Off-piste house hunting in Switzerland
If you ever consider coming to Switzerland and renting a place there are a few things you should know up front. These are things that, to the uninitiated, can be confusing and frustrating.
I have spent the last seven years as a semi-nomad, relocating around Europe with my partner, who we'll call Mr Baseman (for his love of baseball!). He has been doing computer consultancy whilst I've been busy with studying and freelance work. We love getting to know a new place to call home for a while, the feeling of satisfaction when you start to get the hang of local customs and the thrill of exploring what treasures hide in your new neighbourhood. I guess you could call what we do Extremely Slow Travel.
So far we have lived in three countries together: Denmark, The Netherlands and now Switzerland. International relocation is complicated, but on those occasions we have been lucky enough to have capable professionals on hand, telling us what to do, how and when to do it – and even do a lot of it for you. It makes the whole process a lot more bearable, but it also costs big bucks. If it’s on a company account that’s great, but if not it’s time to roll up your sleeves, apply that elbow grease and get stuck in.
House hunting to rent in Switzerland is a different animal to anywhere else I've lived. In Denmark, the Netherlands and certainly the UK, a system of first come, first served operates in most circumstances. Not so in Switzerland. You go along and view a place, perhaps you fall in love with it. You probably have a wonderful visual of how great your sofa would look, just there in that corner by the window, and how great it will feel sitting on it (most likely with a nice glass of wine, if you're me!). You're basically sold, ready to sign on the dotted line. But no. You have to fill in a form expressing your interest, joining a bunch of other people in a similar boat, from which the almighty landlord or lady will take their pick. A wildcard for newcomers is that you could easily get shunted to the bottom of the list, simply for not being Swiss, having just arrived in the country and therefore an unknown quantity. Then the wait begins.
If time is tight, as it was for us when we first arrived here, let me tell you – it can be stressful! Especially tedious was being turned down for not one, but two places we had our hearts set on and seeing a multitude of places we didn't like, that sinking feeling in our stomachs getting deeper with each one. In the knick of time, with a truckload of furniture literally en-route from the Netherlands, we ended up gratefully accepting the first acceptable place we were offered – a huge house, so big that a family with four children moved in after us. Not that we were complaining; we had somewhere to live, a great view to boot and plenty of space for our friends and family to visit (high on the list of priorities when living abroad). So we enjoyed every minute of it. But let’s be honest, it just wasn’t sustainable in the long run.
So we moved. This time to a location closer to Geneva where I was working at the time but lo and behold, by the time we actually got settled in, I was no longer working there. The wheels of fate twist and turn but we didn’t mind too much. At least we were now in a place more suited to us in size and rent, still with space for visitors. There was just one downside; we were further away from Baseman’s work and the transport connections turned out to be rather underwhelming for his crazy hours.
So yep, it’s that time again – moving house. Now in our fifth year in Switzerland, compared to some, that makes us veritable veterans! I'm not even sure we count as Extremely Slow Travellers anymore, Baseman having just been renewed for another year at least.
We braced ourselves for another nailbiting ride, yet lady luck was on our side. Third time and all that. Absent-mindedly skimming a website, I chanced upon an advert for a place that looked too good to be true. We went to have a look and dealt directly with the landlady - a total blessing. No annoying estate agents getting in the way with numerous forms, questions, regulations and fees. That she was going on holiday for two months the week after our viewing probably worked in our favour too! And that right there, is perfect symbiosis: We loved the flat, she liked us and we all wanted to move ahead fast. So we signed – on the spot. Unheard of in Switzerland and much to the relief of us all. We only looked for one week too. The first time around it took us five!
Our new place ticks all the boxes: Stunning view, a big lounge and enough space for Baseman's gym, an office for me and a guest room, yet not so huge that we’ll be rattling around trying to find each other. It's the ground floor of a beautiful house from the 1920's, overlooking my favourite mountains in the Lac Leman area - multi-summited Les Dents du Midi (the Teeth of the South). Needless to say we can’t wait to move in!
Now I can concentrate on clearing out some of the clutter we have accumulated. The name of the game is throwing out as much as possible. I mean well and I talk the talk. Now I just got to walk the throw-away walk!