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EXPLAINED: Why rents are low and falling in Italian-speaking Switzerland

Despite high hopes, rents in Lugano have fallen considerably in recent years. Here’s what you need to know.

A train in the southern Swiss town of Luganp
A range of factors has led to a significant decline in rents in Lugano in recent years. Photo by Marcus Ganahl on Unsplash

Lugano, in southern Switzerland, is not only the largest Italian-speaking city in the country but it is actually home to the largest Italian-speaking community outside Italy. 

With some of Switzerland’s best weather and relatively easy access to Zurich, Milan and the Italian lake region, Lugano is one of Switzerland’s best placed cities. 

In recent years, it has unofficially marketed itself as the best of both worlds – a city with both Italian flair and Swiss organisation. 

However, since 2017, Lugano has seen its rents fall by more than 10 percent in all housing categories, according to Swiss comparison site Comparis. 

It now has the cheapest rents of any of Switzerland’s top ten cities, with an average of CHF1,700 per month. 

Across the same period, other Swiss major cities like Zurich and Geneva averaged a four percent increase in rents. 

REVEALED: The six major Swiss cities where rents are falling

The following chart shows how rents increased or decrease in ten Swiss cities over the past four years. 

Image: Comparis

At a cantonal level, Ticino also ranks as one of the cheapest states in Switzerland to rent. 

According to a new large-scale study carried out by Swiss Marketplace Group (SMG) in January 2022, the cantonal average of rents in Ticino is CHF1,470 per month – placing it in the top ten cheapest cantons to rent in the country. 

The averages of urban areas like Lugano, Bellinzona and Locarno are brought down by those away from the cities. 

Non-urban Ticino has some of the cheapest rental prices of anywhere in Switzerland, which is perhaps no surprise considering these areas are the location of Switzerland’s ‘one franc home’ offers that pop up from time to time. 

‘Impossible’: Why Switzerland’s one franc homes are too good to be true

A comparison of all 26 cantonal averages for renting a 3.5-room apartment can be seen in the following table from SMG. 

Zug 2428
Geneva 2248
Zürich 2131
Basel-City 2029
Schwyz 1948
Nidwalden 1947
Vaud 1895
Lucerne 1777
Baselland 1767
Obwalden 1685
Aarau 1659
Graubünden 1591
Bern 1577
Thurgau 1570
Freiburg 1556
Appenzell Ausserrhoden 1539
St. Gallen 1537
Solothurn 1496
Schaffhausen 1483
Ticino 1470
Wallis 1440
Uri 1427
Glarus 1373
Appenzell Innerrhoden 1372
Neuchâtel 1343
Jura 1135

Brain drain and a muted economic recovery

Leo Hug, real estate expert at Comparis, said despite high hopes, several factors had contributed to Lugano’s rental decline. 

The reasons, Hug said, are because “the hoped-for economic recovery thanks to faster [train] connections with the rest of Switzerland has not materialised so far”.

The population of Ticino’s economic centre contracted by 2.1 percent between 2017 and the end of 2020, so rents are expected to decline further.

And the Lugano does not have the same appeal as Geneva, which can rely on its international organisations to attract foreign nationals, Hug said.

Another major reason for Lugano’s economic state is an ongoing ‘brain drain’, which has seen people in their 20s and 30s move elsewhere in search of better opportunities. 

This does not only affect the local Lugano-born population, but also expats who move to Lugano but move on again afterwards. 

Zurich is the main target for people leaving Lugano, with higher wages and better job opportunities found along the Limmat river. 

In addition to Zurich, Lugano has seen a net decline in people leaving to Vaud, Bern, Lucerne, Graubünden and Fribourg across the past decade. 

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‘The right decision’: Why foreign residents are moving from Swiss cities to the country

For some international residents surveyed by The Local, moving away from Switzerland’s urban centres is the right move — literally and figuratively. Here’s why.

‘The right decision’: Why foreign residents are moving from Swiss cities to the country

The transition from town to country  is not a new phenomenon but it has grown significantly since the start of the Covid pandemic, when many people — Swiss and foreigners alike —  moved from cramped cities to smaller towns and villages.

To many people, this kind of relocation made even more sense given the work-from-home requirement that had been in place off and on during the pandemic.

“There was a Covid effect on a desire for the countryside. We can say that the coronavirus worked as a kind of trigger”, Joëlle Salomon-Cavin, lecturer at the Institute of Geography and Sustainability at the University of Lausanne (UNIL), said in an interview with RTS public broadcaster.

The pandemic, however, has not been the only catalyst at play. A study carried out jointly by UNIL and the Federal Polytechnic Institute of Lausanne found three major reasons for the move: the search for a better balance in life, the desire for a less urban and more ecological way of life, and the quest for personal well-being.

Foreign residents are no exception when it comes to a desire for a simpler, greener, and less stressful life — at least this is what emerges from the answers to The Local survey.

On January 25th, we asked our readers to share their experiences of moving from cities to countryside, including their reasons for doing so, and whether they are happy with the choice they made.

READ MORE: Have your say: What to expect when you move to the Swiss countryside

This is what they told us

Most respondents had mostly positive things to say about the move.

Stephen Farmer moved from Basel to Büsserbach in canton Solothurn because he wanted to buy a house with a garden “and get more peace and quiet”.

In hindsight, “it was absolutely the right decision and I’ve never been happier”.

Before he moved, “several people told me that rural Swiss don’t like foreigners and it would be difficult for me to be accepted. But the people in my village are friendly and I found it easier to make Swiss friends here than in Basel”.

Many foreigners prefer living in Swiss countryside. Photo by Tim Trad on Unsplash

Steve Fors relocated from Zurich to Remigen in Aargau “for more space and slower pace”.

“It was the best decision”, he said. “We love our flat and village. We’ve found great friends in our neighbours and I work remotely three days a week”.

No regrets either for another reader who moved from Zurich to Walensee in St. Gallen “in order to be closer to nature and enjoy three to four times more space for the same rent”.

Since making the move, he “found more time to read and focus on things I was passionate about”.

His conclusion: “I would never move back to a large city, especially after the past two years”.

Yet another reader relocated from Basel to Lenzerheide in Graubünden but rented out the Basel apartment “in case we want to move back one day”.

So far, however, there are no regrets or desire to go back. “Quality of life is much better here and taxes are lower. I can also ski for an hour at lunchtime or go for a hike”.

Das moved from Bern to Frauenkappellen. While he was surprised by the lack of non-Europeans in the village, “it was a good decision otherwise, both in terms of people and space”.

Sometimes, the readers are brave enough to move from one linguistic region to another, as was the case for John Aran, who relocated from Swiss-German Schaffhausen to Valais in the French-speaking part.

He found the people in his new home “much more friendly”.

“I hope I won’t regret it”

While most of the responses to our poll were positive, some readers were less enthused about their move away from larger cities.

Filip, who moved from Zurich to Wädenswil to be closer to his son’s school, said their new small town “feels lonely somehow. There is hardly anyone around during the day”.

Another transplant, Sandra Shibata, who left Geneva for Valais, found it harder to make friends in her new town. “I hope I won’t regret this decision”, she said.

One reader who also made the move from Geneva to Valais offered a more scathing review of her new home:  “Valais is super backward, sexist, and xenophobic, and job hunting is a nightmare here”.

READ MORE: Where do Switzerland’s foreigners all live?