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Can a flat swap help me find a new apartment in Germany?

Renters in Germany are increasingly turning to flat swaps to find a new home in a tight housing market - but the legal situation can be complicated. Here's what to know if you're considering exchanging your apartment for a new one.

Blocks of flats in Berlin
Blocks of flats in the German capital of Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Florian Schuh

If you’re looking for a new place to live in Germany, you may find that on familiar sites like Immobilien Scout and WG Gesucht, a less familiar apartment-finding option has emerged: wohnungstausch. 

Wohnungstausch translates to “apartment exchange” or “flat swap” in English, and given the lack of affordable housing options in many cities across Germany, some residents have decided to take this alternative route. 

But what does the apartment exchange process entail, what are its advantages and disadvantages, and what does its growing popularity say about the state of Germany’s housing market? Here’s everything you need to know about Tauschwohnungen. 

READ ALSO: Six confusing things about renting a flat in Germany

What even is a ‘flat swap’? 

Very basically, it involves swapping your own apartment for someone else’s with the approval of both landlords. Each party in the exchange then agrees a new contract with their new landlord. A classic example would be a couple with a growing family swapping with an older couple looking to downsize, or someone with a big place on the outskirts of town looking for a smaller place in the city centre. 

While you can come across opportunities for apartment exchanges on websites like WG Gesucht or Immobilien Scout, there are also companies that exclusively facilitate apartment exchanges through their websites, like or

On these, you’ll usually need to register with details of your current apartment – such as the size, number of bedrooms, the district you live in and any attractive features like gardens or balconies – before you can start getting in touch with people. You can then peruse the flats on offer in your city and see if anyone’s looking for a similar place to the one you have. 

How many people are doing flat swaps? 

According to Tauschwohung’s Managing Director John Weinert, the popularity of apartment exchanges has increased in recent years.

“It’s a mechanism that is becoming more and more popular because the housing market in Germany, especially in the large areas, is very crowded,” he said. “People are waiting in long queues [for] new housing, and rental prices are going to the moon.”  

Weinert explains that Tauschwohnungen offers various advantages for apartment-seekers: you can reduce competition with other potential tenants because of the one-to-one connection, you can avoid double payment because you end your original contract to pick up the new one, and in some cases, you can split the moving costs with the person you are exchanging with.

Moving house in Wittenberg

A car with a trailer drives through the forest near Wittenberg. You can sometimes split moving costs when doing a flat exchange. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

But despite their growing popularity (Weinert said his site has drawn significant interest in the last two to three years), Tauschwohnungen make up only a miniscule part of the housing market in Germany. According to Weinert, 5,000 apartments were exchanged through Tauschwohnung in the last two years, compared to the 16 million moves estimated to take place in Germany during a two-year period.  

READ ALSO: Why Germany is seeing the ‘worst housing shortage in 20 years’

Why aren’t more people doing this?

Beyond apartment exchanges being a relatively new and unknown concept, this small number can also be attributed in part to the fact that tenants searching for housing on the free market lack the legal right to exchange apartments, meaning they have to involve landlords in the process to avoid the risk of having their contract cancelled. 

“[A swap] is only possible if all parties to the rental agreement consent, so the landlord and tenant of both apartments,” Jutta Harmann, spokesperson for the German Tenants’ Association (GTA) explained. “If I move to another apartment [through] the tenant exchange and have not informed the landlord about it, and if the landlord of both apartments does not agree, [the contract] can be terminated.” 

And given that the exchange’s approval is subject to the conditions the landlord sets, Hartmann explained that in many cases, a landlord will try to raise the rent for the new tenant’s contract, thereby nullifying a main draw of completing the swap in the first place.

So while in theory, the Tauschwohnungen process represents a way to make more affordable housing available in cities where it is hard to come by, and some people have been able to take advantage of this alternative, the lack of a legal right to exchange stands to limit its potential.

Could flat swaps become more attractive in future? 

Both Weinert and the GTA believe establishing the legal right to exchange under certain conditions through a federal law would address this issue. Such a law could prevent landlords from raising the rent in the case of a swap, eliminating a key deterrent. But Juttman predicts that a change in policy is not forthcoming anytime soon. 

“At the moment it is absolutely utopian to think that something like this will happen, since in Germany we currently have a federal government with a Ministry of Justice that does not care about tenancy law. So nothing will happen in the near future,” she said.

For now then, it seems that Tauschwohnungen will continue to play only a small role in the housing market. Still, it is worth keeping an eye out for them, as for the lucky ones, it represents an attractive alternative to the slog of the traditional search process.

“I think it’s still far away [from] becoming a normal way to find a new apartment. But we have to watch closely what is happening here,” Weinert said. “It’s a very, very hard market, and people are looking for alternatives to find a new home.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The hidden costs of renting in Germany

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The new innovations that could help solve Munich’s housing crisis

Bavaria's boom in popularity has made living in and around the metropolis of Munich extremely expensive. But some new design concepts may help ease the problem in the future.

The new innovations that could help solve Munich's housing crisis

The popularity of the Bavarian capital and its surrounding areas has resulted in an exorbitant housing market in recent years.

The latest survey by HWWI and Postbank Wohnatlas revealed that Munich is the most expensive city in Germany, with homes costing an average of €9,774 per square metre.

The high costs spill out into the surrounding areas of the city, too, with eight of Munich’s surrounding districts being in the top-ten most expensive areas outside of cities in Germany, according to the HWWI and Postbank Wohnatlas study.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The German regions where property prices are falling and rising the most

But while the German government has failed to meet its own target of building 400,000 new houses a year to ease the housing crisis, localised initiatives are exploring new ways to provide more affordable living spaces.

A research project called “Einfach Bauen” (just build) by the Rosenheim University of Applied Sciences is currently testing out more efficient design principles on model houses in the municipality of Bad Aibling, around 60 kilometres southeast of Munich, to see if they can be used to create affordable housing. 

Head of the Project, Professor Anna Niemann, said that the scheme adopts a “back-to-basics approach”, with more simplified buildings, using technology to combine good indoor climate and energy efficiency.

As a result, the research has found that 3.1 metres is an ideal floor height for housing, as this allows for more efficient use of vertical space, ample natural light, and a favourable indoor climate. Such findings could help enable the construction of high-quality, affordable housing on smaller floor plans.

READ ALSO: Why Germany is seeing the ‘worst housing shortage in 20 years’

Finding a better way to use space is also a priority for Wolfgang Wittmann, Chairman of the Metropolitan Region Munich Association. He told Handelsblatt that in order to address Munich’s housing problem, it’s necessary to “design the functional space in a way that keeps the region competitive”.

His association believes that alternative office concepts also have a role to play in supporting a thriving metropolitan region. Coworking spaces, which have gained popularity in large cities in recent years, are now being explored as a potential solution. 

The Munich Metropolitan Region Association is currently working with coworking space provider 1000 Satellites to find out whether and which locations from Rosenheim to Ingolstadt are suitable for offering office units so that workers in less central areas would have a shorter commute to a working space outside of their homes. 

The aim is to establish coworking spaces in smaller communities surrounding Munich, which would not only cater to young self-employed workers but also to employees from companies which only have offices in the city centre.