Apartment hunting in Switzerland
February 12, 2015 12:26 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are both in Switzerland, he in Geneva and I in Bern. We want to move in together. Please help us with our special snowflake details?

I work in Berne and my boyfriend goes to grad school in Geneva. I make slightly under 5.000 CHF a month, he only has a small student loan, so our place will have to be around 1.600 CHF or less. It needs to have a separate bedroom, so not a studio, since we don't always go to bed and wake up at the same time. Furnished would be great because we don't know whether we will still be here next fall (2016) when he graduates, so buying tons of furniture is not practical. The apartment would also have to be close to a major train station and have resonable thick wall so we don't hear the neighbours walking or watching TV. (I don't mind street noise to a degree, but people's noise drives me crazy. My current place sounds like elephants live upstairs.)

I don't mind commuting, but it's 1:46 min from Geneva main station to Berne main station and then another ten minutes to my workplace, so if possible, I wouldn't want to live more than ten tram (or walking) minutes from the station, with a tram line that is served every five minutes or so. Same vice versa if my boyfriend ends up moving to Berne. We have thought of him moving to Berne, which may be a bit cheaper because the rent here is slightly less and he'd also pay less for his train pass as a student, but my work hours are very regular whereas he sometimes has late student meetings, and he might also get an internship soon with weird hours.
We also thought of moving somewhere in the middle, but then we'd both have to pay for train passes. Lausanne does sound like the best solution, being half an hour from Geneva and an hour from Berne, and I really don't mind an hour or more of uninterrupted train time where I can actually sit down and do stuff. (I am considering doing some distance learning. I'm pretty used to commuting from my student days.) Fribourg is too far from Geneva already, as is Neuchatel, though we'd move there if it has the kind of apartment we want.

Our initial plan was to move into one of the couple's apartments my boyfriend's dorm offers, but there's none available at the moment. There was a girl who wanted to move our of hers because it was too expensive for her alone after her boyfriend left, and she said she'd switch rooms with my boyfriend but then changed her mind because he has a flatmate and she doesn't want to live with a guy. (Which I understand because my current roomate's boyfriend is disgusting.) Then she said she'd move out into a studio and the dorm admin told us once she's out, her room would be ours. Turns out, now she wants to switch rooms with a girl who has a studio, or maybe sublet her living room to someone to save on rent. She only told us about that this week, so we're really short on time as I need to move out of my current room on March 15. We then thought I'd look for another place here while my boyfriend stays in his dorm room until another couple's apartment opens up next semester, but apparently new students have priority even though for this semester, we are at the top of the wait list.

It really seems like we're going to have to look for a furnished place close to a station, but it's hard. I also have a bit of apartment-hunting anxiety since the last time I did that, I ended up in a place I didn't like and it just brings up memories from a bad time in my life. My boyfriend is very stoic, though, but he's also pretty busy with school right now and I can't just let him search. (Plus, he doesn't speak a lot of German, whereas I do.)

Does anyone know any place apart from the usual stuff you get when you google? We had one promising offer last week that turned out to be a scam (see last AskMe), which was scary because a supposed student in the Graduate Institute Facebook group posted about it. A lot of people post their rooms there, but they're usually only for one person or very short-term, and we'd like to avoid moving around often if possible.

I know this is probably a "just google and research yourself" kind of question, but I'd really appreciate any input. Thank you in advance!
posted by LoonyLovegood to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: No specific leads or suggestions but have you posted this question on the English Forum? There are always such a high turnover in expats in Switzerland, that there are always people looking for new tenants for their apartments, so they can leave their leases early. There are also always people looking to sell practically new furniture cheaply because their contracts are up! You are looking at GAs as well when you're looking at travel costs? And you've let your colleagues know? And you've got all your ducks in a row in terms of deposit, references and such? The letting market is very competitive especially if you're looking at the lower end of the spectrum and if you can't move quickly you'll lose out.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:09 PM on February 12, 2015

- The forum quoted above is also very good for used (mostly ikea) furniture. Also Ricardo.ch (an auction site like ebay) had tons and tons of good used stuff.
- The train between Bern and Geneva has two stops: Lausanne and Fribourg.
- Most people in switzerland look for apartments on www.homegate.ch. I am not sure where students post temporary rooms? You can also try ronorp.
- It will probably be much easier to find a less expensive apartment that is not furnished. but, in general real estate in switzerland is super super tough.
- what is your job in Bern? Can you look for a job in Geneva? Your salary is low for switzerland and maybe you could earn more somewhere else? (I only write this because you mention your salary).
- if you are going to commute on the train, it is normally better to buy a 'Streckenabo' - a ticket for the line you will take regularly. It is almost always less expensive than a GA.
Maybe it is better if you both look for shared rooms and hang out on the weekends?

it sounds tough. Good luck!
posted by jazh at 2:39 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I know about the GA and where the IC/IR stops, we've been visiting each other. Normally, we post on his grad school's Facebook page as lots of students offer rooms there, but they're almost never for a couple.
I have just started my job in Bern after looking for a job in Geneva with no success. My problem is that I don't speak French very well (yet) and that there seems to be a demand mostly for people with master's in international relations/law/engineering/anything specific and I only have a B.A. in Japanese studies. (Which is why I work for the Japanese government here.) I know my salary is not high - although my Swiss friend said it's the normal entry level range for people with undergraduate degrees -, but it's my first job and I've just started and I have a two-year contract I will finish out before looking for new jobs, because it can't look good on my resume if I just quit right after starting. Switching jobs was not in my question.
The Streckenabo between Bern and Geneva is not cheaper than the GA.
I came here specifically to be with my boyfriend and am sick of having a weekend-only relationship. That was not my question.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 10:31 PM on February 12, 2015

Have you worked out your budget for all those other costs, like transport?

If you haven't already, work out how much you can pay for rent + transport costs and then have a look at places in Bern, places in Genf, and places in between where the cost of transport for the two of you + rent matches what you can afford. In between would probably be the most fair, but maybe one of you is more willing to commute than the other and would be happy to move somewhere further away from work/university if the apartment is perfect.
You both have to work out what your wants and needs are in that regard and be honest about them. Tell your boyfriend that he's not allowed to just pretend to be okay with whatever, especially if it means him ending up with long days at uni and a long commute afterwards if he's not actually happy about that.

Then when you find a place, you both contribute to the rent + transport fund each month and split the transport costs however they fall, whether it's more money for you or for him. I think it's only fair that whoever has the shorter commute helps to pay the fare for the more expensive ticket.

As for your previous experiences apartment hunting, I think you have to get over that. So, you weren't that happy with a previous place? Now is your chance to find a place that you love! Sit down together and make a list of features that you absolutely need, features that you'd like but can live without, and deal breakers. Don't settle for an apartment that includes dealbreakers.

I know that it sucks only seeing each other on the weekends, but I live in the same city as my partner and only see him on weekends anyway. It's rare that I see him much more than when he was working five days a week in another state and he only came home on weekends. In fact, I probably saw him more then because there was the constant reminder that our time together was limited. You've been long distance before, right? Surely seeing him every weekend is better than going weeks or months apart?
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:16 AM on February 13, 2015

Also, have you looked on WG Gesucht? You can search for all kinds of types of accommodation there, not just rooms in WGs. And you can search for places in Switzerland.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:21 AM on February 13, 2015

Best answer: Hey, I'm not sure how much I have to contribute directly to your question since I live in Zürich and don't speak French, but my work has offices in Fribourg and Lausanne so I'm going to ask if anyone knows of apartments there. Apartment hunting in this country sucks, sorry you're going through it!

homegate.ch is the biggest site I know of for apartments, and friend-of-a-friend is the way most people seem to find their new places. It's also the easiest way to find a new renter for your old apartment. We put our old one up on homegate.ch and my partner got dozens or hundreds of phone calls asking about it; it worked but was stressful for him.

((Sidenote: do you know about the "preferred follow-on renter" thing here? I'm going to add it in for future readers, anyway. At least in Zürich, and I think generally in Switzerland, your rental contract comes with one or two dates every year when you can give notice and move out without having to pay a fee. If you want to move out at some other time of year, you have to find someone to take on the flat after you, and recommend them to the landlord, or pay some probably large amount of money.))

Since your boyfriend is a student, I'd also recommend he make a habit of going through all the bulletin boards at his university, and put up some of his own. This seems to be how the students in Zürich do it.
posted by daisyk at 3:29 AM on February 13, 2015

Best answer: As for specific termination dates in tenancy agreements - they do exist but I live in ZH and I just have to give three months notice and I can't move to the end of December. But definitely read the contract carefully and don't make any assumptions about terms.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:40 AM on February 13, 2015

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