Renting in and around Zurich – My experience

Posted on September 3, 2010

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A few months ago, I wrote an article for an expat website about the peculiarities and complications of renting a flat in and around Zurich. I wrote it in a formal and detached style, supplying information I had found through extensive research and got from Swiss acquaintances. Yes, to tell you the truth, I had not experienced first hand the hell that trying to find a flat to rent on a low-budget here in Zurich really is, because my partner already had a flat I could easily settle into. Everyone kept telling me how bad the situation was, but while I did listen, I didn’t really think it was that bad…

Until my partner and I started having serious arguments with our two flatmates (our idea of what constituted ‘clean’ seemed to be markedly different from theirs) and were given an ultimatum. Either we stayed and they left (which would have left us with a flat whose rent we certainly couldn’t afford) or we left and found another flat. This choice was easy, or rather, we didn’t have a choice. We had four months until our contract expired to find a flat on a budget of between 1000-1200 chf, a budget dictated by the fact that due to my highly irregular income, my partner would have to be able to mostly pay the rent out of his own pockets. We weren’t even worried, to tell you the truth.

And so we started looking for flats…

At first, we leisurely went through all the ads and even acted all picky – this one is too small, this one has an ugly bathroom, this one is in a bad location – and out of a few options we would only pick a couple. We’d even take it easy, and only try to contact the renting company a couple of days later. That’s when we got our first reality check. Waiting for two days? By that time, the flat which had interested us would already have found a new owner. This happened a number of times before we finally realised we had to start acting quickly if we wanted to even be considered for a viewing. We started checking out new flats online everyday, and calling that day or the day after. The problem was that often the person who we needed to call was the person living in the flat at the time, which means it was quite usual to call several times and not get an answer (the person might have been at work, or just not inclined to answer the phone, to put it politely). We did, however, get ourselves a few viewings for small flats at around 1000 chf per month…only to discover that for each of these flats, tens of people were coming for the viewing and almost all of them were applying.

The information you need to fill in on an application form includes your nationality, your job, your place of work and your income, whether you smoke or not, whether you have a pet and often references from a company who has previously rented out a flat to you. I have no idea how from among so many people the renting company  chooses only one. All I know is that neither my partner nor I smoke and we don’t have pets. However, I only have half a salary and I’m a foreigner, so I think this might be the reason why we never even had a chance for any of the flats.

After a number of such viewings and no results, we realised we could no longer be picky – like maniacs we hung around our computers all day searching for new flats. We started applying for everything, whether it was a tiny studio apartment or one on the fourth floor with no lift. We tried to make some sort of connection with the person showing the flat so as to better our chances. There was a particular flat which was being rented out by the owner herself, an old Swiss lady who lived in the house directly attached to it. My partner tried to strike up a conversation with her, but I knew I didn’t have a chance, as I was sure she wouldn’t want a foreigner who couldn’t speak any German as her tenant.

Then there was a little apartment where the previous tenant was a friendly Spanish I could speak to and who had been to my country as many Spanish have. At the end, I asked him politely whether he’d be able to recommend us to the renting company, and he did, but the company had already found someone else who hadn’t even attended the viewing! (maybe a relative or a friend – if you know someone on the inside, it’s easy to get a flat). So this didn’t work out either.

One month before we had to leave our flat and worried that we wouldn’t manage to find something on time (both our parents live in different countries, so it’s not like we could have crashed at their place for a bit) we increased our budget to the maximum we could handle – about 1400 – and again started applying for every flat we could.

Just 30 days before the end of our contract, we managed to find a flat. It is funny that I hardly wanted to go see it, as the man we had called had told us that many, many, many people would be coming. But the viewing was on a Saturday and only for half an hour. It was a bleak and rainy day, and for some reason not many people came. Though we would have applied anyway, we actually liked this flat and the present tenant happened to be Hungarian like my partner. `We sent our applications and called the company a couple of days later to see whether we stood a chance, and we got some positive feedback. A few days later, we received news that we had got it. Why exactly this had happened, I cannot tell you.

And remember that we had this much trouble finding a place not in Zurich itself, but about 20 minutes away by train. The situation in Zurich for people with our budget is even more critical. If you’re looking to rent in the city centre, your best bet remains to find people who are looking for flatmates (and these seem to be plentiful) or want to sublet. Otherwise, you need to increase your budget quite a bit.

My partner read about a guy who applied for something like 80 flats in Zurich without success and then just gave up, and his sister spent almost two years trying to get one on a budget of about 1400 chf and always failed, until she came across one whose maintenance guy she actually knew. For a moment, I really thought we would not manage to find anything and I almost panicked.

When I called my mother and told her we’d found something, she exclaimed in excitement, ‘Can you see? My prayers have been answered. Saint Rita answered my prayers. That’s why I have her statue in my bedroom.’ Back in June when I was visiting my parents in Malta, I had noticed a new addition to their bedroom’s decor – a statue of a woman dressed as a nun with a little electric candle in front of it. When I asked my mother what it was doing there, she told me it was Saint Rita, to whom she prayed whenever she or her family needed something. Apparently  Rita was responsible for finding us a flat. Since I am not really a religious person, I cannot confirm my mother’s claims, though since she also claims that the aforementioned saint has cured my migraines with aura, I have no choice but to carry around a little brooch bearing the picture of Saint Rita in my purse. Yes mum, I am actually doing it, for your sake – though if I had given in to her completely, I would also be wearing a little ring with the saint’s  face on it and have one of those statues on my dresser…

Whether it was karma, destiny or Saint Rita who helped us find a flat… thank you, really. And for all of you out there attempting the same feat…goodluck. But I won’t leave you lost and confused as you might find yourself after reading this post. Here are a few websites where you can find ads for flat sharing and subletting.

Angloinfo Zurich 

Englishforum.ch

Both these websites cater for expats which means that you would most probably get in touch with fellow foreigners for flatshares and subletting

Ron Orp’s mail – Subscribe to the English version of the Zurich mail and you will be able to access the classified section which each month offers quite a few flatshare possibilities. Some advertisers are Swiss but the flat ads are in English.

Comparis.ch – This is a proper renting search site and while ads are in English, specifications are in German. This site will put you in competition with Swiss people and does not provide flatsharing opportunities. You will only occasionally get flats for subletting. I found my flat through this site but only because I didn’t want to share, my location was outside Zurich and my partner is Swiss so he could contact people and deal with all the German paper work.

– Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.travelwithdenden.wordpress.com

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Posted in: Zurich, Zurich