How Switzerland's urban housing shortage is spreading to the countryside

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected]
How Switzerland's urban housing shortage is spreading to the countryside
Efficient public transport (here in Zurich) makes it easy to commute between town and country. Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

As affordable rental accommodations are hard to come by in Switzerland’s largest cities like Zurich and Geneva, many apartment hunters are now shifting their search to suburban areas. What will this mean in the long term?

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If you have been trying to rent an apartment, or simply following the real estate news, you know that finding a reasonably priced accommodation in or in close vicinity of big cities is very difficult.

This is due to several factors, including the recent influx of immigrants, the lack (and expense) of building land and — consequently — slowed-down construction activity.
This means that demand far outstrips the supply — more people are looking for housing, while less of it is available.

In Zurich, for instance, the situation is so dire that recently demonstrators took to the streets to demand more and cheaper accommodations. 

READ ALSO: Zurich hit by affordable housing shortage amid record-high immigration 

The situation is also tense in Geneva which, because it is wedged tightly between France and Lake Geneva, doesn’t have any room to expand — that is, build new housing — in either direction.

What is a possible solution to this conundrum?

As there are not enough affordable accommodations in large cities, many people are looking for dwellings on the outskirts. 

According to Ursina Kubli, head of property research at Zurich Cantonal Bank, many Zurich residents are now settling farther away, for instance in cantons of Schaffhausen and Aargau, where more affordable housing can be found — at least for now. 

The same phenomenon is also observed in Geneva, Basel, Lausanne, and Bern, she said.

READ ALSO: The best commuter towns when working in Zurich


But does this mean that shortages and high rents will shift to the countryside as well?

This depends on the ability of those areas to absorb the growing demand," Kubli said. However, “the pressure on the housing market will increase in certain regions. 

Unfortunately, this town-to-country exodus is likely to create a shortage in suburban and rural areas as well.

“Switzerland is heading towards a housing shortage of unprecedented proportions,” said Fredy Hasenmaile, Credit Suisse’s real estate expert. “In urban centres, housing is already very scarce. The problem has not yet reached the countryside, but it is only a matter of time.” 


Can you too benefit from this trend — while the supply lasts?

It is true that Swiss people don’t like long commutes to work and usually live close enough to their offices to get there quickly by public transport.

READ ALSO: The best commuter towns when working in Geneva

However, in a small country like Switzerland, with a well-developed and mostly punctual transportation network, it is relatively easy to work in the city while living in the country.

The so-called ‘commuter towns’ — communities located within an easy drive or bus / train ride of urban centres — are a good alternative.

READ ALSO: Where are the best places to live if you work in Basel?

A lot depends, of course, on just how close these towns and villages are to big cities. But the farther they are ('far' being a relative term in Switzerland and can mean less than a 40-minute commute), rents, and property prices in general, are typically lower there.

The articles below provide more information about these locations: 


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