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Old 31.10.2007, 10:44
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Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

We have been searching for a house to buy in the Geneva area for almost two years. We have seen many houses, some existing, some existing only 'sur plan'. In the beginning we wanted a 'dream home', then we realised that this is out of our reach (we can afford 1 million and anything resembling our idea of a dream home is at least 1.2 milliom). Now I am prepared to get into something even if it is not ideal. Unfortunately, my husband does not share that view. He thinks that prices are overinflated in and around Geneva and that what is on offer for 1 million should not cost more than 750,000 in reality. He is also afraid that buying now means that we can easily lose money later if prices drop. He also thinks that if interest rates continue to rise we can easily find ourselves with mortgage repayments of 4,500 CHF per month or more (which is 1,000 more than our current rent).

So I stopped looking (but as you can see, I continued to whine about it):

But what is the reality here? Can buying a house really ruin us financially? Can renting in the long run be better?
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Old 31.10.2007, 11:19
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

Hi ljm: Basically, you husband's right - prices in and around Geneva (or Zurich for that matter) are grossly overinflated, which is why most people can only afford to rent instead of to buy. Having said that though, the chances of real estate prices dropping in Geneva or Zurich are minimal - on the contrary, most people expect a slow but steady increase in house prices, especially with the increasing influx of highly qualified, well-earning foreigners into Switzerland.
My husband and I are also in the process of buying at the moment, for the simple reason that we feel it's a good investment in the mid- to long-term. I probably don't need to tell you (but I will, anyway) is that the location of any real-estate you may purchase is essential to price development. If it's out in the sticks somewhere, you may lose. If it's within reasonable commuting distance to one of the larger towns (Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne, Basel, St. Gallen etc.), close to public transportation, schools, shops etc. I'd consider it to be a safe investment. Obviously, it also depends on how long you plan to stay in Switzerland.

Good luck!
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Old 31.10.2007, 12:08
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

Swiss prices may seem high for many coming here - except those from southern England. I would say that Swiss prices, even in the hot spots like Geneva and Zurich as still quite reasonable considering both the British situation and the demand for property here.

There will be fluctuations, but I would say that a drop in Swiss proerty prices is highly unlikley in the the long, short and medium term. In fact compared to the UK, property is generally underpriced here. What would you expect to pay for the kind of house you were looking for in Geneva in the London area?

If you are moving here and have previously owned and never rented, it can be quite a habbit to break. But unless you are going to be here for in excess of 10 years I would not contemplate buying. It will take 2 -3 years to find somewhere. The increase in value will be modest and if the property was on the market for a while before you bought it, it could be a problem to resell...
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Old 31.10.2007, 12:50
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

AbFab: I don't know London that well, but I don't think you can compare the two. I saw a property show on BBC the other day where a woman was selling a great-looking 2-bedroom flat in the Docklands area with an open view over the Thames. It was valued at 350,000 pounds. A comparable flat in Geneva is simply never on sale, and even if you could find one of the market, it would certainly not cost less than 1.2 million CHF.
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Old 31.10.2007, 13:05
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

I think, maybe in all fairness, that your husband has been nursing a somewhat cautious approach to acquiring property in a very affluent area of the Swiss market. His level-headed attitude maybe justified, where as your entrepreneur spirit may well also prove justification.
2005 was a good year to buy property. 2007 the market is booming. The future ........ who knows!
My advise - go for it, you'll never look back!!
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Old 31.10.2007, 13:14
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

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AbFab: I don't know London that well, but I don't think you can compare the two. I saw a property show on BBC the other day where a woman was selling a great-looking 2-bedroom flat in the Docklands area with an open view over the Thames. It was valued at 350,000 pounds. A comparable flat in Geneva is simply never on sale, and even if you could find one of the market, it would certainly not cost less than 1.2 million CHF.
Having lived in a number of flats in the "Docklands" in my 10 year sojourn in the Big Smoke, there is a wide variety of different housing & also lack / abundance of amenities.
Big differences between Mudchute, Island Gardens & Limehouse, Wapping for instance.

I was in a situation to buy on Manchester Road (2 bed maisonette, river view) for £370k, meanwhile a banker friend of mine tipped the scales at over £800k for a 2 bed in Wapping (no parking, garden view) ... its all relative.
This was in 2001.

Addmitedly being in Bern, we don't have the high prices as in Geneva, Zürich or Lausanne (Stadt Bern excepted), but I think that house prices here are a good 20-30% cheaper than there equivalent in the UK (South East). Add in all the usual benefits of quality of life, service, things actually work, workmen turn up on time, not to mention tax & the lack of a hyper-inflated property market, which keeps things stable, I am now looking with a view to buy in the next year or so.

As AbFab said, there is a cultural itch in all this, but I am looking at remaining in Switzerland for the long term (10+ years), so buying makes sense for me.

Last edited by Polorise; 31.10.2007 at 17:24.
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Old 31.10.2007, 13:39
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

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Hi ljm: Basically, you husband's right - prices in and around Geneva (or Zurich for that matter) are grossly overinflated, which is why most people can only afford to rent instead of to buy. Having said that though, the chances of real estate prices dropping in Geneva or Zurich are minimal - on the contrary, most people expect a slow but steady increase in house prices, especially with the increasing influx of highly qualified, well-earning foreigners into Switzerland.
If prices are predicted to have a "slow but steady rise", that would suggest they are not in any way "overinflated".

As my wife and I are contemplating buying when we come over (if we can convince a bank to lend us money ), I've had a browse around some of the real estate sites. Compared to, say, here in Sydney, prices in Zurich don't look to be outrageous. Sure, it's _expensive_, but in context of the location, they're don't seem unreasonable. To be honest, I was expecting them to be higher after listening to people talk how incredibly expensive real estate in Zurich was.
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Old 31.10.2007, 15:39
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

I understand that prices in Geneva are overinflated by 'predators', investors who buy property only to sell it a few months later at a higher price. Some properties change hands 3 times a year in this way. Apparently, this type of speculation was behind the real estate crash in the late 1980s. Now some predict the same happenning because the prices have dramatically gone up in the past 3-4 years, others say not exactly, there is some speculation but prices in Geneva will nevertheless continue to rise because demand remains high (influx of foreigners as said by möpp).

To Polorise and Drsmithy: Perhaps comparisons with London or Southeast England or Sydney are helpful if you lived there and are used to the housing markets there. But I don't need a house in any of these places. And knowing that houses in London are terribly expensive does not make a house in Geneva any more affordable.
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Old 31.10.2007, 17:39
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

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I understand that prices in Geneva are overinflated by 'predators', investors who buy property only to sell it a few months later at a higher price. Some properties change hands 3 times a year in this way. Apparently, this type of speculation was behind the real estate crash in the late 1980s. Now some predict the same happenning because the prices have dramatically gone up in the past 3-4 years, others say not exactly, there is some speculation but prices in Geneva will nevertheless continue to rise because demand remains high (influx of foreigners as said by möpp).
This is unlikley as there is a tax (somewhere round 40% - varies from canton to canton) on the profit on sale (capital gain) of property. This was introduced in the early 1990s to stop speculation and has been very effective. It is likely that demand is feeding price hikes and unless there is a dramatic turnaround this will continue.

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To Polorise and Drsmithy: Perhaps comparisons with London or Southeast England or Sydney are helpful if you lived there and are used to the housing markets there. But I don't need a house in any of these places. And knowing that houses in London are terribly expensive does not make a house in Geneva any more affordable.
But it does show you that Geneva prices are in line with those in other cities...
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Old 31.10.2007, 21:33
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

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To Polorise and Drsmithy: Perhaps comparisons with London or Southeast England or Sydney are helpful if you lived there and are used to the housing markets there. But I don't need a house in any of these places. And knowing that houses in London are terribly expensive does not make a house in Geneva any more affordable.
OK, I will be very careful not to provide helpful "real life" examples based on scenarios that you give in the future ... why did you mention Docklands in the first place ????

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Old 01.11.2007, 10:23
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

To Polorise: You are right, I should not have mentioned it

But this debate has helped me understand that there are no easy answers here and we remain, as before, undecided.

Many thanks to all of you who replied!!!
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Old 01.11.2007, 11:18
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

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To Polorise: You are right, I should not have mentioned it

But this debate has helped me understand that there are no easy answers here and we remain, as before, undecided.

Many thanks to all of you who replied!!!
I think the brutal facts are that many from English-speaking countries arrive here with the mantra "the best thing you can ever do is buy your own house" ringing in their ears.

I was told this many times and it turned out to be the best bit of advice I was ever given on financial matters. I dread where I would be today had I not got on the housing ladder many years ago when living in the UK. Back in the UK I see friends and relations getting rich beyond their wildest dreams from doing nothing more than living in house.

In Switzerland it's a different ball game. Only 32% of people do not rent their homes. One must realise this is no necessarily a 'bad thing'. Switzerland was once described to me as living in a leaking boat - if you rest it sinks. Monthly rental payments which continue on through retirement and go up, mean that the Swiss have to work and save and provide for their future, rather than sitting on their bums and relying on the sale of their homes and down-sizing to bail them out of credit troubles.

I believe this is one of the many reasons for Switzerland's success.

The Swiss move rarely and so the market for property in small. Good property often is sold before it ever reaches any public 'market'.

So what should we do about buying something here? I suggest:

1) If your stay is less than 5 years - maybe less than 10 years - simply forget about buying. Invest the capital from your house back home somewhere safe or better still keep that property and rent it out and stay on your home property ladder.

2) If you are looking to buy, Swiss property will not fall in your lap. Get the info asap (eg: Homegate have a daily email update of new properties). Tell every one you know that you are looking. Beware of overpriced problem property that doesn't sell and won't re-sell for you.

3) If you do buy, think Swiss. That is long term. There will be no quick profits. But there will be very cheap mortgages, especially if you work for a bank or insurance company. Building yourself with architect/ready made home or building with a new development is a popular way of getting into the property market here.

4) Either way, don't let it get you down and enjoy your time in this beautiful country.

No-one knows accurately where property prices are going. All we know is that the long-term average world-wide has been steeply up.

It is a complicated scene: you could buy a house in the London area in the early 1950s for £5000. That house would be worth in the region of £500,000 today. A Swiss house that would have cost CHF200,000 maybe today be worth say CHF 1 million. That's 100 times increase for the UK and only 5 times increase for Switzerland. But there were CHF20 to £1, today there are CHF2.40 to £1.
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Old 01.11.2007, 11:24
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

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Building yourself with architect/ready made home or building with a new development is a popular way of getting into the property market here.
Nice balanced post, thanks AbFab.

On this particular subject, I personally would be very interested if anyone has done this & would be prepared to share their thoughts & experiences on a new thread.

Any takers ?

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Old 01.11.2007, 15:03
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

Thanks AbFab, your advice on how to approach the issue of home ownership is spot-on.

We have been living in Switzerland for 5 years and are not planning to move out any time soon. But we do not own a house anywhere else, so that rules out any property gains and we have been saving quite a lot of money since coming to Geneva, so we have the 20% downpayment for a mortgage but it is sitting in our UBS savings account because we honestly don't know what to do with it.
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Old 01.11.2007, 15:20
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

Without going into too much detail, I can say that my home, given location, transport links, surroundings, cleanliness and other factors would cost at least the same in a [similarly] prosperous location in the UK.

Given that Geneva property is absolutely in demand and I can see no reason for that demand to abate, I would be comfortable buying and paying money to myself for an asset as opposed to lining someone else's pocket.

All those zeros are scary at first but you soon come to terms with it. I do have fixed interest rates considerably below the current market rate, I hasten to add...!
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Old 01.11.2007, 17:23
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

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Nice balanced post, thanks AbFab.

On this particular subject, I personally would be very interested if anyone has done this & would be prepared to share their thoughts & experiences on a new thread.

Any takers ?

As I said in my earlier post: my husband and I are just starting this trip. We are buying an "Attikawohnung" (approx. 160m2) between Winterthur and Zurich in a property development which - at the moment - looks like a field of rubble.
The final cost will be in the region of 800K (including 2 spaces in the large common Tiefgarage and a cellar unit or Kellerraum) and the property should be ready by late 2008.
At the moment we've been asked to make an immediate downpayment for the reservation of the flat of CHF 20K.
We heard about this development from my brother in law who knows the real estate agent handling this property for the developer. It's not advertised anywhere yet, which again confirms that this type of news travels by word of mouth. As far as I know, most of the approx. 20 flats have already been sold, and there's not a brick to show for anything yet.

If you're interested, I'll keep you updated every couple of months.
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Old 01.11.2007, 18:42
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

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Unfortunately, my husband does not share that view. He thinks that prices are overinflated in and around Geneva and that what is on offer for 1 million should not cost more than 750,000 in reality.
A recent article in Le Temps, Genève, l'exode faute de logement notes the imbalance between demand (large) and supply (small):
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A Genève, malgré la meilleure volonté affichée par les autorités cantonales et reconnue par les milieux immobiliers, la gravité de la pénurie (taux de vacance oscillant entre 0,15 et 0,2%) ne s'atténue pas. Il faudrait construire entre 1200 et 2000 logements par an pour accueillir les quelque 50000 ménages supplémentaires attendus d'ici à 2030, et beaucoup plus pour normaliser le marché. Or de 2000 à 2005, le nombre de logements créés se situait au bas de la fourchette: 1370 en moyenne. Il a baissé à 1161 l'an dernier.
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In Geneva, in spite of the best efforts of the authorities, the severity of the lodging deficit (vacancy rates between 0.15 and 0.2%) does not decrease. Between 1,200 and 2,000 buildings per year are needed to lodge the 50,000 odd additional households expected between now and 2030, even more to restore the market to normalcy. Between 2000 and 2005 the number of new buildings averaged 1370 a year, at the lower end of that range. It fell to 1161 last year.
So it seems that the high prices are due to a true imbalance between supply and demand, not to a speculative bubble.

The article also notes that Geneva has "exported" its housing crisis to neighboring areas (France and Vaud), hence the threads on "working in Geneva, living in Lausanne.

A long article that I found very instructive, not sure how long it will be available for free.
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Old 02.11.2007, 10:55
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

[quote=Polorise;125799]Nice balanced post, thanks AbFab.

On this particular subject, I personally would be very interested if anyone has done this & would be prepared to share their thoughts & experiences on a new thread.

Any takers ?

We have quite a lot of experience with new property development, although of course we have never really followed it through. In early 2006 we actually reserved a flat in Rolle, also in a building that is going to be finished in early 2008. The developers told us that this is going to be a 'high-standing' block of flats. It was 860,000 CHF for 3 bedrooms (1st floor in a five-floor building) and two parking spaces. We had to pay 41,000 (10%) immediately in order to reserve it and then we had 30 days to pull out of it. At the end of the period we were supposed to transfer remaining 15%, which means that they requested a total of 25% downpayment. When we went to banks looking for mortgage some of them thought it unusual that you had to provide 25% unfront and that this may suggest that the developer had some liquidity problem. The developer also promised to send us papers regarding all the equipment and fittings that would be put in (they did not want to disclose this to us before we paid the reservation fee) and also to put us in touch with the architect in charge of the project. The architect showed us an 'appartement temoin' in another building which was already finished (basically the same thing) and explained that the price of the flat did not include certain things that we considered quite basic (such as wooden floors in bedrooms, shower screens and built-in closets). So we calculated that the final price tag for this flat would in the end be probably around 900,000 CHF. We thought that this would be too much for a flat so far from Geneva, so we pulled out of it.

Having seen dozens of similar projects, I concluded that, as always, there are pros and cons here: new property developments are often priced at the top of the market, you usually have to wait a few years to move in, you don't know exactly what you are getting until the very last, you can not negotiate the price, you may be buying something that may in the end not be built at all (ie the developers aroung Geneva sell before they even get construction permits) and they often increase the price if, for whatever reason, their construction costs go up. On the positive side, sometimes new developments are cheaper than existing houses, you can choose your own kitchen, knock down walls, personalise the space, the quality of new construction is allegedly very good, you can get Minergie or similar environmentally-friendly and energy-saving housing, you don't have to invest a lot into maintenance during the first 15-20 years.

Let me know if you need more information about this
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Old 02.11.2007, 11:21
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

Sorry, I just realised that I gave some wrong figures above (I studied literature and always hated mathematics, so I hope I can be forgiven): The reservation fee was 5% and we were expected to pay another 20% at the end of the 30-day period.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that, once we pulled out of the deal before the 30-day mark, the notary still charged us some 500 CHF for administrative costs.
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Old 02.11.2007, 11:33
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Re: Should I still try to buy a house in Switzerland?

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Oh, and I forgot to mention that, once we pulled out of the deal before the 30-day mark, the notary still charged us some 500 CHF for administrative costs.
But of course ....

Have you looked into actually building from scratch yourself, regards a Minergie house for example, rather than an apartment development ?

P
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