BUYING a home in Switzerland is a complicated business - if you are not Swiss. Some would say it is difficult; others, near impossible. Strict laws governing the sale of property have seen to that. But Swiss nationals living in Hong Kong, who have a few francs to spare, could do worse than buy a holiday house in their homeland. According to Rudolf Heer, the managing director in the Hong Kong office of the Swiss Bank Corporation, Switzerland has been affected like every other nation in Europe by the damaging economic recession. It may have happened later and may not have been quite as severe as in countries such as Britain, but it has left its mark. That is not to say the worst is over, although Mr Heer believes the economy is turning the corner and starting to pick up again. Real estate, said Mr Heer, had suffered badly. Homes throughout the country, especially in the French and Italian areas, had dropped in value by between 15 and 25 per cent. Prime residential property in centres such as Zurich and Geneva had weathered the storm considerably better. Mr Heer said decreases of five per cent were more common. ''Property prices have been going down for the last three to four years. They may still go slightly lower but I would say its is a good time to invest in the residential market,'' he said. The Swiss mortgage rate is standing at five per cent. Mr Heer believed there was still scope for it to go lower. But buying a home in Switzerland is by no means a cheap affair. The average price of a flat between 800 and 1,000 square feet in the centre of Zurich is likely to be between $2.5 million to $3 million. He added: ''I think we have almost reached a level where investors can come back into real estate again. ''We will not see much lower interest rates. I believe that we will soon see more activity in the construction industry and that will drive prices up again.'' Mr Heer also pointed out that the quality of construction in Switzerland was among the best in the world. For foreigners who are successful in buying property, chalets prove most popular. This is mainly because of the rules restricting their participation in the market. By quota, only 1,600 homes are available annually in certain regions - mainly holiday resorts. Designated areas are normally ski resorts but potential buyers should be warned that resale regulations are restrictive and careful consideration should be given to the complex rules. The stringent measures keeping foreign investors out of cities such as Geneva and Zurich were introduced in response to more and more wealthy would-be buyers becoming keen on such a safe financial haven. Last year, the Swiss people voted on whether to join the European Economic Area (EEA) in a national referendum. If the answer had been ''yes'' most of the restrictions would have been phased out to fall in line with other European nations, which give buyers from other EC countries the same right to buy as their own citizens. But although there is a feeling Switzerland will eventually join up, the vote came out in favour of not doing so at the moment. Mr Heer said: ''We are a very small country, probably over-populated, and there is not much space for expansion. ''Reserving it for Swiss citizens is not to do with nationalistic ideas but because of the supply situation there has to be a certain limitation. ''If we had voted to join the EC, we would have had to liberalise these laws. But the status quo has remained, so it will probably stay the same until we have the next one.''