The Beginning of the End of the Beginning

I have now joined the ranks of adoptive Zürchers who can (and seemingly invariably do) say, in the language of their choosing, “with luck, and patience, you will find a flat.” Compared to many of the stories I’ve heard, I have been lucky, without having to have been particularly patient.

The search was not without compromise. My new flat is not in the middle of where I want to be, but it's quite close to two separate tram lines. Like my flatshare, it's probably 25 minutes on foot or by tram, take your pick, to my office; I've seen places that were closer. It's not all that close to the lake, though I can walk down to the Limmat in a couple of minutes if I really need to see the water. And it's not been renovated in a while, though it's in excellent repair for not having been. The kitchen could use a little work. But it's big (two rooms and a wide corridor, with a kitchen big enough to work with; it feels larger even than my first apartment in Shadyside). It's quiet (enough). It's got more closet and shelf space than I know what to do with although this could be hazardous in my quest not to acquire yet more stuff after having just successfully ditched all the old stuff I didn't need not six weeks ago. And it has a stunning view of the city and the mountains from the living room and balcony. Pictures to follow.

But most of all, I don’t have to count apartment hunting as a hobby anymore. In lieu of a giant post on the entire saga, as I’m going now to climb the Uetliberg in celebration of the fact that I’m not trudging around the back alleys of Albisrieden today, here are my pieces of advice to those who would follow me here:

  • Believe people when they tell you it is not easy here. At any given time, three in one thousand housing units are available to let. Flats here are nearly thrice as scarce in those in Manhattan, and Zürich does not have a developed rental brokerage market to compensate. Plan accordingly. 
  • The open market is an excellent way to explore the city, to spend time reading on the tram, and to discover where you do and do not want to live, but it does not appear to be particularly effective in actually getting you a flat. Marginally desirable places advertised on homegate will have twenty to thirty visitors, probably five to ten of whom will apply. Good places will have a line all the way down the stairwell from the fourth floor (counting from zero, as the Swiss do) out the front door ten minutes before the besichtigung begins. Great places are not available on the open market at all.
  • The semi-open market (i.e., associated with a university, a company, or some other organization with limited membership) is much better. The quality of the apartments listed isn’t necessarily much better, but at least there’s less competition. I found both my flatshare and my apartment from the Universität Zürich / ETH housing office (if you’re affiliated, it’s the best eight francs you’ll ever spend). Of course, the apartments listed tend to appeal to the organization they’re listed with. ETH lists a lot of unacceptably (for me) studenty places, just as I’m sure most of the housing bulletin board at UBS is way outside my price range.
  • The informal market (“I know a guy who knows a guy who has a place he’s got to leave”), however, seems the way to go, but this involves 1. having lots of friends 2. who have lots of friends 3. who have flats 4. that they don’t want anymore 5. that you do. Building this network takes time, and is probably not realistic to get plugged into in a month or two. I’ve had three potential leads this way, all in the last week or so, only one of which was a real possibility. It took me an hour to reply to the email. By then, the place was gone.
  • Pride is your enemy. Be prepared to beg. So is understatedness. I was reluctant to bother my future landlord during the week I’d heard nothing, as my usual policy in dealing with people I don’t know all that well is I’m busy, I presume you’re busy too, and you don’t need to deal with me bugging you to tell you things you already know (“I want the apartment”) and to ask you questions you probably don’t know the answer to yet (“so can I have it already?”). I was advised on several occasions that this was a Bad Idea, and I got over my impulse to quiet patience yesterday afternoon to send a quick “hi, have you made a decision? I am humbly at your service should you need any more documentation.” I don’t know that it made the difference, but I had a call back and an acceptance within half an hour.

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      So. Cheers to all! Party at my place!
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Brian Trammell
Temporarily Shiftless Layabout

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