Hire a notary
Using a notary when buying a house in Germany is mandatory. They carry out the legal work and contract obligations related to the real estate purchase, including drawing up the purchase contract (Kaufvertrag). They are also responsible for sending all the documentation to the relevant authorities, such as sorting out the land registration.
Once the sale is complete, the title deeds must be registered with the local land registry (Grundbuch), so the title can be transferred to the new owner. This process may take up to 2-3 months. If the government finds any outstanding issues with the property - such as existing debts - they will prevent the transfer until these are sorted out. This is a rare situation as the notary should have conducted all relevant checks before the purchase contract is signed, however, many choose to use a notary’s account (Notaranderkonto) just in case. With this account, the money is transferred to the notary and then transferred to the seller after the property registration is complete. A notary typically charges a fee of 1.6-2% of the purchase price.
Real estate transfer tax
The purchaser of the estate also pays the property transfer tax (Grunderwerbsteuer), which will cost 3.5-6.5% of the purchase price, depending on the Länder (German region). After signing the purchase contract, the buyer will receive a real estate tax assessment stating the amount required. If not paid within one month, the property transfer at the land registry will not be finalised.
As the transfer tax is based on the purchase price listed in the contract, some people try to do an "arrangement" with the seller, under which a lower price is stated on the contract in order to pay a lower property tax. However, if discovered both the buyer and seller can be subject to fines and even legal pursuit, so it is not recommended.
Using an estate agent
You can use an agent (Immobilienmakler) to help you buy a house. Unlike a notary this is not obligatory, but it is generally advised. You should not sign any exclusive representation agreement which will oblige you to rely on the service of a single agent.
From the beginning, ask your agent who will be paying the commission in order to avoid misunderstandings when finalising the sale. A sales agent’s commission will be between 3-7% of the property price, plus VAT. You can try to negotiate that the seller pays the commission (since the agent is advertising for them), but in most cases the commission will have to be paid by you.
There are a few additional fees to be aware of. For example, when applying for a mortgage, some banks will require an expert property inspection and consultation, both of which you must pay for. Additionally, hiring a certified German interpreter is highly recommended as you must fully understand all contracts you sign. The British embassy keeps an up to date lists of English-speaking lawyers and public notaries working in Germany.
As real estate purchase fees can quickly add up, it’s useful to anticipate all these extra costs. If you have found a property you wish to buy, LoanLink’s detailed mortgage calculator can give you a summary of your likely additional fees and total purchase cost.