Fitting 9 million people onto a landmass the size of Connecticut sounds doable.
But in Switzerland, with 60 percent mountainous terrain, this boils down to a population density of 1000 people per sq km in the liveable parts of the country. These conditions propel Switzerland well into the top 20 list of countries with the highest population density.
The high density in metropolitan areas like Zürich or Geneva has led to an overheated rental market. Finding a two-bedroom flat for upwards of 2000 francs per month is not unheard of.
Supply and demand of apartments in Switzerland
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:
- Networking (and thus being among the first to know)
- Online research and individual applications
- The hiring of a realtor
Flatfox is a free apartment finder for Switzerland
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 for 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 Flatfox. "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."
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 to gain an edge over others. "It has been said that some people will drop off flowers or baked goods - or they accidentally show up one day before the public open house."
Sometimes, future tenants are politely asked to dispose of old furniture as part of taking over the flat...
How renting with Flatfox works
In many ways, Flatfox works like an online auction - mischievous games are a thing of the past. First, a tenant profile, including supporting documents like references or work contracts, is completed.
Once a unit sparks a searcher's interest, the application can easily be submitted from the website or a smartphone. An optional bid may be added to increase the chances of being picked. 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!