You can find these offers in the Kleinanzeigen (classifieds section) and then look for Immobilienteil (property). There you will find Vermietungen (flats to rent) and Wohnangebote (flats to buy).
Another possibility is to look at the specialized German publications that contain only ads (such as Marktplatz, and Annonce). In university towns, there are regularly published free papers which contain classifieds for accommodation (as well as things for sale, which can be useful if you need to buy things when you move in).
Understanding classified ads can seem like a task fit for a professional cryptographer. A description like, "4 ZKB , ZH, teilmöbl., 650 + NK, 2MM Kaut., Chiffre 100", is not easy to understand. This particular example means, "four-room apartment with kitchen and bathroom to let, central heating, partly furnished, monthly rent EUR 650 plus utility charges, deposit: 2 months' rent, offers to Box No. 100." Don't worry - you'll soon learn to interpret the numerous abbreviations. For more help, look at our glossary.
Telephone and Chiffre ads
When the ad gives a telephone number you should call as early as possible (from 7.30 a.m., unless stated otherwise) to make an appointment. Be aware that adverts can easily attract up to 100 phone calls. Landlords sometimes collect offers and then make joint appointments with applicants.
When the advert shows a Chiffre, you must send a letter to the newspaper quoting the Chiffre number, which is then sent to the advertiser. This is obviously more work than calling, but for this reason you will be competing with less people so it can be worth the effort.
Advertisements can be placed by property owners, real estate agents or by vacating tenants looking for someone to take over their lease before the notice period expires (see our section on rental contracts). Someone leaving an apartment will usually include Nachmieter gesucht in the ad and this can be a good way of avoiding estate agency fees. However, the vacating tenant might ask you to purchase some his furniture and kitchen equipment (an Abstand). An Abstand can be a better option than buying everything yourself, if priced reasonably.
Be careful, however, as in some cases vacating tenants aware of the housing shortage try to make extra cash by demanding ridiculously high prices for the furniture they leave (even though the tenant is not legally entitled to choose you as a Nachmieter, he will simply not forward your application to the landlord if you don't pay the Abstand).
The words Immobilien or RDM ( Ring Deutscher Makler) in an advertisement signify that it has been placed by a real estate agent. This means you must pay a fee on conclusion of the lease. See our section on estate agencies.
Placing your own ad
You can also put your own ad in the paper saying you're looking for a place to rent. During times of high demand (e.g. October in major university towns), this can be a waste of time and money.
Most newspapers also have websites where you can see flat offers and place adverts irrespective of the day of publishing and sometimes before. In larger cities, magazines that specialize in real estate offers are available. There is also a growing number of purely internet based accommodation classifieds. Some of them, like www.studenten-wg.de offer flats and rooms in shared flats all around Germany and allow you to place your own ad for free.