What to do with savings during tough times? Gold was long a favorite safe haven for investors, but many are turning now to real estate. Home finance banks are seeing record numbers.
Thanks to the debt crisis and turbulence all over the markets, a rather old-fashioned investment is back in style: buying houses. Andreas Zehnder, Chairman of the Board of the Association of Private Bausparkassen, said Germany's private home finance banks, known as Bausparkassen, saw an increase in business last year and expect to see a rise in 2012 as well.
He added that 2011 also brought a 20 percent increase in approved applications to build homes - a sign that people may see home ownership as a safer investment than the markets.
"That's especially because people see homes as having tangible value and also as a good investment for old age," Zehnder told DW.
Last year, private Bausparkassen took in a record 18 billion euros ($23.6 billion) in savings deposits, Zehnder noted, adding, "Another positive sign is that the total volume of home savings rose in 2011 by ten percent to 100 billion euros."
Real estate isn't just hot among those looking for a new place to live. Many are buying up buildings as an investment, and the big demand is driving up prices and rent across the country. Christian Schulz-Wulkow, a partner with Ernst & Young Real Estate, said southern Germany is the most expensive area, with Munich residents paying 13 euros per square meter in rent.
In Frankfurt, residents can expect to pay 12 euros per square meter. But those who live in the former East German states pay less. In cities like Leipzig or Magdeburg, rent costs just about five euros per square meter.
Beating the tumult
The German real estate market has withstood market turbulence seen throughout much of Europe, as a study titled "Real Estate Investment Market 2012" by Ernst & Young Real Estate showed. Around 80 German investors including banks, real estate investment companies and asset management companies took part in a survey as part of the Ernst & Young study. Domestic real estate ranked highly among the investors surveyed for its economic stability, said Schulz-Wulkow, one of the study's authors.
In fact, there are signs that the real estate market in the EU's biggest economy is more attractive now than before the euro crisis. 99 percent of the study's participants ranked Germany as an attractive place for investments.
"Housing and retail developments are especially in favor with those we surveyed," Schulz-Wulkow told DW.
This year was the first time that Ernst & Young also polled investors in 11 European countries other than Germany, with around 540 firms taking part. Real estate entrepreneurs see Germany, Sweden and Switzerland as profitable areas, and they also tend to agree that Germany has become more valuable following the financial crisis.
Schulz-Wulkow said since concerns about inflation across Europe remain high, interest in real estate is up - even as traditionally attractive locations for investors like the Netherlands, France or the UK have lost some of their appeal.
Expectations for 2012 remain moderate. The majority of respondents believe that only Germany, France and Luxembourg will see a higher transaction volume in private and commercial real estate than in 2011. Germany's transaction volume last year was 28 billion euros.