What does the coronavirus mean for Switzerland’s property market?

Housing in Switzerland has become more expensive during the coronavirus pandemic, a new study shows.

What does the coronavirus mean for Switzerland's property market?
Housing is getting more expensive in many parts of Switzerland. Photo by AFP

While many experts feared that real estate market in Switzerland would collapse during the health crisis, the opposite has happened: rents, as well as purchase prices for houses and apartments have risen.

Figures released by ImmoScout24 Swiss Real Estate Offer Index on Tuesday show that at the end of 2020, single-family home prices were 5.6 percent above their level at the start of the year. This increase is virtually identical (+ 5.5 percent) for apartments.

The upward trend is also clear in rental market, where rents have increased by an average of 1.1 percent nationwide.

Both owned and rented housing is most expensive in the Lake Geneva region. Prices there increased by 2.5 percent by the end of 2020.

This finding is not surprising, as Geneva is an expensive city with a high cost of living, where it is unlikely, or at least difficult, to find cheap rentals in any of the decent neighbourhoods. 

Also, the vacancy rate is usually quite low, which drives the rents up.

For instance, an average monthly rent for 3.5-room flat in Geneva, which comprises a living room, kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms, is 2,680 francs — the highest in Switzerland. 

In the greater Zurich area, another expensive region, prices have increased by 1.2 percent.

READ MORE: Cost of living in Switzerland: How to save money if you live in Zurich 

Price hikes were also noted in eastern Switzerland (1.3 percent), the northwestern regions (0.8 percent), as well as in central parts of the country (0.3 percent).

On the other hand, rents stagnated in the so-called Swiss Plateau, the area which includes cantons of Aargau, Solothurn, Bern and Fribourg.

In Ticino, they fell by 2.6 percent.

There is, however, good news for those who want to buy a property in 2021: mortgage rates remain low.

It is possible to get a 10-year fixed rate mortgage from 0.61 percent, and a 5-year fixed rate at 0.54 percent, according to Comparis, Switzerland’s price comparison service.

READ MORE: Switzerland's strangest taxes – and what happens if you don't pay them 

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In which Swiss canton is it hardest to find an apartment?

There are nearly 80,000 vacant dwellings up for grabs across Switzerland - but where?

In which Swiss canton is it hardest to find an apartment?
The sign reads 'For Rent'. Photo by AFP

On Monday, the Federal Statistical Office (OFS) released figures showing that there are 3,449 more vacant apartments and houses on the market in 2020 — 4.6 percent more than during the same period last year. 

That means there are a total of 78,832 vacant flats across the country – around two percent of Switzerland’s total dwellings. 

But as with everything in Switzerland, the situation varies greatly from canton to canton. 

In which cantons are the apartment vacancies? 

Overall, the number of empty dwellings increased in 15 cantons.

According to FSO, the best chances of finding a house or an apartment are in Bern, Ticino, Vaud, Solothurn, Aargau and Jura.

Solothurn has the highest vacancy rate in Switzerland at 3.22 percent, followed by the cantons of Ticino (2.71 percent), Aargau (2.65 percent) and Jura (2.52 percent).

Where is finding a flat hardest?

It probably comes as little surprise to anyone who has been on the flat hunt recently, but finding a flat is hardest in Switzerland’s largest cities. 

Fewer options are available in international and heavily populated business centres like Geneva, Zurich, Zug and Basel City, though it is still possible to find properties for rent there.

In Geneva, just 0.49 percent of homes are vacant. 

In the cantons of Zug (0.70%), Zurich (0.91%), Obwalden (0.92%) and Basel-Stadt (0.96%), the vacancy rates remained below the one percent mark.

READ MORE: Renting in Geneva: Five things you should know about finding an apartment

How has the pandemic had an influence?

The highest increases have been seen in the Ticino and Lake Geneva regions, where vacancies increased by 0.42 and 0.21 percent respectively. 

The FSO also found that the number of vacant homes for rent throughout the country is growing, while the number of homes for sale remains stable.

However, the supply of newly constructed housing is declining.

There is good news for people looking for smaller sized apartments — those that have less than five rooms: there are more flats of this type on the market now than in 2019. 

Most of the vacant ones are three and four-room flats, according to FSO.

In regards to prices, the trend is still the same as in previous years: while low vacancy rates in Switzerland’s largest cities push rents higher, in smaller cities and towns more and more apartments are going unrented.