Building a house Home construction project from A to Z

With the right construction partner, sound plans, written agreements and financial planning, your dream can become reality.

by Jürg Zulliger 26 Aug 2019

What do I do if I want to build my own house? Who is responsible for what and when? How long will the project take and what will it cost? Almost every prospective client asks himself these and similar questions at the beginning of a construction project. These are the most important milestones on the way to building your own home:

  • Search and purchase of suitable building land
  • Financing of the construction project
  • Selecting an architect or building partner
  • Preliminary project: Analysis and study of possible solutions
  • Building application and approval procedure
  • Construction project and awarding of individual work contracts
  • Construction
  • Handover and acceptance of the completed property

Essential decisions

Where would you like to live? In terms of location, what is important to you? Finding suitable building land is the prerequisite for the success of your construction project. At good locations in large cities or agglomerations, the average square-meter price of land in the construction zone is often between 2,000 to 3,000 francs. In well-developed suburban municipalities, the price of building land should also be expected to be in the range of 500 to 1,000 francs. Only in very remote rural communities will land prices be significantly lower.

Do you want a house with four or eight rooms? Do you have contemporary architecture in mind or something else altogether? Questions of this kind also have an impact on costs. Ideally, the client will have a clear idea of what kind of building he wants and how big the budget can be. The more concrete and detailed the considerations are in the preliminary project phase, the faster the work will progress later on – and the better the finished house will meet your expectations.

Choosing the right building partner

Usually, the way to building your own home involves an architect. There are many ways of choosing an architect – based on recommendations from your circle of acquaintances or your preferences for the style of a particular architect, for example. Working together in a contractual relationship can come about relatively informally. However, it is advisable to commission the architect in phases, set certain milestones and regulate all essential points in a written contract. Specimen contracts of the Swiss Society of Engineers and Architects (SIA) are available free of charge on the Internet (SIA 102). However, the contracts used and, in particular, the architect’s fee can be freely determined by the contractual parties and are not bound to any specific association codes or tariffs.

In larger projects, the architect’s mandate may be limited to the building design and clarification of building laws. Step by step, the architect will develop concept sketches, examine variants and submit initial cost estimates. Owing to risk considerations, the client will then transfer the further implementation and construction to another partner. A partner who is responsible for the overall performance of the mandate – i.e. planning and execution – is referred to as a general contractor. This means the client has only one contact and contractual partner providing all the required services through a single channel.

Tasks of architect and client

The architect is basically responsible for advising the client, artistic and formal planning, clarifications of building law and supervising construction. At the end of the construction project comes the handover and acceptance of the building and supervision of any work done on guarantee.

The complex building-permit procedures are an important aspect of the overall process. Apart from “paintbrush renovations” and small garden houses, all building projects in Switzerland require a permit. Many regulations must be complied with: implementation within the framework of building and zone regulations, building heights and border distances, fire protection and energy regulations, etc. It is the architect’s job to compile a dossier for the building application and obtain special permits (heat pumps, etc.).

A great deal of engagement is also required from the client. Remember that, as the client, you will be involved in practically every detail of the project: in the furnishing of the kitchen, bathroom and living spaces, the choice of windows, doors, floor coverings, walls, etc. In addition, decisions have to be made on colors and materials, the design of the garden and surroundings and fundamentals like building technology and the heating system.

Financing your dream home

Arrange the financing for your construction project as early as possible. Mortgage or construction financing through the bank may already be applied to the purchase of the land. However, certain restrictions must be observed when purchasing building land. As a rule of thumb, the client assumes half of the building land financing and the bank the other half. Loan applications are assessed very individually. Depending on the client’s creditworthiness and the structural restrictions on the plot, further requirements must be met. This may include providing a higher proportion of equity or more accurate evidence of the planned project, estimated costs, construction schedule or building permit. Contact your bank as early as possible and ask for advice.

Keeping an eye on risks

It’s every builder’s nightmare: you make advance payments that trickle away somewhere or are misappropriated by the building partners involved. Individual companies or craftsmen may go bankrupt. It can never be completely ruled out that advance payments end up in the hands of companies not actually involved in the construction. The first rule to follow is therefore to carefully check the creditworthiness of your contractual partner. You can also protect yourself by following the “payment against delivery” rule, whereby all payments should always be matched by an appropriate equivalent value at the construction site.

Handover and acceptance of construction work

It is best to visit the building site regularly during the construction work in order to detect major damage or defects at an early stage. Once the construction has been completed, the building is handed over and accepted. It is worth consulting a building expert – be it a building consultant or a representative of the Homeowners’ association – who has the appropriate know-how about quality standards and technical norms. Remember to also check all ancillary rooms such as the cellar and garage for example. In addition, functional checks should be made of the building technology such as blinds, windows, doors, sockets, locks, equipment, devices and ventilation.

Defects must always be recorded and reported in writing, either in an acceptance protocol or by registered letter. Set a clear deadline within which the defects must be remedied and monitor compliance. Last but not least: be happy and proud that your dream of owning your own home has come true.