Buying property in Switzerland : French-English Lexicon
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Maison, Villa
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 se

Etage, niveau
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.

Elevator, lift.

Domaine, propriété
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.

Terrain, Parcelle
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.

Louer, Location
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 .

Duplex, Triplex
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 emptor.

Moulures, Cheminée, Parquet, Cachet
The Swiss 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 complete.

Surface. Surface 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 bail
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, etc...

Parking, place de parc, box, garage
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 souterrain .

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 corridor).

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 description.

Séjour, salon, living
Living room.





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 communal
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.


Additional vocabulary 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 occupation).

Vendre, à vendre, vente
To sell, for sale, a sale.

Droits de mutation
Transfer tax. 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.

Impôt foncier

Registre foncier / Cadastre
In 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

Cédule hypothécaire

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.

Commission foncière
Switzerland's 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.

Lex Friedrich
Federal law restricting the sale of real estate to foreigners. In DATE, the Swiss people

Agent immobilier, Agence immobilière, Courtier
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 in English.

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 house.

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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