Property guide to the Swiss city of Bern

The charming medieval city of Bern in Switzerland has long attracted expatriates from all over the globe. With over a third of its population made up of resident foreign nationals, the city is a melting pot of different cultures and traditions.
For those living and working in the fifth most-populous city in Switzerland and the country’s de facto capital, housing options are just as varied. From city-centre apartments in a mix of modern and traditional buildings, to large family homes in the outer-lying affluent suburbs.
If you’re moving to Switzerland, this article will guide you through the property available and the best places to start your search for a suitable home.

Best areas to live

There are many wonderful areas to reside in Bern. Each neighbourhood has its own charm and appeal. The Old City of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, such is its natural beauty. If you want to live at the heart of all that medieval history, Altstadt, is worthy of your consideration.
With a mixture of cosy apartments and beautiful mansions, Altstadt has an exceptional reputation and is right at the centre of bustling Swiss life. It attracts wealthy families and individuals who wish to live close to the city’s vibrant nightlife and attractions.
If you’re looking for a quieter life, the popular suburb of Kirchenfeld could meet your requirements. This neighbourhood is close enough to the centre of Bern to make for a simple commute, but the upscale streets are pleasant, green and peaceful. Many of the villas and apartments here are from the 19th and 20th centuries and have been renovated to luxury standards.
Other popular areas worth considering include Länggasse, Lorraine and Breitenrain, all are within a commutable distance to the centre of Bern. Outside of the main city centre and into the greater municipal area, Muri de Bern is of particular interest to British expatriates moving with family. It is home to the International School of Berne and The British School of Bern.
The type of property available is very varied. In the city, expect to find large luxury apartment blocks lining the banks of the river. Further out are traditional villas and family homes, and even large chalets close to the mountains. The quality of all properties is exceptional, which justifies the very high cost of living in Bern.

Renting in Switzerland

Most expatriates who relocate to Bern will opt to rent a property, at least at first. Over the whole of Switzerland, only 40% of residents own their own home. Therefore, it’s a very competitive rental market and the most desirable properties don’t stay vacant for very long. In fact, when browsing rental opportunities, it’s not uncommon to see rental start dates more than six months to a year away. At any one time, less than half a percent of all rental properties are available. It doesn’t help that very long-term tenancies are commonplace; over 20 years is not unusual.
Competition is fierce when it comes to the best apartments and houses. There will be a rigorous application process with multiple applicants for any one property. Expect to submit more than one application before landing a rental property, and get in as quick as you can if you see somewhere you want.
The quality of rental apartments is very high. In the city centre, most will include communal parking facilities, outside space and security. There may even be a playground for children and other amenities. There is a strong sense of community too; given there is a low turnover of residents, strong neighbourly bonds can be built.
You can opt to search for properties yourself online, at least to give you an idea of what is available. Listings are usually described by the number of rooms in total (excluding the bathroom), i.e. a six-roomed house, but double check the listing details to find out more about the layout and property size. It is worth engaging the services of a registered real estate agent, who can advise on properties that might not be advertised.

Buying as an expatriate

In the centre of Bern, home ownership isn’t overly common, however the percentage of purchased properties rises as you move further into the suburbs and more rural areas.
There are some limitations on purchasing property in Switzerland as a foreign national. If you are an EU or EFTA national and have a Swiss residence permit, you can generally purchase any property without restrictions.
Unlike the fast-moving and demanding rental market, the sales market is much slower. Properties can be on the market for up to a year, which should mean that if you’re looking to buy you have plenty of choice and time to search for the right location. It is certainly worth registering with at least one local agent, or even a couple, as they often know of properties that are not yet advertised.
The actual buying process is not too dissimilar to the UK; however the timescale can be longer. Allow for at least three months to move from offer to completion. There are various fees and charges to account for, which combined are about 5% of the purchase price. There may also be ongoing fees associated with the property for parking facilities or private road maintenance. A notary will be required to deal with the property transfer process.
Cadogan Tate can help you with your move to your new property in Bern. Our professional services include planning and logistics, packing, shipping, unpacking and storage solutions.