• Switzerland's news in English

How to find a Swiss home of your own

James Savage · 28 Feb 2011, 18:21

Published: 28 Feb 2011 18:21 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Moving home provokes more stress than almost any major upheaval except death, divorce and delivery goes the tired cliché. So how does it rate if you throw in a change of country and culture? Looks like you might need our survival guide.  

Renting versus buying

 Over 70 per cent of residents in Switzerland rent accommodation. Furthermore, nearly every house owner doesn’t actually own their property outright and will continue to manage a mortgage throughout their lifetime. This is because certain taxes penalise a property’s potential for renting while mortgages generally require a minimum 20 per cent down payment (figure another five per cent for legal fees) by law before you can play. For a four-bedroom house in say, Zurich this could set you back 500,000 francs. 

Outside major cities, houses, chalets and apartments are more reasonable and it’s possible to buy a three-bedroom house at say, 600,000 francs with a down payment (and fees) of 150,000 francs and monthly payments of about 1,200 francs.  

Renting has its pitfalls too. Cantons with significant international communities, such as Geneva, Vaud or Zurich are not cheap with a two-bedroom apartment going for around 3,000 francs per month or more depending on location. And that’s if you can find one. On average less than 0.2 percent of all rented accommodation is free at any time in Geneva. 

Where to look

The Local's own property section has English-language listings of hundreds of apartments and houses in all parts of the country. There are also other online sources at Homegate.ch or the more complicated immo.search.ch. Furnished lodging can be found at City Appartements and AAS Apartment Service. For flat sharing (Wohngemeinschaft/colocation) opportunities try wgzimmer.ch or Students.ch. The major newspapers are now linked to sites such as Homegate, but still offer classified sections on select days, generally Wednesdays. The property section (immobilier) in GHI in Geneva – a local Exchange & Mart in French – is still worth checking. 

One upshot of being an international is that landlords used to dealing foreigners are more likely to rent to you. Typically expats don’t hang around for long (average 2-3 years) which means the owner can jack up the rent again on your departure. Also, if you’ve secured your employment, many international organizations and companies will assist with finding or even providing accommodation. 

Subletting is quite common and legal in most areas. Make sure you get arrangements of the deal in writing. Check with the Swiss tenants' association. Scam artists offering non-existent accommodation have been reported on rare occasions. 


 Landlords demand a standard three-month deposit against damages, a sum locked into a minimal interest savings account until your departure.  If this is prohibitive, we suggest checking out Swiss Caution, a new deposit insurance scheme for a couple of hundred francs a year, which eliminates the hefty outlay.  


 Most banks in Switzerland provide an online service which allows you to calculate your monthly outlay etc. which is pointless if you don’t possess 20 per cent of the purchase price. Interest rates are currently attractive. 


 Head to the SMV (Swiss association of tenants), a bunch of lawyers who know how to untangle the vagaries of the accommodation market. A fee (around 50 francs) is required to join.

In theory, rents should track national cost of living indexes according to location. In reality, this seldom happens so if you suspect you’re being ripped off, check with the SMV who will advise on how to proceed. Then be patient – recuperation can take more than a year, but will be paid out retroactively should your appeal be successful. 

There maybe a downside however – rumours have it that Swiss landlords circulate a black list of such tenants, a practice they deny.


 Landlords generally take care of registration with electricity and gas companies for you. These are usually payable every quarter while water is covered in “charges” paid with rent. 

Garbage disposal will provide you with anecdotes. Some cantons charge two francs or more per 35-litre bag purchased from special outlets. Get caught using anything else and face a fine. You can also expect to spend more time separating your trash amongst the handy receptacles stationed in most municipalities. 

These garbage bag taxes have triggered a trend in rubbish tourism, where individuals will transport refuse over cantonal borders to dump. We don’t reckon that the 30-odd minute trip, petrol consumption and risk of arrest are worth saving a few francs.


Story continues below…

 Bring your own light fittings when you move into your new flat. Their absence is a familiar source of bemusement amongst rookie expats. 

Central heating in apartments is often switched off in the summer months (in Fribourg it’s even off at night in winter). No matter how cold it is in the late summer early autumn, you won’t be able to turn on the central heating, which is activated at a set time every year.  

James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Illegal immigrant dies after setting himself on fire
The victim was treated at University Hospital Zurich. Photo: University Hospital Zurich

The 45-year-old Tunisian was threatened with deportation.

Swiss government rejects call for second immigration vote
Photo: Justus Blumer/Christophe G

The Swiss government has rejected a popular initiative calling for a revote on plans to limit immigration.

Bern: companies should report salary inequality by law
File photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The Swiss government wants to force small companies to examine their rates of pay every four years.

Husband in custody after Orbe body identified
File photo: Bas Leenders

The deceased is a 55-year-old woman who lived in the house with her husband.

Presented by MoneyPark
How to get a mortgage in Switzerland
Houses in Zürich. Photo: Pixabay.

Ready to buy? Here’s what you need to know as an expat about Swiss regulations, how to finance your purchase, and why you should use a broker.

Autumn in Switzerland: ten stunning Instagram photos
Photo: Swiss Tourism/Jan Geerk

Switzerland is beautiful in all seasons, but as these photos show, autumn is a special time in the alpine country.

Report: Swiss progress slows on gender equality
File photo: David Soulivet

Globally, it will take 170 years to achieve gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum.

Brothers go to court to stop suicide of sibling
File photo: Lisa Edmonds

Two men have filed a legal bid to prevent the Swiss assisted suicide association Exit from helping their older brother to kill himself.

Wawrinka snubs past form to reach Basel second round
Wawrinka beat local wildcard Marco Chiudinelli. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

US Open champion Stan Wawrinka has reached the second round in Basel after going out in the first round for the past four years.

Villagers asked to help fund bridge renovations
The bridge links the two villages of Veltheim (pictured) and Holderbank. Photo: Lutz Fischer-Lamprecht

The crowdfunding campaign by the two communes is the first of its kind in Switzerland.

Photo: Unterirdisch Ueberleben
Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: The Local
Ticino firefighters rescue cow from swimming pool
Photo: Antoni Da Campo
Vegan wins battle to be accepted by Swiss army
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Ten Swiss ski resorts named most expensive in Europe
Photo: Randy Kashka
Swiss women will ‘work for free’ for the rest of year
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Montreux throws hat in Olympic rings
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Seven things you’ll miss about Switzerland if you leave
Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
jobs available