Concierge services and second homes overseas

For the time-poor, cash-rich buyer of today, a second home at which they can simply arrive, open a fully stocked fridge and instantly relax, drink in hand, is a necessity rather than a luxury. Of course, a housekeeper can be tasked to air the house, shop and make up the beds, but, in today’s world, it’s often easier to rely on a management company, or even just the latest technology, especially if you have multiple residences to worry about.

In recent years, the serviced-apartment sector has flourished and matured to meet the changing needs of today’s holiday-home buyers. At one of its latest offerings, you can even text your smart bath to fill with the correct-temperature water in time for your arrival, as well as pre-programming the lighting, heating and surround-sound music to your tastes.

Because the managers of Du Parc Kempinski Private Residences, overlooking Lake Geneva in the Vaud canton of Switzerland, promise to satisfy ‘the most demanding’ of owners in its 24 grandiose apartments, they’ve employed help from Quintessentially concierge. Unsurprisingly, you pay handsomely for such conveniences.

A two-bedroom apartment covering 207 square metres in the Belle Epoque building costs £3,229,921 to buy, but the yearly service charges will be an additional £25,000 per year. Yes, the company offers the latest integrated technology from Creston, use of a Davidoff cigar lounge, Givenchy spa and valet parking, but it doesn’t include à la carte services such as shopping, airport transfers, laundry, maids and pet care.

If you’re committing to service charges, it’s essential to determine what they include is it merely upkeep of communal areas and amenities, or extra services as well? At Du Parc, the service charge is 0.8% of the purchase price-consistent with what’s offered elsewhere in the Vaud, according to Guive Emami of the sales team. ‘It is an unwritten rule that more than 0.8% becomes expensive,’ he says. ‘But clients put a definite value on the ability to lock up and leave and have services provided in-house so they don’t have to occupy themselves with mundane, everyday tasks.’

It seems that 1% is the going rate for avoiding mundanity at top-notch developments, although they can reach as much as 5%-6% on one-off projects such as the The World of ResidenSea (just think of the wages for the 250-strong crew on the globe’s largest private boat), where apartments start from $3 million. But, according to Savills’ Charles Weston-Baker, a growing enthusiasm among the rich not for hotels, but, rather, for beautiful apartments that offer a bespoke service, is fuelling the trend for serviced properties. Thus many come with managed rentals schemes, with bookings and accounting all taken care of for owners for whom the income share is typically 50%.

James Price of Knight Frank, which is marketing Du Parc, agrees. ‘Serviced apartments certainly remain in vogue for international purchasers for whom security and lack of hassle are prime factors, but the marketplace has become very crowded,’ he explains. ‘On the one hand, there are the pure vanilla ones that offer services and amenities, for which a premium of about 10% is paid on the sales price; then there are those that come with a well-known hotel or concierge brand-and a premium of 25%.

‘Post-recession, however, it’s not simply enough to have the cachet of a top brand; buyers want to know that a particular operator has a strong track record of delivering reliable service.’ He points to the instant-sellout success of apartments at both the Four Seasons in Marrakech and the Carlton in Cannes, managed by InterContinental Hotels.

Also with a good reputation is the General Hotel Management Group (GHM), which will be running luxury ski lodging at The Chedi in Andermatt, when it opens in 2013. Andermatt, a quiet yet snow-sure resort popular with experts, is located in the Ursern Valley, 90 minutes from Zurich. With the average condo sales price being £1.3 million, and service charges of about £6,000 per annum, they work out at a reasonable 0.4%, although the services offered are not as exhaustive as some.

At another luxury slope-side offering, the Viceroy Residences on Snowmass Mountain in Aspen, Colorado, an extensive menu of services encompass personal shopping, chefs, dog-walking and pet-sitting. Apart-ments start at $375,000 and service charges are $1,843 per month (through Knight Frank). Serviced ski apartments are popular because you don’t have to worry about problems such as snow-clearing, and having a ski concierge saves so much hassle.

At the ski-in, ski-out Mer de Glace apartment complex in Nendaz-in the Swiss Four Valleys-a ski concierge and a 24-hour concierge are included in the £2,500 per annum service charge on a two-bedroom apartment (from £416,670 through Savills). Usage of children’s clubs is often included, too-as they are at the Luxus Residenz in Flims (90 minutes from Zurich), where service
charges are about £20 per square metre a year on a 130 square metre two-bedroom apartment, costing £1,033,600, through PURE International.

Although there have been many large-scale projects rolled out across Asia on the North American model, these lack the exclusivity of boutique coastal or city-pad developments that have proved popular in Europe. For those who seek a mix of personal usage and reliable rental income, there’s been Florence’s Four Seasons-managed Palazzo Tornabuoni, although a one-stop-shop, professional management service is still rare in Italy, according to Luca Catalano of RealItalia.

‘Uniquely, we design our properties with remote management from second-home owners in mind,’ he says. They can self-manage their utilities from afar, and can also cherry-pick the services they really want, rather than paying a uniform fee for something all year that they only use once.’ As such, service charges come in at a competitive 0.5% and properties-available in Liguria, Tuscany and the Abruzzo-start from €220,000. ‘Unusually, we offer semi-detached properties with management services, which are much harder to find than apartments,’ Signor Catalano adds.

However, villas and town houses are available with the services of a boutique hotel-another increasing trend-at Joia das Dunas on Portugal’s Silver Coast, where monthly ‘co-ownership’ fees of €250 cover upkeep and access to the hotel and spa. Prices start from €595,000 (through PURE International).