It sounds like an easy task to fit 8 million people onto a land mass the size of Connecticut. In the case of Switzerland with 60 percent mountainous terrain, it boils down to a population density of 1000 people per sq km in the rest of the country. In real terms, these conditions propel Switzerland well into the top 20 list of countries with highest population density.
In metropolitan areas like Zürich, the high density has lead to an overheated rental market. It is not unheard of to find a two-bedroom flat for above CHF 2000 per month!
Supply and Demand
Thanks in part to the steady demand, uncovering an available apartment in Zürich is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. It is especially difficult for newcomers, international students or many middle class families with modest requirements.
There are several strategies for finding a vacant apartment in Zürich:
In comes flatfox
Mattia Regi has seen it all: Having lived in Zürich for ten years, he has moved no less than seven times. "At apartment viewings, people would line up around the block."
So Mattia and co-founder Bernhard Mäder drew up a business plan on a napkin... They weighed the economic costs generated by the apartment search, the application procedure and the viewings. "Why should 200 people wait for an apartment viewing with only one lucky tenant?"
On top of this, the due diligence and selection process on 200 applicants is no minor task for a landlord. All in all, the economic costs of the status quo are significant, which compelled the two entrepreneurs to launch flatfox.
I had a chance to sit down with the team behind this young start-up. "flatfox is perfect for a niche market: Our website especially helps newcomers to Switzerland as they don't have access to a social network yet. On top, it allows someone from abroad to locate attractive flats and apply for them online."
In essence, flatfox offers a level playing field for anyone interested in a particular apartment. With the traditional model, some clever applicants will go to great lengths in order to gain an edge on others. "It has been said that some people will drop off flowers or baked goods - or they accidentally show up one day in advance of the public open house."
And sometimes, future tenants are politely asked to dispose of old furniture as part of taking over the flat...
How flatfox works
In many ways, flatfox works like an online auction - no mischievous games required! First off, a tenant profile is completed including any supporting documents like references or work contracts.
Once a unit sparks a searcher's interest, the application can easily be submitted from the website or from a smartphone. In order to increase the chances of being picked, an optional bid may be added. This results in the application appearing higher up on the virtual stack.
That's it! A fee is charged to the landlord only once a tenant has been signed.
The team has me convinced that flatfox is a convenient tool for busy people or those who have newly arrived. I subscribe to their Facebook page to get updates on new apartments... I figured it never hurts to keep an eye out!