‘They might die’: Swiss homeowner refuses to sell to vaccinated buyers

A homeowner in Switzerland backed out of a sale at the last minute when learning the prospective buyers were vaccinated, fearing the vaccination may kill them before the deal was done. The refusal is not categorised as discriminatory under Swiss law.

A small plastic house sits next to a key on a wooden surface
Deciding not to sell to a vaccinated person is not discriminatory in Switzerland. Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

Potential property buyers lost their chance to purchase a house when they revealed to the owner that they were vaccinated against Covid.

As reported by Watson news outlet on Thursday, a couple from the Neuchâtel region was negotiating with the homeowner to purchase her house.

READ MORE: Top ten tips for finding an apartment in Switzerland

The process was nearly completed when they mentioned, during an aside conversation about the pandemic, that they had their Covid shots.

At that point the owner who, according to the couple, was an anti-vaxxer, refused to sell her house to them. The failed sale took place in late September. 

The buyers told Swiss news outlet Watson that while the owner struck them as a little weird, they liked the idea of doing the transaction without a broker or agent. 

“We quickly understood that we were dealing with a rather a-typical personality” one of the failed buyers said. 

“She sometimes made little, weird remarks. But we just made sure the meeting was going well.

Buying property versus renting in Switzerland: What is actually cheaper?

“She constantly changed her mind about the conditions of sale, always imposed new ones: on the dates, questions of taxes on the real estate gain … We felt she was really hesitant (to sell).”

The buyers said the woman brought up the topic of vaccination at a dinner. When learning the prospective buyers were vaccinated, the seller backed out of the deal due to fear the vaccinated buyers would die before the deal was done. 

“I could tell that she herself was very reluctant to vaccinate. Personally, I did not want to enter into the subject. But the moment she asked me the question, I knew I was going to be honest,” said one of the failed buyers.

“The goal was to sign immediately, with an onward sale in December. But for her, it was obvious that we were going to die between the time we signed and the actual sale.”

READ MORE: Why do so many Swiss prefer to rent rather than buy their own home?

The failed buyers said the woman had taken a “religious” type of stance and lamented how difficult it was to find “common ground” on vaccination status. 

Refusal legal under Swiss law: ‘The seller can refuse because he doesn’t like your face’

Even though Swiss law forbids discrimination based on one’s vaccine status, this applies to public entities and employers only.

However, when it comes to transactions between private individuals, “the seller can refuse to sell to you just because he doesn’t like your face”, said a legal expert quoted by Watson.

“This is contractual freedom”.

READ MORE: Why Switzerland’s Covid certificate is ‘not discriminatory’

Anti-vaccination movements are strong in Switzerland, which is at least in part why the country’s vaccination rate lags behind its neighbours and the EU average as a whole. 

In late October, police in the ski resort of Zermatt blocked the entrance to a bar and restaurant run by Covid sceptics who refused to comply with the country’s Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Swiss police use concrete to block access to Covid sceptic restaurant

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Is now a good time to buy property in Switzerland?

Real estate — single-family houses as well as apartments — are not exactly cheap in Switzerland at any time. But their cost can go up or down, depending on the mortgage rates.

Is now a good time to buy property in Switzerland?

Geneva and Zurich have traditionally been — and still remain — the most expensive markets for home buyers not only in Switzerland, but among the priciest in Europe as well.

Prices are also high in Basel, Zug and Lausanne, that is, urban centres with a high concentration of multinational companies and residents.

One major reason for such high real estate prices is scarcity of land.

Switzerland is a small country with little land left to be developed, and the development of whatever land is available is strictly regulated; for instance, agricultural land can’t easily be used for construction.

And as Switzerland’s land is not expandable, “residential real estate will continue to appreciate in value”, Stefan Fahrländer, chairman of the board of Fahrländer Partner, a real estate consultancy firm in Zurich, said in an interview.

That is a reason why most people in Switzerland are tenants rather than owners.

However, while the prices of land in high-demand areas hardly ever drop (if anything, they go up), they may be more affordable if mortgage rates are really low.

For instance, at the beginning of 2021, a 10-year mortgage cost 1.1 percent on average across the country. Currently, 10-year rates stand at 2.90 percent.

“Mortgage rates have risen extraordinarily strongly since the beginning of the year”, Felix Oeschger, analyst at Moneyland, an online price comparison service, told The Local.

READ MORE: This is where you can buy cheaper properties in Switzerland

Why is this happening?

Blame it on inflation.

Although Switzerland is doing better on this front than other countries, with the inflation rate much lower than across the eurozone, prices of consumer goods —including mortgages — have risen here nevertheless

As to how long it will take for mortgage interest rates in Switzerland to fall again. “this depends on many factors, such as the further development of inflation”, Oeschger said.

“Forecasts are difficult in this regard, as is also shown by the fact that the central banks have constantly revised their inflation forecasts upwards in the past year”.

Therefore, “a further rise in interest rates “would not be out of the ordinary”, Oeschger said.

So should you take out mortgage now or wait for better times?

The natural response, based on the information above, would be to sit tight and wait until inflation — and therefore, mortgage rates — go down.

However, while the increase in rates between last year and now may seem steep, Oeschger points out that “if you look at Swiss mortgage rates over a slightly longer period of time, for example over the last 15 years, they are only slightly above average”.

While this may dissuade potential home buyers from purchasing now, it may, in fact, be a good time to do so if you want to avoid future increases.

“If it is urgent to take out a fixed-rate mortgage, I would rather do it now than wait”, he said.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to save on your mortgage in Switzerland