Guide to Buying Property in Switzerland

Why buy a property in Switzerland?

  • Switzerland is popular among the international community for the sense of reliability, stability and security it offers, its quality of life, education and construction, and its position in the heart of continental Europe. Unsurprisingly this has led to great demand from overseas for Swiss residence or second homes.
  • This has led to restrictions of construction of second homes in communes where second homes already comprise over 20% of housing stock.
  • New developments which were granted a building permit prior to 11 March 2012 are being built but once this stock is finished there will be no more new-build second homes for Swiss or foreign buyers.
  • These new properties should therefore be a sound investment due to the lack of new second homes in future. The market will then solely be in existing resale homes, foreigner to foreigner.

What are the conditions of purchasing a property?

  • Foreigners are obliged to apply for a permit to buy a holiday home. These permits are allocated annually on a quota basis.
  • Foreigners are not permitted to buy in the major cities such as Geneva, Berne and Zurich and may only buy in certain Cantons and in certain tourist resorts.

What size of home can I buy?

  • Holiday homes may have no more than 250m2 of living space (not including garage, basement etc) on a land plot of no more than 1000m2. This is the equivalent of a spacious four bedroom chalet with balconies/terrace.
  • To purchase larger properties, it is possible for two siblings or parent/child (over 20 years old with own income stream) to purchase together (PPE).

Alpine Property Search have found the right property for us. What’s next?

  • Once you or your agent has found the property you would like to buy, your agent will refer you to a notary who works on behalf of both buyer and seller and is legally bound and professionally indemnified to conduct the sale fairly. The notary will apply to the Canton on behalf of the buyer for an Authorisation to buy.
  • For foreigner-owned resale property there is no need for the buyer to apply for a permit. The existing permit simply transfers with the property.

Can I sell the property to make a quick profit?

  • All purchases in Canton Valais require the owner to keep the property for five years before selling unless they can prove extreme circumstances such as divorce, bankruptcy, death of a family member or ill health, in which case the property can be sold at no more than the original purchase price. This rule is designed to avoid speculation and housing market bubbles.

What are the steps from making an offer to receiving the keys?

*Reproduced with the kind permission of Ski Invest

Can I buy more than one property?

Only one property per family may be purchased by non-Swiss residents. Children over 20 years old who can prove their financial independence may also purchase one property in their own name.

How long may I stay in my property per year?

A non-resident owner and his/her family may occupy the property for 6 months per year, maximum consecutive stay 3 months.

May I rent my property when not using it?

Yes. Your property cannot be rented on a full annual basis, the maximum being 11 months and 1 week. You, your family or friends are supposed to use the property for at least 3 weeks of the year.

May I purchase the property in the name of my company?

It is not possible for a foreigner to purchase a property in the name of a company.

I would like to buy a New Build Off-Plan

  • New build off-plan developments are usually paid in stages via the notary. The buyer signs a reservation agreement and pays a deposit. The bank will make the remaining stage payments as the construction proceeds (typically when the foundations and roof are started) with the final payment taking place after a satisfactory snagging inspection has taken place.
  • New build construction carries a 5-year guarantee for construction defects and 10 years for hidden defects.

Can I get a mortgage?

  • Local banks will lend up to 70% of the property value depending on your financial circumstances. Higher Percentage LTVs are possible if you invest your assets with the bank.
  • Interest rates are the lowest in the developed world and banks will lend for ten years at fixed rates below 2%.
  • A Swiss mortgage (both variable and fixed rates available) is effectively an overdraft secured against the property with the borrower paying interest on the capital every quarter.
  • Capital repayments can be made for up to 25 years and are paid annually.

What are the Purchase costs?

  • Costs of purchase vary depending on the Canton. In Valais you will pay 2.5% comprising of notary fees, land registry fees and government purchase taxes. In Vaud this is 5%.
  • In addition, there is a mortgage registration fee payable. In Valais this is 1.6% of the loan value. In Vaud it is based on a sliding scale from 0.44% to 0.66%.

What are the running costs?

Annual running costs are around 0.75% of the purchase price and should easily be covered if the property is rented out when not in use.

What about Taxation?

Firstly, Switzerland is made up of local communes, the cantons in which they are situated and finally the Federation of the cantons. Each entity raises taxes and as a property owner you will have to submit a tax return each year from which your total tax bill will be calculated. This will be presented to you with a breakdown of what is payable to the commune, the canton and the Federal government.
Secondly, a term that I will refer to often – the tax value of your property (also known as fiscal or cadastral value). This is based on assessment criteria determined by the cantons and is significantly lower than the purchase price of the property (typically between 30-60% of the purchase value). It forms the basis of the Swiss property tax and Swiss wealth tax that we refer to below.

Swiss Property Tax
Sometimes known as land or real estate tax, this is a cantonal tax on land and buildings. It is payable by persons who are recorded in the land register as the owners or users of a property. Not every canton applies this tax, however the cantons with the majority of tourist resorts with second homes such as Valais, Vaud and Bern do. The rates range from:
Valais – 0.010%
Vaud – 0.015%
Bern – 0.015%
These rates are applied to the tax value (as opposed to purchase value) of the property.

Income Tax in Switzerland for Foreigners
Homeowners pay a tax for the right to use their property. This is based on a notional “rental value” and is calculated by determining how much rent the home would theoretically yield if rented out, based on a careful assessment of market rents. From this amount running costs can be deducted as well as debt interest, even if not directly related to the property. The amount that may be deducted is based on the tax value of your Swiss property as a percentage of your total global assets (please refer to the comments on filing a tax return below).
Tax on the net amount is paid to the commune, canton and the federal government. The rates of tax differ from commune to commune but for the sake of comparison, the maximum rates of all combined are:
Valais – 36.5%
Bern – 41.4%
Vaud – 41.5%

Swiss Wealth Tax
The tax value of your property is used as the base to determine your wealth tax. Debts can be deducted even if they do not relate to the property. And as is the case with income taxes, the amount deducted is based on the value of your Swiss property as a percentage of your global assets.
When you or your accountant file your Swiss tax return, total global income and wealth need to be declared in order to assess the applicable tax rate. You have a choice – if you make a global declaration you are entitled to deduct debt and debt interest. In this case the maximum tax rates are not applied (typically 50% of the maximum rate). If you do not declare your global wealth and income, you may not deduct debt and the maximum tax rates will be applied.
For reference, the maximum wealth tax rates are:
Bern – 0.58%
Valais – 0.63%
Vaud – 0.79%

Switzerland Double Tax Treaties
If you live outside Switzerland, then normally you should not pay tax in your country of residence on a property situated in Switzerland. This however depends on the Double Tax Treaty between Switzerland and your country of residence. The principle normally followed is that property is taxed in the country where the property is situated.

Inheritance tax in Switzerland
Inheritance and gifts to spouses are tax free in all cantons. Transfers of ownership to direct heirs are tax free in Valais and Bern and are subject to a tax of 3.5% in Vaud.

 

Tax consequences on the sale of your property.

Swiss Capital Gains Tax
You will not be allowed to sell your property within the first five years of ownership, unless there are mitigating circumstances such as bereavement or financial difficulties. This restriction is designed to discourage an investment in Swiss property as a form of speculation. Profit on the sale of a property is subject to Swiss capital gains tax. The rates are progressive and the longer the property is owned, the lower the tax rate. The computation for the taxable gains is the selling price less acquisition costs and costs of improvement. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep all your receipts as they may save you money in the future!

Disclaimer:

The information herein has been provided in good faith as a guide. However, regulations, tax rates and exemptions may change. APS accepts no responsibility for its accuracy and buyers should always consult the lawyer handling the purchase for clarification and guidance.

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