After posting my blog about finding an apartment, I started receiving questions from others who are also starting the process of moving to Zurich (or considering it.) Most of the questions have to do with the logistics of finding a place to live.
The city of Zurich is actually quite small and is on the northern end of Lake Zurich. Finding a place to live within the city itself is challenging because more people want to live there. In addition, those apartments tend to be smaller, more expensive and if you decide to have a car, parking is exceptionally difficult. However, do realize that public transit in Switzerland is arguably the best public transit in the world. Many people do not own cars. If you love living in the heart of things, go for it.
Many people who are new to Zurich choose to live in one of the communities on the left (east) or right (west) side of the lake. The communities are all very old and very charming. All are well served by public transit. And it is very difficult to determine where Zurich stops and the smaller villages begin...
Which area you focus on depends upon where you will be working, whether you have children and would like those children to go to an international school and your own personal preference. Zurich is a very wealthy city and compared to a US city, crime is next to non-existent. There are very few "bad areas." Although I was warned by a couple of people to avoid the area behind the Main Train Station as that is where the prostitution and drug trade tends to focus. (Prostitution is legal. Drugs are not.)
I would not recommend that you try to navigate the complexities of finding a place to live without help, especially if you are not fluent in German and/or Swiss German. Finding an apartment and signing the contract is a very formalized process with many legal ramifications. You need someone to explain it all to you. And prevent you from inadvertently offending a potential landlord due to cultural differences.
Before going to Zurich to do a housing search, I spent a great deal of time on Homegate, the largest online real estate search engine in Switzerland. When you logon, click on the English version in the upper right hand corner.
In addition, I found the Expats in Zurich online group to be wonderfully helpful. You can request to be a member at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Expats-in-Zurich/. This group has a lot of traffic. And it occasionally gets snarky. But it still provides you with a great deal of useful information, especially to those who are considering a move or are new to Zurich.