Moving to Basel – Part II: Getting an apartment in Basel
I Want to Find an Apartment in Basel!
Once you have a job in Basel, have organized your work contract and have been guaranteed a permit, you’ll need a place to stay once you arrive. In most cases, your employer will have organized accommodation for you. Many companies have furnished apartments across the city in order to save hotel costs when bringing in new hires and their families. Be sure to discuss this with Human Resources or Relocation Services with your company, or directly with your employer to confirm this will be organized for you. If your company does not plan to organize accommodation for your arrival, you can find a furnished apartment or house, by contacting the UMS Temporary Housing service. If you are looking to live in a furnished house or apartment with other people (this can be an excellent way to save costs and meet people in a new city). Flatrooms.com shows available rooms in apartments.
Whether your company has provided you with a furnished apartment, or you find one for yourself, you might want to rent an unfurnished apartment after you know the city better and have an idea of where you’d like to like. Furnished apartments are generally substantially more expensive than unfurnished flats.
How do I go about finding an apartment in Basel?
It’s much easier to find apartments in Basel and the surrounding area, than it is in Zurich or some of the other Swiss cities. The simplest way to find a flat is online. You can look for apartments (in English) on websites like www.homegate.ch or www.immoscout24.ch. You can find apartments of various size, styles and prices on these sites that will match your needs and sense of style. On these sites, you can search the apartments using different factors: specific areas of the city by name or postal code, the range of money you are willing to spend per month, the size (in m2) and how many rooms you want. They also tell you when the apartment was constructed, last renovated, as well as when it’s available. Most apartments have a base rent, plus a utility cost (nebenkosten). The utility costs are not the same from flat to flat, but generally pay for heating and lighting of common areas, water usage, as well as maintenance of the grounds and common areas. Sometimes it also includes basic cable. Generally, these costs are an estimation (akonto). Sometime in the year you will receive a detailed list and the definitive amount of these bills. If you paid more then what is due you get money back, but if it is more, you get an extra bill for the difference. You’ll get your own electricity bill from a company called IWB. In addition, if you need a parking space, this is also charged extra. Make sure that you agree with what is included in your rent and what needs to be paid separately before you sign a contract.
To find a flat you really like, the best idea is to select 10-12 places online, and visit them. Visitations are on often done on an announced date or by personal appointment with the real estate company who owns the building. While many of the companies, landlords and owners speak English, there are others who will only speak German, so you might want to bring someone German speaking along to help you.
Apartment Rules in Basel
There are apartment rules in Basel and the rest of Switzerland, in order to maintain peace and quiet, especially in the evening and on Sundays. These are taken more seriously in some apartment buildings than others.
- No vacuuming floors or washing or machine drying clothes on a Sunday or after 10pm
- No running the water (including showers, baths and toilet flushing!) after 10pm
- No noise or parties after 10 pm
- Laundry can only be done on assigned days or via a sign-up system (which system depends on the flat you move into). No leaving clothes hanging in the drying room for longer than a day!
- No barbecuing on balconies with wood or charcoal (gas or electric grills only), and even then it’s polite to inform all your upstairs neighbors of the smoke, so they can close their windows
You’ll want to ask some specific questions when you look at flats in Basel, in addition to the standard questions you ask when looking at apartments.
- What is the laundry system in the building? – In Switzerland, the laundry facilities generally consist of one or two washers and dryers. However this is not always the case. Sometimes the building shares a single washing machine, with no dryer at all (clothes are hung to air dry). In many Swiss buildings, tenants are arbitrarily assigned a laundry day once every two weeks, or something similarly inconvenient! You should be sure the system and the schedule in place in the building suits you, or can be adjusted to suit your needs.
- What are the neighbors like? – This is important wherever you live, but in Switzerland this is doubly true. You know how noisy or social you tend to be so try to find a place with neighbors who are in step with you. While you’re viewing the flat, you might just try to go ring the doorbell and introduce yourself to get a feel for them. As a rule of thumb, younger neighbors are more tolerant to noise and bending the rules, but will expect the same level of tolerance from you.
- Parking– If you have a car, you’ll probably want a parking space. This might cost extra on a monthly basis, or be unavailable. Some buildings don’t have a parking garage at all. If you have overnight guests with cars, you might also want to inquire about the availability of additional temporary parking for them, and if it’s possible to organize this.
- Bike storage- Basel is an exceptionally bike friendly city. Most buildings have indoor bike storage, but you should inquire if this is the case in the apartment you are applying for, and if there is space for the number of bicycles you have.
- Pets- Generally, Basel is a very pet friendly place. There are many pet friendly buildings, but tenants with pets are still bound by the same rules for noise. Even if the place is listed as pet friendly online, you should confirm this in person. Interestingly, many flats that say no pets, refer only to dogs, so if you have a cat, or are interested in getting a cat in the future, you should ask the landlord specifically. If you can’t be around animals for allergies or health reasons and want a completely pet free building, you should also ask the landlord to make sure this is the case. Be sure to get any agreement you make regarding pets (or anything else) in writing!
- Storage space – Most apartments in Basel will come with a storage space, either in the basement or the attic. You should make sure that this is the case, and that there is adequate storage space for your needs.
Applying for a Flat in Basel
If you think you have found a flat you like, most of the time you will have to fill in an application form for the apartment. Sometimes you might be invited for an interview with the owner of the house. If the landlord/owner goes to the lengths of interviewing you in person, this might be a place you do not want to live! This type of owner/landlord can often be very watchful and somewhat overbearing regarding your occupancy and activities.
Your application will be detailed and ask for proof of your earnings, references, pets, children and the like. Give true references, as it’s likely these will be checked. You’ll also be asked to provide proof that you are debt free and don’t have legal proceedings running against you (Betreibungsregister-Auszug), if you’ve been in Switzerland for more than six months. You can obtain this at the Betreibungsamt for about 20 CHF. In the application, you’ll also need to show a valid work permit (permanent or temporary), a copy of your passport, pay slips or a letter from your employer stating your salary.
Signing the Contract and Getting the Keys
You’ll generally receive a positive or negative response to your application within a week or so. If you receive an invitation to move in, the landlord or rental company will prepare a lease in your name. This will very likely be in German. If you are not fluent, you should have someone to help you go through it point by point before signing. If necessary, hire someone to do so. You don’t want to sign anything without understanding it. In order to get the keys to your flat, you will need to sign the lease contract, pay the damage deposit (usually between one and three months of rent), pay the first month’s rent plus any administrative fees. You might also have to provide documentation of your liability insurance. You can use a comparison website to find a provider for liability insurance. Liability insurance is a MUST, MUST, MUST in Switzerland and is not expensive.
Usually, in the same appointment as receiving the keys, you’ll meet the landlord at your new place, and together walk through each room. You’ll need to point out any damage to the apartment before taking possession, which will be recorded. Be extra thorough and detail oriented. Try the windows, awnings, toilets, taps and appliances. Whatever you don’t note down will likely be charged to you when you eventually move out!
Moving into your Apartment in Basel
If your company is relocating you, you might want to make your life as easy as possible by hiring a professional moving company. They will use a truck with a platform lift to load things into your flat via the window (most Basel flats are not higher than 6 floors). If this is not possible for whatever reason, they will bring your things up manually. These companies are quite expensive, so make sure that your company will fund this.
If you choose to move in yourself or with the help of friends, be sure to introduce yourself to your new neighbors if you see them, and explain that you’ll be using the elevator for a few hours. Be careful in the common areas as you will be held responsible for any damage caused by you, or a non-insured movers! It’s also easy to irritate your new neighbors with the moving noise and the slow-downs on the elevators and stairs, so be sure to invite them for a drink in the first few days to try and smooth things over!
Good luck moving into your new flat in Basel! In a later post I’ll talk about getting the flat set up, where you can get furniture and electronics, and some of the other things that need to taken care of in your first weeks in the new place…