Renting in Switzerland: How to find a flat in Zurich
Finding a place to live in Switzerland's biggest city is notoriously difficult, but it is possible. The Local spoke to renters and gathered tips on how to secure a home in Zurich.
Imagine moving to Zurich and having a cozy home in the city's heart, maybe with a lake view and scenic beauty all around. Fast forward to when you arrive here and realise that before you can start romanticising about your new digs, you have go through the house hunting process.
The daunting prospect of trying to get an apartment can leave people feeling overwhelmed. Sounds a bit exaggerated? Not really. The reality could be worse.
"I had applied for more than 50 apartments to rent when I came here first in 2012, and it was only when someone referred me that I got one," says Manohar C., a resident of Zurich Canton.
Why is the housing market in Zurich so hard to navigate?
The majority of people in Switzerland live in rented accommodation. And the fierce competition in the market makes it challenging to find an apartment here.
With numerous multinational companies and as the economic hub, Zurich is a hot spot for expats. According to the Stadt Zurich website, 6 percent of all foreigners who move to Switzerland come to Zurich city. Separate data from the Federal Statistical Office states that in 2021 over 10 percent of the Swiss population moved to a new house.
The relocation levels in the bigger cities like St. Gallen and Zurich were as high as 14.9 percent and 13.8 percent, respectively. On the supply side, young adults are relocating more often than married people, making it highly competitive to get an apartment of your choice in Zurich.
Here are some key points to consider when looking for an apartment to rent in Zurich that will help prepare you for the search.
Use your network - and be aware of your profile
The renter's profile plays an important role. Renting is not always based on a first-come, first-serve basis. The agencies always filter the applicants based on salary, permit, and family status.
If you have an L work permit, getting the apartment may be slightly more complicated. Your company's internal forums could be the first place to search for a house. Most companies have employee forums where the advertisements for apartments are published. Once you find something, contact your colleagues and request a referral.
"A lot of employee movement is happening all the time," says Nehal M., who moved to Zurich two years ago. "Someone is leaving, and others are joining. So this is a good size network to look for a flat or apartment. We got ours via an internal employees' online forum. We were also searching from other portals, but this was easier as we could request the previous owner for a referral for us."
Family status is also one of the main criteria considered for rent applications. There are locations and homes where families are the preferred applicants.
Be flexible on locations
You have to be super lucky to find a house that fits your budget, location, and space criteria perfectly. However, that's not always the case with everyone.
So consider locations that may not be in the city centre but are a good enough distance to travel from home to office. The further you move from the central city, the rentals get more affordable with much bigger space and would be more value for money.
In Zurich, there are 12 districts. Some areas like Shilcity, Enge, Oerlikon, and Bellevue are favourites due to their locations. However, finding accommodation here is equally challenging with budget constraints. Check out different locations, feel out the neighbourhood and then weigh up your options.
Sign up to online housing portals
Online portals are one of the best ways - especially for foreigners - to find an apartment. Some websites are well-known and are a great help to non-German-speaking house hunters as well. These websites include:
These websites are great ways to find an apartment and understand the local property market. If you want to connect with a local real estate agent, you can search at https://www.svit.ch/de.
Social networks like Facebook are also suitable for finding houses. But one has to practice caution there - scams are common so be on your guard. And never transfer money without seeing a flat. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
READ ALSO: How to avoid rental scams in Switzerland
Get to know the quirks
There are many other things, like the description of the listed apartment, furnishing, and maintenance cost, that you have to understand and consider before renting an apartment in Switzerland.
For example, a four-room ad doesn't mean there are four bedrooms. This likely includes the living or dining area as well. Meanwhile, in some places, the kitchen is not part of the apartment, meaning you will have to install your own. You have to clarify these things while viewing the apartment.
READ ALSO: The hidden costs of renting in Switzerland
... and some quick tips:
- If you have Swiss German speaking friends, take them along to the viewing. They can help you ask questions about the apartment
- Get your documents ready. Being prepared is essential in a tight housing market
- If you like an apartment, apply immediately. Don't risk losing the flat!
- If the property is with an agency, ask the previous tenants to refer you
- Fill up the application in the local language
- Always have a Plan B - don't despair if you don't get a place. The search might be stressful and long but you will find a new home eventually, even if you have to opt for one or two temporary places first