I did not like skiing at the time, I hated the snow and preferred to spend a vacation on the beach. However, I considered it my duty to visit Switzerland and have a look at my friend's house, so I got the visa in three days (Switzerland was not a part of the Schengen visa agreement back then), and I flew.
The plane landed at night; we boarded a train and headed to the mountains.
In the morning I was awakened by a bright light. The huge room-height window offered a view of the bright blue sky, dark-blue mountains and sharply white snow. "Well, it looks just like a Christmas greeting card", I thought. In the night a fantastic amount of snow had fallen. We sat on the balcony having breakfast and watching a little red train clearing the tracks.
Five days passed quickly: we would take walks, bathe in the hot springs, drink local wine, eat local steaks and cheese, kiss St. Bernard dogs at the Martigny breeding kennel, feed swans from Montreux embankment, and in the evenings we would sit at a bar and watch the happy and relaxed skiers. I fell in love with Switzerland at first sight.
On returning home, I was overcome with emotion... That was when I realized I wanted to live there, I wanted a house, I wanted a St. Bernard dog. And most importantly – this was the place where I was not afraid to grow old!
So, the search started. However, it turned out to be not so easy. A foreigner has the right to buy a house or an apartment in Switzerland only provided the house or the apartment has the status of "a second home" and is permitted for sale to foreigners. Besides, owners of these houses may sell them not earlier than after five years of ownership, a policy applied by the state to limit the growth of real estate prices. The property market was disastrously thin.
I did not like anything I had been offered. The reasons varied from ceilings being too low, windows looking to the neighbouring house, the motorway being nearby and so on and so forth. As I was already in despair, the real estate agent decided to show me the designed chalet to be constructed in the mountains, in the village of Leysin.
I should say that at this point I already had the experience of building a house in Moscow, and I absolutely did not want to get involved in all of those difficulties again. But... we went to see the place. So as I was standing on the hill I understood that all of those mountains, the sunset, a meadow with grazing cows were to become a view from my windows, and the decision was made.
So, construction it would be. Building a house in a foreign country without the knowledge of local laws and language. I just could not believe I had gotten involved in this adventure. I realized that before conclusion of the contract and payment of the first instalment I had time to wade through the innumerable details. I had a good agent, a friend who had already been through all of this, so I started to learn French and believed I would succeed.
At first, being a foreigner, I had to collect documents to obtain the building permit. Without a permit, a developer has no right to sign a contract and commence work. I coped fairly quickly with this task. The main requirement for this set of documents is to prove that you and your family members (parents, spouse, children) do not own any other residential property in Switzerland. Besides, you should prove that you own real estate which is your "principal place of residence".
The set of documents including an application and a questionnaire should be submitted to the town council, and then you have to wait. At the time each town council had quotas for issuing building permits to foreigners and the waiting time depended directly on the quotas. I was very lucky and only had to wait a couple of months. I was also lucky in that just three years later, Switzerland passed a law prohibiting issuance of building permits to foreigners in the cantons where the number of "second homes" exceeded 20%. Our canton was one of those, and building permits are no longer issued here.
Next, I had to get a mortgage. This task proved to be a bit more difficult, but I also could cope with it pretty quickly. The set of documents for the bank was not much different from a similar set of documents in Russia. You should prove that you have sufficient funds and earn regular income to meet the obligations of the mortgage. In addition to documents, the bank holds a personal interview with you, which also plays an important role in terms of approving the decision to grant a mortgage.
The first bank I turned to refused to grant me a mortgage. I proved unable at the time to ensure a minimum account balance. However, the second bank accepted my situation and agreed to the mortgage. The mortgage terms as compared to those offered at that time by Russian banks seemed fabulous. A fixed interest rate of 4% for 10 years, the first payment amounting to 20% of the construction cost, mortgage payments due twice a year.
I was also struck by the fact that the mortgage agreement is essentially perpetual in Switzerland. For example, you can even conclude a mortgage agreement for 100 years, then pay interest only and afterwards transfer the mortgage obligations by inheritance. A nice surprise for future heirs, isn't it?
It should also be noted that currently the average interest rate on mortgage loans is even lower, and lending conditions even more favourable. So I'm a little jealous of future potential investors in Swiss real estate.
I would also like to mention the risks associated with investment in construction in Switzerland. They tend towards zero. The contract between the customer (that is, you) and the developer is concluded at a notary officer. With this, the contract is not just certified by the notary officer, but the notary acts as the guarantor of the contract performance and transferor of the construction object to the customer. The money you pay for the construction is debited to the account of the notary officer, and the developer will receive it only after the signing of the house acceptance and transfer statement.
It should be noted that I was pleasantly surprised at the construction contract. In particular, it stated that the construction quality guarantee is granted for at least 10 years, with the developer being obliged to correct any problems arising from the construction free of charge during this time.
The house is to be commissioned in a ready-to-move-in condition with furniture installed, including the kitchen, and before the acceptance of the house by the customer the final overall cleaning should be completed!
Everything was done exactly as stated in the contract, and in less than a year after signing, I entered my house. It was sparkling clean, smelled of wood, and the real estate agent and the developer had left a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of Champagne on the table.
I strolled around the house running my hands over the walls and railings, touched the fireplace, opened and shut windows, being unable to stop admiring my home. It was exactly the way I had imagined it. It was the home of my dreams. Later in the living room I watched the sunset over the white mountains, and in the morning I was awakened by ringing bells hung on the necks of cows. The home never disappointed my expectations.
Since then, five years have passed. The house gave me an infinite number of lovely evenings with my loved ones, the house made me learn French, learn to ski and cook Raclette, and thanks to the house I again took to painting after many years. I also know now how to read gas boiler meter data, how to fill out the Swiss tax return, and greet neighbours and friends with Christmas and Easter by sending them cute paper greeting cards.
The house gave me another miracle, one I did not even dream of. During one of the winter ski holidays I met my future husband on a chairlift. He was a tourist from Holland... We have been happy together for four years already. And yes, we did buy a St. Bernard dog!
Five years have passed and the house of my dream is for sale now. Only for good hands.
Let it become the house of a dream for you.