Mark, an IT consultant from the UK, no longer wants his house in Veyrier, a green area on the outskirts of Geneva. “It’s a modern box, quite stylish I suppose, on this private road, but I don’t like it at all actually,” he says of the home he purchased in the late 1990s.
But despite wanting to ditch the views towards the Jura mountains, Mark — who did not want to give his surname — is not going to sell up yet. “If you sell it you pay through the nose for capital gains tax. It’s a sort of sliding scale,” he says, referring to the system whereby the longer foreign residents live in Switzerland, the less capital gains they pay.
Sitting on the property for a few years might not only improve Mark’s tax bill. “I bought the house for SFr1.4m, now one nearby in the same street sold for SFr3.4m (£2.84m), so it’s been quite a large appreciation,” he says.
The pandemic has caused a slowdown in the global luxury real-estate market as economic uncertainty makes buyers cautious and lockdowns and travel restrictions cause transaction numbers to drop. But economists at UBS expect demand around Lake Geneva to increase in the medium term, as low interest rates and Switzerland’s handling of the pandemic tip the scales in its favour.
“Prices accelerated in the last two years in Geneva and Covid had no impact,” says Matthias Holzhey, head of Swiss real estate at UBS wealth management. “Maybe transaction numbers were down a bit, but they’ve recovered.”
Seller confidence has certainly returned. In April, during the peak of the pandemic, data from WüestPartner consultants and Engel & Völkers estate agents show that the average asking price across Switzerland was SFr16,065 per sq m. Despite dipping to SFr14,568 per sq m in June, they rose again to SFr16,738 per sq m in August.
In Geneva, the average asking price for a prime property — those in the top 5 per cent of the market by value — in the second quarter of this year was SFr27,096 per sq m, according to estate agency Knight Frank, up 4.1 per cent year-on-year.
Near the city centre, wealthy buyers gravitate towards Chêne-Bougeries, an exclusive neighbourhood close to the International School of Geneva’s largest campus, where many homes and apartments have large gardens. Prices in the area, which is a 15-minute bike ride into central Geneva along la voie verte — the city’s pedestrian and cycle route — are about SFr26,000 per sq m.
Outside of the city itself, in the neighbourhoods that line the banks of Lake Geneva, those on the south — or left — bank tend to be more expensive than those on the right bank, where residents are exposed to noise from the airport’s flight path, train station and Geneva’s main motorway.
In Cologny, a glamorous left-bank neighbourhood full of grand villas, a house with a view of the lake could easily fetch SFr30,000 per sq m. Buyers could expect to pay about the same for a home in nearby Collonge-Bellerive, which has “les pieds dans l’eau” — lake access, or with its “feet in the water”.
Holzhey expects demand for Geneva’s luxury homes will increase because the pandemic has not laden Switzerland with as much debt as some of its Eurozone neighbours, and the Swiss franc remains strong. Though it has weakened slightly since, it hit a five-year high against the euro in May, and while neighbouring France is expecting a contraction in annual GDP this year of about 10 per cent, Switzerland expects about 5 per cent.
Finance minister Ueli Maurer has also emphasised that the state will not raise taxes to pay back the debt accrued during the crisis, which is expected to be SFr20bn-SFr35bn — less than the SFr40bn originally forecast.
“Geneva is profiting from its international status, especially in French-speaking boroughs,” Holzhey says. “If you have luxury property in the Côte d’Azur, you have to think about the fact that in future taxes will go up. The luxury market in Geneva is likely to profit from what is going on, not because Geneva is great, but because the rest of the francophone [areas] are weaker.”
The lack of overseas investors will also help protect the luxury property market from losses, Holzhey adds. “The whole of Switzerland’s housing market is [effectively] closed for foreign investors, you have to basically move to Switzerland — or at least behave as if you would move to Switzerland — to purchase anything,” he says.
Alex Koch de Gooreynd, partner at Knight Frank, says the Geneva office had 60 per cent more inquiries this June than the same month last year. Lockdowns and working from home have meant more potential homeowners are looking further afield than the traditionally popular historic centre or affluent lakeside suburbs such as Cologny, a 10-minute commute to the city centre.
Areas that are getting more consideration are Anières and Hermance, which lie along the left bank just beyond Collonge-Bellerive. Often overlooked by the Swiss, prices there are lower than in Cologny and Collonge-Bellerive, at about SFr25,000 per sq m, or SFr28,000 for a waterfront home.
De Gooreynd says the pull of properties further afield has been particularly evident in foreign homeowners choosing to up sticks and move to Switzerland. “The Swiss look at areas like Hermance and go ‘Eugh, a 20-minute commute’, but if you come from the UK, a 20-minute commute is nothing,” he says.
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Geneva will become more dependent on this international immigration in the future, Holzhey says, as Swiss residents are unlikely to put up with the city’s less appealing features — a generally low quality of housing compared with other cities such as Zurich, and some of the highest rents in the country — if they are able to work from home or commute from longer distances.
“The whole home-office experiment we’ve seen will negatively affect [the rate of] demand growth.” But, he adds, it is unlikely that those turning away from the city will have a seismic effect on the market.
“It’s all relative here, it is not that the city will be empty. Local demand or demand from Swiss residents can still be offset by international demand — that huge influx now of people from France.”
In most cases you need to have a Swiss resident permit to buy a home, but there are some “holiday zones” where purchasing is easier — mostly these are found around the ski resorts.
There are a few exceptions to this, such as when a buyer’s children are being educated in Switzerland.
What you can buy for . . .
€735,000 A two-bedroom apartment in Chêne-Bourg. Available through
Engel & Völkers
€2.73m A one-bedroom apartment at the new Beauvallon development in Chêne-Bougeries. Available through Knight Frank
€4.76m A four-bedroom house with an infinity pool and view of the lake in the suburb of Hermance. Available through Gaechner Immobilier
More at propertylistings.ft.com
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