How to find a building plot in Germany – the best strategies

From “Subscribe All” to Foreclosure

How do we find a building plot? This question has also occupied us for about three years. In the process, the search is also an evolution and ultimately the weighing of one’s own wishes. What has priority? What is a “must have”, what is merely a “nice to have”? And, if you are searching as a couple, the property search is also work on the relationship. Who has what desires, what will be addressed, what can be neglected? – After all, if you’ve landed on this post, you’ve already taken an important step: You have agreed that it should be a new building! That was not clear for us for a long time – for me, even a (large) apartment with subway connection in Hamburg would have been enough – spoiler alert: we are building in a community of 20,000 souls.

Procedure in the search for a building plot

When the decision is made that it should be the home of one’s own, one goes, as in our case, on the search for a suitable plot of land.

Preparation: clarify financing with the bank to be able to act quickly

One point has been essential in our entire, year-long search: In order to be able to act quickly and, in case of doubt, land a lucky strike, preparation is the be-all and end-all. It’s best to go to the bank as early as possible and clarify your personal financial circumstances.

This is quicker with some banks and slower with others. It is good to have a generic financing commitment up your sleeve, on which, simply put, your solvency up to a certain amount is certified. This is the case in large new housing developments, for example, when everything is marketed by one or a few developers. However, they usually also accept their own bank form. We made the initial commitment through Interhyp, for example. In the end, we financed the project with our house bank – an article on this will follow.

Sign up for newsletters

Once you have determined the region in which you are searching, the first important action is to order newsletters from local brokers and place searches there and on general platforms. People also search on Ebay classifieds. And found! We have seen a few cases where, for example, a semi-detached house builder was found through the channels. For us, this was nothing, but whoever places such a request, builds his dream house on his terms with his chosen builder. This was not our idea and not our house size.

By the way, land prices and the required size of the plot also guide you towards a suitable region. We determined that we would need at least 600 square meters of land to build our dream house. Financially, that would have been beyond our means in Hamburg, no matter how we turned it. And we really did a lot of back and forth thinking, including in terms of building on a larger lot (where the price per square meter tends to go down) with a duplex and selling/renting the second half.

Keeping an eye on foreclosures

A good tip we received was also foreclosure auctions. This can be worthwhile in particular because it may also be possible to approach the responsible bank or debtors/disagreeing parties in order to obtain a result before the actual auction. Our experience with the competent district courts was exclusively that a bid security had to be paid in each case. This amounted to 10 percent of the starting auction price. This means that here, too, you have to approach your bank in preparation if you are in any doubt. A bank guarantee was an option that was not welcomed and that we could not fall back on.

Unfortunately, due to Covid and access restrictions, we repeatedly failed to find a building plot that was of interest to us, so that in the end we found something else.

Design flyers and really tell everyone you are looking for property

In addition to word of mouth – you should really tell everyone, including work colleagues and distant relatives, what you are looking for – we also created a flyer later on, on which we introduced our family and roughly outlined the purpose for which we were looking. We then duplicated it and dropped it off in our favorite neighborhoods with owners whose gardens looked large enough (best to check against development possibilities beforehand) or whose houses looked so old and dilapidated that they would have to be torn down anyway. This way, you could at least get plots of land that might not even be on the market yet, or bypass realtors, whose fees are also quite steep.

Checking development plans, deriving plot sizes

What we also didn’t know beforehand is what minimum size our plot would have to be in order to achieve a “feel-good factor” for us. Theoretically, you can put a footprint of 170 square meters on a 350 square meter lot. – Practically, this is not possible for several reasons.

  • Reason 1: Distance to the neighbor. In German law, there are distance requirements that regulate the distance to neighboring properties and vary from state to state.
  • Reason 2: Development plan (B-Plan). In cases where there is a development plan for a residential area, there are usually two numbers that make the example above impossible: GRZ and GFZ. These regulate floor area of the house depending on the size of the plot and the maximum size of individual floors. An example: a plot is 500 square meters and there is a GRZ of 0.2. This is very common in Hamburg and specifies that the house may have a maximum floor area of 100 square meters (20 percent or 0.2 x 500 square meters). The terrace counts as part of this in Hamburg, so we would not have been allowed to build our dream house with external dimensions of 9 x 11 meters – we didn’t want to do without a terrace there. In the end, the price was an impossibility, so we had to change our search focus.
  • Reason 3: §34 Neighborhood Development. In residential areas without a development plan (mostly those with older buildings, e.g. houses from the 70s to 90s), you have to orientate yourself on the surrounding buildings. For this purpose, the immediate neighbors to the left/right/across or in the street are usually taken,
  • Reason 4: Building depth. The building depth is usually also regulated in development plans and may also put a spanner in the works if you have big plans, because you are only allowed to build up to a certain distance from the street.
Conversations about hypothetical no-go’s are pointless

With the sometimes insane specifications in German B-plans, you should not try to discuss from the outset what restrictions you can live with and which ones you cannot. We have always made it dependent on a case-by-case basis. In Hamburg, for example, there was once someone who sold his garden for development to the rear. However, the B-Plan stipulated that the knee floor on the upper floor could be a maximum of 50 cm. For our idea not practicable to have only slopes and no vertical wall surface. Also with bay windows one could not have helped oneself. In contrast, our current B-Plan, which has not yet been finally approved, stipulates that the façade color is only permitted in the shade of red. We saw this as a sensible trade-off, since through clever negotiations between the building application department and the city’s building department, we would at least not have had to lower the roof edge and thereby reduce the living space. More on that in our post on negotiating skills with the building permit.

However, worrying about every little thing does nothing in advance. And believe me, you can’t have that much imagination, how partly is regulated in German building plans. This ranges from the color scheme of the house to hedges that can only be selected from a small list of permissible plants, that may not exceed a certain maximum height, to the requirement that no compost may be placed on the property.

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