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Finding a flat in Switzerland: How to stand out from the crowd

Finding a flat in Switzerland is getting more and more competitive, particularly in larger cities. Here’s how you can stand out from the crowd.

People lined up in a queue along a pavement path
Trying to find a flat in Switzerland? Here are some tips to stand out from the crowd. Image: Pixabay

Whether you are moving to Switzerland for the first time or you want to upgrade your current living arrangements, joining the dreaded market for a flat can be stressful. 

It is not uncommon to see dozens of people queueing out front for flat viewings, even where flats are expensive or not in great locations. 

So while these tips will not guarantee you your dream flat, they will help you stand out from the crowd.

Keep in mind that these tips are for people looking to rent rather than buy a flat.  

Otherwise, if you’re tired of renting, buying in Switzerland is not as crazy as it might sound. 

We’ve covered your options in the following link. 

READ MORE: Buying property versus renting in Switzerland: What is actually cheaper?

Network, network, network 

Particularly in Switzerland’s larger cities, flats are such a hot commodity that they’ll usually be snapped up before they hit the market. 

This is because anyone wanting to give up a flat will ask their own networks – family, friends, coworkers, teammates – if someone is interested. 

As a result, any flat on the popular platforms is likely to have been rejected by everyone in the former renter’s extended network. 

Therefore, it makes sense to ask around. 

This might not sound like the greatest advice for people who have just moved to Switzerland and don’t know anyone, but it’s worth asking friends or workmates if they’re aware of anything and you might get lucky. Even just putting a desperate plea on social media might net some positive results. 

Create a profile for yourself 

While word of mouth is usually the best way to go in a flat search, finding a good deal online isn’t impossible, even in competitive areas. 

Many websites give you the option to create a profile of yourself, adding a photo and filling in criteria of what you’re looking for – be it the ideal size of the flat. It also allows landlords to get a sense of you when you apply for the flat online.

Use official search platforms

There are a myriad of different property platforms to use when flat hunting in Switzerland. Some are general and have apartments to rent and to buy, while others will be focused on particular sections of the market like students. 

Real estate portals like Immoscout24Alle ImmobilienImmostreet and Homegate all have English portals which makes it easier if your German/French or Italian isn’t yet up to scratch. Comparis is also a good platform which searches other platforms to bring (most) offers into the one place. 

They also cover the entire country rather than just one town or region, meaning you can compare as well as consider the costs of living further afield (i.e. if you want to commute). 

The Swiss Real Estate Association (SVIT) also has a site which lists their member real estate agents. While the website is only available in French or German, it does list member agents in most of the major regions across the country. 

Make sure you use official search platforms, as scams are unfortunately relatively common (even in official platforms, so be careful). 

More information about common scams can be found below. 

READ MORE: How to avoid rental scams in Switzerland

Finding a flat can be different. Remember, the internet is your friend. 

Be clear about your status

Foreigners in Switzerland may be at a slight disadvantage in flat hunting, because landlords could be concerned that you will move back home at some point. 

Therefore, make clear your residency status in your application. 

Even if this means repeating information about your residency permit and how long it entitles you to stay for, you will assuage any concerns the landlord might have. 

Location, location, location?

As any real estate agent will tell you, location is the most important factor when choosing a house. 

But while location is still incredibly important, Switzerland’s excellent public transport infrastructure as well as a recent trend towards working from home might mean that looking outside your city of work or study is worthwhile. 

The high standard of public transport means that commuting is incredibly popular in Switzerland, with commuter towns serving each of Switzerland’s major cities. 

This might also make the application a little less competitive, while your landlord won’t mind if you commute far away to work, given how common place it is. 

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Zurich

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Geneva

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Basel

Treat hunting for a flat like a job

Given the competition, unfortunately it is not enough just to send off a few emails in the morning and check your replies the next day. 

You need to treat hunting for a flat like it’s your job. 

READ MORE: Top ten tips for finding an apartment in Switzerland

Set your alarm, wake up and focus only on looking for a flat.

Check the sites every five minutes. Refresh the page. Send off dozens of applications.  

This can of course be hard when you’ve also got an actual job to go to, but if you are working at a computer then try to have a tab open all the time and constantly refresh it. 

Preparation, preparation, preparation

When looking for a flat, time is of the essence – and this is not just when searching for the flat in the first place. 

Most landlords simply don’t have the time to go through 100s of applications looking for the best or most charming. 

In reality, they will probably take the first 10 or 15 and then close down the add or stop reading new applications. 

Therefore, have a template paragraph ready to go describing yourself and what you are looking for. 

Then, make a few changes to include details about the flat and the person’s name etc, before sending it off – pronto!

Check back a few days after sending off your application. It could be the case that the landlord has been overwhelmed with applications, so your follow up might put you front of the queue. 

When you visit a flat, have your documents printed and ready to hand to the person showing it to you. 

READ MORE: Eight things you need to know before renting in Switzerland

Even if you aren’t 100 percent sure, get your documents ready before a viewing – and if you really don’t like the flat, you don’t have to hand them over. 

It might result in a little wasted paper, but it will save valuable time. 

Plastic miniature people standing around a plastic house

Looking for an apartment in Switzerland is a competitive exercise. Image: Pixabay

Make an impression

Whether you view the flat alone or whether you’re part of a dozen of hopeful tenants elbowing each other as they jostle for position, you should try and make an impression on the real estate agent or landlord who is showing you around. 

First things first, be sure to arrive to your viewing on time (aim to be there early). This is crucially important in Switzerland and a late arrival might ice your chances before you even get to say hi. 

READ MORE: ‘The pleasure of punctuality’: Why are the Swiss so obsessed with being on time?

You also want to stand out from the crowd. 

You can do this by showing interest in the flat and the surrounding neighbourhood, for instance by asking questions which reveal a little about yourself. 

Families with children are at an advantage when it comes to flat viewings, because landlords believe they’re more likely to stay for longer. 

Therefore, a question about nearby schools or parks is basically a ‘humblebrag’ which tells the landlord that you have kids, you’re a stable person and you’ll pay rent on time while living in the flat for the rest of your life. 

Comment on something unique about the flat and be specific. A simple “nice flat” won’t stand out, but a “wow, did you paint that ‘live, laugh, love’ mural yourself” or “gee I’ve never seen so many dreamcatchers…” will stamp yourself in the landlord’s memory. 

It will also give you something to refer to when you contact them a few days later and ask how the application is going. 

One thing not to do however is to offer a bribe to a landlord or real estate agent. Generally speaking, bribes will be looked upon poorly and is likely to harm your chances. 

Colour and design are your friends

Put yourself in the shoes of your prospective landlord. You’ve received 25 applications for a flat and need to make a quick fire decision. 

You come across boring template after boring template, and then you pick up an application from under the pile with colourful graphics and tasteful design. 

Now keep in mind that one landlord’s tasteful design is another landlord’s wordart nightmare, but if you know any graphic designers or happen to be one, call in a favour. 

Also make sure your documents are clean and crisp. If you can’t keep a piece of paper clean, then your prospective landlord might start worrying about her hardwood floors. 

Stay in contact with the landlord/real estate agent 

If it doesn’t work out with your flat of choice, don’t despair. 

Stay in touch with the landlord or real estate agent in case another flat opens up. 

Sometimes they will have a list of other apartments available which they can offer as an alternative, many of which have not yet been advertised. 

This is all the more reason why it’s important to make a good impression and have your documents organised when you meet with them the first time around.

Finally…

Be ready to fail (and to wait).

Swiss property agency Immowelt.ch recommends starting your search at least four months before you need to move, although if you’re new in the country and don’t have any connections, this might be longer. 

In larger cities like Geneva, Basel and Zurich – and even smaller ones with high demand – you can wait up to six months before you get an apartment, particularly if you have a lower budget or specific demands.

This is at the longer end of the spectrum but it is by no means unheard of, so don’t expect to be moving in at the end of the week you start looking. 

Got a hot tip for us on how you found your flat? Or a horror story? Let us know: [email protected]

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

‘A beautiful country’: How Ukrainian refugees see Switzerland

The Local’s Helena Bachmann is hosting two young Ukrainians in her home in Vaud. This is their take on the pros and cons of Swiss life.

'A beautiful country': How Ukrainian refugees see Switzerland

When Nadiia, 23, and her brother Roman, 16, left their home, mom and older brother in the city of Odessa, all they knew about Switzerland was that it was beautiful, clean and safe.

After arriving, they say they were not wrong on that score.

Their first impression when they arrived in mid-April was “amazing views, beautiful towns and villages”, Nadiia recalls.

As they got to know their surroundings in the Lake Geneva region, they made even more discoveries. Roman, for instance, was impressed by the state of Swiss roads and how the narrow ones could accommodate two-way traffic.

He also likes that most roads have bicycle lanes.

One advantage of seeing things with a fresh set of eyes is noticing seemingly trivial things that those of us living here don’t pay attention to and mostly take for granted.

Roman mentioned that there is no difference, in terms of infrastructure, between towns and countryside. How many of us have made this astute observation?

And Nadiia commented on the abundance of fountains that spout clean, drinkable water.

READ MORE: Ten things Geneva residents take for granted

Last but not least, and unlike many other foreigners who find the Swiss aloof, Nadiia and Roman’s experience has been the opposite.

All the people they’ve met so far have been “nice, friendly, kind, and helping us integrate”, Nadiia said.

Bottles, paper, batteries

Among their most surprising discoveries (aside from the ones mentioned above) was Switzerland’s recycling system.

Coming from a country where “everything is stuffed together in a bag and thrown into trash” — as Roman described his nation’s approach to recycling — the Swiss way of disposing of waste was a real eye-opener.

The two took to the new ‘recycling culture’ quickly and willingly, hauling household garbage to nearby bins and separating paper, cardboard, plastic and glass bottles, organic waste, and Nespresso coffee capsules more assiduously than we do.

Roman and Nadiia are equal to the (recycling) task. Photo: Helena Bachmann/The Local

“Easier life”

Both siblings like to cook, which we embraced with enthusiasm and gratitude.

We have been the lucky recipients of Ukrainian specialties such as borstch (a beet-based soup), as well as pelmeni and vareniki — round or crescent-shaped dumplings stuffed with ground meat or potatoes, respectively.

Needless to say — and that is a rare thing in our house — everything is made from scratch: beets, cabbage and carrots for the borstch are grated by hand, and the dough is made and kneaded manually as well.

When I pointed out that all the ingredients — such as grated beets and dough can be purchased pre-made, and that people in Switzerland usually don’t spend so much time in the kitchen, the two conceded that life here “is easier” as there are fewer domestic chores to do, but they still prefer the traditional, more laborious way of food preparation.

Prices and bureaucracy

In their six weeks here, the two have noticed some negative aspects of Swiss life as well.

The biggest shock — as is the case for most new arrivals — are the prices.

EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

On the day after they arrived in Vaud, Roman was stunned that a loaf of bread we bought cost 3 francs, while the same one sells for the equivalent of 50 cents in Ukraine. Cost of other consumer goods has been a shock as well, though they now begin to grasp that Ukrainian prices and wages can’t be extrapolated into Swiss ones.

Another thing the siblings don’t like so much is that shops close by 6:30 pm on most days, after which time there is not much to do, especially in the small town where we live.

Nadiia also mentioned how slow the Swiss bureaucracy is.

While the two received their status S — which allows them and other Ukrainian refugees to stay in Switzerland for a year — relatively quickly, the cantonal procedures related to integration and French language courses take much longer.

Switzerland’s special ‘S permit’ visa program: What Ukrainians need to know

However, they understand this slowness is due to the large number of Ukrainians that are currently here — more than 3,500 in Vaud as at beginning of May — who have to be processed as well.

The sheer number of people who have sought refuge in the canton in a short period of time is an unprecedented situation for all the services and departments dealing with these refugees, so delays are par for the course.

Oh yes, another important perk…

Among Roman’s personal Swiss-life favourites is the one allowing those over the age of 16 to drink some alcoholic beverages, while the legal drinking age in Ukraine is 18. 

So far he only had one beer, but it’s good to know Switzerland’s charms go well beyond chocolate and edelweiss.

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