My personal experience is from Hamburg, which had a very tough market, so this article should apply to similar big cities.
Before moving I read about how to deal with the difficulties of immigrating. I knew my most difficult task would be finding long-term housing. It took about three weeks and a lot of exhausting effort after I arrived to find a good shared apartment.
Where to look
I made an account on wg-gesucht.de, it is the most popular website for apartment searching. It has the option to filter posts by distance, price, number of occupants, and more. I would recommend looking at each posts details for the languages they can speak. Not every post contains this, but it is a nice hint.
It is important to be one of the first emails the person receives. They often get so many emails that they become overwhelmed and just look at the first few. I would refresh my filtered search frequently at work and message all the posts that looked acceptable.
What to write
I wrote my emails in English. I felt this was best for everyone. It set their expectations about me and avoided any awkward situations during apartment viewings.
Think of being a native English speaker as a strength. From my experience some people were excited to meet me. This was because they were interested in improving their English. Some people thought it was cool.
Okay, so what did I actually write in emails? The template for my messages were as follows:
My name is [first_name]. I am 22 years old and American. I am fully employed as a software developer in Hamburg. I would be happy if we cooked meals together on occasion, but not required. In my free time I like to jog, read, and play board games. I do not smoke.
I will rent for more than a year. I have shared flat experience in the USA, it was nice and respectful. We would talk about movies and go to bars together, but not required. Other times we spend time alone. Having friends over is okay. Wild parties are not. I prefer to have a cleaning plan. It is important to me that everyone feels comfortable in the home.
Look forward to meeting you,
Some of the things in this template sound a little weird, but this is the creation I made from reading other room request ads.
Want further help? You can practice with us; both in writing applications and doing virtual interviews, so you're prepared to get a real offer.
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Don’t waste your time
There is a lot to do for each viewing: review the post, travel to the area, get a little lost, find the apartment, meet with the tenant, make a real human connection, ask good questions, and go home.
Repeating this process over-and-over is tiring.
It is only worth it to go through this process for places I would be comfortable in.
- Too expensive? No thanks!
- Would it take me an hour to get to work? Not this time!
- Is smoking allowed inside the apartment? Pass!
- Does the tenant have some weird psycho rules? Next!
Have a backup plan
As the checkout date for my hotel was approaching I began to sweat. I was desperate and visited an apartment that I knew would make me unhappy. It was an expensive and small room in a noisy part of town. The worst deal.
If I were in that position again, I would switch to looking for short-term rooms. There are a bunch of cozy furnished rooms available because the tenant is spending a semester aboard.
The downside of this is that you just get a break from the apartment hunting instead of it being over. But at least it is a break.