Swiss Review 4/2022

We see a similar pattern in Switzerland, where the highest home ownership rates are 58 and 54 per cent respectively in the rural cantons of Appenzell-Innerrhoden and Valais. In the economically strong cantons of Basel-Stadt and Geneva, homeowners only account for 15 and 18 per cent of the population respectively. Most people rent instead, as is generally the case in Switzerland’s major cities and in prosperous cantons such as Zurich and Zug. Hypothesis no. 4 Renting is a model that works – and it is often cheaper than owning your own home Political geographer Michael Hermann has a surprising explanation for why the proportion of tenants in prosperous Switzerland is so high. “Essentially, people believe that renting is a concept that works,” he says, pointing out that collaborative and cooperative business models generally have a stronger tradition in Switzerland than in other countries. Take cooperative retail chains Migros and Coop, for example. Or the ubiquitous shared laundry room in your archetypal Swiss apartment building. It is also cheaper to rent than buy – or at least it has become so recently, according to economists at bank Credit Suisse in a study published a short time ago. “Purchasers of an owner-occupied home have to pay more than for a comparable rental apartment,” they wrote. But only now is this the case again, because mortbacks. In most cities, apartment hunting is a sport in itself. Good, affordable flats – a very rare thing – usually change hands on the quiet. Unless you have a secure income or good contacts, expect to live in the outlying suburbs or in unattractive spots such as noisy through roads. Hypothesis no. 6 The Swiss tenants’ association must have a lot of political clout You would think that tenants are on to a winner in Swiss referendums, given that they make up the majority of the electorate. Not necessarily! On 9 February 2020, an emphatic 57 per cent of Swiss voters rejected the “More affordable homes” popular initiative put forward by the Swiss Tenants’ Association (MV), which wanted no less than ten per cent of new builds to be used for “affordable” social and cooperative housing. This is not the first time that the association has stumbled at the polls. In fact, the tenants' association has failed with all its popular initiatives to date – at least at national level. Is Switzerland a country of tenants who dream of home ownership and vote accordingly? Yes, if you ask the Swiss Homeowners’ Association (HEV), which cited a survey of people searching for accommodation. The results of the questionnaire revealed that people in middle age are particularly interested in owning property “because they finally want somewhere to settle”. The MV general secretary, Green National Councillor Natalie Imboden, actually concedes the same gage rates have rebounded. Previously, it was the other way round during the period of low interest rates that began in 2008. This reversal points to a certain degree of normality returning. However, such studies tell us little about individual situations. Furthermore, the cost of housing – like the cost of living – tends to be very high in Switzerland compared to other countries. The price of renting also puts a huge strain on household budgets, particularly among the low-income demographic. Hypothesis no. 5: Life as a tenant is a varied and sometimes stressful experience There is a high level of residential mobility in Switzerland. In statistical terms, one in ten people move home every year. It appears that it is less about changing location than a change in actual accommodation. In 2020, the average relocation distance in Switzerland was only 12.5 kilometres. However, almost three quarters of all moves involved upsizing into bigger or downsizing into smaller accommodation. Obviously, many people resize according to their personal circumstances. It is no surprise that people who live in apartment buildings move twice as often as those who live in detached houses. Being a tenant can therefore be quite a varied experience. By the time you reach middle age, you can easily have lived in a dozen or more apartments. But flexible living has its drawMoving is a popular hobby in Switzerland, a country of tenants. This means empty banana boxes are a prized commodity often in short supply. Photos: Keystone Swiss Review / August 2022 / No.4 6 Focus