7 tips for finding an apartment in Zurich
Difficult to find: an apartment with a view in Zurich.Image: KEYSTONE
Apartments in Zurich are scarce. Affordable even scarcer. Watson asked experts from the Zurich real estate scene how to find a suitable apartment, perhaps even a cheap cooperative apartment.
Finding an apartment in Zurich is not a sprint, but a marathon. Recreational periods are only available while queuing for sightseeing.
The statistics also show how difficult it is to find an apartment in Zurich. According to the city administration, the resident population increased by almost 6000 people in 2022. However, only 800 new homes were built between 2021 and 2022, compared to around 2000 in previous years. (Speaking of 2000, apartment rents have increased about 40 percent since that date, according to the city.)
Anyone looking for a new home in the city at the beginning of June only had 161 apartments to choose from, according to the last vacancy count. Compared to 2021, it is less than half. “The decline in vacancies in smaller apartments was particularly strong,” writes the city. People with a smaller budget for monthly rent are also particularly affected.
Thousands of them will be looking for an apartment in Zurich again this year. For this reason, watson asked real estate experts what professional tips they could give when looking for an apartment.
Where it has which apartments
If you are looking for a cheap apartment, you need to know where in Zurich there are affordable offers. “The further away from the center, the better the chances of finding an apartment,” says Walter Angst from the Swiss Tenants’ Association.
There are cheaper prices in the districts of Leimbach, Schwamendingen, Affoltern and Seebach. According to the city of Zurich, affordable apartments can also be found in the Hard and Friesenberg districts.
The city of Zurich districts 1 and 8 are the most expensive. Specifically, the districts of Lindenhof, town hall and universities, Seefeld and Mühlebach, Fluntern and Hottingen as well as Enge and Escher Wyss.
SP will “stop rent explosion”
On the other hand, the Social Democrats are now taking action with a cantonal initiative – “Stop the rent explosion,” is their announcement. The SP is currently collecting signatures for the introduction of the so-called right of first refusal. As a result, communities would be informed in advance of the sale of land and building land – so that they could buy it themselves if they were interested. According to the SP, municipalities can create more affordable housing through a right of first refusal. “In many real estate transactions, cities and municipalities don’t even have a theoretical chance to bid, since there is no open bidding process. With a cantonal people’s initiative, we want to create the legal basis for the introduction of communal rights of first refusal, »says SP secretary Hélène Fischer to watson. 6,000 signatures are required to bring the initiative to fruition. According to Fischer, we are on the right track. “We’re heading towards the final sprint. The goal is to submit the signatures in early March,” she says.
The best way to find an apartment
The decisive factor is how you look for an apartment. The tenants’ association recommends asking for such subscriptions – for example with “Homegate”. “There are also smaller portals, but they are often short-lived,” says Angst. The best thing would be to tackle the personal network of contacts.
“Or you get in direct contact with the administrations that work where you want to live. It’s also worth taking unconventional paths,” he says. The only thing the tenants’ association advises against is paying commissions for mediation. The expert recommends the «Homegate» platform. “You should keep your hands off portals like ‘Flatfox’, which have price gouging as a concept,” he says.
The dream of every apartment seeker: moving in.symbol image: KEYSTONE
Christoph Steiner, President of the Zurich section of the Swiss Real Estate Association (SVIT), sees things differently. Steiner himself is the managing director of a property management company. He recommends the portals “Homegate”, “Immoscout24”, “Newhome” and “Flatfox” for the apartment search.
There are also apartments in Zurich on the “Comparis” comparison site, the online portal “Ronorp” and the paid newsletter service from “Immomailing”.
One should be careful with obviously fake advertisements, as a Comparis spokeswoman wrote when asked by watson. This can be recognized by the fact that the price is far too cheap or that a certain amount has to be paid for an apartment viewing.
The first contact
Steiner from SVIT Zurich says that if you like an apartment advert, you should immediately contact us to view it. Except: “If the text of a first rental explicitly states that viewings are not possible due to the progress of construction, then you shouldn’t ask about it,” he advises.
In principle, it is good to introduce yourself at the very first contact – in a few sentences. “The administrations are interested in the number of people, children, pets, age, job and reason for moving house,” says Steiner.
The tenants’ association also recommends an “open, direct and honest manner” in order to make a good impression. And: It’s worth asking the administration politely after a few days.
Tips for sightseeing
If you have been invited to an apartment viewing, a certain amount of preparation is recommended. A confident, well-groomed and polite demeanor is always well received. The best thing to do is remain authentic and not pretend, advises Steiner, who has done countless tours himself.
“If it’s an individual visit, you should put your cards on the table and – like in a job interview – ‘fight’ for the apartment and show yourself from the best side,” he says. You should avoid addressing things about the apartment that you don’t like – as long as the functionality is not restricted. “As is well known, one can argue about taste,” says Steiner.
In Zurich there are many interested in the viewing appointment – like here in the Unterstrass district in June 2016.Image: KEYSTONE
How the application works
If you still want the apartment after the viewing, you have to hurry. “Being fast can be crucial,” says Steiner. However, administrations would attach just as much importance to the completeness of the application dossier.
Simply filling out the questionnaire that was distributed is often not enough. “There are always people behind a tenancy. That’s why a personal letter of motivation is very helpful when choosing a new tenant,” explains Steiner. You should show why you are “the perfect tenant”. “In addition to a current excerpt from the debt enforcement register, a cool photo and a short CV are also required,” says Steiner. Last but not least, it is important to provide references such as the previous lessor and the employer.
In addition, the tenants’ association states that one should not be afraid to name supposed flaws. An example of this is making music: “There are also parties that deliberately rent their apartments to people who play an instrument.”
No-gos when looking for an apartment
It’s often the little things that attract negative attention and are the reason for not getting an apartment. A no-go, for example, is not reading the entire ad and then asking about a viewing, even though it says there is none.
A clear no-go is also if someone gives false information on the registration form, says Steiner. Or: Those who arrived too late for a viewing usually lost. “Punctuality is required,” he explains.
The real estate expert put it as not so bad if you have a debt enforcement. However, this should be addressed and briefly justified. “It can happen to anyone,” says Steiner. For the tenants’ association, however, there is only one no-go: you should refrain from making an offer to pay more rent.
How do I get a cooperative apartment?
Cooperative apartments are popular, but less common in Zurich. On average, these are 15 to 20 percent cheaper than normal rental apartments, in cities like Zurich even 40 to 50 percent. The majority of cooperatives are so-called member cooperatives, where sometimes a share buys, brings in capital in order to become a member.
“The contributions are often no higher than a rental deposit. Depending on the project, it can sometimes be several tens of thousands of francs, especially for young, newly founded cooperatives that need a lot of equity,” said the umbrella organization of housing cooperatives at watson’s request.
In many places you can also pay in installments or allow an early withdrawal from the pension fund to cover the capital. Some housing cooperatives allow you to be put on a waiting list. However, the lists are usually very long and many no longer have any.
According to the umbrella organization, some housing cooperatives publish housing offers on the website and provide information there about planned new construction projects. He recommends calling the cooperatives first to find out how their application process works. “In order to be accepted into a cooperative, it is advisable to remember that you are interested in cooperative life.”
Further tips and addresses of cooperatives can be found under this link.