Freitag, 17. Oktober 2008

Berlin is cool and property is remarkably affordable

by Lorna Blackwood

Apartments in the trendy parts of the German capital go for as little as £45,000

Berlin is pinning its hopes on the young. More than half its population is below the age of 35, media companies are flocking to the city and, with three excellent universities, it is establishing itself as the biotech and research capital of Germany.

The Government has invested €75billion (£59 billion) to improve the infrastructure of the city, enticing expatriates to find a home there or invest in residential properties. This, combined with numerous cultural and scientific places of interest, is only adding to the city's attraction.
The recent privatisation of the public housing stock has led to a small increase in the number of homeowners. However, the city has a strong rental culture - only 14 per cent of local people own their home - and with the rents low and laws heavily favouring the tenant, there is little to drive the domestic market.

Charles Peerless, a director of Winkworth's international department, concurs: “Berlin is exactly what the current housing market needs. With its huge rental market, it is a safe investment. The ‘less risk and less reward' strategy is what most long-term investors are choosing.”

The choice in Berlin ranges from the former East German high-rise blocks near Alexanderplatz and the experimental living communities of Kreuzberg to the Neo-Classical buildings of Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain. The latter are the most popular with foreign investors.
These large apartment blocks, with their elegant stucco façades, were built in the early part of the 20th century and offer spacious, high-ceilinged accommodation that is usually ranged around an enclosed garden square. Most of these properties have been sold off in volume to investment companies that are extensively refurbishing, adding central heating, double glazing and modern kitchens and bathrooms. The buildings have been re-roofed, the communal gardens landscaped and all interiors redecorated, with the aim of increasing rents and, in turn, improving capital values.

Andreas Pichotta is one such developer. As a passionate Berliner and admirer of the city's architecture, he makes his projects as much a labour of love as an investment, although he knows what will make him money. “The most important part of the investment business is getting the right location,” he says. “There is an abundance of very cheap, unrefurbished property in the city but if you buy in the wrong place you are doomed.”

He uses his local knowledge to choose the buildings that he buys and refurbishes with great care. He has made good investments in Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain. Prenzlauer Berg is an area of the city undergoing a renaissance. There is an abundance of restaurants, cafés, bars and eclectic boutiques. Many of Berlin's media, arts and student population live here. It was not bombed in the Second World War so there is a wealth of old-style apartment blocks. Many have been restored to enhance their traditional features, creating picturesque squares where regular farmers' markets attract affluent locals.

The area has the highest birth rate in Germany. It became very fashionable in the late 1990s and those who moved there then are now in their 30s, young professionals with families, looking for larger apartments. The location is perfect for commuting into the city and, accordingly, rents are beginning to rise. Dr Pichotta is refurbishing 6 Schönfliesser Strasse, pictured top right. One-bedroom flats there sell from €58,235 (£45,000). Such an outlay will earn him a monthly rental income of only €230. All his apartments are already pre-let to tenants, so his income is genuine and secure. The rental guarantee provided is for five years and has a yield of just over 4 per cent. The refurbishment of buildings is being undertaken throughout 2008, completing by the end of the year. The flats will be managed by the existing property manager and this is included in the fixed price. Investors are, however, liable for the sinking fund.

Winkworth also has a project in the area and is offering two-bedroom apartments in Thulestrasse. Almost all were snapped up after being released for rent after refurbishment. A two-bedroom flat of 62 square metres can cost as little as £66,584.

Perhaps an even better investment might be the slightly shabbier area of Friedrichshain, in East Berlin, which contrasts with the more gentrified and expensive areas of Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte. After the Berlin Wall came down, Friedrichshain began to develop a reputation as a young district. Its lower rents attracted artists and students; its multitude of empty flats also attracted the attention of West Berlin squatters. It retains its slightly run-down atmosphere - which gives it its character.


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