Feast or famine

For those of you who haven’t yet experienced the exhilaration of living your life balancing on a knife’s edge between peril and bliss, you really don’t know what you’re missing. That feeling of waking up from a restless, tossing & turning sleep, to welcome an eye twitch like a long lost friend. 

Rather than embracing the glamour and seeming ease of European life, we seem to have embraced a certain level of chaos in our life here. Never ones to wallow in the comfort of everything being settled, we have developed a knack for courting upheaval. 

We do always manage to come through the chaos to find a happy ending. We exhale, amazed that we’re still standing and enjoy the quiet before our next misadventure finds us. 

Nothing a good dip in a fountain can’t wash away.
 This particular post is to share our experience with the housing market here in Winterthur. 

A little back-tracking first…

The decision to stay for another year also came with the decision that we would find a new apartment. Our first apartment had been perfect for our first year on so many levels. The fact that we even had an apartment at all, in the neighbourhood where we are, was a miracle. (A miracle that came through the hard work and care of our incredible Swiss family.) Securing an apartment with no Swiss income is nearly impossible. So we were very lucky to have had strings pulled for us. 

Our apartment was best described as modest. It was a blessing in teaching us how little we need to still be happy and to thrive. It has given the kids an appreciation for a different socioeconomic community than we were used to; in a communal living setting at that. 

And my pining after sun and warmth all winter was long forgotten in the bliss of what felt like an air conditioned apartment during the crazy hot summer days. It was heavenly. 

Nevertheless, we wanted a different space. I wanted a different space. I wanted the space that my imagination had envisioned for our time in Switzerland. 

An old house with character. With big, sunny windows, framed with shutters and bountiful flower boxes. A pretty front door and a yard, with a view of the hills. 

So I began my hunt. Home rental seems to be much more common than home ownership here so the market is very big. Daily I would log onto the various websites to see what opportunities existed. There were loads to choose from but my imagination-fueled criteria limited the selection. Those opportunities were out there but were typically well out of our price range. 

Somewhere with character and charm would easily be in the +3,000 CHF/mo range. (Around $4,000 CDN.) Likely that would still come with a teeny, tiny kitchen, shared laundry and only 1 toilet. Anything with a larger kitchen, in-house laundry and multiple toilets starts to get crazy. 

Our window of finding a new place was limited as well as any new address would impact where the kids went to school for this next year. Our number 1 goal for this coming year is to help the kids build their social network and attending school in the actual neighborhood we live in will help that immensely. So a new address needed to be secured before the next year’s schools were identified. 

A routine I long ago developed here was to go for an evening walk in our neighbourhood. I would head out the door and make my way up the hill.  I would stare at all the pretty houses and wonder what the lives are like inside. I marveled at the flowers and front door decor while cursing their perfect bundles of recycling. 

One evening, in the middle of Spring, Diego and I were out returning from our walk in the woods and we noticed a small, hand written sign, taped to a garage door. It read “Zu Vermeiten. 5 Zimmer Wohnung.” Because I’m now so good at German I knew exactly what that meant. It was OUR new apartment. It was the middle floor (second floor to us North Americans, first floor to the Swiss) in an old, character house, on a big treed lot, at the very top of a hill, overlooking the city and the Alp’s. It was the pure manifestation of my imagination!

We raced home and began the delicate game of expressing interest, enthusiastically and persistently while not coming across as crazy-town. I enlisted the help of Manolo’s cousin Andreas immediately.  He had a lovely chat with the landlord and said there was someone at the apartment now if we wanted to take a look. Best part, she spoke English. 

So I quickly dressed to impress, doing my best to look Swiss (i.e. clean) and like the perfect tenant. Left the kids at home to ensure they didn’t ruin our chances by appearing mangey, disheveled and generally unruly as they sometimes do. 

The woman in the apartment was the daughter of the previous tenant who had lived there for 40 years and recently passed away. She was from New Zealand, and lovely and we got along so well. And the apartment was Ah-Maz-Ing!!

I practically skipped home, giddy with excitement. The fact that this was a private rental, rather than posted online on all the rental websites, meant that we wouldn’t be competing with 50 other families, most of whom were so much cleaner, more orderly and definitely more Swiss. 

I sent in the application right away, along with a letter about us as a family including a family portrait (as advised by Andreas.) It’s an audition more than an application really.  

We heard back that the landlord would be in Australia for a month and a decision would be made after that. And so we waited – all the while continuing to look at every other possibility on the market. (I’m not one to put all our eggs into one basket.)

During that time I made a point of walking by the house every, single day. Sometimes alone, often with the kids. We went by just to say hello to it and send every ounce of our good-karma energy to it. 

I believed with all of my being that I could will-it hard enough to make it a reality. 

When the month passed we were invited to come up to see the apartment again and to meet the landlord. This time we all cleaned up (that is a BIG job for the Garcias, especially the biggest Garcia. Thankfully where he is lacking in cleanliness he more than makes up for in charm) and tromped up the hill for our “tenant interview”. It went really well. We all left giddy as our imaginations ran wild with the idea of this being our new home. We learned that there were 2 other families in the running. But we also knew that we were the #1 choice of the daughter of the former tenant, a cousin of the landlord. 

Fingers crossed!

And then we got the email. 

The house would not be ours. 

Oh. 

It wasn’t meant to be. 

Insert pep-talk self-talk here. 

Something even better will come along!

But I believed that would be our home with all my might. I was crestfallen. But I quickly moved on to the prospect of finding somewhere else, or maybe even just staying put where we were. It really was fine after all. 

And then at 10:00pm, the next night, another note came in from the landlord. Her top floor apartment was coming available and she wanted us to have it. 

Wait, what? 

You mean the apartment with the even better view? With the second balcony? 

Something better really did come along!! 

And better on so many levels. This one would be available Sept 1st. Just over 3 months away at that point. The first one we had hoped for would have been ready July first which would have left us just over 1 month, not much time to get everything organized. 

Our new landlord even threw a garden party to welcome us to the neighbourhood.
Our very first Swiss pot-luck! I brought the delicious peach-mozzarella-basil salad. They weren’t sure what to make of it. Oh the shame of having brought the pot-luck dish no one eats. Oh well, good thing I love it!
Proseco at the wood pile. So civilized.
After a crazy hot day, some rain arrived just in time for the party. So it shifted to a car-port. Lovely all the same.

We immediately kicked into high gear. We knew from our existing lease agreement that we needed to give notice, by noon at 3 months out. We signed papers for the new house the morning that would be 3 months exactly and so couriered off our paperwork. 

And then things got complicated. There are unique rules in Switzerland which pertain to moving. Of course there are.

Specifically pertaining to when you are permitted to move. In Switzerland you are allowed to move at the end of March, the end of June or at the end of September. Period. 

But our dream apartment was available on the first of September, not the end. And we gave a full 3 months notice. Surely this must be ok. 

Oh yes, it is perfectly ok for you to move out, you just are now responsible for finding the new tenant or you will need to continue to pay rent. 

For real!?

Once again, pretty thankful that I’m a full-time HausFrau because the task of finding our new renters immediately became my job. 

No problem. I’ve got this. I’m on it!

Knowing we lived in one of the most sought after neighbourhoods in Winterthur I was pretty confident that this would be easy-peasy and we’d be on our way. 

(Seriously people, when will this girl learn to NEVER be confident here!?)

I got the house in tip-top shape, took photographs, distributed flyers and notices around town. (Following the rules about that of course.) 

Planned an open house, recruited our angel Mireille, to be there as back up should my German language skills fail to “sell the sizzle.” (By should I really mean when.)

And thank goodness she came! There were a lot of families who showed up. We tag-teamed. I took anyone who spoke English, she took the rest. Almost everyone took the application with them and expressed great interest in the place. 

High five, self. New renters are in the bag!

A week went by with no news. I emailed the rental company to enquire. Nope, no one has applied for the apartment. 

Seriously!? How!? 

Bloody hell, I needed to advertise for another open house and time was running out. The second open house would be July 11th, just 2 days before we would leave for Canada. It HAD to be wrapped up and taken care of before we got on that plane. 

This open house didn’t have the momentum of the first one as the listing was no longer new. I was worried no one would come. 

But some did come, and one family did send in their application. Sweet-baby-Jesus, thank goodness!

And then their circumstances changed. They pulled out their application. 

For the love. 

This, I learned when we had arrived in Canada. Having left with the satisfaction that it was all taken care of, a sense of dread took its place. I sent Manolo a note “Are you prepared to host another open house? The renters fell through.”

His response…”Set it up. I’ll do what I have to do.” 

So I booked the third open house for his day off and sent gentle reminder texts of the importance of clean in Switzerland. (Pretty sure “gentle reminder” is code for nagging in husband talk.)

The open house came and went. A few more families came. And again we waited. We gave it our best effort. There wasn’t much left to do. 

Then the most beautiful email arrived. Congratulations – a new renter has been secured. Music to our ears!

The kicker…the new renters were a family Manolo showed. Of course they were. Things come easily here for him. I, on the other hand am having a heck of a time achieving much success over and above my grocery shopping efforts!

Regardless, that was a victory I was happy to give him. It saved us a pot of money and grief. Plus now my mind had the task of imagining our life in our new home. 

Having packed up the whole house, the final nights at our old place were a living-room slumber party.
Everything piled in the center of the rooms to leave room for the painters.
And that dream has now become a reality. We moved in to our pretty new apartment this week and it is better than we could have ever hoped. 

Pooped and sweaty at the end of a very long, very hot moving day. A quick trip to the fountain to refresh.

Checking out the view prior to the big move. So exciting!
Our lovely new balcony view. Should serve as our dining room as long as the weather holds.
Chalk board door in the kitchen.
One of the garden eating areas.
My new favorite view.
When one has lovely large windows, one must do as the Swiss do and hang the duvet out of it for some fresh air.
The pretty new kitchen cabinet. Trouble is, no one is allowed to touch it.
The best part of the new place? Amazingly talented and generous fellow-tenants who bake you incredible bread. (Zopf, as it is called here.)

My happy helper in our new kitchen. Baking cookies for the neighbours!

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