What a scorcher! A boiling hot, lazy Sunday rounded off the weekend. The thermometer touched 33 degrees C and it was just too hot to do anything. The kids disappeared off to the open air pool and the adults slobbed about in the shade at home. The most strenuous thing I did all day was watch the final hour of the Tour de France. Later on I took Mum on a bit of drive around Schönaich and we had a look at the “Neubaugebiet” (new building area) on the outskirts of the village.
The Neubaugebiet is an area of land which has recently been re-zoned for residential building and sold off by the local council. For the past two years lots of new houses have gone up there. Like in most German residential areas, there aren’t many houses which are the same. We don’t seem to get the huge developers that throw up an estate of identical or similar houses, each plot is sold separately and although there are several “Mehrfamilienhäuse” – literally, multi-family houses – most of the houses are unique. When you walk around Schönaich you might initially think that there are a lot of huge detached houses, but a closer look reveals that there are often two or three doorbells on them and they are split into flats – usually by floor.
Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, the two southernmost states in Germany were traditionally catholic areas. The culture of large families that stay together which you used to see in Italy is still present here and you can see it in the buildings. It is not uncommon for three generations to live in the same house – one on each floor. During the economic and building boom of the 60s and 70s people would buy a plot of land and build their family homes with this in mind. In some cases, the plan worked and the Grandparents still enjoy having two further generations in the house. But the world has changed and lots of families prefer to have separate houses, which means there are quite a few large properties around here with one or two elderly people rattling around in them.
We were speaking to an estate agent about this a couple of days ago and the phenomenon of old people getting “trapped” in these large houses is growing. They miss the opportunity to move out when they are still relatively fit and end up living in just a few rooms surrounded by lots of stuff they dare not throw out. The houses then become more difficult to sell because the necessary maintenance falls away as people get older and can’t cope with a large house. Because Germans (and especially Baden-Württembergers) like to have everything maintained to perfection, houses which need work lose value quickly. Growing up in England you are used to moving house quite a bit. The house you move into isn’t perfect but you make do and perform a little DIY if you are feeling adventurous. Chances are you will be moving in a few years anyway. It’s called the housing ladder because it has lots of steps on it. In Germany most people will rent until well into their thirties and will then think about buying or building the family home – which will probably be permanent. We don’t have a housing ladder, we have a housing step.
This means that the economics of housing market are very different to that in England. Firstly, we don’t talk about it much. House prices and moving are a long way down on the list of things to mention. Second, house prices behave in a moderately sensible manner. We have lived in our house for 12 years now. It is was built new and we have looked after it. Right now, due to very low interest (I pay 2,1% on my mortgage and if I had waited a year it would have been nearer 1%) we consider that the housing market has gone “crazy”. It’s true that in certain major city centre areas like Munich or Hamburg the prices have exploded but for most of us the “crazy” market means our houses may have appreciated by 20% over 10 years. A Londoner expects that return in a couple of years.
There are a couple of reasons why house prices don’t appreciate so much. There is a lot of space in Germany and the people are fairly well spread around. There is still a lot of land upon which to build and new houses are being built all the time. Then there is that German quest for perfection. As soon as a house is older than, say, 20 years people price in the future investment needed to keep the house up to the highest standard. New insulation, new roof tiles, bathroom and kitchen suites will be dated etc. etc. On the whole, the housing industry is less volatile and less “showy” than in the UK. For a start you will never see a “For Sale” sign over here. I don’t think it’s allowed. If you want to know what’s for sale you look in the estate agents window or the internet. At the moment 8 houses are for sale here – take a look: here (the ones with the perfect looking photos haven’t been built yet).
Bis, vielleicht, morgen!
*I must write another blog post about houses and housing when I’m in a less work-stressed frame of mind and make a few jokes. Those ideas are bubbling at the back of my brain but not quite making it onto the keyboard at present. But the clouds at work are gradually clearing and I will have time to write more soon I hope.