Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Apartment search and idiots

Soon after I joined [E3], the company moved from its first-rate, mid-Frankfurt quarters to an outskirts location—giving me a 40-50 minute commute in each direction. I eventually searched for a new apartment. Judging distances to work and city center, and “quality” of neighborhood, I decided on Westend (West End). Having problems finding a reasonably priced apartment without odd disadvantages (such as a bath only accessible through the kitchen), I published a “wanted” ad—clearly stating my target neighborhood. I got all of two calls. The first went roughly:

Moron: I have exactly the thing for you. The apartment is in Ostend [East End]...
I: Westend.
M: No; Ostend
I: I am explicitly looking for a Westend apartment.
M: Yes; but the apartment is in Ostend.
I: Ostend is a worse location than my current one. If you do not have a Westend apartment, you should never have called.
M: Yes; but this apartment is perfect for you!
I: [click]

The other was with a very hesitant and insecure woman, who indicated that she had an apartment “a little outside the target area”. Well, obviously a location in e.g, the west-most part of Nordend (North End), or the city center would be worth considering, so I let her keep talking. It turns out that “a little outside” did not mean outside Westend—it meant outside Frankfurt! Is it so hard to understand that “Frankfurt, Westend” means “Frankfurt, Westend”, not ”Frankfurt or neighboring towns”?

I can only speculate that the price range I mentioned was too low to warrant Westend calls, but high enough to trigger the “greed nerve” in two idiots from lower-priced areas.

(I eventually settled for an apartment in Gallus: A rotten neighborhood, but a five-minute walk from work and a 250-Euro save on my previous monthly rent.)


The events above played out in 2002. In the time since, I have often made the observation that those who pay more only have the assurance that they pay more—not that they will get a higher quality, better service, whatnot. On the contrary, most German businesses, regardless of price range, seem to consider a contract a one-sided and absolute obligation for the customer to pay, while their own contractual duties are subject to the right alignment of the stars. This applies in particular to landlords, who seldom have a reputation to lose (but is very common in other areas too). Indeed, most of the landlords that I have had in Germany have been dishonest, irresponsible, and/or incompetent. One of them, I must literally classify as in severe need of a psychiatrist. Some, him included, seemed to have an attitude less of “I am a paid service provider and should act accordingly” and more of “I am a Roman big shot, the tenants are my clients, and they should act accordingly.” (but, of course, with little regard for the duties of the patron towards the clients).

Correspondingly, I have eventually come to prefer cheaper apartments (appliances, whatnot): The probability of getting my money’s worth is higher that way—and I can use the extra money for other things.

Interestingly, this addendum was written during a general re-read years after the original writing—and the very next item that I read attacks buying expensive from another angle.


In a much later (2023) addendum to the addendum, I have come to believe that there is one very important aspect of apartment prices that I have overlooked—the neighbors. While paying more does not guarantee better neighbors, there does seem to be a strong correlation between rent/price and quality of neighbor. The above Gallus apartment, e.g., had the worst neighbors that I encountered between my last college dorm and my current, owned, apartment. (Bought cheaply and looking like a bargain—until I discovered all the problems around it. Fortunately, the current crop of neighbors is better than the original. TODO link to existing texts once imported.)

This is insofar plausible in that the more intelligent and educated tend to earn more and be more likely to show some consideration for their neighbors, be decent human beings, pay attention to their duties, etc. Additionally, the very young that form the party-crowd are rarely high earners, while migrants from “noisier” cultures and cultures with different societal norms tend to earn less than those from more German-like countries. Looking at one of Charles Murray’s books (maybe, “Coming Apart”) that I read in the interim, I begin to suspect that the main determinant of prices (within a given geographic area) is the expected quality of neighbor...