Renting out an apartment without a management company: what you need to consider

You can save a lot of money every year by renting and managing your apartment(s) yourself. However, there are two must-haves: software and expertise. Here is a how-to guide for private landlords.

Renting out an apartment without a management company: what you need to consider

Bernhard Bircher-Suits

Fewer and fewer apartments are being built in Switzerland. At the same time, however, the population is growing, and thus also the demand for more housing. According to the Bundesamt für Wohnungswesen (Federal Office for Housing), there is an annual shortage of approximately 5,000 to 10,000 apartments. The shortage is particularly acute in urban areas. As a result, rent prices continue to climb, and rental apartments continue to offer owners attractive returns. Many private landlords benefit from this trend. The study "Immobilien Schweiz" (‘Swiss Real Estate’) conducted by Raiffeisen Schweiz shows that approximately half of all rental apartments in Switzerland are owned by private landlords.

Property management by a trustee or real estate management company

Many property owners have their apartment(s) managed by a real estate company or trustee due to a lack of time and knowledge. But there’s a catch: property management by a third party costs around 4% to 6% of rental income annually. Management fees vary depending on the scope of service, region and number and age of the rental properties to be managed. As part of the contractual relationship, property management companies ensure that rent is received, provide bookkeeping services, manage utility bills and take care of the balance sheet and income statement. Property managers also search for tenants, conclude rental contracts, make rent adjustments and often handle technical and maintenance issues. They also solicit quotes and hire tradespeople to perform work.

Do-it-yourself property managers have their hands full

This to-do list, which is not exhaustive, makes one thing clear: you should not underestimate the amount of work required, whether it’s maintenance, administration, bookkeeping or searching for and assisting renters. However, laypeople with a knack for numbers, legal understanding and time can take care of property management themselves, with the assistance of how-to guides, computer programs and legal advice from a homeowners’ association. One thing is certain: managing an individual property is much less laborious than managing a large multi-occupancy house. Furthermore, newer properties require less time, money and expertise than older properties that need a lot of work. If you decide to manage your property yourself, you will have to grapple with bookkeeping, utility bills, tenancy law, taxes and tenants. 

Hiring a caretaker to help out

If you are renting several apartments, it can make sense to employ a caretaker on an hourly basis or for a flat fee. You must register the caretaker with AHV (OASI) and insure them against accidents. Insurance costs around CHF 100 per year, depending on the type of insurance. A comparison of different policies is available here. You should make sure to provide the caretaker with a list of requirements and duties. If you want to spare yourself having to do the bookkeeping for your property, you can hire an accountant or a trust company.

Using smart software to manage apartments yourself

A good property management software with integrated accounting capabilities can help you keep an overview of administrative and financial matters for one or more rental properties. Several affordable property management programs are available in Switzerland. They cost a few hundred francs per year and are also suitable for private landlords without expertise.

Tip: try out the demo version and check if the program meets your needs. Property management software gives you a good handle on the most important job of a property management company: the utility bill. The software helps you proportionally calculate costs for heating, cold and hot water, and electricity as well as other costs, such as a caretaker and rubbish collection. Other important software functions include apartment and/or property management as well as access to documents such as a handover report or rental contract.

Charge utilities as a lump sum if possible

Check if you are able to charge utilities as a lump sum. This will save you a lot of time and effort. However, it’s only recommended if you are aware of utility costs in detail over the course of many years, and if the costs do not fluctuate greatly (i.e. gas and electricity prices are stable). Smart programs also provide inventory lists and information about when an apartment was renovated. New-generation software is also digitally integrated with banks and bank accounts used for rent deposits, making it easy to ensure that rent payments have been received and to perform bookkeeping. However, if all this still sounds too complicated, you should look for a fair property manager through associations such as Casafair or HEV Schweiz, the Swiss homeowners’ association, or rely on recommendations from other property owners. Those who decide to manage their property themselves and take the following tips to heart, are well on their way to a successful rental.

14 tips for managing an apartment yourself

  1. Research legal principles: learn about local laws and regulations related to property ownership and rental. Clarify open questions with a homeowners’ association or legal consultancy.
  2. Create a budget: determine how much money you want to spend every year on repairs, maintenance and other costs. Professionals estimate approximately 1% maintenance costs per year.
  3. Stay on top of bookkeeping: thoroughly record all income and expenses so that you have an overview of the financial status of your rental property at all times. For a single apartment, you usually only need a simple Excel spreadsheet for receipts and expenditures. You also need to have tidy bookkeeping records of your properties for the tax office.
  4. Create a rent index: create a list of your tenants with the current rent amounts and utility costs. The rent index is also important to have in case you sell your property.
  5. Rent: carefully manage your rental income and ensure that all rent payments are received in a timely manner and rental deposits are kept in a separate account.
  6. Maintain a contact list: create an address list for all tenants and ensure that it is kept up to date.
  7. House rules: ensure that all tenants are aware of building rules and regulations and that they are clearly communicated.
  8. Check insurance contracts: ensure that you are insured against any risks that may arise from property rental; this goes hand in hand with property ownership.
  9. Develop a rental strategy: find suitable tenants by creating a listing on Homegate, for example, or engaging an estate agent.
  10. Maintain communication: maintain regular contact with tenants and ensure that you resolve their concerns quickly and effectively.
  11. Regular inspections: check the apartment(s) in consultation with tenants for problems such as mould, safety issues or wear and tear and ensure that they are quickly resolved.
  12. Develop a good relationship with tradespeople: it’s important to have a list of reliable tradespeople and service providers that you can contact in case repairs or maintenance work is necessary.
  13. Tax deductions: costs necessary to maintain your property, and thus its value, are generally tax-deductible. This includes repairs, descaling boilers, building insurance and service subscriptions. Multi-occupancy house owners can also generally deduct deposits made into the maintenance fund. 
  14. Property accounting for the tax office: the tax authorities require different types of information from landlords depending on the place of residence. However, keep one thing in mind: as a private individual, you do not have to hire an accountant for your balance sheet and income statement. In general, keeping receipts and maintaining a simple accounting of bills and expenditures that are well substantiated by receipts is enough.