Geneva sees prime sales strengthen in 2016

The stability of the Swiss franc, a return to sensible pricing and greater clarity surrounding the Swiss second home cap has boosted market sentiment in Geneva.

The Swiss housing market is unique. Not only does it demand examination from two different perspectives; 1) as a Swiss resident and 2) as a non-resident, but the prime housing markets in its French and German-speaking areas have followed markedly different trajectories over the last decade.

Add to this a strong currency, a plethora of new rules, regulations and referenda in recent years adjusting who can buy what, where, and with what tax implications, and the waters have been somewhat muddied for buyers.

However, the final quarter of 2015 brought with it some clarity and stability which has led to resurgent levels of activity. The Geneva Statistics Office reports that 23 sales above CHF 4m took place in the first six weeks of 2016, an increase of 64% compared with the same period in 2015.

The stability of the Swiss franc, the decision not to abolish the ‘forfait’ (lump sum form of taxation) in Geneva and Vaud, and greater clarity over the detail surrounding the cap on second homes has influenced market sentiment. But, so too has a return to sensible pricing.

Unlike Zurich and the key German-speaking areas of Schwyz and Zug where prime prices have remained relatively steady throughout the last decade, Geneva and Vaud saw prices accelerate strongly before slipping back, by as much as 20%-30%, post-Lehman.

The gap between asking and achieved prices continued to widen post-2008 as vendors tested the market. However, since mid-2015, keen to progress sales and given the volume of stock on the market, vendors have adopted a more realistic stance.

Swiss residents

Switzerland is arguably the world’s ultimate ‘safe haven’ and as a result continues to attract new residents drawn as much by the security, privacy and educational facilities it offers as its tax rules.

The fragility of the global economy, escalating geopolitical crises and the increased regulation and taxation of property in key global cities is driving wealth towards Switzerland.

More than 360,000 millionaires and 5,680 ultra high net worth individuals live in Switzerland, and both figures are forecast to rise by 12% in the next decade.

Non-Swiss residents

At present the total number of homes that can be sold each year to non-residents in the whole of Switzerland is 1,440.

Two Swiss laws have shaped the country’s second home market; Lex Koller and Lex Weber. One limited non-resident purchasers to specific holiday zones, the other introduced a 20% cap on second homes and specified that second homes should not exceed 200 sq m in size.

Sales volumes suffered more than prices in 2015 as the market awaited news of the exact interpretation of Lex Weber.

Swiss residents, are also reviewing the implications, keen not to limit their pool of potential future buyers to residents only.

Outlook

We expect supply within the second home market to become constrained in the next five years, particularly in areas such as Verbier and Montreux where construction will effectively be halted, and non-residents will only be able to buy from non-residents, effectively producing a two-tier market.

The Swiss Insight Report is an extract from our Swiss Inside View publication which also features a market update and  buyer’s guide.

For more information on the Swiss property market contact Alex Koch de Gooreynd or view more in this series of reports: France Inside View, Italy Inside View

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