Anyone reading this who is Swiss or an expat living in Switzerland might be mildly surprised I haven’t blogged on this topic before – housing. I read an article recently that said housing was the number one area of concern for expats, beating security and transport. Then I read another article that said Geneva was ranked the tenth most expensive city in the world for expats to rent. I’m only surprised it wasn’t higher up the list. A decent one bedroom apartment in Geneva costs CHF2000 a month. At least. That’s CHF500 a week. And that’s just an okay apartment in an okay neighbourhood. Then a lot of owners want three months’ rent upfront as a security deposit. If your apartment is CHF2000 a month, then that’s CHF6000 you have to find. No wonder people worry about it.
I found very early on, in my research before leaving Australia, that housing in Switzerland – and in Geneva, especially – is both difficult to find and very expensive. This was only reinforced on day one at work. On my first day, I met a lot of people whose names I couldn’t (and some of them, still can’t) remember, plus a lot of other details that very quickly went out the window. But one thing stuck – the typical conversation I had with most people on meeting them. It went something like this:
Them: Nice to meet you. It’s great to have you on board.
Me: Oh, thanks, nice to meet you too. I’m really glad to be here.
Them: Where are you from?
Me: I’m from Australia; Perth to be exact.
Them: Australia? That’s great, I love Australia.
Me: Thanks. I think Switzerland will be great.
Them: So… have you found a place to live yet?
Me: Er, no – I arrived only four days ago.
Them: Oh, okay. Well, good luck with finding a place. Housing here is pretty expensive and hard to find.
Me: Oh, er, thanks for the tip (and after having this conversation five times)… I’m beginning to get that idea.
And they weren’t kidding. I’ve read that other expats, if they ‘go it alone’, can take up to three months to find a place. Emperor D and I decided before we left that we would take the easy (read, more expensive) route and hire a relocation agent. They are people who deal with mostly expats to help them find cars, schools for kids, etc, but especially a place to live.
When we arrived we stayed in a hotel for two weeks, then moved to a sublease for two months (where we’re still currently staying) just outside a village I’ve nicknamed Sticksville. Two weeks after arriving, we found a town just outside of Geneva, called Nyon, that we wanted to live in, and hired a local relocation agent. He did the job. After two weeks of meeting him and giving him our requirements, we signed a lease on a brand new apartment, seven minutes’ walk from the train station. It won’t be ready until later this month – and we can’t wait – but we’ve had a few sidesteps along the way.
We also found a sublease in Geneva that was literally next door to where I work. I could’ve rolled out of bed and had the world’s shortest commute. Things were very positive and we were looking good for getting that place, until we heard we’d missed out because the current tenant found that one of the people who applied had a workmate/friend in common. It’s not unusual for an apartment viewing to have 20 people show up.
But it seems ‘who you know’ is a common theme. A South African couple we’ve become friends with after they moved to Geneva and she started work the week after me, found their rent-so-cheap-it-must-be-too-good-to-be-true apartment through a friend of a friend after less than two weeks. Needless to say, I was a bit envious. I have a close friend here – actually more like family; my host sister – who lives less than two hours’ drive away and even works in real estate for expats. She couldn’t help us much because she doesn’t know the area and doesn’t know anyone here.
Then we found a place in Nyon that is bigger, cheaper and only two minutes’ walk from the train station, and on the ‘right side of the tracks’, that we thought was great. We saw it, applied for it, but it’s since become a little complicated. Although compared to other expats we’ve had it rather easy, we’ve now got to that point where we’re saying ‘home sweet home is the first place that’s accepted us’. And that’s fine. It’s a brand new apartment and, in a few weeks, we’ll be living there. We can’t wait. But watch out for blogs on the joys of moving and IKEA furniture buying!