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RENTING

‘3.5 bedroom apartment’: What are half rooms in Switzerland?

Whether you have recently moved to Switzerland or are hunting for a new apartment, chances are you have seen 1.5 or 3.5-room flats advertised online. But what is a half room?

Hallway
What are half rooms in Switzerland? Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-hallway-1682334/

When browsing popular real estate sites in Switzerland in search for your next abode, you will regularly come across 1.5 to 5.5-room apartments.

But what exactly is a 0.5-room?

Between 1951 and 1983, a half room was described as a room between six and ten square metres and a minimum width of 2.10 metres.

But this is no longer the case.

Today, there is no universally valid definition for a 0.5-room and the term only serves as a loose guideline for potential tenants.

In practice, the term ‘half room’ often stands for the smallest room in a flat that isn’t quite large enough to qualify as a full room, such as the hallway or a storage room.

In Switzerland, apartments may be advertised as featuring a half room if they have one of the following: a kitchen area which is at least 12 square metres in size, a dining or living area within the kitchen space with a minimum size of six square meters, or a spacious cloakroom, entrance room or hallway of at least six square metres in size.

Many of these half room apartments are advertised as such to prevent putting off potential tenants who might be expecting a larger apartment.

So which rooms are considered whole rooms in Swiss apartments?

If you’re not yet familiar with the structure of Swiss apartments, you may not know that in Switzerland only the following are counted as ‘whole’ rooms when renting or selling an apartment: living room, bedrooms and a study.

Yet other rooms are not counted as individual rooms. These include the bathroom, shower area, and kitchen – though there is one exception.

So-called eat-in kitchens, meaning a room in the flat where there is a dining area in addition to a cooking area, are counted as half a room in Switzerland. Most commonly, this is a L-shaped area in the living room where people place dining tables.

READ MORE: Renting in Switzerland: The hurdles you’ll need to overcome to find an apartment

In addition to advertising available flats in rooms, Switzerland also advertises flats in square metres as is the case in other European countries.

But what is included when calculating the living space?

In Swiss apartments, there are so-called main and secondary use areas.

The main area consists of the entrance hall, living room, dining room, bathroom, toilet, kitchen (including the fitted kitchen furniture), pantry, built-in cupboards, corridors, internal stairs, offices, oven and if available, the fireplace.

The only exception is Geneva, where kitchen is counted as a separate room, so if you see an advert for 4.5-room flat, this means two bedrooms living room, a ‘half-room’ (as defined above) as well as a kitchen.

The secondary use area must never be counted towards the living space. That includes the balcony, conservatory, terrace, attic, basement, craft room, bicycle storage room, and garage.

However, even here there is one exception.

If the conservatory can be heated and hence lived in throughout the year, it can be counted as part of the living space and thus a main use area.

Additionally, the area under the sink, toilet, washbasin, bathtub, and built-in cupboard is also included in the living space since this space is also used by the tenant.

When it comes to penthouses however there are no precise regulations in Switzerland and in this case, it is best to ask your landlord directly.

Also note that if you think the square metre calculations are somewhat off and your apartment is in fact slightly smaller of larger, small deviations can occur as per most Swiss rental agreements.

If, however, your apartment is nowhere near the size that is stated on the rental agreement, you may still withdraw from the contract or even ask for a rent reduction.

For a rent reduction to be considered, it is essential that the deviation was not apparent during your inspection of the apartment, or you would have needed to complain prior to signing the contract – but this doesn’t mean the rent reduction will be granted.

In Switzerland rent reductions are only granted in exceptional cases once the rental agreement is signed. This is because if you liked what you saw enough to sign a contract for a respective amount, it would be unreasonable to want to pay less based on incorrect living space calculations alone.

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PROPERTY

Where in Switzerland are property prices falling?

Housing is expensive in Switzerland, but the declining real estate prices are making home ownership just a tad more affordable.

Where in Switzerland are property prices falling?

While many tenants in Switzerland will see their rents go up from October 1st, there is good news for people who want to purchase property: after steadily reaching record highs since 2022, the prices of single-family houses are declining. 

“The days of record prices for single-family homes are over,” Donato Scognamiglio, head of IAZI real estate consultancy, told Swiss media on Sunday.

This means that if you have been hoping to purchase property but weren’t able to afford it, now could be a good time to buy.

Why have the prices dropped?

According to digital real estate valuation platform Realadvisor, “this drop is the consequence of the increase in interest rates by the Swiss National Bank since mid-June 2022.”

Each time the central bank had upped the rate — the last time to 1.75 percent in June 2023 – mortgages became more expensive. As a result,  the demand for real estate plummeted, and the prices have dropped subsequently as well. 

“Homeowners who want to sell their properties now will lower their price by 5 percent or more,” according to Scognamiglio.

Where have the prices dropped, and by how much?

While the decrease is modest, it still means housing is becoming a bit more affordable, even in the high-cost, high demand areas.

For instance, according to Realadvisor, prices in Zurich and Lausanne fell by 0.7 percent in past months, and in Geneva and Basel, they declined by 1.3 percent, on average. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that buying property in these cities has suddenly become ‘cheap.’ Prices for homes there still mostly exceed 1 million francs.

There are, however, regions where you can purchase property for less than that.

They include Jura, Valais (outside of ski resort areas), Solothurn, Fribourg,Thurgau, Schaffhausen, Appenzell Ausserhoden, St Gallen, Neuchatel, Bern, Uri, Aargau and Ticino. 

In all of these places homes can still be purchased for under a million francs.

Will the real estate prices remain lower?

For the immediate future, yes.

But as the housing market is volatile and largely depends on the fluctuation of interest rates, as well as other factors like construction activity, experts doubt the situation will continue into 2024.

So if you are serious about purchasing property, you should strike the iron while it’s hot.

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