The contract for buying a house or apartment must be officially certified by a notary in order to be valid. In cantons where notaries operate in private practice, you are normally free to choose the notary. In cantons that have official notaries, you have to go to the relevant office. Depending on where the property is located, this may be the prefecture office, the bankruptcy office or the cantonal commercial register office.
The contract has to be signed by all the parties involved – purchaser, seller and notary. However, you only become the owner of the property when you are entered in the Land Register. The notary notifies the Land Register Office of the change of ownership once the contract has been certified.
You will find information about the main points covered in the purchase contract on the hausinfo.ch website.
The fees and costs for the notary and the Land Register vary from canton to canton. The notary's fees are normally shared between the purchaser and the seller.
Reservation contracts are now quite common. The seller undertakes to reserve a particular property, and the purchaser undertakes to buy it. The contract is not binding though, as contracts involving immovable property must be certified by a notary.
Normally a deposit is paid when a reservation agreement is concluded. If the purchase does not take place, it can be hard for the purchaser to claim the money back once it has been paid into the seller's bank account. You can ask the seller to pay the money into a special blocked account.