Top 10 tips for buying a French ski property12th February 2013
February half term, the ski property sector’s busiest period, is fast approaching. As a record number of investors head for the slopes with family in tow, Athena Advisors provides buyers its top 10 tips for people searching for that dream ski home.
“Half term week is by far the busiest of the year in the ski property sector and this year will be the busiest since the 2007/2008 season,” says Nicholas Leach, Partner at Athena Advisors. “Is it a great week just for skiing, being mid way between the cold New year and warmer Easter, but it also provides buyers who have children with an opportunity to spend at least a day or two looking around for ski property whilst the kids are in ski school.”
“Over the next week or so we have viewings arranged for French ski property with a total value of €40 million,” adds Leach. “Enquiries and sales are up, however the length of time it takes for buyers to make a final decision has definitely increased, but in turn this creates opportunities for those will to cross the line first.”
Top 10 tips for buying a ski property
1) Know what you want. Sounds simple, but the most important decision you will have make primarily revolves around how much you want to use the property. In France there are essentially two ways to own a ski property; Classic Freehold and Leaseback Freehold. Each has its advantages so thinking about things like how much you want to use you ski property and how much time you can realistically devote to looking after it before you go out to visit will make a big difference.
Classic freehold is the normal way of owning a property; you purchase the freehold title and own the property privately. This option is best for those who:
• Want the most flexibility with how much they can use their ski property
• Would like to use the property at short notice or whenever they want
• Have a private residence which is only used by themselves and whoever they invite to the property
• Renting the property privately or through a local agent can be quite lucrative though income is likely to fluctuate according to the market, seasonal snow conditions and the efficiency of the agent that you use.
• With classic freehold ownership there are also the usual property ownership issues to contend with: maintenance, damage, leaks, upkeep etc and chasing up the rental agent to make sure they rent your property well.
You purchase the freehold title of the property as normal but then agree to lease the property back to a management company on a 9-11 year lease in return for a fixed annual rental guarantee. This option is best for those who:
• Want to own a ski property which provides income and has the option for some personal usage.
• Don’t want to deal with the management or upkeep issues normally associated with property ownership.
• Don’t have lots of time to manage the financial aspects of the property themselves - buyers receive a guaranteed rental income which makes planning financing the purchase much easier to plan.
• Want to use private leisure facilities – most leaseback developments are required to have on-site facilities such as pools, spas, reception/concierge so that they can effectively market the properties to a wide tourist market and therefore maintain the rental income.
• Great resort locations - as leaseback properties are built to supply the tourism market they are usually very well located (in some cases local councils will only give building permission in prime locations to properties built as leaseback as they know it will support the tourism/jobs in the resort/village).
A more affordable ski property – buyers of leaseback benefit from a VAT rebate on 19.6% of the purchase price.
• Easy rental management – the property comes fully furnished and in most cases all maintenance and running costs are covered by the management company.
• There is less flexibility for personal usage than a classic freehold property, though most management companies allow you to stay additional weeks at a discount or to sell back or exchange unused weeks in other winter/summer properties.
• Leaseback properties are normally apartments so you are less likely to be able to buy a single dwelling like a chalet. However large leaseback apartments with up to four bedrooms are commonly available.
• You can sell a leaseback property at any time, however to avoid repaying the VAT on a pro-rata basis new buyers usually continue with the remaining term of the rental management lease.
2) Crunch your numbers.
French mortgages are currently very attractive with record low interest rates – 20 year fixed rate repayment mortgages are currently available at 3.55%, with variable rate loans from as low as 2.20%. Lending criteria has always been strict in France based on an affordability criteria (which explains why France suffered very little sub-prime loan issues) and has become slightly more so in the last few years with loan-to-values available up to 85% for EU clients and up to 70% for non-EU clients – both subject to a buyers’ profile.
3) Time how long the transfer takes. Ease of access and close proximity to international travel is important. Most ski resorts are around two hours from international airports (usually Geneva, Lyon or Grenoble) though some can be reached in one. Time the transfer yourself to make sure of the distance.
4) Check your altitude. Snow quality is obviously key so lower resorts will suffer in seasons of poor snow. Lower resorts can still be very attractive as they tend to have year-round appeal and residents and can still be well connected to the slopes/big ski domains and have snow canons to counter-act and lack of snow on the lower slopes.
5) Check your ski-mileage. How much piste do you like to cover in a day? In your holiday? Access to a large number of runs is important to many clients who like to have a good variety of skiing options. The 3 Valleys (most expensive) and Portes du Soleil are the 2 largest ski domains in the world, while Paradiski, Espace Killy and the Grand Massif are huge as well.
6) Perform the ‘ski-boot test’. How far by foot from the property are the ski lifts, the slopes, the shops, and the resorts’ après-ski scene. For young families it is often important that they don’t have to walk for long distances to get to or from the ski lifts. Properties that are further from the slopes will always be cheaper, but remember to look for bus stops as there are many efficient bus services shuttling back and forth which can make up for this. Some clients only like ski-in ski-out properties, which usually carry a premium.
7) Review the views. Things like orientation of the views and what you can see from the property will make a big difference when you want to resell, so make sure the property is the best possible one for your budget (especially if within apartment building). If there are plans to build properties nearby, check how much they might affect the views.
8) Dig the dirt on the developer. The reputation and experience of the developers is an important factor to consider so that you know the property will be well constructed with the facilities and the quality that you would expect. It is also important to be reassured of the financial strength of the developer to ensure the timely completion of the construction. (In France – there is the GFA ‘Guarantee Financial d’Achievement’ buildings guarantee which all developers need to obtain having sold a certain % of the properties which therefore ensures the completion of the building if the developer goes bust). For leaseback properties – any decent-sized developer will pre-finance the VAT rebate so you do not have to pay it and reclaim it yourself.
9) Research the rental management company. For leaseback properties a fundamental point to understand is that – the rental guarantee is only as good as the management company offering it – so beware of small, inexperienced companies offering higher returns than the rest of the market as this is going to be very difficult to actually deliver. Track record, experience and access to a large tourist base are the best indicators of a management company’s potential to manage, maintain and rent your property well allowing them to pay your guaranteed rent and still make a profit for themselves. Also, French banks will not provide mortgages on leaseback properties from unknown management companies.
10) Research the resort. Knowing what the ski resort is planning to do is important. A new lift can make such a difference to a ski resort or a property price, especially if it cuts walking the distances down. Chatel and Tignes for example are currently experiencing €millions of infrastructure investment which will have a positive effect on the price of nearby properties.