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SWITZERLAND LIFESTYLE GUIDE

PROPERTY

How to find a Swiss home of your own

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.

How to find a Swiss home of your own

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. 

Deposits

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.  

Mortgages

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. 

Disputes

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

Utilities

 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.

Oddities 

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.  

For members

PROPERTY

Where to find property in Switzerland for under CHF 500k

Switzerland is not known for being a cheap country and property prices are higher than in other European countries, but it's still possible to find property bargains, some for even under CHF 100k.

Where to find property in Switzerland for under CHF 500k

Property prices are rising in much of Europe and Switzerland is no exception. As the average salary is high in Switzerland, finding homes for under CHF 1 million in some parts of the country becomes almost impossible.

Even when you do find cheap properties, they are sometimes quite literally too good to be true. For example, Switzerland’s famous one-franc home scheme had to be scrapped after nobody signed up. The cheap homes were, actually, too expensive when considering the costs for renovation or even how remote they were.

READ ALSO: Six no-gimmick websites that help you save money in Switzerland

Some of the properties in the scheme weren’t connected to the electricity grid, sewer system or even roads.

So, where can we find cheap(er) homes in Switzerland – that are still liveable or could be excellent investments for those who enjoy fixer-uppers (or huge DIY projects)?

Not an easy search

To find these gems, we used a property website that allowed us to search for real estate in the whole of Switzerland (instead of just a few main cities) and showed us homes with at least three rooms.

The price limit was set at CHF 500,000 (while our colleagues in Germany had theirs set at €100k, but, hey, this is Switzerland).

As of August 2022, we found 203 houses and 80 apartments following these criteria on sale.

Most of these definitely need some fixing up, but you can still snatch a home for under CHF 500,000 with lovely views of lakes and mountains or big terraces and gardens.

Going through the addresses with some of the properties, some things stand out:

Head for the border – most of the most affordable places are in Italian-speaking Switzerland. However, you can also find some of them in the French regions. In both cases, they are located very near the border with France or Italy.

Forget about cities – All the properties we found are quite far from the major cities of Zürich, Bern, and Geneva, which makes sense as the cost of living tends to rise in those regions. If you’re looking for a cheap home, you’re highly unlikely to find one in city centres.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

Consider property type – It is also worth mentioning that there seemed to be a distinction between the homes in the west and those in the south. In the French region, there are more apartments and newer properties, with some outstanding options.

While in the Italian south, most of the properties are houses – and you need to inspect well because some will need a lot of work.

Research services – You should definitely check carefully the property’s location – some are not connected to basic services or even roads.

Renovation costs – Almost all of the properties we found were ‘renovation projects’. Some can turn out to be very good investments, but it takes time and work to renovate. Before buying, get an estimate of the likely works so you can see whether the property really will save you money in the long term, and be honest about your level of DIY/building skills and how much work you are willing or able to do.

Extra costs – Besides renovating costs, you must be mindful of property taxes and other living costs and how much they are in the region where you are buying property. Prices can vary quite widely depending on the canton, so research well.

You can check all our Property in Switzerland stories here.

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