From cultural quirks to simply knowing where to look, there are a number of obstacles internationals face in finding housing in Switzerland.
This is what you need to know.
Find out where you want to live: Vienna
Vienna remains a massive attraction for people around the world, even in the midst of a pandemic.
So if Vienna is where you’re going, it’s best to get an idea of what you need before starting your search.
Vienna has 23 districts (Bezirke) each with its own characteristics, advantages and disadvantages. So whether you are looking for a stylish, central apartment on a cobbled street, or a family home near vineyards and forests, there is something for you.
Check out our guide to the best places to live in Vienna.
Get to know the social housing of Vienna
Essentially Viennese are the spacious city-owned homes, which are widespread, top-quality and very popular.
There are around 220,000 city-owned flats in Vienna, representing approximately 25 percent of the city’s housing stock.
More information on city-owned housing in Vienna is available at the following link.
Calculate where you want to live: country
One thing to remember is that Austria is relatively small. Moving to the country may really mean something to people in the United States or Australia, but in Austria, a major city is unlikely to be too far away.
With Austria’s public transport networks and road infrastructure, straying away from urban areas might be just what the doctor (and accountant) ordered.
But from the dialect to carrying cash, moving to the country is not without its challenges, as we write in our next guide.
There are a number of online platforms that list apartments available to rent and buy.
These include (but are not limited to) Immoscout24 – which incorporates the ImmoDirekt and property sites – along with Bazaar, I want to have, Immowelt, Living, Flea Market, Housing anywhere and I just landed.
Note: Local Austria has not received a commission or any kind of hefty bribes from these sites.
When you go on a visit, it makes sense to be prepared.
If you like something, chances are others will like it too, so make sure you have all your documents in order.
It is not uncommon to see people on home visits with all of their application forms already completed to deliver directly to the agent.
Rent vs. Buy: What Should I Do?
Of course, this is not specific to Austria, but it is an important consideration.
As we wrote in our explainer on this topic, property ownership is very rare in Austria.
However, this is largely based on cultural and historical factors, so don’t rule out owning a flat right from the start.
The final decision will obviously depend on your personal circumstances, but if you are unsure, have the following guide ready to get an idea of whether renting or buying is for you.
Know the lingo
Of course, when looking for an apartment anywhere, it is useful to speak the language of the place where the apartment is located, so speaking German is a real advantage when it comes to floor hunting.
Platforms and agencies targeting expats and internationals are likely to be more expensive than those targeting locals, so being fluent in German is important.
However, in Vienna and Graz, and perhaps in some larger cities, it will be possible to search for a flat in English. However, it is still important to know some of the most important terms.
Agents and salespeople in Austria can speak English, but will often use German nouns in an otherwise English conversation.
Hence, German words like to deposit it will probably be used in lieu of a bond or security deposit.
Words without a real English equivalent like Altbau (pre-war building) or Neubau (new building (more)) will also be commonly used in English conversations.
Then there are the English words that have been adapted to German and that don’t actually have the same meaning in English, but that German speakers hope you understand.
The best example of this is the ‘casting’.
Coming out of the same category as ‘Handy’, ‘Public-Viewing’ and ‘Beamer’, Casting is an English word that has acquired a different and somewhat strange usage in German. While “casting” in English means the process of auditioning for a role in a movie or play, “casting” in German is the process of interviewing a new roommate.
We have prepared a glossary of the most used words when renting a flat in Austria, so take a look.
Have a hefty deposit ready
Even for a rental apartment, a large deposit or to deposit it will probably be necessary.
This can be several months’ rent and up to € 5,000, so be prepared to pay with your teeth (and something else).
Of course, a deposit for a home will be much higher. More information on that is available at the following link.
Know your rights and who is on your side
From long notice periods following the cancellation of a lease to being able to make significant changes to the apartment, along with rare or non-existent inspections, tenants have strong rights in Austria.
However, in many cases these rights are useless unless you know them. In some cases, landlords are more willing to rent to foreigners because they do not know their own rights.
So, besides going over Austrian leasing law, what can you do? One option is to join a tenant association. This may cost you money, but it will ensure that you have someone on your side if you have any questions or need help.
Beware of scammers
One important thing to keep in mind in every step of the process, from the first time you click ‘search’ to the moment you are handed the keys, is to be aware of scams.
Unfortunately, scammers are relatively common in the Austrian real estate market, even if the scammers may not be in Austria at all.
Never be too shy to ask for clarification or more documentation / identification.
Scammers operate on all platforms. While official real estate platforms have greater resources to weed out dodgy traders, don’t assume the deal is legitimate simply because it’s on a reputable search platform.
A good ad should have interior and exterior images.
Oh, and never transfer money after promising to mail the keys to you – that’s the oldest trick in the book.
If your potential landlord is out of town and doesn’t show you around, then this person is not your potential landlord.
Try to use your common sense. Think about what you would do if you were renting your apartment: would you mail your keys to a stranger?
Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism