• Foreign nationals, whatever their nationality, who are domiciled in Switzerland and seek to purchase a dwelling in their actual place of residence, don’t need to get an authorization to be able to do so (art. 2 §2 let. B the Act). Such a buyer must acquire the dwelling in his own name and occupy the property himself. Renting it out, in whole or in part, is not allowed. Only one residential unit may be purchased. It must be underlined that, under this provision, “foreign nationals” are not those originating from UE/EFTA member States. Therefore, it only concerns the nationals of other foreign countries, who are legally domiciled in Switzerland (for instance, holders of a B permit).
Whilst generally there are no restrictions to such an acquisition in terms of size of the property, the Land Register does usually not record a transaction concerning an area of over 3000 m2 but refers the buyer to the authorization body. Then, the latter decides whether the acquisition can still be considered as exempt from authorization or whether it cannot be allowed on the grounds that it is purely for investment purposes.
• A second exception is the acquisition of secondary residences. Nationals of EU/EFTA member states who commute cross-border to work in Switzerland (for instance, holders of a G permit) can acquire a secondary residence in the area of their place of work without authorization. Such a buyer must occupy the residence him-herself as long as he/she works in the area as a cross-border commuter. Any renting out, in whole or in part, is forbidden.
The other considerations mentioned above (purchase in buyer’s own name, surface area of the property, etc.) also apply in principle in the case of an acquisition of a secondary residence.
• A third exception to the authorization rule is the acquisition of real estate for permanent business establishment purposes. In this case, it is immaterial whether the real estate is used for the buyer’s business or leased by a third party in order to pursue a commercial activity.
The Federal Act provides several exemptions where no prior authorization is required:
• Legal heirs under Swiss law (a definition that includes, for instance, in addition to the direct descendants, the beneficiaries under a Will who, as relatives of the deceased, may possibly qualify as legal heirs) are entitled to acquire real estate as part of an estate.
• Relatives in line of ascent or descent from the person disposing of the property, their spouse or registered partner may also acquire real estate in Switzerland without the need to obtain an authorization. On the contrary, this is not the case of transfers to collateral relatives (brothers or sisters), as this kind of transaction requires prior authorization.
Consequently, the sale of real estate by a child to its parents is in violation of the law and requires authorization if the latter sells it to another child shortly afterwards, although the individual transactions themselves do not require an authorization.
• Buyers who already hold an interest in the real estate in joint ownership or co-ownership are also exempted from obtaining prior authorization.
A person abroad must require an authorization in order to purchase a holiday home or a serviced flat. The property must be in a place designated by the cantonal authorities as a holiday resort (for instance, cantons of Grisons, Valais or Ticino). According to Geneva cantonal law, it is not possible for persons abroad to acquire a holiday home or a serviced flat in the canton of Geneva.
Except for a few particular situations, every authorization for the purchase of such property is deducted from the annual quota assigned to the cantons by the Confederation.
As a rule, the net floor space of a holiday home or of a serviced flat, which includes all livable rooms, and the surface area of the real estate itself, must not exceed 200 m2 and 1000 m2 respectively.
If the purchaser of such a property, his spouse, registered partner or child under the age of 18 years old, already own such a dwelling or a secondary dwelling in Switzerland, an authorization may only be granted provided that the latter dwelling is sold before the new purchase transaction is registered in the Land Register.
Holiday homes may not be let on an annual basis but only periodically. Indeed, the purchaser must be able to use his/her property at any time for its alleged purpose.