Vendredi, 02 Octobre 2009 13:28

The process and pitfalls of buying land in Switzerland

Written by Michèle Decorges

Renting property in Switzerland is complex enough, buying a house or apartment is even more so. But when you're purchasing land on which to build your dream house, the exercise can become a nightmare. Here we detail the process from begining to end while providing you with tips and potential pitfalls to take into account along the way.

To begin building your house you require a plot of land in the right spot, a precise plan, an architect with original ideas and of course, adequate funds.

You need to define where your family will feel at home: city or suburbs or countryside? You will need to define distance priorities from school or the work place.

Activities for children are another consideration, not only now but in the future – ask yourself if you’re ready to become an unpaid taxi driver? Tax rates in some communes are another major issue.

Once you have selected an area or areas of interest, you will need to locate a suitable piece of land where surroundings will remain unchanged and pleasant for as long as possible.

If you buy your land directly from an owner, it is very important to obtain prior information about the allotment, as well as the type of constructions permitted.

This requires a trip to the commune’s (administration communal) technical building service where you can obtain a map of the zone and a copy of local building regulations (règlement communal). Have your architect handy.

Drainage and sewage disposal are expensive to install. Preferably, the plot of land should already be equipped with these; also electricity and why not cable?

When purchasing land through a real estate agent it’s worth noting that they are obliged to provide you with all necessary information.

However, make sure that city or town building regulations (règlement communal) allow you to proceed with your project (constructible land coefficient, roof sloping, building height, number of floors all have to be taken into account).

A visit to the notary will ratify the land purchase and handle technical details of your bank loan.

You will also need to find an architect and this can prove to be a lottery. To help you make a decision, ask to scrutinize recent constructions created by the architect.

A second opinion is wise. If you’re implementing very precise ideas, it is important to ensure that they will be respected. If not, contact someone else.

Architects can be found on the internet at www.sia.ch. This domain will list members of the Swiss Architect Federation. Just click under “members” and type in your chosen location.Be careful! It may not be wise to work with an architect friend. Strained relationships over something so personal are not uncommon, and you may end up losing a friend.

Once you have selected your architect, he/she will provide an estimated quote for the entire construction, architect’s fees and follow-up of work and financial management of the project throughout the duration of the construction.

The architect will also advise you on an engineer and help you assess the quotes received from the different construction companies.

A real estate agency may propose a construction project and the architect to go with it. In certain cases, the land may even come complete with a building permit. In this case you may not have much leg-room to alter floor plans, other than the interior of your home.

If you have designed your own house, your architect will draw up the floor plans and submit bids. However, city building rules must be respected, obliging you on occasion to sacrifice certain details.

Expect to spend many hours selecting materials, appliances, finishing touches and one of the most important parameters, the heating system (heat pump, gas, oil, solar energy).

Once a permit application to obtain the building permit has been submitted by your architect, a advisory will be posted on the public notice board and in an official publication (Feuille des Avis Officiels).

The local population has 30 days to oppose your project. Provided this goes without a hitch, the building permit is delivered and construction may commence. You must begin them within the two years following the date of issue.

You will also need to scrupulously respect the terms of the building permit. If not, work can be blocked and the municipality has the right to demand you restart the process.

Once building has begun, it will be necessary to regularly attend construction meetings (approximately once a week) in the company of your architect and construction companies.

Throughout the project, always ensure that plans are respected. Later when the tiling, flooring, the kitchen and appliances are delivered, check they are exactly what you ordered before installation.

If the architect informs you that the budget has been exceeded, it may be necessary to request a small extension loan from your banker. Should this be the case, your architect will assist you.

It is customary to hold a small celebration onsite with the builders as soon as the house is under roof. Builders place a small pine tree on the rooftop to alert you.

When your house will be finished, it is time for your architect to close the account.

One last detail: expect local officials to visit your home to ensure that construction conforms with the initial request.  Don’t forget to offer them a glass of wine!

You can find invaluable information and more precise details at http://www.fri.ch/fr/chambres-cantonales/vd/index.html. Click the canton that interests you. A 60-page guide called “La Propriété : ça m’intéresse” is available for 25 francs.