The housing market in and around Zürich is like no other. There are few apartments available on the market and many, many people looking. This means that you need some luck, creativity and some effort to get a place.
It‘s important that you are realistic in what and where you‘re looking at. Single people will tend to be successful with 1-2.5 room apartments (so studio and 1-bedroom). Couples will have luck with 2.5-3.5 room apartments – but may lose out when the rent is less than 25-30% of their combined income.
The key is to aim for the right market segment and rental price. If you‘re a big earner and looking for a super-cheap place, you will likely struggle.
Choice is limited
It will never be the case that you view 5 places and choose from, say, 3 of them. You will be lucky to be offered one of them – so come with a mindset that if you‘re offered a place, you will take it.
When you are offered a place, you will have hours – not days – to think about it. Be prepared for that.
This applies for a place costing 1‘000 per month or even for 10‘000 per month.
If you‘re coming from abroad, don‘t apply before you come. Most agents and landlords won‘t even respond because you will not be selected for any place. You need a resident‘s permit, job reference and hopefully a landlord reference. Even better, when you‘re registered here, take a local phone number from a provider because many agencies will not call abroad – it‘s another flag for them to drop someone interested in an apartment.
Speed is important
The market, especially in Zürich city, is brutally fast. There are adverts coming to the platforms (my preferred one being Homegate) can disappear due to high interest – in minutes. You need to be giving your home search a lot of attention and time.
As a rule, you will be contacting agencies when you respond to adverts. If you speak any German, great! If not, do your best and do ask if they speak English or your language – you might get lucky. Do look at the text in the advert because it will tell you of public viewings – basically one-shot opportunities to see the place. Some need you to register your interest so don‘t forget to do that.
There are some agencies which will be a waste of time calling – you need to fill out the online form next to the advert, the main ones being:
You will learn as you go along that you will mostly deal with tenants – they do the viewings while they still live there. 1-2 in 10 viewings might be with an agency, that‘s all.
Did I mention BRUTAL?!
The market is brutal. It will be the case that you go to a viewing and there are 10/20/30 or more people there. Don‘t let this get you down – it‘s pretty normal and most common for 1.5 room places below 2‘000, 2.5 room places below 2‘500 and 3.5/4.5 room places to 4‘000.
Viewings, TIZ and TIS
As mentioned, viewings are usually led by the tenant and many of them are overwhelmed by how many people are interested in their home.
TIZ and TIS are This is Zürich and This is Switzerland. Before going into anyone‘s home, be prepared and ask if they would like you to take off your shoes. Yes, many homes are shoe-free zones…!
You should be looking at how the place feels to you, which direction the sun is, what Internet options exist, how washing works (in the apartment or a wash room) and how the cellar is (size, is it dry). If you like parking, you may have the choice of paying a monthly sum for a private parking space or paying less but having to find a parking space in the blue zones around the apartment.
It‘s the 21st century and most agencies and landlord accept electronic applications. You will either apply online and attach documents or fill out a form, scan it and send it via email with the documents (tip: Microsoft Office for iPhone and Android does a good job of scanning to PDF).
The documents you will need:
- ID card or passport
- Registration confirm or permit
- Job confirmation (ask for an Arbeitsgeberbestätigung at work)
- Debt register extract (which if you are new to Switzerland, you cannot get)
Also, have a contact person from your job available to be contacted and if you‘re renting in Zürich, someone from the temporary place you are staying.
Always put together something to sell yourself and consider attaching a nice picture of you and your family (if you‘re not applying alone) – it personalises the application, even if you have to do it in English or another language.
If you‘re applying with a trailing spouse and family, you must understand it will likely need that spouse to sign the contract. This usually is not a problem even if they are not out of the country.
Success or failure
Usually, you will hear back from an agency quite quickly if you‘re successful. They will also contact your references, most likely your job contact. If that does not happen in 3-5 days, it is likely that you‘re not successful.
Tips, tricks and how to give yourself an advantage
The following should help you stand out in viewings and applying:
- If you can take the apartment earlier or with flexibility, make that clear. Contracts will begin on the 1st and 16th of the month, if an apartment can be filled rather than empty for two weeks, it‘s income – use that to your advantage
- If the viewing is done by the agency, ask sensible questions and make yourself memorable. Comment on things that are nice, be enthusiastic – but don‘t be complicated
- Make yourself available to prioritise viewings and the effort to get viewings
- If there are multiple viewings, go to the first viewing date – it is very likely that later viewing dates will be cancelled
- Have your information ready so that you can apply quickly once you‘ve viewed the place
- If you have electronic devices that will help, use them. I‘ve applied by scanning an application form with my iPad, filled it in with the Pencil and sent the application PDF plus the other documents immediately.
This will not be so much fun for you but your flexibility, your attention, your determination, your commitment will all help you. Never give up, you will get lucky at some point.
What has not been mentioned is compromise; if you get your parameters for size, location, cost and availability right, you might not need to compromise because you will be offered a place eventually. If time (short) is important for you, the budget for example might help if you increase it.
Good luck in your search and thanks for reading!
Some Final Tips
- Take pictures of places. It is usually OK and helps you reflect on the apartment.
- Seek out the Internet connectivity on offer, if that’s important for you. Take a picture of the Fiber connection box – the number on it you will need for ordering fibre Internet, should it be available. That way, you can order it before you move in.