German property firms: Safe as houses

THE British are obsessed with property ownership, but Germans, by and large, are happy to rent. The European Union’s biggest economy also has its lowest rate of owner-occupied housing, and the highest proportion of people living in homes rented at market prices (as opposed to state-subsidised ones). That is why rising rents, not rising house prices, were a theme in Germany’s recent elections, with even the conservative Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union showing sympathy for some kind of “rent brake”.Germany’s renter-heavy housing market has unique historical and cultural causes—and interesting consequences. Much housing has been owned by state or city governments, or public-sector firms like Deutsche Bahn, the national railway. Germans have usually put their savings into banks rather than homes. But the gradual privatisation of Germany’s housing stock has led to the emergence of unusual beasts: big, stockmarket-listed property firms which mainly rent out homes, not offices or shops. Two of the biggest will soon become one: this week GSW Immobilien said it had agreed to a takeover by Deutsche Wohnen.

If the deal goes ahead, the…

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