Facts about the housing market in Switzerland

The Swiss population is growing and the rate of empty dwellings decreased for the first time in twelve years.

September 13, 2021

According to the provisional figures for 2020 from the population and households statistics of the Federal Statistical Office (FSO), Switzerland’s permanent resident population increased by 0.7% or 61,100 persons compared with 2019. Switzerland’s permanent resident population comprised 8,667,100 persons as at 31 December 2020. This demographic growth is among the lowest seen in the past ten years and corresponds to that seen in 2018 and 2019.

The reference scenario describes the growth that seems most plausible in the coming decade and is expecting a further increase in the permanent resident population up until 2050 to approximately 10.4 million people.

Construction and housing

Switzerland is a country of tenants. At the end of 2019, there were 2.3 million tenant households (60%) and 1.4 owner-occupier households. The urban cantons Basel-Stadt (83%) and Geneva (78%) had the highest proportion of rented dwellings whereas the cantons Appenzell Innerhoden (38%) and Valais (41%) had the lowest. Tenant households were primarily single-person households (45%) or couple households with or without children (44%). These two household types correspond to 36% and 55% of all households, respectively. In 2019, there was an average of 2.2 persons per dwelling. In 1970 this figure was 2.9.

The highest rents were found in the cantons of Zug, Zurich and Schwyz. The cheapest cantons are Jura, Neuchâtel and Valais. Almost half of all rented dwellings were owned by private individuals in 2020. There are regional differences. 

Construction expenditure remained at the previous year’s level in 2020, with investment in building engineering projects falling by 1.1% compared with the previous year and that in civil engineering projects rising by 3.2%. As a result, total investment in construction showed a decline of 0.3%. These are provisional findings from the Construction Statistics from the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

More than a third (37%) of buildings were built in the past 39 years, i.e. after 1980. Whereas 44% of single-family houses have been built since 1981, only 35% of multi-family buildings were built after this year. The building stock in the canton of Fribourg is exceptionally recent with 26% of buildings built in the 21st century. In contrast, only 4% of buildings were built in this period in the canton of Basel-Stadt.

First decrease in the number of empty dwellings in twelve years

On 1 June 2021, there were 71,365 empty dwellings in Switzerland. This was 1.54% of the total dwelling stock (including single-family homes). There were thus 7,467 fewer empty dwellings compared with the previous year, representing a decrease of 9.5%. This was the first decrease in the number of empty dwellings in twelve years. These are some of the findings of the empty dwellings census from the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

In a cantonal comparison, the lowest vacancy rate was measured in the canton of Zug (0.34%). In the cantons of Geneva (0.51%), Zurich (0.72%), Graubünden (0.87%), Obwalden (0.96%), Basel-Landschaft (0.97%) and Schwyz (0.99%) the rates also remained below the one percent mark. Despite a slight decline, the canton of Solothurn again had the highest vacancy rate in Switzerland (3.15%) and was also the only canton above the three-percent mark. High vacancy rates were also recorded in the cantons of Ticino (2.83%), Appenzell Innerrhoden (2.59%) and Jura (2.56%).

In absolute figures, a total of 7,467 fewer vacant dwellings were offered compared to the previous year's reporting date. Vacancies decreased the most in the cantons of Aargau (-1'724 units), Bern (-1'366 units) and Zurich (-1'331 units). The most unoccupied dwellings were counted in the canton of Bern with 9,312 units. The largest increase in vacant dwellings offered on the market was recorded in the canton of Ticino (+378 units). Overall, vacancies decreased in sixteen cantons and increased in ten cantons.

A total of 60,775 unoccupied dwellings were offered for rent (-5,545 or -8.4% year-on-year). The decline in the number of owner-occupied dwellings on offer was striking at 15.4%. A total of 10,590 (-1,922 units) vacant dwellings were still advertised for sale on the reporting date. 7,066 of the total of 71,365 vacant dwellings were in new buildings (not older than two years).

Compared to 1 June 2020, the number of vacant dwellings decreased in all flat categories (number of rooms), except for one-room flats. The largest decrease in supply was in large dwellings with four or more rooms (between -16.5% and -20.7%). Only the number of one-room dwellings increased slightly compared to the previous year (559 units or +9.2%). Most vacant dwellings have three (24,029 units) or four rooms (18,919 units).

Heating system and energy sources

Almost 90% of 1.5 million Swiss residential buildings that are the main place of residence for at least one person have a central heating system which covers one or more buildings. Less than 5% are connected to district heating. Although the use of heating oil is continuously declining, almost two out of three buildings are heated by fossil fuels (heating oil and gas). Since 2000 the number of heat pumps has increased considerably. Nowadays almost one in every five buildings has this type of heating. 20% of all buildings have a secondary energy source, which is wood for over half of them. For many years the main energy sources for hot water were electricity and heating oil. In recent years their importance has declined in favour of heat pumps, gas and solar installations.

More information about the housing market in Switzerland can be found here: