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Buying a property in Switzerland: a step-by-step guide

This buying guide explains the property buying process in Switzerland and provides useful tips for those who consider buying.

Switzerland is a relatively small country and there is not much constructible for housing. Demand for properties is high as there are few properties available, in particular in urban areas. The Lex Koller (formerly Lex Friedrich) law sets the guidelines for foreigners buying properties in Switzerland, this mainly to avoid any speculation with regards to real estate. This way the Swiss market remains stable and offers a safe investment.

The property buying process in Switzerland

  • In a nutshell

    Once you have found the property you wish to buy and your offer has been accepted by the seller, the buyer appoints a notary who draws up the sales contract. You may wish to request a surveyor to check the property’s condition, however this is quite unusual. You pay a deposit (usually 10% of the purchase price) to the notary’s escrow account and the sales contract is signed (exchanged) at the notary’s office in the presence of the buyer and the seller. At this point the sale is confirmed and you cannot back out without losing your deposit.

    The completion of the sale depends on the agreement between the seller and the buyer, but usually this is +/- 3 months after the signing of the sales contract. This is when the remaining 90% of the purchase price is transferred and the keys of the property are handed over to the new owner.

  • Stage 1: Finding a property in Switzerland

    After having defined your criteria, such as your preferred area and requirements as well as the maximum price you wish to pay (check our budget planner), you can commence your search. We recommend that you register on the Onest website. On a daily basis, we check various portals for you and keep you informed of suitable properties.

  • Stage 2: How to assess your preferred properties

    A. Is the price right?

    After you have selected one or more properties, find out if the “asking price” is in line with comparable properties. One of the best and quickest indications can be obtained by checking the price per m2 based on the “net living space”, which includes rooms such as the living room, kitchen, hall, toilet, but which usually does not include a balcony, staircase and cellar. Compare this “net living surface/space price” with the corresponding median price in your preferred area. Check our market trends section where you will find the updated median prices.

    Obviously, there are various factors (both positive and negative) which have an influence on the ultimate price. If the property is located in an area which is very much in demand and the availability of properties is limited, or if the house has an unobstructed view and there is no noise, the price may be above the local median. On the contrary, if the quality of a property needs refurbishment or updating, or if the house is located close to a highway or railway, the final price may be lower than the local median. It is also good to know how long the property is on the market (usually the longer a property is on the market, the more a seller is willing to sacrifice).

    B. What about the quality of the property?

    If the property is presented by an agent, ask him for as much documentation as possible, such as a copy of the official property title (land registry), floorplans, a copy of the insurance certificate, and ask him to confirm if there are any restrictions or regulations. It is also good to ask his opinion about the overall quality of the property (preferably in writing) and if a budget should be reserved for updating and maintenance, if possible with a first cost estimate. If you have come to the conclusion that there are no obstacles, you may nevertheless request an architect or surveyor to conduct a final check of the house.

  • Stage 3: Choosing the right mortgage

    As there are many mortgages in a competitive market environment, it may be difficult to know what exactly is best for you. Consult our mortgage section to get a better understanding of the current mortgage rates. Our mortgage FAQ section will provide you with background information on the Swiss mortgage market and answers any questions you may have. You can then get in touch with your bank or an independent adviser who will recommend you the most suitable mortgage.

  • Stage 4: Making an offer

    Before making an offer, consult your banker or mortgage provider, to be sure that you can finance the transaction if your offer is accepted. On our website you have the possibility to make your first indicative calculations with our mortgage calculator. When you have received the green light from your bank for a mortgage and you have found the property you wish to buy, the next step is to make an offer, usually through the agent of the seller (remember the agent is instructed and paid by the seller). When the offer has been accepted, the buyer has the right in most cantons to appoint a notary.

  • Stage 5: Instructing a notary

    A. When to appoint a notary?

    Once the buyer and seller have agreed the price and all relevant conditions, they will have to hire the services of a notary to formalise the transaction. In most cantons the notary is public, however in some cantons it is a private profession. The notary is neutral and has to make sure that all legal requirements are fulfilled. He is typically chosen by the buyer.

    B. What needs to be done?

    We recommend that you speak with the notary of your choice well in advance to discuss all modalities. The normal procedure is that the buyer transfers 10% of the purchase price as a deposit to the notary’s escrow account.

    C. Which services are provided by the notary?

    The notary will make sure that all legal conditions are met by the buyer and seller. He will draw up a sales contract and send this to both parties. Once you have received this draft, please verify that the content is in accordance with what has been agreed. If necessary, do not hesitate to ask the notary or the seller for clarification prior to the official meeting at the notary's office where the binding agreement will be signed.

    The notary will:
    • Liaise with the land registry to transfer the ownership of the property;
    • Liaise with the buyer’s bank as to his mortgage and organise repayment of the mortgage to the seller's bank.
  • Stage 6: The purchase of the property

    The transaction is formalised in the notary’s office, usually in the presence of the buyer and seller. The notary will read out the contract, explain all special conditions and answer any questions you may have. Make sure that you understand each clause and that you are in agreement. If you do not agree, do not hesitate to ask the notary for clarifications and/or modifications. After you have signed the property purchase contract, the agreement becomes final and cannot be changed anymore. This will be registered in the land registry.

    In case of a direct sale, the buyer transfers 100% of the property purchase price and obtains the keys to the property in the notary’s office.

    However, many sellers and buyers decide on a deferred sale, which means that the sales/purchase contract is signed and a deposit has been paid by the buyer (usually 10% of the agreed sales price). The buyer and seller then agree to complete the purchase at some time in the near future / next couple of months allowing the seller to organise his move out, and the buyer to organise his move in. Please note that once the deferred sale has been signed, the sale is final. If the buyer would withdraw his intention to purchase the property he loses the 10% deposit. If on the other hand, the seller no longer wishes to complete the sale, he has to pay the buyer an equivalent amount of the 10% deposit.

Cost of buying a property in Switzerland

  • In many cantons, fees and taxes are charged by the notary and shared between the buyer and seller. However, in some cantons it is more common that the buyer bears these costs (example: Vaud). Before appointing the notary, we recommend that you ask him for a specification of his fees and legal taxes and who has to pay these charges. As a rule of thumb the fees of a notary generally range between 0.1 and 1% of the property value, the transfer tax varies between 0.2 and 3.3% and the fee for the land registry equals approximately 0.25% of property value.

Selling your property

  • As the sale can be complex and time-consuming, the majority of home owners use the services of an agent to sell their property rather than selling privately. Consult our comprehensive agent directory to find an agent to get a first impression of his actual portfolio as advertised on the leading real estate portals. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that this directory is 100% complete and up-to-date all the time. Consequently, we cannot accept any liability.

Buying a property in Switzerland

  • Who can buy real estate in Switzerland?

    Switzerland has strict regulations related to the purchase of properties by foreigners. You are allowed to buy real estate if you own a Swiss passport or if you are an EU or EFTA national with a Swiss residence permit, or if you hold a Swiss B or C permit. Below you will find in detail who can buy real estate in Switzerland.

  • Are foreigners allowed to buy a property in Switzerland?

    If you are a foreigner and you wish to purchase a holiday/second home this is possible. However, the real estate market is heavily regulated. The Swiss Federal Act on Acquisition of Real Estate by Persons Abroad (the so-called Lex Koller, previously Lex Friedrich) restricts the acquisition of Swiss residential and other non-commercial real estate by foreign persons. This law requires foreign residents to obtain a permit from the appropriate cantonal and federal authorities before being able to buy real estate in Switzerland.

  • Are there any restrictions for foreigners buying a property in Switzerland?
    1. A vacation home may only be purchased in some tourist areas and this is subject to quotas. At present the total number of properties, which can be sold each year to non-residents in the whole of Switzerland is 1’440. Each canton has a proportion of the 1’440 permits allocated to them each year.
    2. Foreigners can only buy one property. The property acquisition is restricted to a maximum living space (200 m2) and plot size limits (1’000 m2 for chalets). When a child of a foreign family reaches the age of 20, he may purchase one property, having proved financial independence.
    3. There is no single stay permitted beyond 3 months and a total of 6 months permitted during a year.
    4. The property can be rented out for a maximum of 11 months and 1 week per year.
  • Areas where non-Swiss residents can buy in Switzerland

    It is possible to buy in most of the main ski resorts and tourist areas within Switzerland. The majority of the 1’440 permits is allocated to the southwest region of the country, namely Vaud, Valais and the Bernese Oberland (i.e. ski resorts).

  • Areas in Switzerland where it is difficult to buy as a foreign buyer

    It is relatively difficult to acquire a property in non-tourist or rural areas. In addition, the large cities such as Zurich, Basel and Geneva do not allow secondary residences.

Statistics about the housing market

    • Total surface of Switzerland: 41’285 km2
    • Inhabitants: 8’406’000 (2016)
    • Housing stock: approximately 4’300’000 (= 100 dwellings per km2)
    • Households owning a dwelling: 1’282’000: 36.6%
    • Total number of buildings: 1’696’000 (of which 57,4% one family houses)
    • Average price: CHF 800’000
    • Breakdown by living space:
      17.8%
      54.4%
      27.8%
      © BFS, Neuchâtel 2016
    • Breakdown by number of rooms:
      6.4%
      13.9%
      26.7%
      27.7%
      15.4%
      9.9%
      © BFS, Neuchâtel 2016

More FAQ

  • The property buying process in Switzerland
  • Cost of buying a property in Switzerland

    In many cantons, fees and taxes are charged by the notary and shared between the buyer and seller. However, in some cantons it is more common that the buyer bears these costs (example: Vaud). Before appointing the notary, we recommend that you ask him for a specification of his fees and legal taxes and who has to pay these charges. As a rule of thumb the fees of a notary generally range between 0.1 and 1% of the property value, the transfer tax varies between 0.2 and 3.3% and the fee for the land registry equals approximately 0.25% of property value.

  • Selling your property

    As the sale can be complex and time-consuming, the majority of home owners use the services of an agent to sell their property rather than selling privately. Consult our comprehensive agent directory to find an agent to get a first impression of his actual portfolio as advertised on the leading real estate portals. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that this directory is 100% complete and up-to-date all the time. Consequently, we cannot accept any liability.

  • Buying a property in Switzerland
  • Statistics about the housing market
      • Total surface of Switzerland: 41’285 km2
      • Inhabitants: 8’406’000 (2016)
      • Housing stock: approximately 4’300’000 (= 100 dwellings per km2)
      • Households owning a dwelling: 1’282’000: 36.6%
      • Total number of buildings: 1’696’000 (of which 57,4% one family houses)
      • Average price: CHF 800’000
      • Breakdown by living space:
        17.8%
        54.4%
        27.8%
        © BFS, Neuchâtel 2016
      • Breakdown by number of rooms:
        6.4%
        13.9%
        26.7%
        27.7%
        15.4%
        9.9%
        © BFS, Neuchâtel 2016