During our time Switzerland we’ve had a new apartment each year, and in March, we’ll be moving into our fourth! Its not ideal moving every year but when you’re living in a country that you’re not 100% familiar with you don’t know which areas/towns suit you best until you’ve tried them out! Also, when you have no particular ties to an area such as family or schools, you’re more inclined to take job offers and move to areas further away. The reason we’re moving this time is due to work, my current commute takes about an hour and 15 minutes, so I’d be pretty stoked to minimise the 2 1/2 hours I spend in the car everyday! The only thing I’m not stoked on is starting the whole hunting process again, it seems a little more complicated here than it does in the UK so I decided to create a little guide to help you guys when you find yourself looking for somewhere to live in Switzerland!
1. Where to look:
Part of what makes house hunting in a foreign country more difficult is not knowing where to look, especially if you’ve just arrived. The two main websites I use are ImmoScout and Homegate. They’ve just become my two go to websites over the years. There are of course other sites you can choose but these are the two that I have tried, tested and been satisfied with. If you know the location you want to be living, a good place to look is in the local stores: the corner shops, Coop, Migros, Denner etc all have noticeboards with adverts for that particular town. The only downside to that is that they don’t always have photographs and you might have to telephone the contact number and speak Swiss german! You can also sign up to expat groups and buy/sell/swap groups on facebook, often some people that need to leave the country or move sooner than their tenancy expires will search for someone to take over their contract for them.
2. Know what you want and what your budget is:
Renting in Switzerland is more expensive than it is in England, and you don’t tend to get a lot more for your money. Firstly, in most rental prices, the Nebenkosten is included, this pays for water and heating so the only additional bills you must pay are electricity/gas, internet etc. You often need to pay additional fees for parking spaces and garages which, if you’re a couple with two cars, can add up to quite a bit extra per month. Then figure out how much space you need: room numbers and living space size; They have a weird way of describing the amount of rooms in an apartment, you will often see 1.5, 2, 2.5 etc. Its pretty much open to interpretation as many people have differing opinions but basically it is assumed that every place has a bathroom and a kitchen so then the numbers apply to the other rooms, if its 0.5 that means one of the rooms is pretty small so for example, you could have a 2.5 apartment and that would be a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living space and then a smaller space maybe a large hallway or a storage room. Confusing right? For our fourth apartment I was setting a basic budget of 1500 a month including parking, a minimum of 2.5 rooms, I didn’t want to live in a block of flats, I wanted a view/balcony/garden and I didn’t want to have a communal washing room (some places have one room with a washing machine, tumbler etc and each tenant has a day allocated to them that they can use it on), and although that seems picky, I found a lot of places to view!
Be aware that every apartment/house requires a deposit (Kaution) and it is *usually* two months rent (minus nebenkosten) For example, if you see and apartment that is advertised for 1500chf a month and then it might say underneath that the Net rent is 1350chf a month and the Nebenkosten is 150chf, so you can expect to pay 2700chf for the deposit, add that to the first months rent and you can expect a pretty expensive first month of living! Always question this when you go the viewing because sometimes they will make their own price i.e a flat price of 2000chf.
When you’ve found an apartment that you love, then you can contact the owner/agency for a viewing! If its being advertised through an agency, its perfectly acceptable to ring them or visit their office and ask if they can speak English or if you can have the viewing with an English speaking agent. If its a private person I wouldn’t be so inclined to do this, maybe you could start by emailing them in their language (google translate is your friend!) explaining that you’re learning Swiss German/French/Italian and apologising for any mistakes and ask to arrange a viewing, if you’re lucky, they’ll speak English, if not, you can always ask someone from your work to accompany you and to translate. For our first apartment we had our Boss with us which not only helped us with the language barrier but also gave the owners a little more confidence in us as we were being supported and almost promoted by somebody here, it showed that we were trustworthy and legitimate! (Don’t be surprised or offended if they don’t want to rent to an Ausländer!) Another thing to keep in mind, its not unusual for an ‘open viewing’, meaning that a butt load of potential tenants will show up and you’ll almost have to compete if you want the place! Always get there 5 minutes early, look sharp and try your best to give a good impression!
Questions that you should keep in mind is asking about the deposit, what the nebenkosten includes, who lives above/below, parking, pets, do you get a good wifi/phone signal etc write all your questions down beforehand and have them on you so you don’t forget!
This was probably the thing that bothered me the most about renting in Switzerland. In England, you view an apartment and if you like it, you take it. Here, you apply and the owner chooses who they want the most. So, be prepared for a slightly invasive application form and list of required documents. Things that they might have on the application form is the basic details about yourself, nationality, permit status, civil status, salary, whether you have insurance (contents and rental property) pets (which mostly likely aren’t allowed) and who else will be living there. One of the most important documents you need to produce is a Betreibungsauszug which you get from the Gemeinde and it basically states whether you have any debts or not. It costs about 10chf minus postage. You can also order it online, visit this page to find out where your local office is. After you’ve submitted everything (minus blood samples!) all you can do is wait and see!
6. Moving in!
Congratulations on finding a home! The first thing you want to do whilst its empty is to photograph anything that is damaged or marked, put it all in a document with dates and that and maybe even ask your landlord to review it and sign it, so you don’t get the blame for anybody elses damage! If you don’t have a car/van to move in with theres loads of places you can rent them, for example, Europcar (little tip: buy the ‘funway’ card, its about 35chf, lasts for 2 years and can get you up to 30% off rentals) There is also Ottos which I haven’t actually used but the prices seem quite reasonable! And don’t forget, if you’re starting off with no furniture: Ikea delivers!
I hope this has been some help to any of you that are looking for a place out here! Feel free to leave questions or comments below!
Thanks for reading! Yasmin x
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