Home Housing Renting Making the decision: rent a house or apartment in Switzerland
Last update on November 05, 2019

When moving to Switzerland, some imagine buying a quaint mountain cottage at the foot of the Alps. In reality, most people rent in Switzerland rather than buy.

Switzerland has one of the lowest home ownership rates in Europe—recent data shows that 55.5 percent of people in Switzerland are actually renters, not owners. Regarding housing in Switzerland, the rental market – particularly apartments – is currently shifting, according to reports from Credit Suisse, as wealthier households switch to ownership, the number of vacant rental apartments rise, new apartment construction surges, and rent prices begin to fall.

Still, some expats in Switzerland feel the need to have a house for a home, not an apartment. Expatica offers expats some insight when deciding whether to rent a house or apartment in Switzerland.

Choosing a house or apartment in Switzerland: the location

Finding an apartment or house in Switzerland naturally begins with the location. Many expats coming to Switzerland for work must live within or near a particular city; otherwise, they often relocate to one of the most popular Swiss cities for expats in order to live in an international environment. Major cities feature more apartments than single-family homes, as is typical in any country.

Basel, for example, the third most populous city in Switzerland, had seven houses per 100 apartments as of 2015, according to data from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office; Zurich, the most populous city in Switzerland, has 4.7 homes per 100 apartments, while Geneva has a startlingly low 0.7 houses, even though it has just about half the population of Zurich.

Rent in Switzerland: apartment in Switzerland

Because there are so few houses for rent in Geneva, prospective tenants are limited in their search—the homes that are available for rent are high above average. In Lugano, however, there are plentiful homes—17.2 for every 100 apartments, making this more of an option for those without sky-high incomes.

House vs. apartment: length of stay

A work assignment in Switzerland may last just a year or two, while a relationship with a Swiss partner may last a lifetime. How long you stay in Switzerland will affect the type of housing you choose. For short stays, furnished apartments are easy to move in and out of, and because many are located conveniently in city centres or close to public transportation, it makes the adjustment to life in Switzerland that much easier. Due to their size, apartments also help you keep the clutter to a minimum—if you’ve got the space, you tend to fill it up.

Those that are planning to stay in Switzerland for the long term (at least five years) may find a house a better fit—and perhaps even to purchase. However, expats should read the fine print carefully: there are fairly strict rules when it comes to buying a house in Switzerland. A rented home, however, can be just as attractive, with less required maintenance—though the rental home market is primarily holiday homes, not long-term residences.

More people, more room needed in a rental

Those that move to Switzerland as a family for a short period may want all the amenities of a furnished apartment in the city centre, but not the minimal space. Furnished homes in major cities are more difficult to find, but they can accommodate more people and provide outdoor space for children. For expats set on renting a house in Switzerland, moving further away from the city provides far more opportunity.

The cost of a home vs. an apartment in Switzerland

Rental prices are falling, and are expected to continue falling in 2017. A Property Market Switzerland report showed that asking prices for rental units dropped 0.7 percent year over year, with the expectation that it will drop 0.9 percent in 2017 overall.

But the cost of living in Switzerland is still high, with Zurich and Geneva making the top 10 list on the Mercer Cost of Living rankings. One-bedroom apartments in Zurich and Geneva, for example, can fetch upwards of CHF 2,000 per month, but often more; houses are nearly double that price. For expats with deeper wallets—and a longer expected stay—it may be worth the price to settle down in a house rather than an apartment.