Renting For Members

Can you really save money on rent if you move into a smaller flat in Switzerland?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Can you really save money on rent if you move into a smaller flat in Switzerland?
A smaller dwelling is not necessarily cheaper. Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

As higher rents went to effect for many Swiss tenants from October, you may be wondering whether ‘downsizing’ your dwellings could save you money. It's not quite as simple as that.

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The situation on the Swiss housing market is dire, with shortages and other factors driving up rents.

Real estate consultant CIFI tracked the evolution of housing prices over the past two decades. It found that during this period, rents jumped by 30 percent, while wages increased by only 24 percent. 

According to CIFI, the cost of housing reflects high incomes, the latter leading to increased demand for living space. In Switzerland, the average living space per person increased from 44 square metres on average in 2000 to 46 square metres in 2020.

The Zurich experiment

Switzerland’s largest city has been in the throes of housing shortage for quite a while.

READ ALSO: Why rents in some parts of Switzerland are now set to increase sharply

Now a 148-unit development called Accu, which is located in the Oerlikon neighbourhood, is encouraging people who no longer need large accommodations to move into smaller, cheaper dwellings within the same property, leaving their apartments for families who need more space.

"For many tenants, their current apartment is too big due to their changing needs,” according to spokesperson Andreas Kern. "Why don't these people move into smaller apartments if they no longer need all the rooms?"

Anyone who switches flats could save up to 600 francs in rent per month, Kern said.
“With this project-,we want to make a contribution to ensuring that apartments are used on 'needs basis',” he added.

But can this approach be successfully applied everywhere, and not just in a controlled setting?


Theory versus practice

If you are looking for a new apartment, chances are that a smaller dwelling will be cheaper than a large one.

However, this is not necessarily true if you want to downsize your current accommodations — that is, move from a big flat to a smaller one.

To make this point, Blick newspaper published an article on Monday, about a Zurich resident, Sonia Stahl, 69, who has been living with her husband in a 4.5-room apartment for the past 26 years .

After the couple’s two children moved out, Stahl and her husband found the apartment too big for just the two of them and wanted to move to a smaller one.

Their current rent for a 100 square-metre apartment is 1,900 a month, a very reasonable price for a dwelling of this size in Switzerland’s most expensive city.

But Stahl soon realised that rents for much smaller dwellings would be higher than her current one.

“Staying here is cheaper than moving,” she said.

As a result, many older people, who find themselves alone after the children move out, live in large apartments they have had for many years.

An assessment by the real estate consultancy Wüest Partner indicated that for this very reason, the living space per person increases sharply from the age of 55 — these tenants live alone or with a spouse in their old apartments, which were previously occupied by three, four or five people.

Often, the reason is, as in Stahl’s case, financial — smaller dwellings are too expensive.


So should you switch to smaller apartment to save money?

It depends on your personal circumstances.

If you find a smaller flat where your rent will be considerably lower, then yes.

But if you find yourself in the same situation as Stahl — that is, if a smaller place will cost you more than your current, bigger one — than moving will not make much financial sense.


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