Asbestos is a risk that many homebuyers overlook, and can significantly add to the cost of owning a property. Its carcinogenic effects are well-known, yet this substance can be found in many buildings constructed before 1 January 1991, when it was outlawed in Switzerland. Nowadays, it must be identified and in some cases removed before any renovation or demolition work can take place.
This is actually a legal requirement in two cantons: Geneva since 2009 and Vaud since 2011. The local authorities will only issue building permits after an expert has assessed the extent of the property’s asbestos risk. “This also applies to internal work,” explains Marcus Rothenbühler, a broker at Cardis Sotheby's International Realty. In the other cantons, companies are strongly urged to remove the risk.
This inspection is called an asbestos diagnosis and must be performed by an expert or a certified company. They survey the part of the building where any improvement work is due to take place, and sometimes throughout the entire property. Then they produce a report saying whether or not there is asbestos in the building, and recommending measures to tackle it.
If asbestos is found, the owner has to remove the asbestos before carrying out any other work. Specialist companies are appointed to quarantine the premises before sending out workers wearing full body suits (“like astronauts” as the experts say) to remove the hazardous material. In extreme case such as major façade renovations, the whole building has to be quarantined.
Property owners in Switzerland cannot begin any renovation work until this step is complete.
A homeowner wants to renovate their bathrooms. They must take the following steps:
- Obtain an estimate for the work
- Order an asbestos diagnosis by a certified expert
- The expert performs the inspections and produces their report
- The report must be attached to the building permit application (if required)
- In the result is positive (asbestos is found in the work zone), the asbestos must be removed and the toxic material disposed of at special facilities.
- Once this phase is complete, renovation work can begin!
A diagnosis costs between 1,500 and 3,000 francs for an inspection of a whole property.
The asbestos removal work is of course much more expensive. The more complex the process, the higher the price will be. Property owners should expect costs to run into the tens of thousands for routine operations, and up to 100,000 francs for large-scale asbestos removal.
A simple diagnosis can be completed in a day, plus a few more days to draft the report. The bigger the area, the longer the inspection will take.
Asbestos removal can take from a few days to several weeks, depending on the scale of the task. It is therefore best to take this extra time into account when scheduling work for all the various tradespeople involved in the project.
There is a way of keeping costs to a minimum, however: avoid altering any parts of the building that contain asbestos. For example, you can add a new layer of tiles on top of the old tiles rather than breaking everything up. This is a safe way to avoid disturbing the asbestos in the bonding agents that are commonly found in old building materials.
What happens if I want to sell?
Vendors are not obliged to order an asbestos diagnosis when selling a property, but it is recommended. “It’s a matter of transparency towards the buyers,” points out Marcus Rothenbühler. A lack of transparency can mean a sale falls through. When preparing the deeds for signing, the notary must add a clause about the risk of asbestos being present in the house, for which the buyer will be liable.
Providing an asbestos diagnosis helps to clarify the situation ahead of the sale and enables the risk to be reflected in the final sale price. This is especially true for properties that do turn out to contain asbestos. It is therefore in the buyer’s interest to ask to see a diagnosis report before signing the deeds, in order to get a better idea of the asbestos risk and any extra costs they will face if they wish to carry out renovations.
If you have any questions about asbestos or any other real estate issues, the expert brokers at Cardis Sotheby’s International Realty will be happy to help you and provide guidance every step of the way.