30 April 2009

The House Hunting

Allow us please to take a look back in time - April last year, to be more exact:

We were living in a small room on the upper floor in the house of one of the secretaries from Tue's department in the village Veyrier a few miles outside of Geneva. The secretary in Tue's group had found this room for us as a temporary solution, so we had a place to stay while looking for somewhere else to stay. It turned out the lady renting it out had already made other plans for the future, so we kind of had to find somewhere else to stay during the first month.

Before we arrived we had been warned that houses and apartments were much in demand in Geneva, but no one had explain to us the details of just how fundamentally different the renting market works in Geneva - compared to what we knew from Copenhagen and Santa Barbara. Practically all rentals are handled by a rental agency (so-called regie), where one has to apply for renting. So far so good. We quickly learned that there's at least a score of different such regies in Geneva, as well as a whole lot about in which ways they are different and in which ways they are similar.

Generally, one couldn't expect to have a single person working in their offices who spoke anything but French (good going considering that approximately 1/3 of the people in this city are foreigners). It was also quite general when applying to have to prove having indeed the right to stay in the canton of Geneva as well as having a steady income sufficiently large to pay the rent and not being wanted by the police (the latter demand usually vanished when one could prove that one had just arrived in Switzerland). It was also absolutely required to go and visit the apartment being applied for - this then had to be arranged with the person living there (if someone was still living there) or with the regie. Happily we have repressed the memory of just how many times we arrived wet from the pouring rain to visit an apartment only to learn that the viewing had been cancelled without anyone bothering to tell us... Apart from that it was actually a pretty good rule, especially as we saw a couple of places we didn't want to rent after seeing them.

At certain of the regies it was only allowed to apply for one apartment at the time - which is absurd seeing as one was usually given the rejection so late that by then it would be much to late to apply for any other apartments one had already noticed them to be offering. Some places it was best to keep an eye on their homepage - other places one had to call. Some wouldn't even consider an application without references - other seemingly couldn't care less about references. On top of that they had their own set of ideas of what size apartment with be suitable for who ("No sir, if you have 2 children we will not rent less than a four-room - no, we do not have any four-rooms for 2000 CHF/month").

All in all, we ended up visiting at least twenty apartments of which we applied for at least fifteen - we had a spreadsheet to help us keep track of the details of all the apartments. Not that this prevented us from receiving rejections for apartments we no longer knew which were. And I think there was one we visited which we completely forgot to apply for. When, late in April, we were suddenly offered an apartment (and this did not happen until we starting including with the application a letter from the professor imploring the regies to rent apartments to visiting scholars - otherwise the university couldn't survive) we couldn't very well remember how the apartment had been when we saw it - but we took it (and as you should know by know we were quite happy with it).

All this was of course very time consuming and difficult - not to mention stressing - so when we had to find an apartment in a new city again this year (and had been warned once again by university secretaries that this city could be particularly difficult for housing) we turned to modern tools and got ourselves a sublet via Facebook!

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