Finding a decent place to live in one of the world’s most competitive home rental markets is a challenge shared by newcomers and locals alike. While many other property markets host a continuous supply of homeowners who are happy to negotiate and compromise in order to secure a good tenant, in Switzerland the opposite is true.
That is especially the case when you are looking for reasonably-priced housing within decent commuting distance from major urban centers. Demand for rental homes is high, and landlords call the shots.
Here moneyland.ch lists 8 tips to max out your chances of securing a good rental home.
1. Clean up your credit history
If you are Swiss or have lived in Switzerland for a long time, there may be entries in your file at your municipalities' debt collection office due to misunderstandings or late payments. Virtually all prospective Swiss landlords expect you to provide a current report from the debt collection register, and having even one negative entry in your credit record is a general no-go. Entries which are more than 5 years old will no longer show on your debt collection register report. More recent entries present a serious problem. Make sure to check your record at your local debt collection office before you begin applying for homes.
As a first step, you should contact the merchant or other entity which filed the debt collection charge and ask them to withdraw it. This shouldn’t usually be a problem if the debt has been paid, although some entities may request an administration fee for the effort involved. If the debt has not been paid, merchants may require you to pay the debt before they withdraw the charge. Only you can decide if paying your debt or possible fees for clearing your debt collection register file is worth it, especially if the sums are high. In any case, a bad mark on your register will knock down your chances of being approved for a home rental to almost zero.
If you already paid the debt in question and you have evidence (receipts for example) to prove it, you can present your case at a court of law. If the court accepts your evidence, they will inform the debt collection office and have them remove the entry. You will pay something for the court proceedings, but it is worth it if you can clear your record.
2. Wander off the beaten path
Today, the internet makes it possible for you to easily find prospective rental homes countrywide. While major online real estate portals are a good first stop, it is important to consider that most other house hunters are using those same tools, and finding the same prospective homes. That means you can expect a lot of competition.
Try broadening your approach by checking classified websites as well. Newspapers covering the area in which you want to live may well have local classifieds which you may not find online (some have an online presence as well). Bulletin boards at local shopping centers, train or bus stations and town halls are also worth checking out. Additionally, many municipalities list homes for rent on their website or make lists available at the municipal administration building.
Although “old-style” house hunting requires more effort and travel, it may be worth it if you have found it difficult to compete for the handful of rental homes listed on the most popular web portals.
3. Maintain a healthy bank balance
Showing that you have the means to pay your rent is crucial because landlords generally want a hassle free flow of rental income with minimal hassles. Although Swiss banking secrecy laws forbid landlords from demanding to see your bank statements, you have every right to provide these willingly for extra leverage. If your bank statements show a positive bank balance with outflows consistently lower than inflows, they can provide evidence that you can indeed meet your rental payments without issue.
If you have cash savings, consider placing them in your checking account during the months leading up to your rental home quest. Try to keep outgoing transactions to a minimum during that time. Consider setting up a direct debit for your current rent (if you pay one) to provide prospective landlords with a record of your rental payment behavior. To achieve any effect, you will want to show at least 3 months of bank statements. 6-months’ worth is even more effective.
4. Prepare a classy application
If you are new to Switzerland, the idea of having to sell yourself to a landlord might seem foreign to you. However, unless you are applying for a home in a very rural area, you should understand that you are likely just one of many applicants. Preparing an attractive “resume” can help you stand out from the crowd.
As well as a (nice) picture of yourself, you will want to state clearly why you believe that you are the right tenant for the home in question, and what you can bring to the community. If you do not own pets, smoke, listen to loud music or play instruments, these “virtues” are worth mentioning. Emphasize your ability to live harmoniously with neighbors (assuming this is the case) and your tendency towards a quiet home life. If you are not versed in the local language of the area in which you are looking for housing, consider engaging the help of a friend or even a professional translator.
5. Come to the viewing prepared
Many people want to view a home before they bother going to the trouble of preparing an application and necessary documents. But if the description and location of a property is convincing enough to get you to take time off to go view it, you might as well go prepared. Having your application ready to turn in at the viewing itself will give you a head start on other applicants. In most cases you can leave this application with the real estate agent, concierge or landlord when you meet at the viewing.
Documents to bring include your resume, a recent debt collection register report (ideally not more than one month old) and bank statements for recent months (if you are willing to share them). If you are a foreign resident or if you have only recently arrived in Switzerland, a copy of your residence permit can help erase doubts as to your ability to maintain a long-term rental contract in Switzerland.
6. Look out for tenant succession offers
One of the best ways to improve your chances of being approved for a rental home is to look out for tenant succession offers. Homeowners often prefer that their rental properties do not remain vacant for any amount of time, because that costs them money. Because terminating a Swiss rental contract usually involves long notice periods, many tenants actively seek out new prospective renters who are willing to take over their contract immediately. This enables them to move without having to wait out the notice period.
When you take over a rental as a successive tenant (German: Nachmieter), you can often benefit from the same conditions enjoyed by the previous tenant. Because both the outgoing tenants and the landlords are interested in finding a replacement tenant as quickly as possible, your chances of being approved are higher than average. Aside from asking around in your circle of friends and acquaintances, online forums and other social media are also a good place to connect with outgoing tenants.
7. Consider limited-term rentals
If you do not expect to remain in the same location permanently, a limited-term rental could provide an affordable and easy-to-get solution. In Switzerland, limited-term normally result when a building is due for renovation or, in rare instances, for demolishment to make room for a new construction. Most long-term renters in Switzerland move out of rental homes long before the renovation begins, leaving gaps of anywhere from several months to two years (even longer in some cases).
Because limited-term rentals are not popular among renters, competition for these rentals is lax, and rents are often well below the market norm. If the property will be renovated after you move out, you usually will not be expected to invest in refurbishing the place before moving out, as is the norm at other Swiss rental properties.
This arrangement can work very well for singles who are not opposed to moving homes on an annual basis, and if you have a good income and Swiss citizenship or a solid residence status, you will have very little competition for limited-term rentals. This type of rental also provides a good stop-gap solution, giving you extra time to find a long-term home.
8. Consider subleasing
Subletting rental homes is widely practiced in Switzerland and is perfectly legal. In this setup, a person who rents a home subleases the home to you. This generally involves signing a formal contract, and taking on many of the responsibilities associated with regular tenants. The difference is that, although the landlord will have to be informed about the sublease and can deny it, you primarily deal with the renter.
Because renters usually sublease their rental home due to changes in their situation, such as a move-in with a romantic partner or a work-related relocation, they have a lot of incentive to find a good sub-lessee. While many sub-lease agreements are short-term (a year or less), subleases can also be long-term and in some cases, almost indefinite.
Classifieds papers and websites are a good first stop for sublease deals. Social media, online forums and word of mouth are other good places to hook up with sublets. Read the moneyland.ch guide to subletting for more information.