Moving in Geneva, part 2: logistics hell


I am a naive fool. When I wrote my last post on the apartment-hunting process in Geneva, I had assumed that being offered an apartment was the big hurdle. The ‘and they lived happily ever after’ ending to an arduous journey.

It turns out that was only the midway point.

Aside from a few bright spots, October and November have been the hardest months for me this year. Endless apartment visits, non-stop headaches, logistical challenges, demands for money from all directions (the ultimate Swiss experience!) and communication barriers. I had a mild anxiety attack one day and had to dump some of my work on very kind and understanding teammates.

The thing that kept me going despite the anxiety was a mantra that I kept repeating to myself: By this time next week, this situation will be resolved. Either A will happen, or B will happen. There will be a clear outcome, and this will all be in the past.

Works for a lot of other things in life, too.

So here’s what happened after I got approved for an apartment.

Dealing with the tenants

As I mentioned previously, I decided to move out of my apartment because it was a sublet, and I was tired of not being able to have my name on the mailbox and the apartment door. The last straw was a letter that came from the city government demanding debt repayment from the tenants and threatening to send the police to the apartment. I informed the tenants immediately that I was not comfortable with the sublet situation any longer.

Since they no longer lived in Geneva and realistically had no plans to come back in the near future, I offered to take over the lease directly from them. At first they agreed, but then backtracked a few weeks later, I (unkindly) assume out of greed: it can be pretty profitable to keep an apartment in Geneva for the sole purpose of subletting it out to clueless expats at a higher price. I saw them post the sublet on a local expats website, even raising the rent to 2300 francs.

Unfortunately for them, due to COVID and the holidays, we’re currently living in a period where for the first time, the housing market in Geneva is seeing more supply than demand. There were a few apartment viewings here and there — I had to step out every time and wander the cold streets for hours, since no shops or public buildings were open in Geneva — but no one took the bait. Eventually, the tenants must have gotten tired of having to drive an hour to Geneva to host the apartment viewings, because they finally decided to relinquish the apartment and open it up for a lease takeover. I know this because I saw the following post go up in a local Facebook group.

Screenshot_2020-11-25 Facebook Groups copy

It turns out their original rent was 2080 francs this whole time — and I’d been paying them 2280. I’d been expecting this, but seeing the proof in black and white still made me shake my head.

The worst part: somehow, the lease for my new apartment ended up in their hands. Remember my gripe earlier about not being able to have my name on the mailbox? Well, that turned out to be the Chekhov’s Gun in this story, because this is where it comes back into play. When the rental agency mailed the lease for me to sign, due to a mail forwarding system that the tenants had put in place, it somehow got rerouted to the tenants’ new address, all the way out to Rolle, a town about 38km from Geneva and — fun fact — home to the most expensive private school in the world. I had to jump on a train to Rolle in the middle of a work day, pick up the lease from them in person, and then hurry back, while participating in a work call.

When they handed me the envelope, I noticed that it had been opened, even though my name was on it. They had riffled through my new contract, all the details. It was such a gross violation of my privacy, and I didn’t even get an apology from them. But I didn’t say anything; they still have my security deposit, and who knows whether there will be any drama around that.

Suffice to say, I will never sublet from anyone again.

Dealing with the régie

In the meantime, dealing with the régie, or rental agency, has also been a cumbersome process. And my régie isn’t even that bad — professional, clear, and even borderline friendly over the phone. But still, there is SO much paperwork. The day after I got the lease back from the tenants, I got up early to deliver the requested materials to the régie‘s office, which was about 30 minutes by tram each way. This included:

  • The signed lease
  • Proof of renter’s insurance (called civil responsibility insurance here)
  • Proof of payment of the first month’s rent
  • Proof of a rental surety savings account for the security deposit, equivalent to 3 months’ rent
  • Proof of payment for engraving my name on the mailbox and on the door — this shit costs 120 francs, can you believe it?
  • Authorization for the régie to withdraw rent payments from my account each month

The only thing that I didn’t have was the rental surety savings account, or basically an escrow account where neither the régie nor I could touch the security deposit. To establish this, I had to complete and mail a form to my bank, UBS, in Zurich, the old school snail mail way. (Every time I remember the fact that I have a Swiss bank account, it makes me feel like the shadiest person in the world, lol.) I thought it would be enough to scan a copy of the completed form as proof, but the régie came back and said, No, you need to send proof that the account has been set up, not proof that you are in the process of setting up the account.

Given that my move-in day was less than a week away, I called UBS to see if they could expedite this process. The customer service guy I reached at UBS was very annoyed with me for a) not being able to speak German, b) apparently having a terrible phone connection (I don’t know if it’s because I live too close to the French border?), and c) trying to rush them. “There is a big delay because most of us are working from home due to COVID,” he told me. “It will take up two weeks. I do not think you will be lucky.”

Luckily, the régie was understanding about the banking delay, and I was allowed to get my keys for move-in without issue. The guy who met me at the apartment handover was very professional, thorough and helpful, pointing out the cracks in the paint and other issues that they had already taken notice of, telling me about the work they were going to do on the building in the new year, and showing me the downstairs laundry and cellar (I have my own storage unit downstairs!). I was relieved and delighted. My friend who came with me joked that it was my “Emily in Paris” moment.

Other stuff

Here are the other things that I had to do / need to do.

Buy renter’s insurance. This was fairly straightforward. I used to briefly compare prices, and then just picked a company that was a cooperative, which I assume means slightly more ethical practices. They seem to be efficient so far, and the insurance isn’t too expensive at around 250 francs a year.

Set up an electricity account. Apparently here you can’t just… have electricity. You need to inform the city that you’re moving into a new place, and then you pick how energy efficient you want it to be. I ended up choosing the most eco-friendly (and thus most expensive) plan at 75 francs a month, but I definitely hedged for a moment there.

Set up internet. This is still a messy ball of yarn that I have yet to untangle. I’ve heard conflicting instructions from the régie and the ISP regarding how I can set up internet in the apartment. Sensing a bunch more customer service calls in the future.

Book movers. I’ve got a guy coming to transport my boxes, and another guy who’s driving to Ikea to pick up a bed and then assembling that bed for me. I’m starting off fresh with almost no furniture, so I want to furnish the apartment thoughtfully and in a minimalist fashion.

Book cleaners. I booked a professional to come clean my current apartment after I move out. She offers special ‘end-of-lease’ cleanings, but the price was mind-boggling at 450 francs, so I decided to just get a regular cleaning. I will need to provide her with all of the cleaning products, and I also got new, un-opened gloves and a mask for her, just in case.

Pack. I have so much stuff! On a positive note, though, I have been always been super organized thanks to the Konmari method, and so I didn’t really have anything to declutter. Everything in my life is useful and sparks joy. And I can’t wait to take it all into my new home!


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