The housing market in Switzerland
Switzerland is a small mountainous country with only a small amount of land available for housing. Spaces are smaller than in many countries. Most people rent unfurnished accommodation. Only around 30% of the population owns homes, with less than this in cities. When looking to rent, bear in mind that prices are high and the market is tight, particularly in urban areas.
Effective domicile (legal residency) is generally required to rent or purchase property in Switzerland. According to the Swiss Civil Code, ‘domicile' is defined as the place where a person lives with the intention to remain permanently, where their personal relationships are focused, where they regularly spend their non-working hours, where they foster family ties and friendships, and where they take part of social life in the community. The Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police issues Guidelines for the Acquisition of Real Estate by Persons Abroad.
Tips on finding the right housing
Points to remember when renting or buying a property
Realtors, estate agents: Estate agents and realtors control 95 % or the rental market, and manage properties for owners. Owners may contribute to selecting the tenant, but otherwise there is no contact between tenants and owners.
Rental market vacancy rates and turnover: a balanced housing market generally portrays a vacancy rate of +/- 3%, but most Swiss towns and cities have a vacancy rate of between 0.2 % and 0.8%. This means that the market is tight and demand is higher than supply. This affects price and the number of available properties. Because there are many international workers in big cities such as Geneva, Zurich and Basel, this causes a transient population, and apartments become available quite frequently. The best time to look for a rental property is between April and early July, as families relocate during the summer holidays. Tenants tend to stay in the same accommodation for much longer than average in other countries.
Neighbourhoods: although there are no bad neighbourhoods in Switzerland, certain areas are more desirable than others when considering factors such as taxes, access to schools and lake and mountain views. Property and rental prices reflect these differences. Taxes vary according to the canton and community of residence, so where you live affects the taxes you pay. Even if you do not end up living in your first choice of location, because Switzerland is so small you will never be far away.
Types of permanent housing: You will probably have to get used to smaller spaces. It is not uncommon for a family of four to live in an apartment of 100 m2. Houses with more than four bedrooms are unusual, but there may be a large basement useable as an extra room. Buildings are generally fairly modest but well maintained. Detached houses are mainly not in central areas, but on the outskirts.
Is it better to buy or to rent?: Prices have increased significantly in the Swiss property market over the last ten years. Buying in Switzerland does become cheaper than renting over the medium term. Consider the following:
Introduction to the Swiss mortgage system
You can find comprehensive advice on the mortgage system in Switzerland on the Credit Suisse mortgage pages.
This introductory video will help you get started on understanding what it takes to buy property in Switzerland: