Maybe you think you have found your dream chalet in the Swiss Alps? Or the perfect apartment in downtown Zurich? But what do you do if, when you move in, you discover that most of the local residents are Swiss pensioners? Or, shock horror, that what you thought was a cosy bachelor pad is located in a building full of screaming three-year old kids whose buggies block the lift every morning.
It’s easy to find a property that might sound good on paper and which seems to tick the right boxes on a first visit. But looks can be deceptive and finding a place that fits your needs, personality and lifestyle is more difficult than you might think.
That’s where Home.ch comes into the picture. Almost two years ago, Robert de Heer discovered that many properties for rent and sale lacked decent photos and detailed information on the local environment. “Our philosophy is that consumers can’t make a decision solely based on the size of a four-room apartment, for example,” he explains. “We realized that our competitors had gotten lazy with their platform and that there was a niche for an online real estate platform that made it easier for consumers to find their dream home.”
The concept worked. Less than two years later, Home.ch (part of a joint venture between PubliGroupe and Swisscom) is ranked number three in the highly competitive and professional Swiss market. It has proven not only a hit with locals, but is also the preferred choice for expats living in, or moving to, Switzerland.
The key to success has been the young company’s focus on usability. “On some property sites, you need to click ten times to get a search result,” comments de Heer. “We’ve limited the number of clicks; otherwise it’s just too time-consuming!”
Curious to check if this was just a good marketing pitch, I decided to try the search myself and found it to be a very pleasant experience. The website is simple, self-explanatory and clear. The pictures and information load quickly, a definite plus for an impatient user.
There’s even a map on each property so you don’t need to work with Google Maps open in another browser window. And there’s a tool so you can calculate the distance from your home to work, for example. “This is particularly useful in Switzerland,” laughs de Heer. “Sometimes online tools measure distance as the crow flies but, often, there is a mountain in between which can add an extra 50 kilometres to your commute. So we base our calculation on driving time, taking account of the time needed to go around the mountain.”
The “neighbourhood” tab is a godsend if you’re new to Switzerland and not familiar with the towns and areas. This is where you can see the gross income of the locals, where they come from and other juicy details like their age and – important, if you’re single – the male to female ratio. “This can be interesting if, for example, you’re a wealthy expat working for a big firm, then you probably want to live in an area with people who have a similar standard of living to yours; if you’re a student, you won’t want to end up living in the most expensive part of town!”
There’s also useful information like future developments planned for the area so that you won’t end up living in a demolition zone in a few months’ time.
As a house-hunter, there’s absolutely nothing worse than finding a property that catches your eye, only to find there are no photos. “We know from experience that ads with a slideshow get more hits and longer visits,” says de Heer. “So we allow an unlimited amount of pictures to be uploaded per ad free-of-charge. In addition, for a small fee, we can make a floor plan into 3D so users can take a ‘virtual tour’ of the property.”
De Heer moved to Switzerland from the Netherlands six years ago and never left. “I remember how difficult it was to find the right place to live,” he recalls. “I moved to Lausanne and had a budget in mind but no clue where the places were located so just looking at classifieds didn’t help. I wish there had been something like Home.ch to help me out back then with the environment.”