Investors from home and abroad continued to pump money into the Swiss property market last year, keeping demand and prices on the rise.
Three Historic Houses Outside Zurich
$10.6 MILLION (9.5 MILLION SWISS FRANCS)
This 17th-century viticultural farmstead, comprising three renovated timber-frame buildings with lake views, sits on two-thirds of an acre in the town of Wädenswil, about 15 miles south of Zurich, in north-central Switzerland.
Listed as a protected historical monument, the winemaking estate — including a farmhouse, former cheese house and former wine-press building, all in the “Riegelhaus” style with facades crisscrossed by exposed timber beams — has undergone renovations to add Bauhaus features and contemporary conveniences, said Vivien Engler, the owner and managing director of Engel & Völkers Zürichsee Freienbach, which has the listing.
“In 1939-40, the house was fundamentally renovated and changed by Bauhaus-style architect Hans Fischli, one of the founders of Swiss modernism,” she said. “Then from 2006 to 2010, the house was renovated to a high standard, while preserving the Bauhaus elements and the original farmhouse look.”
Much of the estate is currently used as office and conference space, but is easily convertible for residential use, Ms. Engler said. The 4,069-square-foot farmhouse, built around 1693, has four levels and a basement, with floors of parquet, tile and stone. The house could be used with the principal living areas, kitchen and terrace on the ground floor and eight bedrooms above, or with an attic apartment on the top two floors, where there’s a second kitchen, Ms. Engler said. Furniture is not included in the asking price, but is negotiable.
The main entrance opens to a foyer leading to a gallery and living area with double-height ceilings. Along the gallery, which has a mezzanine above, are double doors opening to a spacious living room that accesses a terrace overlooking a green lawn lined with hydrangeas. At the end of the gallery is a staircase and a kitchen adjoining a dining room. The farmhouse-style kitchen has tile floors, heavy ceiling beams, a butler’s sink and a La Cornue range.
A staircase descends to the basement, which has separate entrances opening to two large spaces with stone walls and vaulted ceilings. An adjacent wine cellar is currently outfitted as a tasting room with wet bar.
The second floor has a mezzanine with office space overlooking the gallery, along with a bathroom and up to four bedrooms. The third floor has the main bedroom with built-out wardrobe, located on a hallway near a reading room and a bathroom with a clawfoot tub. The third floor has another bedroom and a kitchen with walls and ceiling of rustic wood, along with a decorative old-fashioned stove. The top floor has a large living area with space for dining spanned by heavy wooden beams, as well as a ladder to a small loft that could be used as an office or sleeping space, Ms. Engler said.
The 495-square-foot former cheese house is now used as a two-story apartment. From the combined living and sleeping area, a spiral staircase descends to a lower level with a small kitchen, dining area and bathroom. A wood-burning stove heats the house.
The 2,982-square-foot former wine-press building has been restored with natural stone walls and exposed beams. An antique wine press is on the ground floor, with offices and a bathroom on the second floor. The top-floor space, with wet bar, is used for conferences.
The landscaped estate has parking for four cars and a pavilion with internet access on a small stream. It is in a quiet neighborhood near the center of Wädenswil, a town with about 25,000 residents on Lake Zurich. Boating and water sports are popular activities, as is golfing at the nearby Golf & Country Club Schönenberg, Ms. Engler said. The city of Zurich, with a population of about 434,000, is a 15-minute drive, and Zurich Airport, easily accessible by car or train, is about 20 miles north.
The housing market in Switzerland, the landlocked Central European nation of dramatic lakes and mountains with about 8.5 million residents, is highly attractive to international investors for its stability and tax advantages. However, despite low interest rates, surging housing prices have left it out of reach for many aspiring buyers, and tight restrictions on foreigners complicate purchases.
The global pandemic hit Switzerland hard — when vaccinations began there in December, its infection rate remained higher than in Britain, France, Italy or Spain — but it seems to have avoided its worst economic effects.
“There was limited impact on the residential market in Switzerland, despite the severe incidences and high mortality,” said Tobias Just, a professor in the International Real Estate Business School at Germany’s University of Regensburg. “Given that bond yields are very low, investors redirected capital toward real estate seeking a safe haven.”
The Zurich-based consulting firm Wüest Partner estimates that the country’s gross domestic product shrank by 3.3 percent in 2020, but predicts a substantial recovery in 2021, in part because the Swiss real estate market continues to lure international investors. “In the beginning of 2020, there was of course uncertainty, but residential investment quickly regained, and banks kept on financing residential properties,” Mr. Just said.
Even as the pandemic spiraled, Swiss housing prices grew by 5.1 percent for owner-occupied apartments and 5.4 percent for single-family homes by the end of 2020, according to data from Wüest Partner.
“The 2020 year didn’t start well, but in the second half, we got a strong increase in the demand for properties, and at the end, the Swiss real estate market closed positively,” said Simon Incir, the owner and chief executive of Engel & Volkers Lugano-Sottoceneri. “We expect to have an even better 2021. Due to the introduction of smart working, the importance of property increased a lot, and people value their home spaces more.”
Foreigners can buy second homes only in Switzerland’s tourist areas, such as St. Moritz, Gstaad, Verbier and some areas on Lake Lucerne, Ms. Engler said. In other areas, such as the greater Zurich area, Zug or on Lake Geneva, foreigners are typically in the country to work and must make Switzerland their primary residence to buy property.
“Since buyers have to have a Swiss residency permit, they’re usually already here, and therefore the pandemic didn’t have a negative impact on demand,” she said, though “on the rental market, the impact was strong, since no new workers were allowed into the country.”
Likewise, international buyers were “not that flexible for site visits,” said Nina Demuth, a real estate professional with Zurich Sotheby’s International Realty. “Therefore, we developed a better tool for virtual-reality viewings so that we can offer a first look to our clients abroad.”
Ms. Demuth said she worked with buyers seeking larger properties outside of Zurich to accommodate more working and educating from home, and noted that she expects “the trend for bigger flats and houses will increase.”
In greater Zurich, the supply of available homes has tightened considerably since 2014, keeping prices high, brokers said. “Not a lot of properties come on the market,” Ms. Engler said. “Especially older people try to stay in their homes as long as possible, therefore prices keep rising.”
Currently, the average price of a single-family home in the region is 2.47 million Swiss francs ($2.77 million), an increase of 7.8 percent since 2019, according to Engel & Volkers’s Switzerland Market Report 2021. The average price of a condominium is 1.44 million Swiss francs ($1.6 million), up 6.2 percent since 2019.
Who Buys in Switzerland
Most foreign home buyers in Switzerland come from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Britain, France and Belgium, Ms. Demuth said.
Foreigners can only buy second homes in the tourist areas of Switzerland, such as St. Moritz, Gstaad, Verbier and some areas on Lake Lucerne, Ms. Engler said.
In metropolitan areas such as Zurich, where foreigners must obtain residency to purchase property, most buyers are German or British, Mr. Incir said.
The restrictions on foreign home buyers in Switzerland are stringent and can vary across the country’s 26 cantons, or states, as can rules regarding taxes and notary fees on property sales. In some areas, foreigners must obtain special authorization to purchase property, with limitations set by location and size, brokers said.
In Zurich, the notary fee and the ground registry fee are 0.1 percent each, coming to approximately 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,605), plus 7.7 percent value-added tax on a typical house costing 2.5 million Swiss francs ($2.8 million), Ms. Engler said, adding that the fees are typically split between buyer and seller.
Broker commissions are usually in the 3 to 5 percent range and are typically paid by the seller, Mr. Incir said.
Languages and Currency
German, French, Italian, Romansh; Swiss franc (1 franc = $1.12)
Taxes and Fees
The owners declined to reveal how much they pay in annual taxes related to the property. Though more expensive than average, it is subject to the same transaction fees as an average property, coming to roughly 20,000 Swiss francs ($22,400), including value-added tax, Ms. Engler said.
Vivien Engler, Engel & Volkers Zürichsee Freienbach, 011-41-43-888-11-11, engelvoelkers.com