Hartmann Müller Partner
Can anyone (including foreigners) own and occupy real estate in your jurisdiction (including shares in property owning companies)? Are there any restrictions?
The acquisition of real estate (including the acquisition of shares in property owning companies) in Switzerland by persons abroad is subject to statutory restrictions. According to the Swiss Federal Act for the Acquisition of Real Estate by Persons Abroad (known as the “Lex Koller”), such acquisitions require a permit from the appropriate cantonal authorities. In order for a person living abroad to receive a permit for the acquisition of real estate, all of the following conditions must be met:
- the acquirer is a person abroad (see Art. 5 Lex Koller);
- the transaction concerns real estate that is subject to approval (see Art. 2 Lex Koller), and
- the rights acquired must qualify as an acquisition of real estate (see Art. 4 Lex Koller).
Are there restrictions on lending for the purchase of real estate by foreign companies? If so briefly give an outline?
In general, there are no statutory provisions that restrict lending to foreign companies but certain general banking provisions are applicable, in particular anti-money laundering regulations.
As already explained under Question 1, foreign legal entities generally fall within the scope of the Lex Koller and must therefore obtain the necessary permit for real estate acquisition. Banks usually require clients to show the permit as part of the loan approval process.
Please provide a short summary of the fees and costs (including tax) relating to buying real estate in your jurisdiction.
- Value added tax: In the case of commercial properties, the purchaser can opt to be subject to VAT in order to make the input tax deduction.
- Property transfer tax: Only a minority of cantons still collect the property transfer tax (a simple transaction tax payable on real property transfers), and the rates vary from one canton to the next, ranging from 1 to 3% of the purchase price.
- Taxation of real estate capital gains: Depending on the canton, taxation of real estate capital gains may be based on either of the following two models:
- Uniform system (e.g., Canton of Zurich): Real estate capital gains are subject to a special tax known as the real estate capital gains tax, which is payable by both individuals and legal entities.
- Two-tier System (e.g., Canton of St. Gallen, Confederation): The special tax known as the “real estate capital gains tax” only applies to capital gains realized by individuals upon disposal of their private assets. In contrast, capital gains realized on the disposal of real property that constitutes business assets are generally subject to ordinary income tax or profit tax.
In either case, the taxable amount is the net capital gain (i.e., the selling price less investment costs).
- Land registry fees: The land registry fees, which are payable upon registration, amount to a few thousandth parts of the selling price. Depending on the canton, the fees may be measured according to time expenditure and/or a percentage rate based on the purchase price.
- Notarial fees: The notarial fees, which vary from one canton to the next, amount to a few thousandth parts of the selling price.
Are there taxes applicable to owning real estate and can the burden of the taxes be passed to someone else (e.g. a tenant or an occupier - not being the owner)?
Yes, there are taxes connected with real estate ownership (property taxes, wealth tax, tax on imputed rental value, charges and fees, etc.). Such taxes are generally collected from the owner of the real estate recorded in the land register. A possibility to transfer such taxes to a third party is not provided by the law.
In some cases, however, it is possible to transfer the liability for the above-mentioned taxes and charges under a contractual agreement between the owner and the tenants.
Are there tax breaks or other incentives for foreigners to buy real estate in your jurisdiction? If so what are they?
There are various tax benefits for owners of real estate in Switzerland but no (tax) incentives for foreigners. Such incentives would be contrary to the spirit of the Lex Koller (see Question 1), which is intended to limit the purchase of real estate by foreigners.
How is the ownership of Real Estate evidenced in your jurisdiction?
The owner of real estate is recorded in the land register of the place where the property is located. Since the land register is considered as a public record (principle of public transparency), anyone can access part of the information about specific real estate (including the owner's name and identification data).
Anyone who can prove a legitimate interest (subject to approval by the land registry manager) will be allowed to inspect the land register in greater detail and/or obtain excerpts containing further information.
Is it possible to keep the identity of owners of real estate confidential in your jurisdiction?
No, anyone can look up the identity of the legal owner, according to the principle of public transparency. It is not possible to anonymize such data.