Maintenance costs: what they are and how much they cost

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The cost check

Before you buy real estate, it's a good idea to get a complete picture of all the associated costs and fees — regardless of whether you plan on living there yourself or you want to rent it out for profit. The purchase price is an obvious one. The closing costs, such as the land registry fees, notary fees, real estate transfer tax, and real estate broker fee, are other costs that most buyers tend to be aware of. But there are also fees associated with the operation and upkeep of the apartment and the building. These fees, called maintenance costs (Hausgeld), are calculated for each privately owned apartment and have to be paid every month.

To estimate the maintenance costs, the property management company sets a per-square-meter rate and applies it to the size of your apartment. The resulting amount can quickly come to several hundred euros. But if you're renting the apartment out, this can be apportioned between yourself and your tenants. That means that you can include part of the maintenance costs in your tenants' rental agreement.

If you look at the minutes from the most recent property owners' meetings before buying, you should be able to get an idea of what the maintenance costs are like and whether there are any cost-intensive repairs planned for the future. If there are, the property owners might be required to pay higher maintenance fees if the reserve fund can't cover the cost of the repairs. The meeting minutes should also state whether the maintenance costs are likely to be raised in the short term.

So, what does all of this mean exactly? Keep reading to find out.

What maintenance costs are

Maintenance costs — called "Hausgeld" or "Wohngeld" in German — are a monthly fee that you pay in advance to cover the ancillary expenses relating to your apartment.

Maintenance costs are typically associated with apartments, but they can also apply to townhouses and semi-detached houses. The point of these fees is to ensure that everyone who owns an apartment in the building pays their share of the operating costs and similar expenses.

For you as a landlord, it's essential to know that part of your maintenance costs is apportionable. That means that you can share a portion of them with your tenants and include it in the rent they pay to you. But there are also parts of your maintenance costs that are not apportionable, which means you have to pay them yourself.

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Overview apportionable & non-apportionable costs
Apportionable costs:Non-apportionable costs:
Operating costs for water, waste disposal, playground, and care of exterior grounds Reserve fund
Heating and electricity costs for stairwells, elevators, and similar facilitiesExpenditures for repairs and maintenance work
Homeowners insuranceHousing management costs
Caretaker costs

Privately owned apartments always come with maintenance costs, regardless of whether you live in the apartment yourself, you're renting it out, or it's unoccupied. It is a legal requirement specified in Section 16 of the German Act on the Ownership of Apartments and the Permanent Residential Right (WEG). It's super important to have a financial buffer in case your apartment ends up sitting unoccupied and not generating any rental income. With that in mind, you should make sure that any unforeseeable losses of this kind are accounted for when you apply for a line of credit, and the bank puts together your budget calculation.

How high the maintenance costs are

As with so many other costs and fees relating to property financing, the answer to this question is: it depends.

Maintenance fees typically fall somewhere between €2.50 and €4.00 per square meter.

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The specific amount you will owe depends on the following factors:

  • Year of construction

  • Location

  • Micro-location

  • Size

  • Amenities

  • Maintenance requirements

The maintenance requirements are unique to each property owner's association. If the building is new, it won't need significant repairs or maintenance in the short term. But if you've purchased an apartment in an older building, maintenance could very well be a bigger issue. To ensure that enough collective money is available for such maintenance, the association can increase the maintenance fee to grow the reserve fund and thus save more money in advance.

If your apartment comes with access to an underground parking garage, a playground, or an elevator, for example, that will increase your maintenance costs. After all, these things require regular maintenance, and they need to be paid for.

In theory, your maintenance costs can be raised yearly. When you receive your utility bill from the previous year, it will include a budget for the current year. If the fees you paid last year weren't enough to cover the actual costs of maintenance, then you'll be expected to pay the difference. And to save you the trouble of owing additional money again when your next utility bill arrives, the housing management company will increase the fee based on the square meterage of your apartment. They will also do this, for example, if the cost of waste disposal goes up.

But it's also possible for your maintenance costs to go down. That can happen if your fees were used to generate a reserve fund for a legal dispute which has now been resolved.

When the maintenance costs are a deal-breaker

If you're considering buying a property, it's a good idea to look at the property owners association's most recent budgets and meeting minutes. Naturally, when you're considering whether you can finance a real estate purchase, the maintenance costs aren't as big of a deal as the purchase price itself or the closing costs. But as the owner, it's money that you might have to pay entirely out of pocket. And this is likely enough to happen that an increase in your fee could put you in a financial jam.

However, both the bank making you the financing offer and your mortgage broker are keeping an eye out for this to ensure it doesn't happen. In this sense, you have two experts on your side who understand the territory and can estimate if your maintenance costs are reasonable and appropriate for your financial situation.

Questions? Exchange information in the Urbyo Community

But if you want another opinion, you can always head over to the Urbyo Community to ask other experienced owners who've dealt with the same issue.

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FAQ: Maintenance costs

What are maintenance costs (Hausgeld)?
How high are the maintenance costs?
What do maintenance fees pay for?