Even more than Paris and the Cote d’Azur, the French Alps have become a holiday home market for buyers from increasingly diverse parts of the globe.
Without the restrictions on foreign or second-home ownership of Switzerland or Austria, and the near impossibility of getting your hands on Italy’s Alpine homes, French ski properties are the easiest for most people to buy.
What’s more, whilst the French residential market has struggled since it ‘double-dipped’ – and many regions remain pretty static – the Haute-Savoie and Savoie have held up better than the rest of France.
Excellent lending rates in France continue, combined with depressed prices, make it still a good time to invest, and for a resurgent flow of British buyers France is still cheaper than Switzerland, easier to reach than Austria.
There’s simply the biggest choice of ski homes – across all budgets, new and old, very ordinary or fabulously deluxe, and there have been a flurry of new projects in the past two years.
From a studio apartment for €40,000 to an uber-chalet of 600m2 costing €30 million, there’s a great diversity in prices between resorts, and you it’s worth doing a bit of research rather than just buying where your friends are (though that often makes sense).
Why Such Variation Between Resorts?
They’ll be “AAA” locations in most places – the ones with the stupendous views down the valley or within a whisker of the ski lift – but resorts tend to divide into those where mostly the French buy, and those with an international demand.
The bulk of France’s 200-odd ski resorts don’t attract hordes of foreign buyers and property prices enjoy less movement. Alpe d’Huez and Les Deux Alpes, to take two examples of major resorts – that may one day be “superlinked” if rumours are to be believed – remain affordable because foreign buyers have not overheated their prices. The same goes to some degree for two slightly more expensive resorts, Tignes and Les Arcs, that may well be linked in the future. In ski resorts, for the greatest affordability and possibility of capital appreciation – as ever – can be found in those likely to be boosted by infrastructure improvements such as new links or lifts.
But What Are the Current Hot Spots and Major Trends?
Well first up it depends if you want new-build or resale, chalet or apartment, a major or a minor resort, authentic old-world charm or purpose-built resort?
Chatel has been one of the last season’s big success stories due to the improvement in infrastructure there – new one-bed apartments in that were selling for Chatel €170k last year are now €185,000, according to Erna Low Property; Tignes les Brevieres at €205k – compare Courchevel 1850 where you’ll need at least €600k.
Actually at the most glamorous new apartment development launch for a few years, Six Senses Residences Courchevel (in the heart of 1850, of course), new one-bed apartments start at €1.5m, although they have access to full ski concierge and spa services. The superb new aquacentre between 1860 and 1650 that opened this year is a major boost to the dual-season credentials of Courchevel.
Agents reports that prices of new-builds have gone up, according to official figures, with only “marginal” increases in resale properties.
In Meribel, Erna Low has been selling new leaseback apartments in a Pierre & Vacances scheme right in the centre for €385,000 to €1m, showing the premium on the big-name 3 Valleys resorts.
With many off-plan/new-build schemes you’ll have a choice of classic freehold (also known as outright ownership) or leaseback ownership, where the developer leases your property back to you for 9-11 years typically, and for that period you are guaranteed a set income (usually between 3-4%) and several weeks’ personal usage. You also get back the 20% VAT on (new-build) leaseback homes.
The government-backed leaseback scheme has been very successful in France – with French buyers especially – as a “safe” and hassle-free way to invest in a property. It doesn’t suit those who want to use their property frequently, or don’t want to be tied in for several years, but there are new “hybrid” types of leaseback coming to market where personal use is much more flexible (there is an example in La Rosiere that has attracted much interest, with prices from €322,500).
You tend to need deep pockets for a new-build chalet in France – Austria has a far wider choice of affordable options, although in the pretty resort of Combloux, for example, you can get three to six-bed chalets with views of Mont Blanc for less than €1.5m. Or Leggett has new five- or six-bedroom chalets in Meribel Les Allues at €1,212,000.
For new-builds in other authentic old villages, check out MGM’s scheme in Samoens (Savoyard chalet buildings of apartments from €216,666) or in Valmorel. They also have a new development in the Paradiski’s Champagny-en-Vanoise with prices from €215,000.
But now is a good time to buy a resale chalet – in Courchevel prices are down 20% from the 2008 peak according to Savills – and you can get a modest one for €350,000 in a popular yet affordable resort such as Les Deux Alpes.
Double that figure and you could get an entry-level chalet in Morzine or Les Gets – both an easy hour from Geneva and popular for their summer biking scene – but you’ll need to double it again for the same in Chamonix or Meribel – for example, Leggett has a six-bedroom renovated chalet in the latter for €1,495,000.