Buying and registering property in Switzerland
Switzerland is both a symbol of wealth and natural beauty, making it an attractive destination for wealthy investors. However, there are restrictions for non-resident individuals who are not authorised to purchase property in any city and canton of Switzerland. For instance, while Valais and Vaud permit foreign ownership, Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich prohibit it. Future buyers should also know that foreign citizens may not own houses of more then 200 sq.m. Buyers can expect to see a transaction finalised in 2–4 months.
How it works in Switzerland
1. Find a property. A local real estate agency offers properties that match your preferences as a buyer. The city, district and your budget are the main things to take into account. Once you have found one or more options that interest you, the agency will arrange viewings. Don’t hesitate to ask your real estate agent any questions about the property, payment procedures or potential discounts.
2. Secure the property. You will be asked to pay 5–30% of the purchase price or make a fixed payment (CHF 5,000–200,000) to the notary or real estate agency's account as a reservation deposit which is not be legally binding.
3. Sign a letter of intent. The letter of intent (la promesse de vente) defines the terms and conditions of the potential transaction, payment schedule and penalties as well as details of the deposit payment (5–10%) which should be paid to the notary, real estate agency or seller.
4. Do the due diligence. The notary reviews the official status of the purchased property including the property rights and existing encumbrances and requests from the land registry (Registre foncier).
5. Get a buyer permit. The notary applies to the cantonal land commission (Commission foncière) for a permit to purchase the property. This can take even months to issue, but you can also find some real estate on the market that already has a valid buyer’s permit.
6. Sign the sales contract. It takes anywhere from 3–4 days to 2–3 weeks to draft a sales contract
As a foreign buyer, there are few extra requirements when it comes to closing the sale. The contract must include your date of birth, permanent address, full name and the parents' dates of birth. When it is signed, you must also sign a declaration under the Lex Koller Act that is then certified by the notary that you do not own any property in Switzerland already: non-residents may own only one property per family. Finally, the notary will inform you that you may not resell the property during the coming five years.
7. Register your property. After you have obtained your buyer’s permit, the notary will invoice you for the transfer tax, stamp duty for transferring the property records and about 1% for notarial services (les honoraires du notaire). The transfer tax (les droits de mutation) varies from 0% to 4% by canton and there is no tax in the cantons of Aargau, Zug and Zurich. The tax is 1.5% of the purchase price in Luzern and 1.8% of the same value in Bern and Valais. Once you have paid everything, your contract will be registered and you will become the legitimate owner. Registration fees (frais du Registre foncier) are 0.5% of the purchase price on average. The original contract bearing a registration mark is then handed over to the land registry authorities and you will receive excerpts proving your ownership that can help support a visa application or to register your car.
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