Living in Switzerland

Finding a family home in Zurich

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Rental expert Karen Schoendorf offers tips to optimise your house searching in Zurich to help get the Swiss house that best suits your family's needs.

When searching for a home in Zurich, there are many things to consider in order to make sure that you find the right property for your family. Zürich is a family-friendly city with a variety of options for expats. Karen Schoendorf, Zurich branch manager of rental agency Packimpex, points out that while there is no particular area of the city specified for families, many internationals tend to settle near the two main schools on either side of the lake – Kusnacht and Zumikon on the right side (known as the 'gold coast'), and Kilchberg and Thawil on the opposite side (the 'silver coast').

"It is difficult to find homes with gardens in Zürich city but most areas provide a number of recreational areas and children's play parks close by," says Karen. She recommends the Dolder Forest, the Zoo area, Irchel, Landesmueseum by the River Limatt, and the Uetliberg.

"Ground floor apartments will often have small patios and some apartments have shared garden or barbecue areas. Houses with gardens are found outside of the city and generally cost more than apartments," she says.

The average size of a home in Zurich is between 90–100 sqm. However, large homes with five or six bedrooms are very scarce. "Space always costs more, no matter where you live and Switzerland is certainly no exception," says Karen.

"The further you live from the city the cheaper the land becomes, and if you are looking for more outdoor space this could be a good option. But for international people living in Switzerland it is important to consider that living too far away from a city might make you feel isolated from the international community."

Typical houses in Zürich city are of 1920s design with very modern renovated interiors. Such buildings are mostly found in districts one (the old town), two (by the lakeside, near to the international schools), and seven (Zürichberg). Sometimes these buildings are under historical monumental protection and therefore have very high rents. More and more new buildings with modern exteriors and interiors are being built around the city, but new and very modern apartments are also expensive.

Housing in the industrial districts of 3 and 4 are a bit more affordable, as are the options in districts 9, 11 and 12 (about 15 minutes from the main city railway station), or nearer to Zürich airport. All of these areas are easily accessible to the city centre with public transport.

Karen says renting is the norm in Switzerland. "To those considering buying a home in Switzerland, we recommend that you speak to a tax expert and a bank first. Since property prices only move between 1 and 2 percent each year, for many people, purchasing a property is not necessarily an effective way of creating more wealth, unlike in other countries."

According to Karen, buying a home is relatively simple but selling one is a different challenge. "Most people in Switzerland are looking to rent so there are very few buyers in the market place. It could take a year or more to sell a property. However, banks welcome investors and are very supportive of home buyers if clients are credit-worthy and have good records."

There are also some special rules to consider when you change properties. For example, when signing a rental contract a one-year fixed term is expected. Three months of notice must be given before moving. Traditionally, moves must occur in either March or September (sometimes June is allowed as well but December is not permitted). However, it is increasingly common for new contracts to have the possibility to cancel the lease at the end of every month except December (still with a three-month notice period). It can be possible to move before the three months of notice if follow-up tenants are found and a new rental contract is signed with them. Of course rental properties are also expected to be left in the same condition as they were found or fees for damages will incur.

Naturally, if you have school-age children, you will want to take into account the best school to suit your family. If attending public school, children must attend the local school nearest to their home. Swiss schools are the responsibility of the cantons and state schools refer to non-fee paying schools, which are funded by the canton.

"Local schools are generally of a high standard and worth considering for German-speaking families," says Karen. Even for non-German speaking families, if your relocation to Switzerland is expected to be more than a couple of years it may well be worth integrating into the excellent Swiss school system. Initial language support will be provided by the school.

There are a few major international schools as well in Zurich. The Zurich International School follows the IB program and is situated on the Silver Coast (Wädenswil, Kilchberg, Horgen, Adliswil) in Baden. There is also the Swiss Internation School, which has campuses in Männedorf, Zürich Wollishofen, Wallisellen, Wintherthur and Zug. In Gockhausen there is the French school, Lycée Français de Zurich. There is also a number of smaller international schools and bilingual options in the Zurich area.

Many of the schools offer a bus service to collect younger children but the older students tend to make their own way on Switzerland's excellent public transport system.


Anna Tuson / Expatica

Updated from 2012 by Karen Schöndorf, Packimpex branch manager for Zurich and Zug. Packimpex has a wide network in Switzerland for finding the perfect family home in Zurich.

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