Before you begin searching for your ideal property, you will need to make an important decision. Do you need a detached house, a terraced house or an apartment? The available house types in Switzerland are as varied as the people themselves.
We can certainly learn a lot from the past — even about housing and house types. Did you know that the Romans also built both detached and terraced houses? The upper classes were able to afford magnificent villas with porticoes, shaded courtyards and private swimming pools. Vitruvius, a well-known Roman architect and writer, spoke of a “triad” that distinguishes good architecture: Firmitas (strength), Utilitas (usefulness) and Venustas (beauty). In his writings on architecture, he also explicitly mentioned the need to keep the construction costs under control.
Types of home: the dream of a detached house
Just like in Roman times, today’s private home buyers and builders are in a similar situation, because many people ultimately dream of owning a spacious, detached family home. But is this ultimate form of accommodation really affordable — and even desirable? A detached house provides the greatest possible freedom of design, peace and privacy, and usually comes with its own garden.
A detached house also offers a lot of space to play with; it can be adapted over time via layout changes, and even extended depending on the building zone and local planning regulations. Furthermore, the living areas are generally well ventilated and offer plenty of natural light on all sides. Of course, the dream detached home typically includes spacious, green outdoor spaces, making a detached house in a quiet residential area and extremely child and family-friendly option.
Among many architects and urban planners, however, the popularity of the detached family home has declined in recent times. Because they require a large area of building land, detached houses contribute to overdevelopment of the countryside; however, current land-use planning regulations — and often also municipal building and zoning regulations — are designed to protect green spaces from further urban sprawl. As a result, in some parts of Switzerland scarcely any building land is available for new detached houses.
The higher costs also mean that detached houses are only a viable option for a small minority of home buyers. For example, even a modest plot of 500 or 750 square metres outside the main urban centres and medium-sized towns will cost you a pretty penny. Not to mention that the construction costs are also significantly higher for detached houses than for high-density, multi-storey apartment buildings.
Types of home: terraced and semi-detached houses
Among the most common types of home, semi-detached houses represent something of a compromise. Due to current building regulations, semi-detached houses can often be built on new or existing building plots without any extra red tape. The conjoined construction and partially shared infrastructure (heating, installations, etc.) typically result in cost reductions of around 10 per cent. Semi-detached houses can be a wise decision for specific types of buyers — for example, if two close-knit families want to live together on the same piece of land.
By taking this compression of living spaces to the next stage, we arrive at terraced houses. This house type has been in high demand in Switzerland for a long time, and especially recently since building land has once again become scarce and very expensive in many areas. These dwellings offer a number of ecological, economical and operational benefits. The cost savings compared to a detached building can reach around 15 per cent, and in some cases are even higher. Thanks to their “wrapped” longitudinal walls and smaller overall surface area, they also have lower energy requirements.
Furthermore, many terraced housing developments promise a good balance between neighbourhood contact and privacy. Admittedly, design freedom in the outdoor areas is certainly limited compared to the traditional detached family home. Nevertheless, terraced houses generally include their own private outdoor area or garden. When comparing the various house types, it should be mentioned that terraced houses are usually built as part of an overall development. This is typically managed by a large general building contractor, so there is less scope for special requests and personal design ideas during construction than with other types of home.
Types of home: split-level apartment buildings
Split-level apartment buildings have enjoyed great popularity in Switzerland for decades, and they remain in great demand to this day. The reason for this is obvious — with its many attractive slopes, the country’s topography is ideally suited to this type of stepped construction. This is especially true for the numerous hills and slopes offering stunning views of lakes, rivers and mountains. Split-level apartment buildings usually have a living space on a single floor, and typically have beautiful green outdoor spaces and gardens. The interior is usually well designed, spacious and otherwise free from obstacles (generally with just one floor). The outdoor spaces are not always obstacle-free due to the building’s multi-level design, which means lots of steps are needed.
However, anyone looking for newly built split-level apartments will usually come up short. Why? Because all the attractive slopes on Swiss lakeshores or near cities have either already been developed or are prohibitively expensive. The price of building land at these select locations is usually much higher than on flat terrain. Building on slopes is also more expensive — due to the cost of additional foundations, excavation work and safety measures.
Apartment ownership: apartment buildings
A popular alternative to the aforementioned house types is a property in an apartment building, in which several apartments are more or less “stacked” on top of one another. The apartments are spread across different floors and accordingly have quite different characteristics (natural light, views, private outdoor spaces such as loggia, balconies, terraces, etc.). In fact, the majority of Swiss people now live in apartment buildings; however, this trend towards compressed building designs is nothing new. Both Roman times and the Middle Ages saw phases of urban development in which space became scarce within the city walls. Looking at today’s common house types, we still hear “building densification” as the buzz word among building experts and development planners. Secretly, however, many people think that this should apply to other people’s homes rather than their own!
However, the fact is that many well-planned apartment buildings offer a very high quality of life. Developers and architects have long since moved on from the “sins” of the 1970s, when relatively bland and anonymous residential buildings were built on a huge scale. Indeed, scientific research has brought one fact to light that really makes people sit up and listen: many people feel comfortable in a high-density urban environment. This may also explain why, for example, people like to stay in historic city centres.
Many benefits arise when apartment buildings are integrated into a diverse urban network: a lively environment, short distances to public transport, shorter commuting times to work (compared to a detached house in the countryside). There are also facilities nearby for leisure, culture and sports. Furthermore, apartment buildings offer a significant cost reduction as well as superior energy efficiency. Some modern developments containing new apartment buildings even qualify as “2000-watt areas”, which means that the entire development and energy supply meets the highest standards for sustainable living.
Plan for the future
Ultimately, if you’re looking to buy an apartment in an apartment building, you should focus carefully on your own needs. Is the neighbourhood, surrounding area and size of the development in line with your preferences? Does the building and its surroundings look homely and appealing? Do you prefer a smaller or larger housing community?
If you’re planning to purchase the property rather than renting, remember that you will be taking on a long-term commitment. Therefore, you would be well advised to thoroughly check out the apartment, the building itself and also your future neighbourhood. If you are thinking of joining a condominium owner’s association, you should be aware of the need to obtain the consent of the other owners in many situations. And because the building is divided into several floor units and co-ownership shares, you will naturally have less decision-making autonomy than with a detached house. You may even be overruled by a majority of other owners when it comes to votes and proportional valuations. In some cases, the majority of owners may vote to restrict certain types of use of the apartments, such as AirBnB rentals. Dogs or other pets may also be prohibited for whatever reason. And it’s even conceivable that one day you may even be required to help co-finance renovation work that the majority has voted for.
Types of home: high quality in all categories
Conclusion: for all types of home, high-quality or even spectacular buildings can be found in terms of usability, design and architecture.
However, before making your final decision, you must first carefully work out your own requirements. For example, most 30 or 35-year-olds will naturally prefer different living arrangements than people twice their age! In either case, it’s important to be aware of the many factors that will ultimately decide whether or not you find happiness in your chosen living space.