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PROPERTY

Altbau vs Neubau: What’s the difference and which should I rent in Austria?

It's more than just a question of their age and style; the type of building you live in in Austria can affect everything from your heating costs to your rental fee.

Old building in central Vienna
You may be dreaming of a grand balcony and high ceilings, but have you thought about the Austrian Tenancy Law or operating costs? Photo: Arno Senoner/AFP

The obvious difference between an Altbau and Neubau is their age. Under Austrian rental law, only buildings that pre-date 1953, specifically June 30th of that year, are considered Altbau.

You can often tell which category a building falls into just from the style.

If you’ve dreamed of living in a beautiful Viennese building with a huge front door and ornate flourishes in the staircase, the Altbau life may be for you. Altbau make up the majority of buildings in city and town centres around the country, with Neubau and particularly very new builds located more in the suburbs and on the outskirts.

Many Neubau are plainer to look at, but some of the more modern ones may come with extras like air conditioning, a roof terrace, or a gym.

READ ALSO: How to navigate the Austrian rental market

Heating and insulation

Speaking of air conditioning, the insulation and heating is one of the differences between Altbau and Neubau that’s likely to have a bigger impact on your quality of life. 

The typical high ceilings of the Altbau create a nice atmosphere but can also be difficult to heat, while the older buildings are also less energy efficient. 

This means that if you go down the Altbau route, you should check which renovations have been carried out, particularly on windows. A recently renovated and well-insulated Altbau means you could combine the ornate flourishes without having to choose between high heating bills and wearing three jumpers through the Austrian winter.

READ ALSO: The vocab you need to understand Austrian apartment ads

Neubau are more likely to be heated using central heating, which means you don’t need to carry out annual services on the gas boiler — par for the course with most Altbau and older Neubau, and usually at the tenant’s own expense (expect to pay somewhere between €75-150 for the service). 

Within Neubau, there are differences depending on exactly how ‘new’ the building is, with those built in more recent decades most likely to have a high standard of soundproofing and insulation (and to have smarter floor plans and more modern perks like car parking), and those from the period between 1953 to the 1970s running the risk of the same issues as many old buildings. If you are renting an apartment in a brand new build, the energy efficiency and insulation will meet modern standards, but here there are extra considerations: new builds tend to experience cracks in the walls and other issues in their first few years while the building ‘settles’.

Rent, rights and operating costs

However, the biggest thing to be aware of is that the age of the building actually has quite a significant impact on your rights as a tenant.

Under Austria’s Tenancy Law (Mietrechtsgesetz or MRG — your contract will state whether this applies), there is a limit on how much rent can be charged per square metre, but only on an Altbau (again, note that this advantage may be wiped out if your additional costs are higher). These set costs vary by region and can also be affected by other factors such as quality of the furnishing. You are normally fully covered by the MRG if you are renting an Altbau, or in a few other specific situations, and this law grants you better protection against termination of the contract, and gives you rights around the amount of operating costs and maintenance of the apartment provided by the landlord for example.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that renting a Neubau apartment immediately puts you at higher risk or gives you greater obligations. But it does mean that it’s extra important to pay attention to your contract, as some of your rights will be governed by the contract rather than the MRG and could be difficult to negotiate after the fact. For example, if renovations need to be carried out, you may need to go to court to enforce your rights. Depending on the type of apartment, you may be partially covered by the MRG or not at all.

READ ALSO: How much can estate agents charge in commission?

And if you go for an Altbau, you still need to check the contract. The law might set out the amount legally allowed for rent, but tenants’ rights organisations frequently warn that many tenants are still significantly overcharged even in these buildings. The difference is that with an Altbau, you can take legal steps to reclaim money from an overpriced rental. Of course, it’s always better to make sure you’re paying the correct price from the start, and with an Altbau it’s easy to find out what that should be.

Overall, the age of the building is just one factor to weigh up along with the specific details of the individual properties you’re looking at: total price including rent and operating costs; quality of renovations; how much the style suits you; whether the landlord seems reasonable and responsive; and location. 

Note that if you are buying rather than renting, the Neubau/Altbau classification brings a slightly different set of considerations. We are working on a guide looking at the differences buyers should be aware of.

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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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