard to start house hunting right away because you do not have your car. Yes, you sponsors can take you go see houses, but we have a family of 5 so we had to leave the kids behind in TLF because we all could not fit in their car. Thankfully they are old enough for us to do so, but that would be a problem with younger kids. We arrived on a Sunday, thankfully by Wed our car had arrived and was in our possession by that afternoon. That made getting around and house hunting much easier.
My house hunting must haves!
Our sponsors had left us a little welcome package and the most valuable things in there for me were the small notebook, folder, and pens! They have been items I carry daily on our house hunting trips. In the folder I carry the map (marked with the color coded bus cities) the Saber Blue Book with all the phone numbers, locations, and info for stuff on base, the school bus stop list, and printouts from housing of houses we want to go look at. If we look at them I fold them in half, if they don’t work for us and we don’t look at I keep them out of the folder. In the notebook I write down all the houses to see and call about, I cross them off if they are unavailable or we’ve seen and they won’t work for us.
House hunting notebook hard at work!
Be prepared to come across some ‘unique’ features of houses in Germany! Bookoo and it’s pictures are so helpful in getting a good idea of what the house looks like before going. Often a house may have 3-4 bedrooms and only 1 bathroom. They also like to walk up stairs a lot I guess as the houses are often multiple stories, 3 to 4, and the kitchen is often on the 2nd floor. Laundry can often be found located no where near the bedrooms, like 3 floors down in the basement. Also kitchens are a big issue here. Normal German kitchens are TINY, think small apartment tiny but in a house. Many Germans have caught on though and have been updating the kitchens to cater to renting to us Americans. Also garages are not a standard, some houses only come with 1 off street parking space. Oil is commonly used to heat the houses, it’s literally like stepping back in time moving over here. Also you have to check and make sure the towns you are considering have Internet, yep some towns don’t have Internet or it can be super slow, like dial up slow! Many listings say no pets but if you have a small dog or cat they will often allow them, we have found this to be the case when talking to landlords.
Now onto our house hunting experience. The first house we seen was in Spangdahlem, super close to base and it was brand new & modern. It had 4 bedrooms (my bare minimum) but the killer for me was there was 1 full bath and 1 half bath. So all 5 of us would’ve been trying to use the shower to get ready, not idea with 3 teens!
The second house was in Bitburg and it had tons of German charm and a great modern kitchen but some things that were not as favorable such as the laundry down in the basement and the rooms on the 2nd & 3rd floors. It also had narrow staircases and we weren’t sure about getting our furniture up it. We ALMOST, took this house, literally the 2nd house we seen BUT that night I started to panic a bit about the decision. After lots of prayer I felt like it wasn’t the right fit, it was confirmed the next day when the guy who had taken us out there called Mr. B and said ‘I know you liked the house but…’
Ever since we have arrived people have been telling us to NOT rush into anything and NOT to settle, I’ve come to understand and appreciate this as I know there is a perfect house out there for us, we just don’t know how long it will be until we find it. Mr. B on the other hand likes structure and order and really wants a house, like 2 weeks ago, so that we can move and start to get settled. I get it, I really do, but I don’t want to choose something and hate it and want to move a year later on our own dime. I’d rather take the time and get it right the first time. Yes, I miss our stuff as we’ve been in temporary living and without for a month, but it won’t even be here until Jan so what’s the rush!? And they will keep it until April for us, now really if we don’t have a house by April I may be driven to the point of insanity!
The town of Bitburg
Back to the house hunt….we went to see an awesome one in Pickliesseum but it was over our housing cap, meaning we’d have to pay too much money out of pocket. With Bitburg drawing down some landlords are willing to negotiate this as are having a harder time finding someone to pay these amounts. Of course we loved the house and they were not willing to lower the rent. After a week they said they would lower it if we lived in the upper half and their son in the bottom, um no thanks! So lesson learned do not go see houses that are too expensive without talking about negating the rent, not point in wasting time and liking something you can’t have!
Then we went out and seen a creepy house right in the city square of Dudeldorf. Loved the town but would’t want to live in the city square and the house was straight up to creepy for us! And so it goes on, house after house after house. We’ve seen 12 so far. Several Mr. B was wiling to take just to have a house but there were too many things I couldn’t settle on to be wiling to rent them. One smelled like cigarette smoke and the layout was wonky (apparently a norm here). The one he really liked had a tiny kitchen with a super tiny dining room area, smaller than our house on base in AL, and the kicker for me was that the bathroom that we would be using as the master bath, even though it was down the hall, was the one on the main floor that everyone would be using. I don’t know why that bothers me but it does. It also had the kitchen on the 2nd floor, that is just so weird. Plus since I do the grocery shopping during the day I’d be hauling all the groceries and such up the stairs.
We have moved out to the Weidenhof and I’ll be blogging about that in an upcoming post.
My advice is that if you are moving here and even if your not planning on living off base, prepare yourself just in case you have to. I’m such a planner and researcher and I was so frustrated that because the housing website was wrong that I hadn’t done any prior research. Had we known this was going to be a possibility I would’ve been much more prepared!! In case your wondering, like I’ve painstakingly researched these are the areas that we’ve found desirable to live in between both bases, something I wish I had know when we started looking!
Dudledorf (8 minutes to Spang, 10 mins to Bitburg)
Pickliessem (7 minutes to Spang, 13 minutes to Bitburg)
Badem (12 minutes to Spang, 14 minutes to Bitburg)
Binsfeld (8 minutes to Spang, 15 minutes to Bitburg)
Herforst (8 minutes to Spang, 13 minutes to Bitburg)
Spangdahlem (5 minutes to Spang, 20 minutes to Bitburg)
But also be open to other areas, I had a HARD time with this and actually found an area that we like that is a bit further from Bitburg than I wanted (19 minutes) but not far enough for it to be a deal breaker.
Also another important piece of advice….when you are house hunting ask EVERYONE! Mr. B has been asking people at the BX, in line for free tickets to the Harlem Globetrotters, landlords who have already rented their home, and people who have lived here a long time. This had resulted in several houses and leads that have not been listed on any website or on the housing list yet!
I hope this has been a little glimpse into what house hunting is like here in Germany. If you have a small family or need a small house those seem pretty easy to find, but bigger houses take more work, effort, and much, much more patience! We have been here a month are still in the process of finding our Germany home, hopefully soon!