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Buying a home in Switzerland: the insider tips you need to know

Switzerland is a wonderful country to discover, explore and to settle in. Increasingly, international workers are choosing to purchase a property there. Together with Swiss mortgage specialist Hyppo.CH, we look at some of the challenges this raises.

Buying a home in Switzerland: the insider tips you need to know
Photo: Getty Images

So you’ve decided that you want to buy a home. You’ve looked at a few neighbourhoods, you’ve done some research and you’re ready to take the plunge. So what now?

Hyppo helps expats in Switzerland secure their dream property with mortgage advice – find out more

Recognize the differences

While there are differences between every country when it comes to mortgages, there are some particular quirks that you might not be aware of.

For example, mortgages are structured over a much longer period than you may be used to – 50 years being fairly common. Indeed, mortgages are often passed on from generation to generation! One benefit of these longer mortgage periods is that you get some pretty spectacular interest rates.

On the other hand, if you come from certain countries and have not yet secured residence, you may need to apply for a special buying permit to purchase a property.

If you use a home financing tool such as Hyppo, which has a keen understanding of the mortgage market in Switzerland, you will often find that you have more buying power than you think.

When it comes to buying a property in Switzerland, your purchasing power may be far higher than you think. Learn more with Hyppo.

Know what you’re working with

Speaking of affordability, Switzerland’s flexibility with how you’re able to fund your mortgage means that putting together a deposit may be one of the easiest steps in the process.

For example, Switzerland allows you to fund your mortgage with your pension fund. While there are many in their early stages of their career who won’t have accrued enough for an entire deposit, it can be the difference between purchasing a good and a great property.

Hyppo walks prospective homeowners through a series of carefully devised questions, in order to gauge exactly what financial resources they have – even if they might not be aware of them yet. From there, Hyppo is able to present them with a potential offer.


Pic: Getty/fotoVoyager

Organize your paperwork

Obtaining a mortgage can be a complex process, with many steps and lots of paperwork. As a country where three languages are spoken, and cantons with differing requirements for home ownership, it can seem almost impossible.

This means that you will need to keep immaculate records of every step in the mortgage acquisition process – you will often be asked to show proof of various things, and this will mean a lot of back and forth between you, the bank and lawyers.

If you opt to optimize your mortgage with Hyppo, much of the pain of this part of the process can be removed. As one of the first digital mortgage specialists in the country, they can walk you through every step in the process and help you keep everything in order. You’ll be able to refer to them for specialist assistance at any stage from start to finish, and you’ll have more time to do the important stuff – such as getting to know your new neighbourhood.

Best of all, with Hyppo, there is no financial obligation during the inquiry process, and you’ll work with them knowing that they’re specifically designed to assist international professionals in the same position as you.

Take the next step and begin your Swiss property purchase with Hyppo

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Checklist: What documents do I need for an apartment in Switzerland?

Looking for a flat? You need to have your documents in order. Here’s what you need to know.

Checklist: What documents do I need for an apartment in Switzerland?

Finding a flat in Switzerland is incredibly competitive, even if you are not looking in the larger metropolises of Zurich and Geneva. 

Landlords will often get hundreds of applications for each flat offer. 

One way to get ahead is to make sure you have your documents in order early – in many cases even before you see the apartment in question. 

While this will sometimes lead to some unnecessary printing, you will ensure your completed documentation is on top of the landlord’s pile when the big decision has to be made. 

If you aren’t handing the documents in in person, put them all together in one PDF file when you send it over to make it easier for the landlord to read. 

Here are some of the important documents you will need to find a flat in Switzerland. 

Overview

There are two broad categories of documents you need to move into a flat in Switzerland: the need to haves and the nice to haves, although things are so competitive these days that many of the nice to haves are getting a little more essential. 

The need to haves include identification, application form and residence permit (if you don’t have a Swiss passport). 

The nice to haves are a cover letter, freedom from debt statement, employment information, references from employers and from previous landlords and additional information about the nature of your employment, i.e. a contract showing the duration of your employment. 

All of the documents should be provided in the language of the canton in which you apply. Often it will be no problem to apply in English, particularly in larger cities, however an application in the local language will always be looked upon positively. 

Finally, while the following is a guide as to the commonly requested and required documents in Switzerland, it does vary from place to place. 

Sometimes you will need to register with a particular property company, for instance, or provide other specifics related to the accommodation, i.e. student accommodation. 

Landlords are however restricted from asking certain questions, including those related to health. More info on this is available below. 

Renting in Switzerland: The questions your landlord can and cannot ask you

Identification

This one is relatively self-explanatory, as not even the most trusting landlord is likely to allow you to move in without proof of who you are. 

For foreigners, a passport is likely to be required, although your Swiss identity card will also suffice. 

Application form

The application form is the centrepiece of your request, so be sure to include it. 

It will guide you through the process, showing you which information you need to provide and generally what the landlord considers necessary. 

Generally speaking application forms will be available online, or at the very least will be available at the apartment viewing. 

If you can, fill it out online and hand it in at the viewing – it will put you ahead of the competition. 

Employment status 

Generally, your application will ask for your profession and for your employer. 

They will also ask for a salary estimate and sometimes proof of salary, or at least a ballpark figure of what you earn. 

Real estate agencies tend to run by the loose rule that your rent should not be more than a third of your wage, so keep that in mind when applying. 

Residence permit

As we outlined here, landlords cannot as you about your nationality or other potentially associated characteristics such as religion or race, but they are permitted to ask for proof of your residency status. 

Specifically, a landlord is allowed to ask whether you are Swiss or not and to provide details of your citizenship or residency details, i.e. which type of permit you have to live in Switzerland. 

Again, while this may appear to be a personal question and may result in discrimination, landlords will want to know you have a right to live in Switzerland and are therefore likely to stick around for the long(ish) term. 

Freedom from debt statement 

There are two statements here – a general certificate saying you are not in debt (from organisations like CRIF, ZEK, IKO or Bisnode) and one which highlights you are not in debt to your previous landlord. 

Generally speaking, neither of these are required in Switzerland, although you will be making your life more difficult if you don’t provide them. 

In Germany and Austria, landlords will often ask for a Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung (pronounced meat-shool-den-fry-height-bee-shine-ee-goong). 

Switzerland loves paperwork. Photo: Christa Dodoo on Unsplash.

Switzerland loves paperwork. Photo: Christa Dodoo on Unsplash.

Literally translating as rent-debt-freedom-certificate, the Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung is a document which confirms you are not in rental debt for your previous properties. 

Keep in mind that in Switzerland the previous landlord is under no obligation to provide this certificate – and a tenant is also under no obligation to show it. 

Tenant or landlord: Who pays which costs in Switzerland?

However, as with everything in this list, such a certificate is likely to help convince a landlord that a tenant is trustworthy. 

A landlord looking at two identical applications is likely to decide in favour of the tenant who has provided a Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung rather than the tenant who hasn’t. 

If your landlord will not provide you with one – or asks for a large sum of money to get it – you can provide this information to your prospective landlord. 

Generally speaking you should not be charged more than 20 francs for such a statement. 

Cover letter

A cover letter will usually not be a requirement, however it is perhaps the best chance you have to explain a little about yourself, why you want to live in the region (and in the specific flat) and what your long-term goals are. 

Generally speaking you will not get to meet the landlord personally (unless its a private rental), so the cover letter is your best chance to give an indication as to who you really are. 

When writing a cover letter, be sure not to simply repeat the information on your application form – use it to tell a story about yourself and why you are captivated by the flat (remember that landlords will be able to smell a generic cover letter a mile away). 

Like resumes, cover letters in Switzerland generally include photos. 

Recommendation letters

Recommend letter of recommendation from your former landlord or from your employer are definitely in the nice to have category and may not be looked at at all, however a landlord may be swayed by the positive opinion of a previous landlord. 

Renting in Switzerland: Can a landlord ask if I am vaccinated? 

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