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EXPLAINED: The hidden costs of owning a home in Switzerland

Recently bought a home or just wondering if it’s all worth it? Here are some of the hidden costs you might face in Switzerland.

EXPLAINED: The hidden costs of owning a home in Switzerland
Be careful to check all hidden costs before buying a home in Switzerland. Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash

Switzerland is the only country in Europe where more people rent than own the home they live in.

READ MORE: Why do so many Swiss prefer to rent rather than buy their own home?

That may still be the case at present, but rising rents are pushing many people to consider whether buying a house or apartment is right for them.

Obviously the major cost you’ll face is the property itself, but other fees such as legal costs, agent fees, taxes and the like can make the purchase a lot more expensive than you might otherwise think.

For first time home owners, many of the costs come as a surprise. 

For costs relating to buying a home, please check out the following link. 

EXPLAINED: The hidden costs of buying a home in Switzerland

Here’s what you need to know about the hidden costs of owning a home in Switzerland. 

Cantonal and municipal costs

OK, so this is probably worth an article in itself, but Switzerland’s cantonal system means there are in effect 26 different cantonal cost sets. 

And while cantonal costs vary and municipal costs vary more. 

Sewage, electricity, gas, water, heating and garbage costs are just some of those which are levied at municipal level. 

Buying property versus renting in Switzerland: What is actually cheaper

This being Switzerland, some of these can occasionally be levied at cantonal level, so make sure you know about all of these costs – and who is actually levying them. 

One relatively simple tip is to get the lowdown from the previous owner, which means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when buying a home. 

Shared costs

Another potential surprise is the way in which some costs are shared in Switzerland. 

Sometimes this can be relatively obvious, such as maintenance costs for a shared elevator or garage, but new arrivals to Switzerland are sometimes surprised by how heating bills can in some cases be partially shared by everyone in an apartment complex. 

Other costs may be shared, such as garden maintenance, snow clearing or costs for keeping things such as furnaces in compliance with new environmental regulations. 

Property taxes

Lifelong renters may be unaware of how many costs there are associated with owning a home. 

One of the major ones is property tax. All but seven Swiss cantons levy annual property taxes which can be anywhere up to two percent of the property value. 

If you’re living in Aargau, Basel Country, Glarus, Schwyz, Solothurn, Zurich and Zug you will be happy to know that you don’t have to pay any property tax – although these aren’t exactly the cheapest cantons when it comes to buying a home or costs of living. 

REVEALED: The six major Swiss cities where rents are falling

Eigenmietwert/Property rent value

For many arrivals from abroad, this can be a bit of a surprise, but the Eigenmietwert is a tax figure you should consider if buying a property. 

Whether you are buying for an investment or not, you might need to calculate the Eigenmietwert figure, which is a theoretical rent value for the property. 

While it will depend on a range of different things that your tax advisor or accountant is better placed to discuss, the Eigenmietwert fee will at least partially be offset by deductions, but it’s worth knowing about when you are considering buying. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Eigenmietwert is unpopular among many people. Politicians have pushed legislation to call for its removal for decades – including as recently as September 2021 – but it remains remarkably hard to kill. 

Mortgage costs

Unless you bought the home outright, there’s a good chance you took out a mortgage in order to buy the property. 

Keep in mind that while mortgage rates tend to be lower in Switzerland, the repayment periods are longer. 

So while the longest you might pay your mortgage in other countries is 30 years, Swiss mortgages lasting between 50 and 100 years can be relatively common. 

What are some of the hidden costs of buying a home? Photo: Tierra-Mallorca-Unsplash

Maintenance costs

Maintenance costs are sometimes quite a shock for new buyers, who may be used to just calling the landlord every time a tap sprung a leak. 

This amount will of course vary greatly, but older properties are likely to have higher maintenance costs for obvious reasons.

Swiss financial organisation PostFinance recommends setting aside an annual one percent of the property value for maintenance costs.  

Keep in mind that some maintenance costs are shared, for instance for spaces in common, so you might not need to fork out for everything yourself. 

Top ten tips for finding an apartment in Switzerland

Reservation costs

Although renting is more popular than buying in Switzerland, there’s still plenty of competition for apartments. 

If you intend to buy the property, in some cases you will need to pay a reservation cost. 

If this is due, the way it is calculated will differ depending on cantonal/municipal rules. 

In some instances it is a flat fee, for instance 10,000 or 20,000 francs. In other cases, it will be a percentage figure – which can make the eventual fee much higher. 

This money is of course put towards the purchase price, but you will need it in cash which can be a bit of a surprise for some. 

Insurance

There are dozens of different types of insurance that you might need to pay as a home owner. 

Some of these are optional and others are compulsory, but they can add up to a high monthly amount. 

Insurance on the building can cost between 300 and 700 francs per year, while liability insurance is likely to be around the same. 

Many insurance companies offer packages for home and contents, so it’s worthwhile shopping around to see which has the best rates and what is specifically protected. 

As with any of our explainer articles, this report is intended as a guide only and should not take the place of legal advice. 

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

Got an unwanted mattress, fridge or sofa? Here’s how you can legally get it off your hands in Zurich.

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

If you’ve bought a new piece of furniture in Zurich or a mattress, you may be faced with the problem of what to do with the old one. 

This is particularly the case in cities like Zurich, where space is at a premium and you may not be able to kit out your spare room with the old furniture. 

While there are waste disposal centres, even getting there without a car can be a problem. 

One man’s trash…

First things first, think about whether you really need to get rid of the thing in question. 

While you may not want it, there may be someone out there willing to take it off your hands – particularly if you aren’t going to charge them. 

The first point of call is to ask your friends and colleagues if they’re interested, with social media the perfect place to ask around. 

If you live in an apartment complex, you might try placing the item in a common area with a note saying “zu verschenken” (to give away) or ‘gratis’ (free). 

After that, there are several online options like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Free Your Stuff Zurich, Ricardo, Anibis, Craig’s List and Tutti. 

Some of these sites will charge a fee – even if you’re giving something away – so be sure to read the fine print first. 

Another option is to donate the goods to a charity organisation. They will usually charge you money to pick it up and prices can vary dramatically. 

Caritas charge CHF35 per 100kg plus transport costs, while Sozialwerk Pfarrer Sieber will pick up small items of furniture for a flat fee, although you’ll need to send them pictures first before they give you a quote. 

Can I put old furniture on the street in Zurich? 

Although less common than many other European cities, occasionally you will see furniture out on the street in front of homes and apartment blocks in Zurich. 

While it might clutter up the sidewalk, it is technically not illegal – provided you only do so for a maximum of 24 hours. 

You also need to make sure it doesn’t block cars, bikes or pedestrians. If it does – or if you leave it out for longer – you risk a fine.

Entsorgungstram: Zurich’s recycling and waste disposal tram

One option is the Entsorgungstram, a mobile recycling centre on rails for all Zurich residents. 

This tram weaves its way through several parts of Zurich, picking up old bulky waste including electrical devices and furniture. 

If you are lucky to live near an Entsorgungstram line, just check the timetable and bring your waste items along to meet the tram. 

There are some rules, as laid out by the Zurich council. 

“The delivered items must not be longer than 2.5 meters (exception: sofa/upholstered furniture can be no longer than 2 meters) and no heavier than 40 kilograms per item. Separate the material beforehand according to its composition: flammable, large metal and landfill”. 

Unfortunately, only pedestrians and cyclists can use this service, i.e. you cannot drive from elsewhere and deposit the stuff. 

More information including route details can be found at the following link. 

Regular waste disposal

Your next option is to see whether you can get rid of it in your usual waste disposal. 

This being Switzerland, there are a lot of rules about what the waste management company will take and will not. 

If you’re throwing away a mirror, for instance, you cannot put that with your other glass waste and will need to dispose of it elsewhere. 

On the other hand, they may take things like carpets and mattresses – although you’ll need to pay a bit extra. 

The exact rules will depend on your municipality, but generally speaking you will need to buy additional waste stickers – which cost money. 

In Zurich itself, every household receives four coupons for disposal of waste (up to 100kg) each. 

When you run out of coupons, you’ll need to pay by the kilo. 

You’ll still need to bring it to the waste disposal facility, or pay a pick up fee of around CHF80. 

This may sound steep, but they do come to your home and pick it up – which will likely be cheaper than a rental car or van. 

In Winterthur, you will need to buy stickers for CHF1.80 from the council, with each sticker letting you dispose of 10kg of waste. 

Check with the retailer where you bought the new item

One option offered by furniture sellers is to buy your old furniture or whitegoods or accept them as a trade in. 

While this is likely to be more common with second hand retailers who might see potential in your unwanted item, it is also a service offered by retailers who only sell new goods. 

One example is Ikea, who will take your old mattress, furniture or electronic device and recycle it. 

This service is available at Ikea outlets for a cost of CHF10 each. 

It is also available when you get something new delivered, although you must pre-book so the driver can be sure to set aside enough space. 

This will cost you CHF80 for furniture, or CHF50 for electronic devices and mattresses. Keep in mind that (at least with Ikea) this service is only available when you buy something new. 

Several other furniture companies offer a similar service, including Schubiger Möbel, Möbel Pfister and Conforama.  

Electrical item retails will often take your old electrical goods for recycling, whether these are small like iPhones or large like fridges and washing machines. 

More information about which goods can be recycled and how in Switzerland is available at the following link. 

Moving companies

Removalist companies are another option – whether you are moving house or not. 

If you are moving house then a disposal service may be included in the overall fees. 

If not, you can still contact the company and get the item taken off your hands. 

While different companies will charge different amounts, you’ll usually pay per 100kg rather than per item, which can be a better (or worse) option than contacting the local council. 

Swiss comparison site Comparis has detailed info about how to find a moving company here

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