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Datamining a Flat in Munich (funnybretzel.svbtle.com)
239 points by ilovefood on Sept 24, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 147 comments

The conclusion from this little study, is that a girl with an italian name, gets an 90% answer rate, a guy with an arab name and is younger than 25 gets, 1% answer rate. The master of all, is the young munich guy who is around 25

Sadly, this doesn't surprise me.

Across Europe, numerous anti-discrimination laws have been (rightfully) enacted, but it just pushes any inclination to discriminate that might exist into private. Oh, we "didn't receive" your e-mail, or oh, I "didn't see" your résumé.. This is why some people got upset about Google+ demanding real names and similar "use your real name" policies elsewhere, as even a name alone can be a huge trigger for discriminatory behavior.

Anti-discrimination laws do not solve any problems, they make them worse. If someone is not willing to hire a person because of their ethnicity/color/sex/age/whatever, a law will not make him do it. Finding an excuse is too easy and it is basically impossible to prove such things in court. I recommend watching https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzXXvUjg8Fo

I really dislike this mentality. I think it's counterproductive, and I hope you change your mind.

Laws play their role. Sometimes they walk fine lines between usefulness, uselessness and harmfulness, but they are not unequivocally useless in all such cases. Consider the gay awakening. When I was in high school the world was a qualitatively different place for homosexuals. A worse place.

The axis around which culture has pivoted on this and other issues, is difficult to name. But, an important part of it is just defining, explaining, defending (and sometimes even legislating) what is by our standards an asshole position. If you are so hung up on the idea that men are shagging each other in this world that it affects how you interact with people, you are an asshole. Society says so.

To this day, many non assholes are uncomfortable with gays. Maybe it's conservatism, cultural habit, latent homosexuality, whatever. But, if you're talking to an intelligent young person chances are they'll think of you as a crazy asshole if you start making fidgety mean statements about gays. That's the cultural change and it's a powerful force.

Legislation is a part of that. Perfectly enforceable or not, it allows an avenue for enforcement of blatant cases and formalizes the moral position of our time. Thou shall not be a crazy asshole that gets bent out of shape around the idea of a gay neighbor.

Legislation's role in this is sometime minor, sometimes major and sometimes ineffective. I have no illusions about what legislation can achieve without the winds of change at its back.

But, there is such a thing as our society.

This feels like pie-in-the-sky sort of thinking. Sure, you can make certain kinds of decision making processes illegal, but it doesn't change the hearts and minds of the people making those decisions. As has been said here already, this only pushes those processes out of the public eye and into the private space. Those who would discriminate on illegal grounds will always be able to manufacture plausible deniability, which the posted article clearly demonstrates.

We'd all like to think we're better. That's what leads us down the path of legislating out way out of prejudice. It's not a solution. To me, the article suggests an alternative way to fight it: information. Forget equal opportunity, affirmative action, whatever label you want to put on it. Publishing the data, putting a name with the prejudice on display for everyone to see, is the proper fight. Then the people who profit from the prejudice, and those who participate in the system, can be pressured to change. Failing that, society can marginalize them.

I agree with a lot of what you say, but in reality you actually can legislate morality and change hearts and minds. It doesn't happen as fast as creating the legislation, but over time, hearing a message over and over, it becomes embedded and believed.

So while you may not change a particular person's mind, you stand a chance of changing their kid's mind. There was a time, not that long ago, in America where if you were Black and drank from the wrong water fountain our sat at the wrong spot in a restaurant, you would be killed by a mob.

Legislation about segregation changed that for the better. Probably not in those living in the day, but their kids and kid's kids.

Don't you think the act of creating the legislation is itself part of the peoples' changing hearts and minds? To me it seems like you have the cause and effect reversed.

In order to get the legislation passed you need to convert some hearts and minds. The existance of the legislation converts some more.

Those who would discriminate on illegal grounds will always be able to manufacture plausible deniability, which the posted article clearly demonstrates.

Many people are routinely convicted/fined/sued for anti-discrimination laws. So clearly they won't "always be able to manufactor plausible deniability".

Isn't it a basic right of an owner to rent his property to anyone he likes without explaining the decision (even if the decision is based on racial prejudice)?

Not quite, as long as we as a society want to protect the minorities. Either you force equal treatment, or things can escalate quite quickly:

- basic right of owner to rent property to anyone he likes without explaining the decision (and not to rent to anyone else...)

- basic right of hotel owner to accept anyone he choses (and deny access to anyone else)

- basic right of restarant manager to accept anyone he chooses (and deny service to anyone else)

- basic right of transportation owner to accept anyone he chooses (and deny service to anyone else)

- basic right of hospital operator to accept anyone he chooses (and deny service to anyone else)

Now pick your minority: it might have been Jews or the Slavic for the Nazis, it might have been the blacks in South Africa -- or the US, or homosexuals in Russia. Or the red-headed, the fat, the old, ...

Once you step onto this path, it's hard to put hard stop someplace

Once you step onto this path, it's hard to put hard stop someplace

Not really. You could define some as basic services and deny discrimination on those. Much like e.g. some basic utilities are already prohibited from cutting off supply to debtors while most businesses can.

I'm not saying I agree with not legislating equal treatment, but the slippery slope is not inevitable.

I wonder why economic laws does not work here? I.e. if certain categories of people comes with certain risk in the eyes of landlords, this should be reflected in price, and who don't want to have to deal with adjusting price for risks should loose to once who are more flexible?

Because people aren't rational actors. Economics can't tell us what kind of society we want, nor even help us to estimate risks realistically when cultural biases are at play.

High demand, low supply. A landlord in Munich can ask - more or less - whatever he wants and still find people who are desperate to get a flat. Any flat. For any price.

Of course. Even if all these people were named Hans, age 25, no family and high paid tech jobs, still half of them wouldn't have a place to live. No laws can change the numbers.

Then it's the same thing as just saying "no". Which isn't discrimination, but it's just logical. If the market price for renting is 1000, and I ask you for 10000, that's basically a "no". And to give some glimpses towards answering your question, the basic answer is the laws, and information asymmetry. I am only aware of the local situation, but the law is strongly, to the point of unfairness, in the side of the tenant. And in sum, the owner has less than 1 hour to judge psychologically if the person in front of him is trustworthy. Something that is easily faked.

Somehow I expected first response to mention Nazis... Anyway, renting a flat is just a contract between two people, not a public service. You need to trust the other person and feel comfortable with giving them access to your property. I dont care about minorities or majorities - its my property and I'm the one who's entitled to do anything with it. Laws won't make me accept _any_ offer if I can choose the best one from a large pool. Just introduce some stupid regulations and I bet you won't find any appartment because nobody will be renting.

Sure, but if you base your comfortableness with giving the access to your property to someone, not on their rental history, or credit info or interview, but on the fact that they are say, black, you are discriminating, and you are probably a racist.

Maybe i base my decision on flipping a coin? That's certainly not your (or anyone else's) business - the point is I can do that because until I sign a rental contract I'm free to do whatever I want. There's no contract - there's no legal binding between the owner and a 'candidate'. Any obligations, duties and rights start after the deal is made.

Wrong. Your obligations and duties start the second you make an offer. You may not have obligations to a tenant that doesn't exist, but that doesn't mean you don't have to comply with the applicable laws.

Based off of your opinions in this thread, I highly suggest that you never rent out your property. Your opinions on what the law says will likely end up with you in jail.

So please enlighten me what are the applicable laws and how they can put me in jail for cancelling an offer or choosing one candidate and not the other.


No. There are countless laws for landlords. e.g. if you rent it to someone, you can't kick them out whenever you want, you can't enter the property whenever you want.

Likewise, if you own a shop, you cannot refuse entry to your property based on race/ethnicity. You do not have an absolute right to do whatever you want with your property.

But luckily no law yet can force you to rent your property to someone if you don't want to.

Actually, yes you can be forced. If you have an open offer to rent, and you refuse a qualified tenant on illegal discriminatory grounds, a judge can force you to hold true to that offer.

First of all, they'd have to prove I did something illegal. What makes you think so? Hopefully we still have the right to say just "sorry, I changed my mind, the offer is no longer valid" or "I chose another offer, sorry".

Well, enforcement always was the problem with anti-discrimination laws. But when it is provable in court, you can't just drop the offer. That would be considered a fraudulent offer. In fact, that is one of the few ways that discriminatory landlords are caught: they rescind an open offer after a someone disagreeable applies, and then reopen it later for someone more agreeable.

Property rights aren't absolute. They certainly don't trump civil rights, and anti-discrimination laws are amongst the core of our civil rights laws.

The same way they prove any other type of crime. Sometimes people are blatant (e.g. the english hoteliers who refused to rent a room to a same sex couple), or when you put other facts together it becomes obvious (e.g. at 1:00pm the landlord tells someone with a foreign accent that it's unavailable, but at 3:00pm they tell someone with a different accent that it's available), or sometimes an offer is withdrawn when a certain fact becomes known (e.g. everything is going great until the prospective tenant says he has to call his husband)

You do not have "the right" to choose to not rent your property to someone. If you think it's one of your rights, and you're in the property market, you should talk to a lawyer.

That's why you have to be picky and careful when you decide to rent to someone you don't know. You don't want to be accused of something that's 'obvious' to someone, but is not necessarily the truth. So you naturally prefer people you know and can understand and rule out potential troublemakers early - sorry... And if you have 30 candidates to choose from, well, you know the answer - everyone has some preferences and will use them for making a choice. I'm not very surprised Germans have a preference for young single men of their own nationality with high paid jobs. That's still quite far away from being racist imho - this is just maximizing chances for a trouble-free, decent income.

Just because you'd prefer to rent to people of the same nationality, doesn't mean it's legal. (likewise for age/sex). In your opinon that's not racist. In the law's opinion that is racist, and you can be convicted/fined for it.

You're quite free to believe it's not racist, and that the sky is purple, but the law has different ideas and will act accordingly.

Law doesn't have an opinion. People have opinions. And you have an opinion that I'm a racist. You can have any opinion, but to 'act accordingly' you'd have to prove your claims - and you don't have anything actionable but your own speculations. You don't even know if its true or not, but you're already making accusations. BTW I can't really imagine how I could be convicted for thoughts or beliefs - only actions are punishable AFAIK. Or not? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought_Police

PS a little thought experiment: you're renting an appartment and two people show up - one white and one black, with similar income, jobs and credit history. You have to pick one, so how can you prove your decision was not racist?

I can't really imagine how I could be convicted for thoughts or beliefs - only actions are punishable AFAIK. Or not?

Numerous laws will look at an action and your thoughts to decide what crime you were convicted of (e.g. murder vs manslaughter, theft, intent to commit $CRIME, etc.)

You have to pick one, so how can you prove your decision was not racist?

Cripes, simple examples like that aren't what anti-racism laws are for. It's when 10 black people turn up and the landlord tells them the apartment is gone, but it isn't.

Yes it seems it is, as long as they landlord receives no federal assistance (in the USA): http://www.lawfirms.com/resources/landlord-and-tenant/tenant...

I hope so. It's done on AirBnb, you're perfectly within your rights to refuse a request if something feels fishy.

even more, you can refuse any request and nobody can force you to rent if you decide not to. AirBNB is not anonymous, people are expected to give some information about themselves so the landlords can judge them and make a decision. I think nobody would rent a flat to a completely anonymous person. Is this insane or what? My house is not a hostel...

Racism is not binary. There are spectrums. People who are a little bit racist will be scared off by the law and hire the person so as not to be sued/convicted. Congratulations! anti-discrimination laws have solved a problem! Within an organisation with one/some very racist people, the threat of "that's illegal" can keep them in line and prevent them doing racist things. Anti-discrimination laws succeed again!

Laws against (say) homosexual sex, or norms/laws/rules mentioning homosexuality in schools/TV kept many homosexuals in the closet, hidden and powerless. I hope we can do the same for racism.

I don't speed when I think there's a police speed-trap on a given road. I don't tell lewd jokes in front of strangers. People modify their behaviour to avoid negative consequences.

You don't need to change their deep thinking, necessarily. Just their behaviour. That starts the social change.

I'm getting a "video does not exist" on that link.


Your video isn't viewable.

There's certainly a good amount of racism in Munich (it's really best for a lot of people that you can't understand most drunks around here), and realtors generally aren't the creme of the crop of basic goodness anyway.

But I think a part of it comes down to a higher chance of young people with Arab names either being students (short-term, prone to be loud and messy no matter where they're from) or more likely to bring in additional residents. And most landlord's I've known would prefer if nobody would live at all in the apartment at all...

I don't think 25-year old "Hanz" would be the prime candidate for successes, try faking a 40-something with a job for BMW/Siemens (directly, no freelance/contract) who only needs it to sleep during the weekdays and drives home to his Stuttgart home for the weekends.

Well I'm sure that age has something to do with it, but a 1% response rate is so ridiculously low that you can't just explain that away with age. I'm sure that under 25 german males are not getting responses 1% of the time.

Where did I explain it away with age? I said students & more likelihood of families. Sure, this is profiling, and thus still on the racism spectrum, but maybe not entirely in the deep brown sector.

Of which there is a lot, too, of course. This is Munich, which has a much sadder 9th of November than Berlin.

I think it has more to do with age than to do with origin. When I was looking for a place in the UK after getting my first job and earning decent money I was straight up told by an agency that many landlords wouldn't even consider me because I was "too young to rent a house", even though I had the money for it. Age discrimination is perfectly legal everywhere(apart from job interviews maybe) - think car insurance - so it's very easily used as an excuse for everything. I also think that's wrong.

That was the case for me as well, back when I moved to Munich in 2012. It also helps if you speak at least some German(I didn't), and send emails in German(just ask some colleague or friend to fill it for you). Also, in the end(it took me roughly 3 months to find apartment) I just had a stack of papers which basically would tell everything about me. I dunno if it helps, but I have heard Germans like bureaucracy.

> Age discrimination is perfectly legal everywhere

It's protected alongside the statuses of disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation, to more-or-less the same extent in theory.

There are, however, glaring exceptions when it comes to housing (due to how this protection intersects with property rights), as housing agency industry groups, housing charities, and various other charities explain across the Internet.

I think the most glaring omission is car insurance - if you enquire about insurance you will be straight up told that because you are under 25, the premium is going to be 4x of what it would be normally. No-one bats an eyelid at that - statistics prove that young drivers crash more, so it's all fine, right??

Funnily enough, statistically men crash more than women too - but it's illegal to charge men more, because that would be gender discrimination. It's also illegal to charge someone more for insurance because they are black, christian, or a vegetarian - regardless of how many accidents members of those groups get into. And yet if you are 24, have been driving more than 6 years without an accident, you will still pay more than someone who is 25 and has passed their exam last week. If that is not discrimination then I have absolutely no idea what is.

Indeed. Unfortunately, the car insurance industry has enough clout to keep doing whatever they want to do, pretty much.

We'll see what the EU do eventually - but I'm going to bet the UK either ignore it or find a loophole.

Funnily enough, statistically men crash more than women too - but it's illegal to charge men more, because that would be gender discrimination.

In the EU this became illegal recently. It also applied to women, who live longer than men, so were being charged higher life assurance. It just shows how anti-sexism laws can, and do, benefit men.

OP says a german guy named Hans gets answer all the time. So has nothing to do with age.

Could it not be both?

I've noticed something similar here in NYC as I've been apartment hunting. There are postings that will ask for a link to your facebook/instagram/twitter before they'll even show you the property. I'm not saying that it's always motivated by discriminatory behavior, but if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck...

Anti-discrimination laws just mean people get punished for openly discriminating; it doesn't change the culture, at least not until the law slowly turns into a societal norm. Which, for some people or societies, just won't happen in this generation.

Can you use the law to punish someone for not responding to an email from 21 year old Mohammed asking if he can rent your apartment?

Renting out an apartment can lead to some very difficult situations (basically because the law isn't going to help you get out of them).

Everyone I know that rents out properties here in Belgium applies a very strict filter when selecting tenants; I would do the same and not feel bad about it for a second.

Can you use the law to punish someone for not responding to an email from 21 year old Mohammed asking if he can rent your apartment?

Yes. If you will not rent out your apartment to someone based on their ethnicity/race, that's illegal. If you don't like it, get out of the apartment rental business.

It's just so hard to prosecute people for it.

Realistically nobody would know if you're using ethnicity as the basis of your decision right?

... but certainly someone could accuse you of being a racist because you didn't rent to them. So it's quite natural you as a landlord would prefer to have only candidates of same race and same nationality (not difficult at all, just don't respond to anyone with a foreign name) Try forcing more 'anti-discrimination' laws and people will rather keep the appartment unoccupied than risk being taken to court

In some regions (e.g. EU) ethnicity is defined as the same thing as race for anti-discrimination law.

Thanks for the input ! Maybe I should try it with jobs, just for a test, and write an article about it. :)

Such tests have been performed: "Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback" http://www.nber.org/digest/sep03/w9873.html

I believe I have read a study (can't dig it up) where a simple switch to a female name in the context of a technical job made the response rate drop.

BuzzFeed has the story of a guy named José who could not get callbacks until he changed the name on his resume to Joe http://www.buzzfeed.com/adriancarrasquillo/meet-jose-zamora-...

Whilst there is no reason to disbelieve the core tenet of this article (white guys have better chances than hispanic guys in that region), the extreme hyperbole employed doesn't help the message. Months without any replies (like, 0.1% response rate) turned into a 90% response rate due to just a name change is difficult to believe and doesn't jibe with other more stringent research.

While hard to believe, it is still true.

I graduated with a BSME from Nebraska, and my first name is Earle. I went for ~3 months without any responses to resumes or applications, until I added my middle name. I started working a new job within two weeks, and now have to go by my middle name at work. All because "Earle from Nebraska" must be a redneck hick.

My case is almost certainly not racially motivated, but literally the only change I made was my name.

it's not race, it's culture - which usually involves race, but not always, in your case. change your name to 'bubba' or 'cletus' and try to land some interviews with a company based in the northeast.

i'm an asian guy with an ultra generic anglo first and last name and i've never really had any trouble getting interviews. in fact when i show up and i'm asian they usually have a nice little chuckle and are pleasantly surprised. generally asians in technology at the worker-level don't get discriminated against unless they have thick accents (which i don't).

i've seen resumes with asian first/last names that have a note under the name that says "natural born US citizen, authorized to work anywhere in the US and territories" or something to that effect. it's a good thing, in my opinion. it signals multiple things in one neat little sentence.

Just write an article about it :)

I have been stupid enough to be devastated twice when an Italian named Andrea arrived to the meeting.

This won't be popular, but "discrimination" can be for good reasons and for bad reasons.

My sympathies, I lived in Munich 15 years ago and it was a nightmare to find a place even back then. I've heard it's only gotten worse.

We (Nestoria.de) aggregate listings of most of the players in real estate in Germany (IS24, immowelt, immonet, süddeutsche, others) and offer an API. We also offer an API of price trends (ie what the avg rent is in an area and if it's going up or down).

Enjoy: http://www.nestoria.co.uk/help/api-search-listings

Wish I knew it when I was moving to Munich 6 months ago. Sounds like a tough job, some of those sites aren't structured very well. I thought about automating it too, but it seemed like too much hassle back then.

I have to say though, when you are a german couple, have a double income with no children/no pets, its not that hard to find something. I don't envy the rest though!

One of our biggest challenges is making the service known. The problem is real estate is a low frequency category. When you are searching, you care a lot, when you aren't you couldn't care less. As a result, even if we do a great job, once you find a place you gone.

We've been doing it for many years and have tried many things, but if anyone has further suggestions always happy to learn.

I imagine, real estate keywords are probably very expensive. Also, I have an ad blocker.

In cities like Munich, speed is very important - is your search real-time or at least near rt? If so, I'd advertise that. I need to be sure I'm not missing any offerings, and that they aren't slower to show than when going to the 'real' site.

Ha! Unfortunately nothing about the real estate industry is real time.

We do the best we can and push our partners to do the same. Over the years it is getting better, but it is not close to what consumers want.

That said, speed is a much bigger issue in some markets (rentals in cities like Munich) and much less in others (buying a house out in a village).

Wow, good to know! I'm currently looking for a flat in Berlin and will definitely use the site. Let's see if I also write some automation around it as the OP apparently did :)

Question: how does nestoria make money? Do you get some cut from immowelt etc. in case you end up renting/buying?

We generate leads for our partners, the same model as all search engines.

That's a really cool site, I wish I knew about it when I was looking for a flat in London.

How do you compare to the more popular sites such as Zoopla?

Glad you like it. If you're interested in any of the tech behind the scenes, please check out our dev blog: http://devblog.nestoria.com

It's really hard to build something simple, especially in more chaotic markets like India and Brazil.

re: Zoopla, they are one of our best partners. They are a great portal, we are a search engine. Complimentary tools for different tasks.

Do you scrape those sites, or use their rss feeds or ... ? I think it's a great concept, just wonder about the legality of it.

We have contracts with and datafeeds from all of them. We've been in business since 2006, in Germany since 2008.

We work very closely with our partners to try to improve the data. It's not always easy. I gave a talk about this at csv,conf in Berlin in July, slides are here: http://www.slideshare.net/lokku/a-living-hell-lessons-learne...

Great slides, thanks a lot for the link.

"Unless you hate life, do NOT try to scrape real estate data"

With this conclusion, do you mean web scraping or just processing the datafeeds of your partners?

Haha, I went through a smaller-scale version of those problems, and your presentation is spot-on :) , I can totally relate.

If I search for appartments to let in germany, the flyout menu only offers to filter for buying prices. See screenshot: https://i.imgur.com/BmUd4bh.png

Thanks for making me aware.

Thanks for the link, your site is brilliant!

Thanks, you should tell EVERYONE you know.

In seriousness though, while we do try our best (not just in Germany, but eight other countries as well), the situation he describes is one that the internet doesn't do a good job of solving. Basically demand way outstrips supply in cities like Munich. As a result, if you have a good flat or house you want to rent out, really all you need to do is tell 5-10 people and via word of mouth you'll very quickly have more than enough high quality applicants. You really don't need online tools.

An interesting result is that we're now starting to see start-ups that reverse the model. In Köln/Düsseldorf there is https://salzundbrot.com (a Nestoria partner) who are free for owners/landlords, but charge applicants a small fee to make contact. Will be interesting to see if it catches on.

The reality though is there is just way more demand than supply. Normally that would be solved by price rises, but the rate of rent increases is reguated by law.

All that said, while I have sympathy with Munich renters, I now live in central London, where the problem is at another order of magnitude. As I always say "London isn't expensive, the rest of the world is cheap".

As somebody unfamiliar with London but considering moving there, it would be great if instead of specifying a geographical radius for the search I could specify a commuting time radius with respect to the City. This would probably be useful even to natives, as I'm sure there are probably many areas where people overestimate commuting times and consequently avoid an area that otherwise should see greater housing demand (thereby levelling out demand and prices, in time, in other areas).

Of course I understand implementing something like this is quite complex, and you'd most likely have to precompute these things and limit it to a few common business centers as destinations, but it would be really preferable to my current strategy of "look for something that seems reasonably priced and then use another site to figure out if it falls within the 1hr commute window I'm looking for".

This gets asked for occasionally. The thing is though, there are not that many people who truly have no idea where they want to live. Most people have at least some idea based on where their friends already live, where they will be working, etc

Over the years I have seen numerous services that allowed people to search the way you describe. They all typically die out after a year or two, as all evidence suggests there just isn't enough volume of people searching the way you describe to sustain them.

So it's not something we'll focus on. Sorry, I know that's probably a frustrating answer for you.

Good luck with your hunt.

Thanks for the insight!


Perfect, thank you!

Checked out Salz und Brot - Cologne's where I lived for quite some time and where I'd like to return to in the future. Family just didn't make it viable - the rent is just too high/we can't afford it and moved elsewhere.

And just to confirm the craziness the first apartment I checked out in Cologne [1] (for fun, not seriously planning to move atm) requires you to pay 1300 EUR for the kitchen (sure, makes sense), a bit of furniture (common) and - I wonder what they're smoking - the floor (Echtholzboden). You're "buying" the floor in a rented apartment? Look at the pictures. Are you going to take that with you when you move out?

Not sure if that's something you care about, but you mention that this site is a partner of yours. The UI's broken in my browser (Aurora/Firefox Nightly) - if you got contacts that might be something to look into? [2]

1: https://salzundbrot.com/suche/#!search={"f2":1000}&x=1&view=...

2: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1194203/SalzUndBrot.png

thanks, I've passed it on.

Sounds like we really have it good here in Berlin, even though everyone is still complaining...

I do not know about the situation in Munich, but I spent lots of time looking for a place in Bonn last year and from my experience the approach from the article has one serious flaw:

While the real estate websites offer contact forms to send e-mails, many people hate dealing with e-mails. Landlords and even "professional" real estate agents often ignore e-mails. Sometimes it is because of the sheer volume they get, but I suspect often it is just that they never really adapted to the medium.

Many (most?) ads include a phone number. And I have had far better results by calling than by sending an e-mail. You should of course be one of the first people to call...

I can confirm. I discovered this fact very quickly when I was looking for a flat in Munich in 2009. Almost no replies to emails, I got a pretty good response rate when I called or texted the people. I spoke some German so getting a viewing wasn't that complicated but the competition was big - sometimes tens of people queuing to view the apartment when I got there and I could tell they would typically prefer a German person over a Czech guy speaking imperfect German.

Reversing the problem is also a good idea, I know some people had success buying an ad in Sueddeutsche Zeitung. At one point I also put up printed ads in supermarkets in the areas I was considering and while the response rate was very low, I got at least some response.

There are also some agencies that in fact own flats and rent them without requiring the 2.5 x rent fee.

I was going at first to agree with you based on my experience with Berlin: when the ads there give a particular date in which the apartment will be shown, those interested have to fill a form right after seeing it. So in this situation there's no incentive for the owner to check the e-mails.

However, that doesn't explain why both the Italian girl and Hanz from Munich got over a 90% answer rate - if they didn't check the e-mails, the response rate should have been lower.

So while I agree about that one flaw, I don't really think it affects the results that much.

Do not get me wrong, I do not disagree with his findings. That is probably very accurate and that is awful.

But originally he was not out to mine this data. He actually needed a place to live, and I wanted to point out that he might have approached this the wrong way.

Personally I prefer e-mail over phone calls. A lot. So this was not obvious to me up until my experience last year.

We tried to rent an appartment in Cologne. Took us nearly a year. I would never again try to rent from private landlords.

But once we decided it's okay for us to pay provision we got a nice new flat from a company within 2 month. The credit of the provision basically raises the rent for the first few years, but at least we didn't have to deal with landlords anymore. There were too much forms, credit checks and awkward talks.

I'm in the business of renting out flats. Not in Munich. Sadly, I'm in a lower-demand market, and I wouldn't rush to classify this as "discrimination".

It is very very difficult to deal with bad tenants. They exist, a lot of them. And it is very very difficult to know who is a bad tenant through these websites and Facebook groups. The problem here is an information problem. If these sites gave the person applying for a flat the chance to give information to prove they are good enough, that would be a blessing, both for (good) renters and for landlords.

I am not talking about financial information. I would be pretty happy with some references that would indicate the person is honest and serious and easy to deal with, even if they don't have much money; some access to Facebook profile and posts or other data available at the internet would do the job for me.

Why the heck shouldn't I classify this as discrimination? He tried Hans, an Italian female name, and his own, I believe is Karim. And he gets less replies than any other.

He probably wrote a pretty darn good e-mail saying how educated and well-behaved he is, bla bla from Paris have degrees etc, but guess what, no replies. Just because of his name! That is what I call discrimination, and in Germany it is pretty common.

What if the tenants have had more bad experiences with male arab tenants and more good experiences with female italians? Could it be called "science" instead of "discrimination"?

We are not talking about a single tenant here, OP had enough data to mine, we are talking about whole munich.

Are you telling me that whole munich had arab tenants at least once in their past?

No, because they did not look at him as an individual after categorizing him. This is exactly discrimination.

For example, why would anyone expect the same behaviour from a single black criminal drug-addict as from a married black lawyer with kids? The fact that they share the same skin-tone is the least important hint to their potential behaviour, and yet, historically, it's what people use because it's the first thing they see.

Maybe "discrimination" is other name for "bad decision when good information about the other part is lacking".

Maybe, if you're unable to own up to calling your discrimination "discrimination."

I was recently looking for a new flat in Berlin, and I didn't have the same type of problem the OP had, but once I had an interview, I had to make a decision on whether I wanted the flat or not quite quickly. So I used a variant of the optimal strategy of the secretary problem[0]: Decided on a rough maximal number of flats I wanted to visit N, visit N/e flats without real intention of renting, to sample the market, and then take the first flat that is better than all of the previously viewed flats. Worked out remarkably well for me.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secretary_problem

I'm one of the founders at OpenRent (UK rental site [1]), and loved your post. We face this kind of problem daily, and have tools in place to make sure our landlords reply to all tenants - even if it's to provide a reason why they're not suitable.

We're constantly looking at better ways to solve this problem and improve the tenant experience - and your post will prove an excellent bit of anecdotal insight for us. Our data is similar, showing even just a name can impact response rate!

To those suggesting all applicants should provide more data (facebook / linkedin / credit history), it's not always that simple. Still in the UK many renters don't have an online "presence". And whilst that may not be a problem for landlords with "hot" properties, putting off tenants for landlords with little demand is an absolute no go for us - sure, we want applicants to be of a high quality, but just because they don't have that information doesn't mean they aren't suitable.

We think allowing tenants to provide more information, whilst supporting all application levels is key - but making it clear that the more data you provide the higher your chances of success and a quick response (even if it's a simple no) isn't always easy.

[1] - https://www.openrent.co.uk

It is not really "open" if you have to pay, right?

You don't have to pay to use the site, apply for properties, or advertise properties - the fact that wasn't immediately clear is something we probably need to work on!

We charge to advertise on external websites only (who charge us), to conduct referencing (because it costs us), and to set up tenancies (again, because it costs us) - rental transactions complete daily on our site completely for free.

Sorry for the misunderstanding. Now that you explained it, I think this is a GREAT business model.

Thank you for existing.

(Does it work great? Do you have a lot of paying customers?)

We have over 15k landlords, and let a property on average in less than a week - so yes, I think it works pretty well. :-)

The more people using our platform, the better it gets, so really we just need to work on our marketing - starting with making sure people understand our concept from the word go. Would you mind explaining why you thought there was a charge, and what pages helped you understand the business better?

When you land the website, you see two boxes, one is labeled "TENANTS" and the other "LANDLORDS". One says "NO FEES", the other "ONLY £29".

It was clear to me that landlords had to pay a fee.

Would you care to share how did you overcome the network effect when starting OpenRent?

Hanz with a Z? Surely a Bavarian hiphop artist!

> a girl with an italian name, gets an 90% answer rate, a guy with an arab name and is younger than 25 gets, 1% answer rate


I pay less than €800 for my 45m² 3 subway stops away from the central station. And I found it by talking to people within 3 months ... :) Paying more than €800 for a small room means even by Munich standards just that you are getting ripped off.

Getting an answer is only the first step. Afterwards you are invited with around 20-30 other persons to visit the flat. It's like cattle looking for a new shed.

When I was looking for a flat together with my girlfriend 3 years ago, we got several viewings of our own together with the agent.

This seems to depend completely on whether the commission is paid by the owner or the tenant - the only time we had a "crowded" viewing (but still only about 5 other people) was for a flat where the commission was paid by the owner.

Another factor might have been that we were looking in the outskirts of Munich - if you think you absolutely need to live in Schwabing or Glockenbachviertel, it's your own damn fault.

Two years ago I was in a similar situation. I had 6 weeks to find a fully furnished apartment in Munich from 800km away. For me the response rate for furnished apartments was 100%, although some simply said the apartment has been rented out already.

I also turned to crawling. I regularly crawled IS24's furnished apartment section and put new entries into a Google Fusion Table. That way I could filter on fields and see the apartments on a map at the same time. This wasn't automated as much as the original poster's solution. But my main requirement was that the apartment be near a subway station of a line that stops at my place of work, which is not that easy to automate.

After about a week I found an apartment that was rented out by the owner directly (none of that agent fee nonsense). I was the first to contact the guy - a few minutes after it was posted. I had to decide if I take it the same day. Based only on pictures... It was a good deal. Colleagues of mine were paying MUCH MORE and got MUCH LESS.

Cool post.

We want to buy something in Munich and indeed, even if you are prepared to spend a million or more, it is extremely hard to get an invitation to visit a place (Even if you are in the right age and your wife is an italian girl, like mine).

It would be really cool to outwit the real estate dealers in the way you did it. I keep thinking. Ideas are welcome.

They didn't outwit the dealers, they "outwitted" other people looking for flats by crowding them out via spamming the dealers.

Not really, TLDR says he found his apartment thru friends in the end, so all this crawling was for nothing.

> Appartment rental agencies cost roughly 3 times the monthly rent, which accounts for around 2000€. No need to say this was a no go for me as I prefer keeping that money and making something good out of it.

As far as I know this fee will soon have to be paid by the landlord rather than the potential tenant (by german law).

Sometimes, the real estate agents already take it from both sides.

Indeed, there is a law in preparation, that you pay, if you contacted the agent to find a flat, but the owner pays, if he asked the agent to find a tenant.

I tell you what will happen: you'll never get a contract to rent a place, unless you sign that the agent worked for you, not for the owner.

But surely they will just pass the fee to the tenant in the form of higher rent?

... in the form of higher and recurring rent.

Such a law would do absolutely nothing in these kind of high-demand low-supply situations. The landlord doesn't really need those agencies, they're flooded in offers anyway.

I was very surprised to find Caracas at #9 in the linked article of most expensive cities in the world; Venezuela having a pro capita GDP of around $13K I would have expected the cost of life to be quite low.

Does anyone have first hand experience of that, or an explanation of why it is so?


It's an oil country. I'd not be surprised to find it's full of million-dollar apartments driving the average up. Maybe the low wage workers live beyond the city boundary, or in favelas that are excluded from the average.


The study was probably done at the governments official exchange rate which is far off from the black market rate. Which would make it seem more expensive.

I would not believe any of the numbers in that article.

Just look at the numbers for Paris vs Munich. Paris is higher in everything but is ranked one behind Munich.

And what about politicians demanding 40% is female, while only 10% of the candidates are female... That is actually one silly law (i'm not trying to discriminate, but it's kinda unfair for finding the best candidates).

I've just finished doing the same for Edinburgh, UK and share many of the OP's frustrations. The monopoly that many letting agencies have in that they are also managing apartments adds to the shortage of accommodation in Europe's largest cities. Unlike in previous years, besides a worsening of the availability of accommodation I have also noticed an increase in scammers this year (i.e. people copying pictures from other city's agencies and trying to convince people to pay pre-deposits or application/administrative fees to 'secure keys').

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, identifies people like this author as "mavens". :-)

The world is better off for having them.

Maybe you could say some more about it, to make it useful for people who haven't read that book?

It's a significant portion of the book so to summarize in a tiny comment will likely not do justice to the concept. However, I'll try. :-)

In essence, maven comes from Yiddish, and it means "one who accumulates knowledge". Economists spend a lot of time studying mavens and their habits.

Mavens are the people who will analyze every big screen TV on the market, pouring over data, correcting consumer report articles on minutia, and looking for the best deal. They're also the ones who analyze flight itineraries looking for the best combination of layovers and low fare, and they are the tiny fraction of people who actually read the prices on goods in a supermarket and will complain when the supermarket writes "special offer" on something without actually lowering the price, thus holding the market to account.

The interesting thing about mavens is that they not only pour over this data for their own purposes, but they actively share it with the world (even if 'world' only means 'other people they talk to directly') at large in order to help others, consciously or unconsciously.

The work of the few obsessors benefits everyone because markets don't "get away" with conning us.

You just made me want to read this book... Thank you.

You won't regret it!

What was your dataset of people who were applying? If a girl with an Italian name gets 90% and a guy with an arab name and is younger than 25 gets 1%, what about the in-between?

I'd be curious to know where I stand..

> This was pretty easy as there is absolutely no captcha system used by that time, on those websites

Captcha is not really a problem if you are willing to spend a few cents.

"Reasonnable means that the rent doesn’t exceed 800€ for a 15m² flat"

Is living in 15 m² reasonable ?

I live in a studio of about 30 m² and I find it claustrophobic at times.

He hinted that he lived in Paris. There, somebody leaving alone in about 13 m^2 (the minimum surface that can be rented legally) is not uncommon. Priced dropped lately, but one or two years ago, less than 800€ for 15 m^2 in a very central place in Paris was a "reasonable" price. I live in Paris and 30 m^2 for one person is just not a possibility unless you make 3000+€/mo. Many young people flatshare.

He can't afford more than a 15m² flat but even these are sometimes too expensive. That's not what he says literally, but it's probably his idea, considering that nobody would like to live in just 15 m² but many people have an upper limit on what they can pay.

I was wondering if you can actually find flats that small.

While I was looking here in Madrid, the least I could find were 20/25 m2 flats.

Regardless, as someone that has shared the author's pains multiple times, kudos to him for the creativity of his method.

I have no idea where they got that number from. I got a flat of 50m² last fall for ~850 €/month including heating. Top-level floor, close to the river, not too far from the underground, though not really in the city centre. I sent some emails and saw three flats, picking the second one.

I lived in a 16 m² studio for several years.

I basically used it only for sleeping and being at the computer.

I was both working full-time and pursuing a degree (at least 4 hours of classes + 2-3 hs of study time), so I didn't have much in the way of free time to consider it claustrophobic :)

My thoughts exactly. Here I was, complaining that it's hard to get an affordable apartment in my city, and they live in teeny tiny rooms in Europe!

Brilliant punchline.

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