Practical tips on researching German property (real estate) online
Many of our clients want to sell German property. Either because they move abroad or because they have inherited German real estate and decide not to keep it. Some of our clients in Anglo-German inheritance cases do not even know where exactly the German plot of land is located. They just have heard rumours that “granny, uncle or aunt so and so” had owned property in X town or the Y region. If there are no title deeds or other documents to be found which show the exact land register number or at least the postal address of said property, the research becomes difficult.
No central land register in Germany
As we have explained in this post, Germany does not have one central land registry which could be contacted for a property research. Instead, the land register is kept at the local circuit courts (Amtsgerichte). Germans, traditionally, are data protection purists and they want it that way. Nosy neighbors shall not be able to find out who owns what, much less how much that piece of land is worth. For details see here.
Thus, an enquiry whether a certain person owned land in a specific German region or town is only successful if the enquirer can demonstrate a “legitimate interest” (in German: berechtigtes Interesse). Furthermore, such enquiries must be sent to all local land registries where the executors or beneficiaries suspect the property could be situated.
In German probate cases, there sometimes is a possible shortcut available: Upon a person’s death in Germany, the German tax authorities (Finanzamt) as well as the probate court (but sometimes only upon request of the probate registrar) receice an automatic notification if and where the deceased owned real estate. If you are the heir, you may find out about the property situation by requesting a copy of the probate file. The German buzzword for such an application to see the probate file is called: Antrag auf Akteneinsicht in die Nachlassakte.
Research on specific plots of land
While you cannot simply find out the owner of a German plot of land just by going online, you can do some basic research about a specific property itself. This requires that you at least know the street address or — even better — the land registry plot number (Flurstück, Flurnummer). With that information you can explore the exact location, borderlines, exact size and altitude of said property.
Here’s an example: You find yourself as the closest surviving relative of your German aunt Hilde who died without a will. Thus, you are her sole heir. In her documents, there are no German title deeds or other land registry papers. But you find a German land tax bill which states “Grundbuch Neckarsulm, Grundbuchblatt 14464, Flurstück 5631”. This reads rather cryptic but this information exactly specifies the German plot of land.
Each German state (Bundesland) runs a so called “geoportal“, a website providing geographical information about the land. In the above example, the German plot of land is located in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, near the city of Neckarsulm. In Baden-Würtemmberg, the gepgraphical information system platform is https://www.geoportal-bw.de/ If you enter “Neckarsulm 5631”, i.e. the German land registry plot number, the system shows you this map in which the specific strip of land is highlighted yellow.
Do not confuse the Geoportal with the Land Registry
Again, this geoportal has nothing to do with the German land registry (Grundbuchamt) which is kept at the local circuit court. This, the geportal contains no information whatsoever about the owners (title holders). It does, however, show you the exact boundaries of the property and you can measure the size of the respective plot of land by using an online tool.
In the German Grundbuch, that same property would be referred to and defined like this:
The land register focuses on the exact definition of the plot of land, its permitted use (in this case agriculture) and its size (in this case 1,514 square meters).
More information on buying and selling real estate in Germany, the German land registry and the conveyancing process in these posts:
- Legal guide to buying a house or apartment in Germany
- Tenants beware of Waiver Clauses in German Property Lease Agreements
- Buying German Property as Brexit Counter-Strategy
- Template of German Land Sale & Purchase Agreement
- Is “Miteigentum” in a German Property the same as “Tenancy in Common”?
- Apartment Prices in Germany: How to get a quick Overview
- Searching for Property Information in the German Land Registry
Or simply click on the sections “Property” or “Conveyancing in Germany” in the right column of this blog.
The law firm Graf & Partners has been assisting businesses, private clients and international law firms since 2003. We advise and represent foreign clients who wish to purchase, sell or lease property in Germany. Do not hesitate to contact German solicitor Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester) on +49 941 463 7070 or send an email to: mail [-at-] grafpartner.com.