For my upcoming move to the Kaiserslautern area, I began searching for apartments in the area at the beginning of December. I am using both www.immobilienscout24.de , a German real estate site recommended to me by some Germans, as well as the military's AHRN (Automated Housing Referral Network; I've heard housing staff pronounce it as "Ahern") website.
AHRN is a database of housing that has been approved by the local base's housing office. Landlords have to agree not to discriminate based on (US) federally protected statuses and they also must agree to the housing office's policies. For example, most German contracts require quite a bit of notice to end the lease. Since military folks might have to leave quickly because of deployments or permanent changes of station (PCS), landlords with listings in AHRN must agree to being given shorter notice (a month). Also, the listings are without commission, or as the Germans would call it, provisionfrei (provision, or commission, free).
It's extremely helpful to have this resource available, especially when apartment hunting from afar. Even if one doesn't use AHRN, one still must have the rental contract approved by the Housing Office. Staff there review the contract to make sure that it is legal and that it fits with standards that they set. I have heard that they must also inspect the apartment. Military members and staff must report to the housing office within two days of arrival to be briefed on housing issues.
I have been searching through AHRN and am glad to have this helpful resource. Listings include information such as how many bedrooms and baths there area, pet policies, utilities estimates, and other information that is standard for real estate listings.
However, the one downside to the site is that some of the properties are...somewhat depressing. I have seen some with brown 1980s style tiled bathrooms, or even worse, pink tiled bathrooms (I detest the color pink!). If one is looking for a penthouse apartment with a balcony and a great city view, AHRN isn't so much the place to search. Many of the listings are out in the country (or at least for the Kaiserslautern area they are). Not all of the apartments look dated and I'm still grateful for the service, but I'm actually more interested in a penthouse style apartment so I might need to look in other sources for an apartment. The main issue I will be facing is to find an apartment that is commission free and will allow a Housing Office approved lease.