Buying property

How to buy property in Switzerland

Buying property in Switzerland is quite simple and straightforward compared to other European countries. Once you have found a property, the acquisition process can begin.

Before buying, you should get the property evaluated. The advisor handling your mortgage will most likely go through this step and you can benefit from their insight.

Negotiating prices on a new property is nearly impossible in Switzerland. Builders know that there is little property on the Swiss market, and if there is anything you do not like and would like changed, you will have to pay for it. Negotiating for an older property is often possible – although, you might obviously run into sellers who are dead set on their price. In general, it is easier to negotiate if you are able to walk away from a property - though this can be incredibly difficult with so few properties available in Switzerland.

It is also possible that your bank will evaluate the property at a lower price and then refuse to give a high mortgage because of this. In this case, you should use your bank's evaluation as a bargaining tool.

It may happen that you have to “bid” for your property due to competition, in which case it is possible that you will go over the original asking price.

If you do not have enough income to purchase the property, you should now start asking banks for mortgages.

Notarisation of the property purchase

Once you have agreed on a price and are ready to go forward with the sale, Swiss transactions must be taken to a notary  (in French). Although chosen by the buyer, notaries are bound by law to remain neutral between both parties.

All preliminary contracts and letters of intent need to be notarised. Without notarisation your transaction is not legal and will not be valid. You are normally required to present yourself in person, although you may appoint a legal representative (this requires a procuration drawn by a notary).

The first step is to sign a sales agreement drawn up by the notary. The agreement guarantees that the buyer will not sell the property to anyone else. In return, you must pay a deposit of 10% of the property value as goodwill.

For non-residents, this agreement is conditional upon receiving agreement from the authorities to proceed with the sale. At this point in time, you should be prepared to wait at least two months, perhaps even three (during the winter holidays or if the annual quota for permits has already been filled). If you are denied a permit, your deposit will be returned and the property will go back on the market with only a notary charge to pay.

If your permit request is granted and you have sufficient means to pay (through a mortgage or personal income), you can proceed with the transaction. The notary will then draw up the deed (act of sale), which will be read to both parties at the same time. You both need to sign the deed, at which point the notary will file it with the land register of the canton.

You are required to put the remaining 90% of the money into escrow with the notary (who will keep it until the transaction is finalised). If you are buying new property, your payment might be made in stages as the construction progresses (for example, 50% when the windows are fitted, 30% when the furniture is put in and the remaining 10% before moving in). This should be written in the deed.

Once the deed is registered, ownership of the property will change, the notary will transfer the amount in escrow to the seller and you (the buyer) will receive an updated excerpt of the land register certifying that the property is now yours.

This procedure should not take more than 16 days if you already hold the mortgage and necessary permits (permit B for EU/ETA citizens without Swiss residency, permit C for all other non-residents).

Additional costs

Other than the cost of the property, you are expected to pay the notary fee (generally between 0.02% and 1% of the property value, plus 7.6% VAT, although this varies from canton to canton), land transfer tax (approximately 4%, also varies between cantons – abolished in Zurich), deed registration fee (between 1% and 1.5% depending on the canton).

Further reading

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