Switzerland not for sale

January 24, 2013, 2 Comments

For sale signsFor sale signs are something you seldom see in Switzerland – unlike Britain where they appear almost everywhere. There is hardly a street or village in the UK that doesn’t have a For Sale or To Let sign outside one of the properties. Often there is a veritable forest of them, as this picture shows. Rival estate agents competing for business. The Swiss like things to be a lot more discreet.

For one thing, there are fewer properties on the market, because most people rent not buy. Only 35% of Swiss own their own home, compared to 68% in Britain. And if you look at Swiss cities, the figure is even lower, eg 11% in Bern, although out in the countryside it’s more like the British scenario, eg in Valais has the highest ownership rate at 61%. So a smaller property market means fewer estate agents, no ugly signs, and no page after page of house adverts in the newspapers.

It’s partly a cultural thing, owning property is not the be all and end all of life, but also practical, as you need a 20% deposit. Some Swiss people rent the same flat all their lives, but that’s seen as a risk-free sensible option not a waste of money. The majority of people renting has its advantages. No property ladders mean no snakes, so while you might not make a fortune in houses, you’re unlikely to lose one either. 

And it’s also a privacy thing. Why tell the world that you a) own your flat and b) want to to sell it by sticking a giant notice outside? Far better to let an estate agent handle it without any fanfares. Perhaps that’s why you see so few estate agents on Swiss high streets. In Britain they fill the gaps left by bankrupt shops so that some roads seem to have nothing but windows full of house particulars. I walked down one street in London last summer with nine agents, all practically next door to each other. That you could never see in Switzerland.

Instead you get what look like four anorexic Martian spaceships sitting in vacant plots of land. These giant wooden or metal tripods show the dimensions of any new building, with their height and position corresponding exactly to that of the proposed building. This rule applies to every construction project in Switzerland, including high-rises, which need special Meccano-style pylons tethered with wires to show how tall they will be. The same for extensions, so some buildings have odd little wooden structures sticking up from the roof or off the side. It might look weird but it gives everyone a good idea of what’s planned, and a chance to complain if they object. Planning permission not just by committee but by common consent.

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2 Comments on "Switzerland not for sale"

  1. Mary Thursday January 24th, 2013 at 04:03 PM · Reply

    Real estate business in Switzerland is archaic. There is no such thing as a buyer’s or a seller’s agent, they are one and the same. What about the obvious conflict of interest, you ask? They scratch their heads. There’s no such thing as the Multiple Listing Service we have in the US and Canada, where any home on the market can be shown by any licensed real estate agent. We’re currently preparing to sell our house and I feel like I’m swimming in a sea of sharks who all just want to make the quickest possible franc on my property, with the least amount of work. No one is looking out for your interests, whether you’re a buyer or a seller. And in addition, you have no reliable information to work with, here in Vaud there is no official “assessment” of the value of the property, no publicly available data on asking price versus transaction price and days on the market, nothing. It’s basically one enormous crapshoot, which is why I can understand people’s hesitancy to jump in.

  2. Christine Thursday April 11th, 2013 at 06:04 PM · Reply

    You forget one more factor: in Switzerland, a property is for life, not for Christmas. Once people decide to buy, the tend to stay put. A property is their home and not an investment, which may be one of the reasons why it is rude to ask about the value of their house in conversation. This is very unlike Britain indeed, where everyone is obsessed with house prices.

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