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PROPERTY

How to navigate the Austrian rental market

Finding a place to call home is one of the most daunting aspects of moving to a new country. The Austrian rental system has its fair share of quirks; luckily The Local is here to guide you.

Apartment balcony in Vienna
Finding your Vienna dream home doesn't have to be frustrating if you follow The Local's nine-step guide. Photo: Диана Дунаева/Pexels

The basics

If you’re moving to Austria as a renter, the good news is that it boasts some of Europe’s most reasonable rent costs per square metre, and rental laws offer a reasonably good level of protection for tenants.

The bad news? The cheapest rentals aren’t always available to new arrivals, and there are often some hefty upfront costs. What’s more, depending on the age and type of apartment you rent, you may not be entirely covered by the rental law, which means you need a basic understanding of how things work here.

When you hear about rental prices in international comparisons, remember these are an average, and may not match up to what you see in your own property hunt. Austria’s social housing programme means that people on lower incomes can pay a lot less per square metre, and these programmes are much more widespread than in many countries with almost two thirds of the inhabitants of Vienna living in housing subsidised in some way by local authorities.

If you’re renting on the private market, be aware that the way rent controls work means that people who have lived in the same place for many years often pay a lot less than someone who moves into an identical flat. What’s more, the rental law differs depending on whether you rent an apartment built before or after the Second World War, with the former generally costing less to live in.

But don’t worry, it’s still possible to find a great apartment in Austria for a much lower price than in many European capitals. Here’s how.

Set your budget

It’s a bit of a shock to be told you may need to pay the equivalent of six months’ rent before you’ve even moved in, but that is often the case.

If renting through an agent, you usually need to pay them a one-time fee of one or two months’ rent plus 20 percent in VAT (this fee is called the Provision). Note that this applies if an agent is managing the rental even if you find it independently, for example through one of the sites below. The only way to avoid this is to rent privately, directly from a landlord.

Then there’s the deposit (Kaution), money which the landlord takes as security against unpaid rent or any damage to the apartment. This is typically three months’ rent, but can be up to six.

If you’re moving in somewhere that already has furniture and/or appliances like a washing machine, you may need to pay a compulsory one-time fee for these, called the Ablöse, which means that you then own the furniture. Alternatively, furniture rental may be included in your rent (Möbelmiete).

Don’t forget the actual rental fee! In Austria, rent is broken down to several parts: the basic rent, VAT, and running costs/service charge. If you’ve lived in Germany before, you might know the terms ‘warm’ (rent which includes heating and water) and ‘cold’ (rent which doesn’t include heating or water). These are sometimes used in Austria, but not all that often. Unless you are renting a furnished and serviced apartment, it is usually the case that you pay for your own electricity and gas costs. The key thing is to get a breakdown from your potential landlord about what’s included in their stated fee and which costs you’ll need to pay on top.

As well as electricity and gas, additional household fees include household insurance (which is a good idea anyway, and many landlords will require it), internet, and a TV licence if you plan to have a TV or any device capable of acting as a TV. 


Photo: cottonbro/Pexels

Start your search

Once you’ve worked out how much you’re willing to spend, it’s time to start looking, and you can begin this even before you move to Austria. Some of the most common sites to find a rental apartment include ImmobilienScout24, Willhaben, and the property sections of newspapers Der Standard and Kurier. Students can check out the online noticeboard of the Austrian Students’ Union.

You can also find Facebook groups dedicated to the house-hunt — try searching for terms like Wohnung (apartment) or Immobilien (property) plus the name of your city or region. But beware; these groups often attract scammers, so do your due diligence.

Unfortunately, most property sites in Austria are only available in German. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the vocab you can expect to find, as well as any key terms for you like Balkon (balcony) or Dachterrasse (roof terrace). 

If you want, you can also conduct your search through an estate agent. Note that they will charge you a commission though.

Contact prospective landlords

The rental market in Austria isn’t under as much pressure as in countries like Sweden and Germany, so stories of hundreds of people ‘competing’ for a flat are rare. Still, a well-priced apartment in a nice area is always going to attract interest, and the early bird gets the worm.

If you don’t speak German, it might be useful to get a German-speaking friend to help you with this, especially since it often pays off to contact landlords via the phone rather than email.

Ask your network

Austria’s rental market is well regulated, so finding a place through friends of friends is less common than in many places. But never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth. This is especially true if you want to find a flat-share or a furnished apartment rather than renting a place of your own.

If you’re starting work at an international company, it may just be the case that another employee is leaving the city and needs to pass on their rental contract. The same goes for expat groups on sites like Facebook. If you’re a student, your university should be able to help explain the options available to you, including housing earmarked for international students.

Even if your contacts can’t help you find an apartment directly, speaking to a local is invaluable for tips on up-and-coming neighbourhoods and the prices to expect.

Know your rights

In the rush to find your new Austrian home, you might be tempted to sign a contract as soon as you see an apartment you like. Don’t do this.

Austrian rental law can be complex to understand but it offers tenants a lot of protections. For example, apartments in buildings built before the First World War (called Altbau) are subject to strict restrictions on price per square metre, and there are rules about which costs and repairs are the responsibility of the tenant and which should be covered by the landlord.

Even if you’ve signed a contract agreeing to a certain price or conditions, if those actually go against the law, you are entitled to get your money back. There are various tenant support organizations that help members with legal cases. However, you should note that newer buildings in particular are not always covered by the rental law, so a lot depends on what you and the landlord agree to in your contract. Besides, even if there are ways to recoup costs later, it’s always best to avoid getting into a dodgy agreement in the first place.

Photo: RODNAE Productions/Pexels

Think outside the box

If you aren’t sure yet that you’ll be in Austria long term, it’s worth considering alternative options.

There are companies that offer fully furnished apartments for rent, often with services like weekly cleaning included, although the monthly cost for these can be high. There are also sites like Airbnb, where you can sometimes find options for longer term rentals as well as tourism. Or maybe you would consider renting a room in a shared apartment rather than a place to yourself?

And think about the location as well. Do you need to be in the city centre, or could checking out the suburbs be a suitable option for you? 

Go to viewings

It’s a good idea to see several apartments to get a feel for your priorities, as well as what your budget can get you in different areas. For the landlord, the viewing is a chance to decide if they feel comfortable renting to you, so be ready to tell them a little bit about what’s brought you to your new hometown, whether you have a stable income, and what you like about their property.

Prepare your own questions in advance, and if possible, prepare to ask them in German. 

Some of the key things to ask for are which costs aren’t included in the stated rent (and an estimate of how much these will be), whether the apartment has air conditioning, electric blinds or any other means to cope with the summer heat (this is particularly an issue if you’re high up or have large, south- or west-facing windows).

If you have pets, you’ll need to check they can move in with you too, and if any extra spaces were mentioned in the ad like a garden, children’s playroom, roof terrace, or storage room, ask if you can see these at the viewing.

Beware red flags

We’ve mentioned several times that Austria has some strong protections for renters enshrined in law, but there are still scammers out there. 

One of the most obvious warning signs to look for is a landlord who can’t show you the apartment, or who asks for money in advance of the viewing or contract signing. Note that an estate agent may ask you to sign a contract before the viewing — this is normal and the purpose is to confirm that you will pay their commission (the Provision mentioned above) if you end up renting an apartment they show you, and not reach a private arrangement with the landlord. But check any contracts thoroughly, ideally with a native German speaker and someone who understands Austrian rental law. 

Some ads for rentals may say that it’s not possible to register at the address as a Hauptwohnsitz (main place of residence). This is likely a sign that something dodgy is going on, and what’s more it could cause you a lot of problems since you need an address registration to access many basic services in Austria.

Do you have questions about renting, or any other aspects of life in Austria? Contact our editorial team at [email protected] and we will do our best to help you.

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PROPERTY

Where to find property in Austria for under €100k

Austria is not known for being a cheap country and property prices are higher than in some other European countries, but it's still possible to find property bargains, some for even under €100k.

Where to find property in Austria for under €100k

Property prices are rising in much of Europe, and Austria is no exception.

The graph below from the European Union’s statistical agency Eurostat shows the sharp upwards trajectory over the past few years with property price increases in Austria outpacing those in the European Union  as a whole.

And a new survey found that the average price per square metre for new apartments in Austria rose by 11 percent last year, making the country Europe’s second-most expensive market.

It’s no surprise, then, that property ownership in Austria remains low.

According to Eurostat, 55.2 percent of people owned their home in Austria in 2021 – well below the 70 percent European average. That’s the third lowest percentage in Europe after Switzerland (41.6 percent) and Germany (51.1 percent).

READ ALSO: Why do so few Austrians own their home?

So, where can we find cheap(er) homes in Austria – either properties that are move-in ready or those that could be excellent investments for those who enjoy fixer-uppers (or huge DIY projects)?

To find these gems, we used a property website that allowed us to search for real estate in the whole of Austria (instead of just a few main cities) and showed us homes with at least three rooms.

The price limit was set at €100,000 (while our colleagues in even-more-expensive Switzerland had theirs set at a much heftier CHF 500k, around €515k).

As of August 2022, we found 25 houses and 34 apartments meeting these criteria on sale.

As you might expect, many of these need (a lot of) work, but the good news is you can definitely still nab a home for under €100,000 with gorgeous views, small plots of land or lake access.

austria map
Houses below €100k are mainly in the south and east of the country. Property map from Wlllhaben.at.

What types of properties are there?
Looking at houses first (see the map above, which also shows the average purchase price across Austria’s different regions), a few things stand out:

The vast majority of the immediately liveable properties are on the tiny side – most are around the 40 square metres mark and billed as holiday homes – but many come fully furnished, a bonus if you’re working to a tight budget.

You will find bigger ones (the largest we saw was 124 square metres), but then they are likely to be complete renovation projects.

If you head for the border, you’ll get more house for your euro in southern and eastern Austria. Many of the properties we saw were in peaceful Burgenland, Austria’s least populous state.

And if you’re happy to buy just over the border in Hungary, Slovakia or even cross into Croatia, you’ll get more space – and less work – for your money.

You might think cities would be a complete no-no for snapping up bargain properties, but when we looked, we actually found a few properties a short drive from Vienna that were below our top price.

House or apartment?
When it comes to apartments, you’ll get more square metres  – we found flats within this price bracket were around 70 square metres on average – and a slightly greater choice of location for your money

READ ALSO: ‘Concrete gold’: Austria ranks as Europe’s second most expensive property market

Plus, the apartments we found were generally in much better condition – some are even newly renovated and fabulous – so you wouldn’t have so much, if any, work to do.

But there is, inevitably, a compromise: you might get a terrace or a balcony, but most won’t have a proper garden, and certainly no land or outbuildings, which many of the houses we found did have.

If you opt for an apartment over a house, you’ll usually have a slightly greater choice of location. Property map from Willhaben.at.

Even when you do find cheap properties, though, they are sometimes quite literally too good to be true. Some may require completely gutting, others may not be connected to the grid or might need costly lease renegotiations.

So, whether you go for a house or an apartment, you need to make sure you do your homework and carry out a thorough inspection first.

While renovation projects can be great investments, they’re time-consuming and can be very costly.

Before you take the huge step of purchasing, be honest with yourself about your own skill levels and how much time you have for a project – it’s easy to get caught up in the romantic idea of the end result of a gorgeous renovation – and get estimates for any work that needs to be done.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Austria’s rising property prices are causing alarm

If you’re looking at buying somewhere to rent out, check average monthly rents for that area to be sure it’s worth you putting all the hard work in and that you’ll get a good return on your investment.

Whatever your reason for buying, check the property’s location carefully – some have poor access or no connection to basic services.

And it’s important to be mindful of extra costs, too: besides renovation costs, you’ll also have to fork out for property taxes, monthly charges, as well as any lease renewal costs and other living expenses.

These can all vary depending on the type of property and where it is.

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