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How a cross-border train has pushed house prices up in Switzerland and France

A commuter rail link between Switzerland and France has caused property prices on both sides of the border to rise sharply.

How a cross-border train has pushed house prices up in Switzerland and France
Private universities market their location near international institutions to attract students to Geneva. (Image by 495756 from Pixabay)

When the Léman Express (LEX) was inaugurated in December 2019, its main goal was to connect the Geneva region with neighbouring French towns and provide a quicker commute for cross-border workers.

Established by the Swiss (SBB) and French (SNCF) railway companies, LEX is Europe’s largest cross-border regional rail network.

Some of the approximately 92,000 employees from France commute to their jobs in the Lake Geneva region by car, while others prefer to take Léman Express, which was launched specifically to reduce journey times and cut traffic in and around Geneva.

But while this goal has been largely achieved – the train carries 52,000 passengers a day — the rail link is also causing rents and property prices in the vicinity of the train’s 45 stations to soar by 8 to 9 percent on average — a sharper increase than elsewhere in the region.  

Prices rose in the French departments of Haute-Savoie and Ain, as well as in Swiss cantons of Geneva and Vaud, all of which lie along Léman Express’ 230-km track, according to Tribune de Genève (TDG).

Screenshot Léman Express

Why has this happened ?

As a general rule, transport infrastructure influences real estate prices, according to Dragana Djurdjevic, statistician at Wüest Partner real estate consultants interviewed by TDG.

Increases vary based on the type of transport —such as trains, buses or trams — as well as the frequency and the distance of the property to the nearest stop.

Typically, prices / rents are the highest within 300 metres around a station.

In general, Swiss and French municipalities with a LEX station have recorded significantly higher rents and sale prices than areas that have no access to the train, Djurdjevic said.

Just how much have prices increased along the LEX line?

On  the Swiss side, rents rose by 4.9 percent along the track.  In Geneva itself (already the most expensive rental market) , they went up by 1.5 percent, and only slightly less (1.4 percent) in Vaud.

READ MORE: Why is Geneva’s rent the highest in Switzerland?

In terms of properties, prices along the network rose by 17.7 percent; in Geneva the increase is 12.3 percent, and 13 percent in Vaud.

In neighbouring France, rents increased by 6.1 percent along LEX stops. In Haute-Savoie, the increase is 6.3 percent and in Ain 9.1 percent.

Sale prices went up by 15.7 percent along the track, 14.8 percent in Haute-Savoie and 23.7 percent in Ain.

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RENTING

FACT CHECK: Are immigrants really responsible for Switzerland’s housing shortage?

The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) is blaming foreign nationals for the deteriorating situation on the property market. But is this really the case? We look at the facts.

FACT CHECK: Are immigrants really responsible for Switzerland's housing shortage?

SVP has long blamed Switzerland’s foreign population for all kinds of misdeeds — from taking jobs away from the Swiss and abusing the country’s welfare system, to not recycling their trash correctly.

In yet another “attack” on Switzerland’s foreign population, the SVP is now pointing accusing fingers at immigrants for the lack of housing in certain Swiss regions.

This claim has been made by a SVP deputy Michael Buffat, who said that  foreigners, including about 70,000 Ukrainian refuges currently in the country, are occupying housing, while many Swiss can’t find vacant dwellings.

Is this claim true or false?

It is correct that the Swiss rental market is experiencing a shortage, with dwellings becoming scarcer in most cantons.

In all, according to a study carried out by Raiffeisen bank, 20 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons will lack sufficient housing next year, including Geneva, Zurich, and Zug, which are among the country’s most populated and industrialised centres.

Bern, Vaud, and Graubünden are also heavily impacted.

READ MORE : Switzerland set to experience housing shortage and (even) higher rents in 2023

So this part of SVP’s  claim — that there is indeed a housing shortage in Switzerland — can’t be disputed.

Yes, but are immigrants really responsible for this situation?

The situation is much more complex. In fact, there are several reasons why housing is becoming scarce across the country. One is the increase in construction costs, which has slowed down activity in the sector.

Another is that Switzerland is a small country and building land is becoming increasingly scarce.

Immigrants can’t be blamed for either of these phenomena.

As far as foreigners are concerned, SVP’s claim is only partially true.

“Switzerland has been in a situation of uninterrupted demographic growth for several decades, and this is explained in particular by the arrival of young migrants, who also contribute to the Swiss birth rate,” according to Philippe Wanner, professor at the Institute of Demography and Social Economics at the University of Geneva.

However, this is not the full picture.

In a direct response to Buffat’s accusation, the government pointed out that immigrants usually occupy less housing space than the Swiss — in other words, the type of apartments they are looking for don’t compete with those that the permanent population favours.

Specifically, based on data from 2021, the “average living area of a Swiss household was 52.2 square metres, while that of a household of foreign nationality was 37.6 square meters”, the Swiss government said.

“As for Ukrainians, these refugees use much less space than Swiss people, because they often do not live in their own apartment, but are placed in dwellings occupied by people established in Switzerland or in collective housing.”

READ MORE: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

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