Flooding is assessed as the most important natural hazard in Europe, causing thousands of deaths, affecting millions of people and accounting for large economic losses in the past decade. Little is known about the damage processes associated with extreme rainfall in cities, due to a lack of accurate, comparable and consistent damage data. The objective of this study is to investigate the impacts of extreme rainfall on residential buildings and how affected households coped with these impacts in terms of precautionary and emergency actions. Analyses are based on a unique dataset of damage characteristics and a wide range of potential damage explaining variables at the household level, collected through computer-aided telephone interviews (CATI) and an online survey. Exploratory data analyses based on a total of 859 completed questionnaires in the cities of Münster (Germany) and Amsterdam (the Netherlands) revealed that the uptake of emergency measures is related to characteristics of the hazardous event. In case of high water levels, more efforts are made to reduce damage, while emergency response that aims to prevent damage is less likely to be effective. The difference in magnitude of the events in Münster and Amsterdam, in terms of rainfall intensity and water depth, is probably also the most important cause for the differences between the cities in terms of the suffered financial losses. Factors that significantly contributed to damage in at least one of the case studies are water contamination, the presence of a basement in the building and people's awareness of the upcoming event. Moreover, this study confirms conclusions by previous studies that people's experience with damaging events positively correlates with precautionary behaviour. For improving future damage data acquisition, we recommend the inclusion of cell phones in a CATI survey to avoid biased sampling towards certain age groups.