Even though I’m generalizing for Switzerland in the title of this post, the housing shortage is really a problem for cantons Geneva, Zurich and Vaud – where I’m currently living.
Apartment searching in Switzerland is a full time job.
When I first got here, I spent 9 months in a 20m2 furnished studio provided by my company. Once it was decided that I was going to stay in Switzerland after my one-year training, I started my apartment search. I had been warned about Switzerland’s high prices, but what nobody had told be is about the scarcity of available apartments (at least for those under 4,000 CHF a month – that is, 3,200 euro)! Available apartments are usually gone after 4-5 days of announcing online.
No wonder! After all, for every 1,000 apartments in Canton Geneva, only 2 are available on the market (seriously, 0.2%! crazy, right?). Canton Vaud (where I live) is the second most demanded one, because it’s next to Geneva and, oh well, because its simply beautiful.
The agency or current tenants will offer you to visit it in a 2 hour time frame (often at not-quite-suitable hours for full-time office workers), together with 70-80 other applicants. If you like it, you’ll leave your brochure with 3 bank extracts that state your monthly salary, a recommendation letter from your employer, the attestation de non-poursuite (a paper verifying that you do not have any outstanding debt in the country) and a copy of your work permit and passport.
The agency then will examine the hundreds of applicants and will usually first choose those who have been recommended internally, are swiss and have a salary that is more than 3 times the price of the apartment. That is – If you’re a foreigner on an entry-level position and no link to the swiss real estate sector, you’re screwed.
It took me 4 months, more than 30 visits and around 20 full applications to get the apartment I’m now living in. Sure, I’m probably paying more than any swiss would do for a studio – but I’m quite picky, too, and had fallen in love with it the moment I stepped in (and now never want to leave!)
A highly regulated market
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take my apartment with me to London – so, hoping to inform the agency soon enough of my departure, I sent in my letter to request the contract termination for the end of august. To my surprise, I got back an e-mail stating that they can not accept my request, since I should have made it 3 months before the end of the one-year revolving contract – in March! Basically, I would have had to send a contract termination in March 2011 even if I was leaving in February 2012 – which I find ridiculous. Which expat knows where he or she is going to be in one year time?
After doing some research, I found that swiss law dictates that, if a tenant wants to leave his or her apartment in the middle of a contractual year (in my case – September), he has to provide the agency with one suitable candidate to take over his or her place in order to be free to leave. Sounds good, but, how do you define a suitable candidate? what’s suitable for me may not be suitable enough for the agency!
What if I find 1-3 people and they decline them all?
Well, turns out that, as long as the candidate has a salary that is 3 times the price of the apartment and is trustworthy, its an acceptable candidate. That is, if I send them the application of one candidate that meets this criteria, I should be freed from my contract. If you’re in a similar situation, and want to make sure that the agency doesn’t fool around with you, I’d recommend to register at ASLOCA – a renter protection agency that fights against real estate agencies that try to squeeze the last cent out of your pocket.
I’m currently on the search of this special candidate and, so far, things are going quite well – I published the apartment on Homegate less than 24 hours ago and already have 3 people asking for it, of which one already came for a view and fell in love almost the same way I did. Now I only hope that the agency finds him suitable.
There had to be an advantage for the scarce living space in this canton!
How does the Real Estate market work in your country? Is it also regulated and rigid? Do you have to prepare a dossier?