Country houses for sale

Buying properties in The Alps

It’s nearly that time of year again when we dust off our ski boots and head for the Alps to carve the first lines of the season. With a distinctly frosty economic outlook for the Eurozone, people are bound to wonder whether prospects for the ski-property market are any warmer. Savills‘ latest Alpine Market Spotlight reports that ski properties comprised 9% of holidayhome purchases in 2009-11, up from 1.5% in 2002. An earlier study by Knight Frank also showed that prices in European resorts have started to recover, with Megève, where values grew by 4.3% in the year to June 2011, leading the way.

The crisis has also opened up supply: although it was virtually impossible to find a property with a foreigner’s permit in boom-time Verbier, there is now a number of them coming to market because their owners need to sell, according to Andrew Hawkins of Chesterton Humberts, who are marketing the £7 million, four-bedroom chalet Le Bourbon there.

And now that the rise of the Swiss franc has been halted by the Swiss Central Bank, property prices are about 10% lower for non-Swiss buyers. ‘With the Swiss franc at parity with the Euro, it was virtually impossible for buyers to contemplate acquiring even an ice cream in Switzerland,’ says Aylesford‘s chairman, Andrew Langton. ‘Now, we hope to see some activity, although a broker in Gstaad told me last week that he has 500 units on hisbooks and few buyers.’

The chic Bernese resort commands prices in the region of CHF50,000 per square metre (about £35,500) and priceconscious buyers have been looking elsewhere, according to Rob Lennard of Swiss agent Swish Homes. ‘I’m currently seeing interest in resorts nearer the valley floor that don’t come with premiums, yet offer greater flexibility and better affordability,’ he says, picking out Montreux, Château D’Oex and Charmey.

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‘In the Gruyère ski village of Charmey-with lift access up to 2,500m-you can get apartments for CHF800,000- CHF900,000 (£560,000-£640,000) that would be CHF3 million- CHF4 million in better-known resorts,’ he explains. Swiss developers have also responded to buyers’ shrinking budgets by building smaller, more affordable units, according to Simon Malster of Investors in Property. ‘Plans for a development above Nendaz have changed from three very large chalets, each at CHF4 million- CHF5 million (£2.1 million- £2.8 million), to six two-bedroom chalets; and at the increasingly popular Les Collons [also of the huge Verbier ski area], they’re selling 135sq m, four-bedroomchalets for CHF920,000 (£650,000), rather than the 162sq m versions starting at CHF1 million (£710,000) they sold two years ago,’ says Mr Malster. Bizarrely, the opposite is happening in the top-tier French resorts of Courchevel 1850 and Val d’Isère, according to Matt Hodder-Williams of Knight Frank.

‘At the very top end, chalets are getting bigger-hitting 1,200 square metres, especially in Courchevel,’ he explains, suggesting that the strong Swiss franc has driven buyers back to prime French resorts. ‘A handful of new “super chalets”, built on plots formerly occupied by [smaller] Sixties chalets, have bigger suites, cinemas and indoor pools, and wouldn’t look out of place in prime central London. Rather than merely refurbishing, people are building afresh.’

He says that some of these properties now come with tempting price tags, such as the five-bedroom Chalet Eglantier, which was priced at a hefty €16 million (£14 million) last year, and now costs €12.95 million (£11.2 million). ‘If you don’t want all the latest bells and whistles, there are some competitive prices.’

Get the lowdown on leaseback
* Known as résidence de tourisme in France
* Rental income is guaranteed (typically 3%-7%)
* No VAT is charged on leaseback properties
* Properties are managed at no cost to the owner
* Owners are allocated up to six weeks’ usage
* Once considered middle market, leasebacks have gone upmarket with the recession

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