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Old 03.09.2019, 14:41
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Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

Hi,

We are looking at possibly buying an old chalet to renovate in Swiss Romande (at the really early stage, and looking at a couple that require "major renovation", although I am still trying to find out what that entails. I've been through the various threads on here and there is some great info. However I was hoping people might have some more tips and ideas on the right questions to ask.

- How much will the real estate agent know about what renovations are required?
- To what extent to sale prices have the true costs of renovation priced in?
- How open are banks to giving mortgages for properties that require renovation (especially if you plan to do a lot of the non-structural things yourself and over an extended period of time)?
- What key questions should I be asking?

Many thanks for any assistance!
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Old 03.09.2019, 15:03
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

First rule of home renovation:

Take the estimate and double it. And then put even more aside against the 'unforseeable' expenses.

Second rule of home renovation:

If you still have any money left, invest in a wine cellar. You will have drunk it dry by the time the project is finished.

BTDT, and have the ulcer to prove it.


---

Being serious - trust no one, especially not the agent. He has no responsiblity to you.

Whether the price reflects renovation costs depends on the mindset of the buyer. Some live in cloud-cuckoo land, some have no real need to sell and will wait for their price, some need to move on and so are realistic. The only thing that is important, though, is that the price is sensible for you, by your own definition of fundamental value. And that is where you need to do your own due diligence.

Verify every little detail yourself, and then ask the person/bureaucrat/expert you consulted if he or she indeed has the authority to make that decision or evaluation.

Have an independent Bauleiter (my preference) or architect do an inspection and come up with an estimate of the cost of renovations. Be aware that this will cost you, somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple thousand.

Then check that every renovation is at least theoretically allowable. This is a question for the Bauamt. If a renovation requires a permit, or agreement of neighbors, be aware that you might never get that permit or agreement. Could you live without that aspect of the project? If not, walk away now.

If the land value supports the renovation project you should have no trouble with the mortgage including renovatin costs. But if not... You should start by having a friendly chat with your banker. They can generally give you a ballpark idea if your project is sensible, or cloud-cuckoo.

Is this a primary or secondary residence? If a secondary, be aware that you generally need a larger cash deposit. But again, YMMV, property dependent.

Key questions... there are so many. Perhaps you could describe the property a bit, that might help us give you more focused answers.

I'd start with: What is the property zone? Much of what I have wanted to do has been restricted by zoning.

Just a start... Good luck!
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Old 03.09.2019, 18:27
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

The selling price and the valuation are two different things, the value is the land minus the cost of demolition (if possible) which can be considerable if it has asbestos in it. Doing the work yourself makes no sense if you have reasonable salaries as everything is tax deductible and DIY building supplies are limited and expensive. Also the local tax rate will add or lower the value depending if it's high or low. The idea can work but you really need to know your stuff and spending a few thousand to get someone to consult pay for itself easily.
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Old 04.09.2019, 01:19
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

Wow! Thanks very much both. These are great answers.

I'm chasing down the estate agent to get more initial information on a property, plus intend to book a visit once back from a business trip so I'll know more details then. It is described as requiring major renovations (it's a 1950s chalet), but is in a good sized plot.

I am not sure what major renovations imply - does that automatically mean structural?

As for DIY, it's something I enjoy, although would not want to tackle anything too technical so there will definitely be somethings that would require external assistance. Regarding the price of DIY building supplies, we are quite near France, so that could make a significant difference (assuming that such bills can still be deductible????)
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Old 04.09.2019, 01:23
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

I also found this document that mentioned a few interesting "life times" for different housing aspects: https://www.ubs.com/ch/en/private/mo...ion-costs.html

For example, a sloped roof is 40-50 years. So guessing the roof might be one of the things needing replacing?? Or is that not an automatic assumption?
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Old 04.09.2019, 02:08
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

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For example, a sloped roof is 40-50 years. So guessing the roof might be one of the things needing replacing?? Or is that not an automatic assumption?
Automatic assumptions are never the wisest way to go... General lists are a good jumping off point, but you need a thorough assessment of this particular property. 'Major renovations needed' could mean just about anything. That 50s roof might be good for another 50 years, but the five year old plumbing might need reworked immediately. No one can say without seeing the house.

FYI, 1950s --> possibility of asbestos. Include that in your checklist.


Seriously, if after you visit the house you are still in love with it, before you make an offer you really ought to have an inspection done by a Bauleiter or architect - and get someone with structural expertise. You want someone who can do a thorough look through the property and assess what must be done, what should be done, what would be nice to have done - and when. And if the things you want are even possible. Yes, you will pay for that expertise - but it could save you more down the road.


I keep harping on this point because of my experience of a top-to-bottom renovation. I was no novice when we bought this house, I had successfully bought, renovated, and sold several houses Stateside. But the process in Switzerland is a horse of a different color. Most expensively importantly, I did not know what I did not know. So get someone who does know on your side.

Good luck!
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Old 04.09.2019, 08:52
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

The banks are likely to ask for a far bigger down-payment if you plan/insisit on doing the renovations yourself, their risk is far greater.


Banks can and do request up to 40% downpayment for 2nd properties, depending on your circumstances.


Do you know how to apply and adheer to all the local building regulations ?



Impossible to say about roofs, all depends how they were constructed and maintained, but count about Chf 100-150k for a complete re-roof with insulation standards of today.
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Old 04.09.2019, 10:27
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

Thanks. Those are some really good questions and advice. I'll definitely get it checked out. There are a number of posts on EF that bemoan architects and suggest a different expertise to check over a property - "Statiker (structural engineer)". Would you recommend one of these to check over the property or is an architect the best option?

It would be a primary property, so hopefully that enables the same deposit/mortgage ratio.

Really good point regarding asbestos. I also saw a post on here that stressed that importance of the building plans and history, plus going to the town hall.

I can see us wanting to focus on insulation and solar panels, plus renovating the heating system if (most likely!) needed as a priority. You can get a three year interest free loan for energy improvements, so that could also be an option maybe.
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Old 05.09.2019, 09:42
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

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Thanks. Those are some really good questions and advice. I'll definitely get it checked out. There are a number of posts on EF that bemoan architects and suggest a different expertise to check over a property - "Statiker (structural engineer)". Would you recommend one of these to check over the property or is an architect the best option?
Based on my limited experience here - one renovation and about a dozen inspections when looking to buy*, I'd start with a Bauleiter, a construction manager, rather than an architect.

Admittedly my opinion is based on the useless bow-down-before-me-all-ye-mere-mortals architect we had the bad luck of working with on our renovation. He couldn't be bothered to research our Quartier Gestaltungsplan, couldn't be bothered to show up for meetings, couldn't be bothered to care about projects under X squillion in fees. He drew pretty pictures though - shame he couldn't be bothered to get the house measurements right. He was an albatross around our necks.

The gentleman who saved the project was the Bauleiter. The architect fancied himself an Artiste, the Bauleither actually had hand-on bricks and mortar experience. The Bauleiter kept the project on schedule and on budget, knew the pitfalls, found solutions.

I'd go with someone who deals with the day to day aspects of renovation. That might be a (better) architect, certainly other posters on EF relate good experiences.

We chose our Bauleiter first, as he came highly recommended locally. I then learned I had to hire his boss, the architect, as part of the package. Perhaps that was our root problem - the architect knew we needed his rubber stamp, and so felt he did not need to do anything to justify his very high fees.

So... interview both, see who impresses you most given the scope of your project. Also ask your bank for recommendations - they might work with architects who specialise in valuation inspections.

We also needed to call on a structural engineer for a later project, joint renovation with neighbours of the shared boulder wall, as we were concerned about weight. If you are talking about serious structural issues, you might need that expertise as well. This expertise did not come inexpensively.

Perhaps start with a Bauleiter/architect - and then if the expertise of a structural engineer is needed the person you hire would consult on the pertinent issues.


---

* And now something else to think of:

I have shelled out a whole lotta money on inspections in order to do my due diligence in the years I have been looking for my dream house. Unfortunately, due diligence takes time... and depending on the competition for the property you are considering you might not have time. So there is the risk of someone snapping up the place ahead of you while you dot your Is and cross your Ts. This has happened to me several times, as I am looking in a very competitive niche.

On the other hand, if you don't do thorough due diligence you could be in for some very expensive surprises.

So... the speed of the property market vs the deepness of your pockets. Roll o' the dice.

A possibility is to get a quick and dirty idea of what the renovation would cost - think what a new build on the property would be. If you can stomach that cost plus, put in a bid with a reservation payment - and include in the bid a walk away clause based on full inspection. Sure you might lose a few thousand, but that is better than being surprised with many hundreds of thousands in unexpected renovation costs - or no renovation, because of legal hurdles.

Again, good luck.
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Old 05.09.2019, 10:14
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

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I am not sure what major renovations imply - does that automatically mean structural?
Not automatically but it can do. That will come up on the survey. I don't know where you're from, but in UK terms major renovations will almost certainly involve 'first fix' works.

In my limited experience, (finished my first full house renovation a year ago in the UK) you have four stages.
Make the property watertight.
First fix
Second fix
Third fix.

Explained here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_fix_and_second_fix


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As for DIY, it's something I enjoy, although would not want to tackle anything too technical so there will definitely be somethings that would require external assistance. Regarding the price of DIY building supplies, we are quite near France, so that could make a significant difference (assuming that such bills can still be deductible????)
When you get to that stage, which is a long way off, please be aware that many items can be sourced a lot cheaper directly from the manufacturer via sites such as Amazon. This is particularly useful when it comes to flooring, door furnishings, light fittings, etc. Just two quick examples... I chose two external light fittings in my local hardware store for £80 each. I took a photo of the small print on the box, tracked down the original manufacturer who had an Amazon page and got them delivered two days later for £10 each. I repeated this for all the internal light fittings and got 4 sets if triple spotlights for £8 each as opposed to £55 for the exact same items in the hardware shop. Same for bulk LED bulbs too.

With the floor coverings I was in a rush to finish on time so got everything from one supplier, but with more time I could find the shop's name for the products on Google and who the manufacturer was. They were selling the exact same items direct for about 50% less than the shop, but the delivery time was 2 weeks longer and I'd have to find my own flooring fitter.

Now back to meloncollie for how to do it the Swiss way. She really knows her stuff.
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Old 05.09.2019, 10:24
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

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Now back to meloncollie for how to do it the Swiss way. She really knows her stuff.
Actually I don't. But I do try to learn from my many mistakes... for next time.
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Old 05.09.2019, 11:18
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

If looking a more remote places, ask whether they are connected to the grid - power, water and sewage.

It's not uncommon for the more remote places to have none of those (or a water spring shared with neighbors).

Springs are fickle at best, and always a good source of arguments with your neighbors.

Sewage isn't the end of the world if you can get a digger out there to bury a septic tank (CHF 30k or so).

Power is a more serious expense if you want to be hooked up to the grid and you aren't near anyone else with power. Solar, wind and hydro can help - but only if you are planning on running low-power appliances.

Finally, if redoing the heating, consider pellet burners...
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Old 05.09.2019, 13:09
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

Thanks - this is really useful. I've checked out the watertight / first fix etc. Excellent. So far I have the following things to check (in no particular order):

- Presence of asbestos?
- What maintenance over the years?
- Présence of D’insectes xylophages
- Presence of house mushrooms (Mérule Destruction du champignon des maisons)
- Presence of moss and lichen
- State of electrics? and connection to grid
- Damp?
- Connection to network?
- How insulated?
- What are current owner heating bills?
- What criteria have been used by the architect evaluation on the selling price for the Ross formula for depreciation (life span of house)
- In terms of legal issues, it's converted agricultural land ("désassujettie") so I am aware as to the restrictions (or rather am getting myself up to speed very quickly! but at least this is a known known). We want to live in the countryside so having our own is not a bad thing - we wouldn't want to build on a garden anyhow. But it does mean lengthy processes for any change, so need to definitely do my due diligence and learning here.
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Old 05.09.2019, 15:27
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

If you can learn anything from the previous owners about what they've renovated, do it.

A friend recently bought a home with the intent to complete minor renovations. When the renovations started, it was revealed that the previous owner had done some DIY renovations and had not received proper permissions from the authorities. As the new owner, my friend is apparently responsible for the previous owner's missteps and it's costing a lot of extra money and even court time.
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Old 05.09.2019, 17:59
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

A couple of FYIs, from my experience:

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Sewage isn't the end of the world if you can get a digger out there to bury a septic tank (CHF 30k or so).
Ja, aber... depending on the zone.

I fell in love with a property in a Hochmoorgebeit, and... no way, no how, for environmental reasons.

From what I learned in that case, a Hochmoorgebeit can be almost impossible to renovate due to environmental protections... as it should be.

Turned out the current owner, who used the place as a weekend house, simply used a glorified port-a-potty.

The non-building 'Ausserbauzone' areas can get complicated. Whether the property is in Landwirtschaftszone, BGBB, Bergzone, Forst, Wassergebeit, another protected zone, or something else is a point to nail down. It's not always obvious, and sometimes the same property can be ruled over by a whole alphabet soup of agencies. If the house sits auf dem Land, always ask 'Are there any other departments who have a say in how this property is used?'

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Power is a more serious expense if you want to be hooked up to the grid and you aren't near anyone else with power. Solar, wind and hydro can help - but only if you are planning on running low-power appliances.
Again, the above Hochmoorgebeit - no changes to the power allowed, not even solar. This could apply to other properties in protected zones as well.

Basically the house, some 300 years old, was grandfathered when current environmental regs came in, with the clause that no changes could be made. Rumor had it that the local authorities were just waiting for it to fall down, at which point the land would be left fallow. (Unfortunately for them Swiss construction is made to last a thousand years. ) So Kachelofen heat and an old boat generator installed pre-war as the power source. And candlelight.

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. When the renovations started, it was revealed that the previous owner had done some DIY renovations and had not received proper permissions from the authorities. As the new owner, my friend is apparently responsible for the previous owner's missteps and it's costing a lot of extra money and even court time.
Along those lines, I've run into several homes where the agent blithely says: 'In the Landwirtschaftszone you can increase the size by 30%.'

That is often being economical with the truth.

The regs refer to an increase from the original construction. You will often find that the previous owners have already added on, sometimes legally, sometimes not. So your allowable increase might be fully used up already - and if exceeded or not duly permitted you as the new owner, like 3Wishes' friends' become liable for bringing the building back to code. So... due diligence.

If it is obvious that there has been an add-on at some point, question this, clarify whether it was permitted - and how much of the allowance still exists. The Bauamt (or other appropriate agency with their fingers in the pie) are the people to answer this question - never, ever rely on the seller or agent..

My rule nowadays is: If I can't live with the property exactly as it is, walk away. Because permits might not be forthcoming.

---

And another FYI, I recently found my interest piqued by a cute little chalet in the mountains. Nice house, nice garden, nice price. And then by chance I stumbled on something I've not dealt with before: Gefahrenzonen. Avalanche, flood, rock falls, landslides - all something to be aware of if you are in a mountain area. The canton should publish a Gefahrenzonekarte; double check this, as the agent was not forthcoming with this info.

That the house lay in a Gefahrenzone meant that the house is essentially uninsurable. I didn't get as far as asking if it was even mortgageable. Sure, so far it has stood for 60 years with no problems... but that's one heck of a roll o' the dice - especially given how climate change is affecting the mountain regions.

Just a few things I have run into - I hope your chalet is a much easier project!
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Old 05.09.2019, 18:07
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

Or you can buy ours in Chatel, without using a realtor and save money. It is being listed with him next week, so there is a small window of opportunity here for you.


It is renovated and 50 meters from the remontée mécanique. We enjoyed it every weekend while we were in Lausanne for 7 years but, alas, have moved to the south of France and a 7-hour car ride is just too much.


PM me if interested.
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Old 05.09.2019, 18:14
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

Anyone have some French and Italian terms to toss in here? meloncollie's posts are fantastic, and it would be even better if we could have the important terms in the other two official languages to help those who might want to buy in Romandie or Ticino.
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Old 05.09.2019, 19:06
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

I found this law, which I think is very useful for Geneva canton - and with terminology that will be applicable across Swiss Romande

https://www.ge.ch/legislation/rsg/f/rsg_l5_05.html
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Old 05.09.2019, 19:09
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

Amazing inputs Meloncollie!

I have checked on solar panels as the canton has a database that states what is possible, and this is an option. Plus the law I just posted states that permission is not required for solar panels (but you do need to let them know, and cannot ignore the requirements for angles and suitability of roof composition etc.)

The comment on the 30% is gold. That has gone straight onto my list!
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Old 05.09.2019, 20:32
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Re: Questions to ask if buying a chalet to renovate

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Amazing inputs Meloncollie!

I have checked on solar panels as the canton has a database that states what is possible, and this is an option. Plus the law I just posted states that permission is not required for solar panels (but you do need to let them know, and cannot ignore the requirements for angles and suitability of roof composition etc.)

The comment on the 30% is gold. That has gone straight onto my list!

It is very difficult for the commune/canton to refuse solar panels but you still need to request permission, it is called a "dispensation administratif" here, basically bullshit that you pay for


You have to officially let them know, but usually the installer will do this for you.


The plot of land you have is a certain size on which their is a certain density you can build, ie no more than xxx Cubic meters on xxx square meters of land.


It really isn't easy here, if you don't speak French and don't really know what you are doing, get a project leader to do it for you and pay him. I'm not saying it's not feasible without but the banks will probably balk at lending you money, they are highly risk adverse here
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