French-speaking Switzerland

, published on Sept. 24, 2019

Active and fiscally attractive, the real estate market in French-speaking Switzerland offers an impressive selection of shore-front properties.

Although Switzerland is a landlocked country, it is also a country boasting plenty of ‘views over the water’. Its 175 lakes offer magnificent panoramic views rivalling those of the mountains. Shore-front properties with private jetties, penthouses with sweeping views - the offer is varied. There is no shortage of desirable residences and almost all of them sell their ‘prime’ location.

Return to reason

In 2013, a villa was put on the market for a record 71 million Swiss Francs (almost 64 million Euros). Its location was as spectacular as its architecture: on the shores of Lake Geneva in Genthod yet close to Geneva.

In the same year in the Canton of Geneva, eight sales of over 20 million Swiss francs were recorded. This was also a record. However, last year these exceptional sales only numbered three. “The crazy prices we were seeing have now become more reasonable,” observes Olivier Pœydomenge, Director of Émile Garcin Suisse. “Buyers are less international than before. We’re seeing more Swiss clients and foreign nationals who’ve been resident in the country for several years. They know the market well and this may go some way to explaining the price adjustment.

As for Jacques Emery, Director of Naef Prestige Knight Frank, he estimates that “the average price of a premium property has decreased by between 15% and 20%, although the volume of sales of increasing. Switzerland remains attractive not only due to its economic stability, security and the quality of its educational facilities, but thanks to Geneva’s International Airport, and its lakes and mountains. Obviously, properties overlooking the lake secure higher prices. In fact, shore-front properties are worth at least 25% more.”

Another not insignificant factor is the recent decrease in corporation tax in the cantons of Geneva and Vaud, which has encouraged companies to relocate.

Geneva and its lake

Geneva is also an important location for the negotiation of commodities. This has not escaped the notice of Total, which has just centralised its gas trading activities here. This relocation concerned 200 employees, although the oil company denies any links to Brexit.

These lakeside property markets have their epicentre in Geneva, a city ‘on the water’ at the confluence of Lake Geneva and the Rhone. The Jet d'Eau, the symbol of Geneva in the same way that the Eiffel Tower symbolises Paris, shoots a jet of lake water 140 metres up into the sky. Geneva also has its beach and the banks of Lake Geneva are luxuriously inhabited but in the Swiss style i.e. with a certain amount of understated luxury. In this high-end micro market, no property changes hands for under 3 to 4 million Swiss Francs; the biggest - and most robust - segment is in the range of 5 to 10 million Swiss Francs.

The most sought-after properties are villas (73% of sales) way ahead of apartments (19%) and land (8%). A few small ultra-residential suburbs and communities are home to an exclusive set of owners: leading lights in entertainment and sports, as well as business owners and executives of international institutions based in Geneva. Among them, Vandœuvres owes its reputation to its rural setting dotted with beautiful properties while Cologny boasts views over the lake. Collonge-Bellerive has charming villages and hamlets including Vésenaz with its château. Chêne-Bougeries is known for being Alain Delon’s hideaway after he took Swiss nationality. Prices here are high.

An opportunity: the Tour Carrée development comprising four luxury residences, penthouses and two private houses. Naef Prestige is currently marketing this new lake-front development in Cologny.

Vaud and its views

On the right bank of Lake Geneva between Nyon and Montreux via Lausanne, the Canton of Vaud benefits from natural spaces and large properties. For example, the Manoir de Ban nestled in the winemaking village of Corsier-sur-Vevey boasts 14 hectares. This property, once the home of Charlie Chaplin, is now a museum celebrating the actor’s life and work. This canton also has more properties for sale than in Geneva, and it is possible to buy a large property of 1,250 m2. This new villa is located on the shores of the lake in Prangins, just twenty-five minutes from the airport, with breathtaking views of Lake Geneva and the Alps. But the Émile Garcin estate agency is remaining tight-lipped when it comes to the price, which remains confidential.

In Crans-près-Céligny in the district of Nyon, AX­Properties recently sold a shore-front property to a Swiss national for 7.5 million. Alexandre Axarlis, the agency’s manager, explained that his clientele is often French, a nationality with a strong presence in Switzerland. “The French like living in a French-speaking country close to their own. Plus the Swiss have a healthy regard for the well-heeled, which is also is a big draw,” says the agent. Alain Prost, the former Formula 1 racing driver, also lives near Lausanne in an opulent villa.

Over the 10 million mark, buyers tend to be foreign taking advantage of the Canton’s favourable tax regime. Lausanne is popular among the British. In this steep city, almost all the apartments enjoy views of the lake. Prices are in the region of 15,000 Swiss Francs per square metre and more for premium properties.

In Vevey, they are a little more affordable: 7,500 Swiss Francs per square metre; 10,000 for a property on the shores of Lake Geneva.

The lake, golf and resorts

Lovers of Swiss lakes will soon be able to quench their thirst for shore-front views on Lake Gruyère. In the canton of Fribourg, an hour and half from Geneva, the new Golf Resort La Gruyère development is currently being marketed. This luxury development comprises a five-star Hyatt hotel, an 18-hole golf course (par 71) designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., a spa (3,000m2), a private beach club and apartments ranging from 80 to 360m2 all with spectacular balconies. “We have some truly high-end features such as, triple-glazed windows and a state-of-the-art home automation system so you can manage your apartment from your phone,” explains Martine Müller, the development’s promoter. The building works have been exclusively entrusted to local companies that operate with quality in mind. It’s all ‘Made in Switzerland’. Plus owners can liaise with the contractors if they require any alterations.” 

The average sale price is 18,000 Swiss Francs per square metre. The development comprises 130 apartments, 40 of which are earmarked for secondary homes for foreign nationals. The concept of furnished hotel residences is also being studied. The Gruyère region - the birthplace of the eponymous Swiss cheese - retains a village feel thanks to its meadows and forests. A real ‘Made in Switzerland’ environment just an hour from Gstaad, one of the country’s most prestigious ski resorts.

The perspectives ?

According to Olivier Pœydomenge, the first half-year period was positive: “The market is healthy again supported by high demand, which also eliminates the risk of a housing bubble. Brexit has not had a significant impact but we need to wait and see what the long-term effect will be.” Jacques Emery thinks we will see “stability and even an increase in prices but no real euphoria.” Alexandre Axarlis points out this region’s weak point i.e. the lack of viable building land. “However, demand is not slowing down on the contrary. In these conditions, prices won’t go down,” he predicts. “If our laws made it easier for foreigners to buy then the sky would be the limit. The whole world would want to come and live in Switzerland.