|Buying property in Switzerland : French-English Lexicon|
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House. This can be a maison
jumelle or villa jumelle a twin house that shares a wall with its
neighbour, or a maison individuelle or villa individuelle entirely separated. A maison de caractère would have, well, character. A maison de maître means an exceptional house, usually
with extensive grounds, lots of character and a high price. A maison
villageoise is a townhouse in a
village, usually 150 years old or older. A villa is a
Floor, level. The ground floor is called rez or rez-de-chaussée. If there are split levels, you have to
distinguish between rez inférieur - lower ground floor and rez
supérieur - upper ground floor. The undeground levels are collectively
called sous-sol. The attic is grenier or combles.
This means : cellar. It is a false friend
in English. If you mean the place where bears live, you say grotte.
A house set in a large piece of land.
A domaine would normally include some farm land, which can entail
problems if you are not Swiss. Propriété is less dramatic.
In a domaine, propriété or maison de maître you sometimes have several buildings on one piece of
land. In such cases, dépendances mean the other buildings on the land,
such as servant's quarters, boathouse, etc...
Port privé, plage privée
Some houses - very few - enjoy a
direct access on a lake. For such houses a port privé means a private
port (for boats) and a plage privée is a private beach. In some cases
this access is exclusive, meaning that there's no path where the general public
can walk on the beach.
Plot of land, land.
Travaux, rénovation, à raffraîchir
Beware when you read
one of these words. They mean that the house is in poor condition and has to be
reworked, renovated or refreshed.
To rent, to lease. Louer is the
verb, à louer meaning to let. Location is the action of
renting. The contract is not called a lease but a bail.
This is used for appartments under the roof. The
attic itself is not called attique but rather grenier or combles .
Appartments occupying two floors
(duplex) or three for the triplex.
Wall to wall carpet. This is usually not
associated with high quality housing in Switzerland.
Overlooking sight. In
Switzerland, this is one of the key elements of the price of an
accommodation. Since it is a vague concept, brokers often
narrow its meaning. Vue sur les Alpes, vue sur le lac, vue
sur la rade precise what is it exactly that you see. Vue
imprenable means that there are no obstruction possible to your view (such
as a building arising in front of your house). Vue panoramique means that you see an interesting panorama at more than, say, 90°. This is
the most prized of all vues. Please note that if only vue is indicated
it may imply that you need a periscope to see anything meaningfull. Caveat
Moulures, Cheminée, Parquet, Cachet
like to live in places with character or cachet as we say in French.
This means for most people at least parquet, if possible real 3cm thick
oak boards dating from the building's construction but recently polished. Moulures (cornices) are a must for an appartment with cachet and a cheminée (fireplace), if possible in marble and working, makes it
habitable or surface de plancher is the usable floor. That is the
floor surface that can be actually used (taking into account the walls, etc...).
The official method used to compute this is usually SIA, which says among other
things how balconies and terraces are accounted for. Surface de la parcelle or surface du terrain is the surface of the land,
while surface au sol or emprise au sol is
the surface the building takes on the ground.
Volume of the building. This can be volume
bâti (overall volume of the building), volume habitable or volume utilisable (usable volume, taking into accounts walls, etc...).
When volume SIA is mentionned it means the official SIA method of
computing buildings volume has been used.
Balcon, Terrasse, Jardin
A balcon is a balcony, a terrasse is a terrace, usually bigger
and with no construction over it. A cour intérieure is a courtyard. A jardin is a garden. Finally, a jardin d'hiver is a glasshouse.
Bail, baux, bail à loyer, bail d'habitation, contrat de
Lease. This is the contract you sign with the landlord or his
agency that lists what is rented to whom under what conditions.
Tenant. This can be an invidual - you - or
several people. Landlords sometimes insist on having several people as each is
liable for the full rent in case one does not pay.
Landlord. Please note that in French this
word is the same for somebody who owns a house that he lives in. It does not
have the dramatic meaning it has in English (Land Lord) but rather a very broad
sense (like owner in English).
This designates the landlord as the person who
rents something out. The contract is called le bail and the person who
signs le bail is you - le locataire - and le bailleur or his agent.Usages locatifs
Rent. This is the sum you pay
every month to the régie or directly to the landlord. It is almost alway
indicated monthly and in Swiss francs.
These are the expenses you
have to add to the rent for building expenses not billed directly to one tenant.
It covers things such a the caretaker, the building's general heating,
Parking, place de parc, box,
These all designates places where you can leave your car. The
lowest would be parking à proximité, meaning that there's no parking
space attached to the appartment but that you should be able to find some in the
neighborhood. Not good. Place de parc is an open air parking space,
usually right outside the building and reserved for you. A garage is
the same as in English, a room accessible by a separate door where you can leave
your car. A parking souterrain would be an underground garage, usually
shared with the other tenants but with an assigned parking space for your car. A box, finally, is a garage in a parking
Building management company.
This is the company that represents the landlord. Most buildings are run by
régies who handles all practical aspects of the building's day-to-day management
for the landlord. The régie signs the lease with you, make the état
des lieux and handles all practical aspects beyond the concierge's responsibility, such as complaints against other tenants,
major repairs, etc...
Rooms. It is very tricky to judge an appartment by
the number of its rooms. First because rooms, like people, come in all sizes.
Second because in some cantons some rooms count towards the total whereas in
others they do not. For example a 3 room appartment in Geneva would be made of a
living room, a bedroom and a kitchen. In Lausanne this would be listed as a 2
room appartment. You got it - ask for the surface habitable (floor surface). Pièces de réception would be the collective of
all rooms used to entertain, such as. Pièces en enfilade mean that to
access one room you have to go through another (as opposed to a separate access
for each room through a
Room. A chambre à coucher is a bedroom
while a chambre d'ami is a guest room. Please note that chambre normally means somewhere where you can sleep whereas the more general pièce means just any room, including a kitchen, a closet and so on. So
French has two words (chambre and pièce) where
English has one (room).
Yet another word for room but used only for very
large rooms or in set expressions such as salle de bain (bathroom) or salle à manger (dining room).
Library. Note that it is quite rare for a
room to have built in bookcases so this word is usually used merely to say what
the room was used for so far and to give some grandeur to the house's
Séjour, salon, living
Reasonable landlords will
always ask for a garantie (deposit) - usually 3 months but sometimes
less. This money has to be blocked on a special bank account opened for this
purpose - NOM DU COMPTE. The landlord can access it if you stop paying or if you
disappear in thin air and he has to make repairs in the appartment. If you are
reluctant to tie up the cash, there are several insurance companies that offer a
service giving the landlord the same security but would cost you a few hundred
francs a year with not cash tied up. Please note that there are also
quasi-scamsters in this rent insurance business.
Demande de location
When you have
decided that you like a place and the price asked to rent it, you need to fill
out a demande de location - an application to rent. This document usually asks
you some basic biographic information about yourself and the other people who
will live in the appartment or house. The régie or landlord will then use it to
decide whether to give it or not. We gladly handle this part for our clients.
Caretaker. This is the man
who cleans the building, replaces defective lightbulbs and usually the first
person you talk to when there are minor repairs to be done. He is nothing like
what in English you call a concierge, the man in the luxury hotel that finds
outside goods and services for you.
City. In Switzerland, you can
have many different communes in one city, each being more or less a
neighborhood. That is like if Chelsea and Kensington where two different
communes even though they belong to an area called London. What city you are in
can matter for a few reasons. First some people are just happy when they can say
they live in a fashionable commune, such as Pully or Cologny, because they are
associated with wealth and exclusivity in some people's minds. But the
city can also hit lower, in the wallet. In most cantons, tax rates depend
on the city for a third. This can make for differences of up to 20% in your
overal tax bill. (See Taux for more).
Taux / Taux d'imposition
City tax rate. It is often mentionned as an argument when
it is especially low. It is very simple. If the city you are in has a taux of
80, this means that for each thousand Swiss franc note that you send to the
canton, you have to send CHF.800 to the city. These city tax rates vary from 40
to 150 in some cantons, but the tendency is regrettably towards convergence. And
that is not convergence to 40.
Switzerland is made up of 26 separate cantons.
Each of them is a separate state, very much like in the USA. What does this
means for you? It is quite important to know in which canton you will live.
First, some residence permits are tied to a canton - you just have to live
there. Taxes vary very much between cantons and the proper selection of both the
canton and the city can make a huge difference in terms of your overal tax bill.
Please remember that there are many enclaves of one canton in the other. So for
example you can drive out of Geneva and enter the Vaud, then reenter a small
Genevan island a few kilometers later.
Etat des lieux
Visit of the
accommodation with a reprensentant of the landlord to take down any defects. The
purpose of this is to establish whether you have deteriorated anything in the
appartment when you leave it. Etat des lieux d'entrée is the initial
visit and Etat des lieux de sortie is the visit when you leave. A
detailed report has to be filled in and signed by both parties. Make sure that
every defect is taken down (scratches, stains, broken windows, etc...)
Contract termination. To
terminate the contract at the end of the lease, you need to follow a precise
procedure. The résiliation anticipée means that you want to leave
before the end of your lease. This is normally possible but you have to present
another tenant acceptable to the landlord.
related to buying a house
Notary public. This is the
man you go and see with the seller to seal the sale. His job is to check that
the seller actually owns what he is selling, that the money is going to be
released to the seller only when the ownership of the house has been transferred
to the buyer and that all federal, cantonal and city laws pertaining to the
transaction have been abode by. In some cantons this is a civil servant but in
others the notary is a professional officially registered with the canton.
Usually the seller proposes a notary. Crooked notaries are almost unheard off in
Switzerland (some say that they don't need to steal since they have such a fine
Vendre, à vendre, vente
To sell, for sale, a sale.
Droits de mutation
There are several local taxes to be paid when a property is sold. Usually the
seller pays for the real estate broker that found the buyer and the buyer pays
for the buyer's agent and the transfer taxes. These depend on where the property
is but are usually below 4% of the value of the property being transferred.
Registre foncier / Cadastre
Switzerland, an official register is kept that records who owns what piece of
land and what building. The cadastre is WHERE and WHAT
Etat des contenances
Mortgage. Most banks are
happy to loan between 50% and 80% of the appraised value or purchase price of a
property, whichever is lower. They do not loan against property outside
Switzerland. Hypothèque légale means a lien put against a property by a
construction company that did work on the house but was not paid.
Forme juridique de propriété
Some houses are owned by a
company, called société immobilière or S.I., of
which the house is the only asset. You don't buy the house, but the
company. This form of ownership is no longer is fashion but some houses are sold
like this. To stress that the sale is not through a société immobilière (or S.I.), some brokers list the house as being sold en nom (under name). Please note that buying through a société immobilière or through a strawman does not change a iota to the Lex Friedrich restricting sale of Swiss real estate to foreigners.
Promesse de vente
Promise to sell.
If you want to buy a house but are waiting, for example, for your residence
permit to be approved, you can, in some cantons, sign a promesse de vente with the seller. By this the seller is bound to sell to you within so many
months if you obtain, say, your residence permit. Usually it implies paying the
seller a deposit that is lost if you don't buy. Please note that some cantons do
not allow such contracts to be signed if you are not a resident.
Acte de vente
This is the official
document by which you buy the house. It is made by the notary and signed in his
office. You can't go back on such a contract, even if you claim that you didn't
understand or that you had too much to drink that day.
Lex Friedrich puts some restriction as to what foreigners are entitled to buy.
This concerns you if you are a non European Swiss resident and wish to buy a
house with more than 3000 m2 of land. In such a case the commission
foncière, a LOCAL administrative body, would have to meet and decide
whether to allow the purchase or not.
Federal law restricting the sale of real
estate to foreigners. In DATE, the Swiss people
Agent immobilier, Agence immobilière,
Real estate broker. Most work for property sellers and
are remunerated by a commission paid the seller when the property is sold. A
few, such as Micheloud & Cie, act at buyer's agent and are remunerated by the buyer.
Value. There are lots of value associated with a
building, most of which of folkloric relevance. Take the valeur
fiscale, which is determined by the city council to raise the property tax.
It is almost invariably way lower than the market value. The valeur
d'assurance is no more precise but is more important. That is the money you
will get from the Cantonal Insurance if the building burns. Valeur de rendement
is used to derive a value based on how much you can rent the building for. It is
usually computed by multiplying the annual gross rent by a coefficient varying
from 10 to 20, depending on the building's location and condition.
Conditions. Bon état means good condition, état neuf is like new and excellent état you can guess
yourself. Mauvais état - poor condition - usually is an euphemism for
very poor condition.
Location. This means where the building is
located within the neighboorhood. This can mean noise level as in situation
calme or situation tranquille (no noise). It can mean
accessibility from various points of interest in the city as in situation
centrale - central location or à deux pas de ... - a stone's throw
from .... Situation dominante means that you command the whole
neighborhood, usually from a height in the ground. Situation protégée would be prized by people who like privacy. It never means problem as
Neighborhood. This is not as important in
Switzerland as in many other countries. In Paris, for example, you can say with
some truth "Tell me where you live and I'll tell you who you are". Although some
residential neighborhoods, such as Cologny or Puly, enjoy a greater social
status than others, at least in the eyes of their inhabitants, there are almost
no neighborhoods that bear a social stigma.
Availability. The best is tout de suite
ou à convenir, meaning pretty much whenever you want provided nobody buys
the house in the meanwhile. If a timeframe is listed it usually means that
somebody lives in the house. At best the house is occupied by the seller,
meaning that as soon as he sells and finds an alternative accommodation, you can
move in. But in some cases the house is rented and there a world of pain can
begin if you want the tenant to vacate the premises so that you can live in the
Price. Prix de vente is selling price (you should
understand: asking price).
This lexicon has been prepared by the staff of
Micheloud & Cie and reviewed by a partner. It does not, to the best of our
knowledge, contain errors but we cannot guarantee that it doesnt. You are free
to link to this page but NOT to copy the text, images or sound files.
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