• Cirieco Design - Graphic Design and Marketing Services
  • Buy the 11th edition of Know-it-all passport

Liz Forest 200

Liz Forest is the founder and owner of EMF Management, a Swiss-registered renovation project management company servicing the international community in the greater Lake Geneva / Vaud region.

Liz spent the first ten years of her professional career as a free-market micro-economist and project manager. A move to Geneva in 1997 with her young family inspired a change from the corporate world ... and a home purchase over a decade ago taught Liz exactly what property ownership and renovating in Switzerland entails.

In 2013, Liz founded EMF to provide renovation project management services to busy expat homeowners who want to transform their space without the overwhelm. EMF handles the heavy lifting so clients do not have to learn a new trade, take time off work, or sacrifice family holidays or their sanity just to make their house a home.

www.emf-management.com

Save

Save

Save

Save

liz soldhouse

By Liz Forest, www.emf-management.com

It has been ages since I put pen to paper and for good reason; in short, we have spent half the year in the throes of selling our home.

Well actually—the house was signed away in an instant but the months leading up to actual signature were chock-a-bloc full of list-writing and countless trips to the déchetterie, box packing and multiple celebrations in the name of the 13 glorious years we spent as owners of a truly lovely home.

Anyway, in the aftermath of the pack out and settling in, I thought useful to share three of the lessons we learned in the process.

What You Will Owe to the Tax People
As the saying goes, the only certainties in life are death and taxes. In Switzerland, you have 30 short days from the moment you sign away your home to report your sale and capital gain, if any, to the tax authorities. Capital gain is calculated as the difference between your sales price and your original purchase price, adjusted for certain expenses and any value-added transformations you made to the property while you owned it.

There is good reason to take this 30-day deadline seriously. The notary, during the final sales signature meeting, will hold back 5% of the sale price as a guarantee to the tax office of your eventual tax obligation. For the average seller, this amount can greatly exceed any capital gain liability. By making the deadline, you get your place in the queue for processing, which in Nyon District currently amounts to about 4-5 months, and you thus have the opportunity to claim back any/all of the hold back.

In the Canton of Vaud for example, the capital gain tax rate varies between 7% and 30% depending upon the length of time you have owned and lived in the property. Years in which you are resident count as double, meaning that 12 years of owner-occupied housing allow you to reach the lowest marginal tax rate of 7%. On the other hand, if you were to buy and sell in the first year of ownership, you could owe a whopping 30% on any capital gain realised. The Swiss authorities use this sharply digressive scale to discourage anyone from considering short-term house flipping (or more complex real estate speculation).

However, one very important caveat. You are allowed to “adjust” the net gain by certain eligible expenses (e.g., realtor and notary fees) including if you have made and can prove value-added investments over the course of ownership. Think adding on a garage or a winter garden. Generally these qualified expenses are not related to maintenance or renovation (like retiling your master bath), which you would have already deducted on your annual income tax return. In fact, no previously-reported deductions are allowed to be reported to offset the capital gain.

© credit to EMF in-house photographer Gabrielle Ward

© credit to EMF in-house photographer Gabrielle Ward

The Challenge

How to prioritize your limited renovation budget when you are the new owner of a quaint three-story 120m2 village house that is located on a tiny lane with no land outside of the building’s four walls, three of which are contiguous with other homes?

Said home is situated in the old town of Collex-Bossy, and although the 1800s-era building itself is not classified, it sits in a Zone 4B heritage-protected neighbourhood. This means that relatively stringent cantonal regulations dictate every minute detail of the type of transformation and the choice of materials allowed when converting this space into a cosy family home.

The structure is currently uninhabitable thanks to the discovery of undersized structural beams, rampant wood worm, asbestos and lead. Although the electric radiators and hot water heater still function, current rules insist that the old electric-based heating system has to go.

Finding Solutions

One of the first and most pressing questions among many we tackled to date was how to replace the no-longer-authorised and energy-consuming electric heating system given the lack of a cellar or sufficient technical space for a larger furnace and boiler installation. We looked at the possibility of a heat pump installation hung externally from the second floor but the close proximity of the neighbours’ roofs and windows meant we would be unlikely to meet either physical distance or passive noise rules.

What is more, modern energy regulations in Geneva require that once a roof is reconstructed (remember, we will replace the timber roof truss and insulate the structure to 21st century standards), it must be fitted out with solar panelling and related equipment for heating water—another internal space zapper.

Luckily, after a full though technically-challenging energy audit, we have decided to go forward with a wood pellet heating system with underfloor distribution on the upper floors and radiator units under the ground floor windows. The latter was a compromise as we do not have the ceiling height necessary on the entry level for in-ground insulation plus an underfloor installation. Digging too far down into the stone and earth traditional foundation was also deemed too risky for the solidity of the building.

We found a compact modulable pellet store that will be installed in the very back of the ground-floor technical room that is large enough to minimise the number of deliveries needed throughout the year, thereby reducing recharge fees. Although the vehicles that supply pellets are too large to manoeuvre in the tiny lane, their long-tubed delivery system (similar to that used for oil) will just reach the small discreet recharge panel that will be integrated into the façade of the building.

A Pleasant Surprise

At the outset and during a few rather stressful moments in the planning process, this renovation project seemed to be full of nothing but constraints. However, we have had at least one rather pleasant surprise!

Because the home will be heated with wood pellets, a renewable energy source produced from wood waste, the owner will be eligible for an exemption on the solar-heated water installation and still qualify for generous subsidies. Why, you ask, would anyone in this day and age who is remotely environmentally conscious not want to voluntarily harness the sun’s free energy?

Well other than the obvious reason of budget savings (in the region of Fr. 15,000 for equipment and installation), this home does not have sufficient internal space for the double boiler and converter necessary to receive energy from the thermal roof panels. If it had been imposed on the project by building regulations, it is likely that we would have lost the ground floor guest bath and a portion of the vital technical room.

Instead, we are not only saving part of the project budget which will be dedicated to triple glazing on the new windows, an energy plus, but also we will be economising on technical space leaving more room for living space. A big win for this client.

If you would like to check back on this project’s progress, we will be posting photos and milestones, that is once the cantonal authorities grant the construction permit, so don't hesitate to look in on our website or join up to the EMF mailing list for regular updates.

Author's bio

Liz Forest 200

Liz Forest is the founder and owner of EMF Management, a Swiss-registered renovation project management company servicing the international community in the greater Lake Geneva / Vaud region.

Liz spent the first ten years of her professional career as a free-market micro-economist and project manager. A move to Geneva in 1997 with her young family inspired a change from the corporate world ... and a home purchase over a decade ago taught Liz exactly what property ownership and renovating in Switzerland entails.

In 2013, Liz founded EMF to provide renovation project management services to busy expat homeowners who want to transform their space without the overwhelm. EMF handles the heavy lifting so clients do not have to learn a new trade, take time off work, or sacrifice family holidays or their sanity just to make their house a home.

www.emf-management.com

elisabeth forest june blog
Photo credit: Gabrielle Ward

By Liz Forest, EMF Management

I recently read in a local expat group on Facebook a post by someone looking for a recommendation for an “honest carpenter”.

It turns out the person writing the post was actually looking for someone to install a custom wardrobe in their home. What ensued was a short explanation of the job (i.e., some shelves, a hanging bar, and a sliding door to hide it all) and the fact that the person had already received offers from two carpenters “for the same amount”. The person was clearly in search of a third offer significantly below this threshold. I read this to imply that both carpenters might be perpetrating highway robbery as the job was too simple for anyone to be paid such an exorbitant amount (NB: embellishment is my own).

These kind of posts are rife on FB. To be completely honest (in the spirit of the sought-after carpenter), they evoke in me a tiny bit of sadness followed in quick succession by incredulousness and a fair amount of frustration. Why?

Well first, as I run renovation projects for a living, I would normally be able to reply to such a FB post with the names of at least two or three truly honest carpenters with whom I have collaborated in the past and who do magnificent work.

Next, before replying, I have to ask myself if the writer means:

  • Honest = can be trusted when left alone in your home with your stuff
  • Honest = does not lie
  • Honest = does not cheat
  • Honest = performs the task as requested
  • Honest = does not try to take more of my money than I believe they are entitled to take for the job I want and need them to do

liz forest PM blog

By Liz Forest, EMF Management

Renovating can be a stressful and challenging proposition, especially when you are going it alone. Don’t have the time, know-how or speak French fluently? Already have a vision for your ideal space but need someone skilled to make it a reality? If you are considering working with someone to plan or manage all or part of your renovation project, here’s a list of what you should expect from any good project manager (PM):

  1. First and most importantly, it is not all about them! Beware if during your initial meeting you hear nothing but “I”—as in “I would definitely…”; “I despise …”; “I strongly suggest…”; or “I can’t live without….”.  Ditto for shameless namedropping or strong or otherwise intimidating statements about fashion, trends, colours, style—unless of course you ask!

  2. They prioritize your taste and needs. A truly talented PM is able to guide you in making well-informed decisions and putting aside their own lifestyle and decorating choices to help translate yours into an implementable vision for the project. However, if you have seen and fell in love with their home or office, don’t hesitate to say you want it cloned!

  3. They have excellent communication skills.  Without a doubt, these include active listening; regular, precise written communications; and fluency in at least English and French. They should also be able to clearly interact in person, by phone or email with you and all service providers on the job.