The rise of the semi-chalet
Once dominated by apartments and detached chalets, ski resorts are seeing an unmistakable upswing in the popularity of ‘semi-chalets’. Over the last three years, there has been an increase of 50% more semi-detached ski chalets for sale in the French Alps. While split-level apartment living via duplexes and triplexes was certainly possible, these property styles were often limited to the penthouses built within a large chalet-style building of apartments. Today, there is a new property type that’s firmly on the market.
“The semi ski chalet can be a slightly more affordable way of having that quintessential chalet home in the mountains, without the higher premium price tag of a detached property.”
“Today's ski buyers want that distinctive chalet-style space, with cathedral ceilings and private ground floor access, but they often do not have sufficient budget,” said Charles-Antoine Sialelli, Athena Advisers’ Head of French Alps. “The semi ski chalet can be a slightly more affordable way of having that quintessential chalet home in the mountains, without the higher premium price tag of a detached property.”
With ski property development in the French Alps generally becoming more limited, be it through local council restrictions or simple geographical limitations - think avalanche zones or protected national parks - it seems construction that leans towards chalet design also has a better chance of being rubber-stamped at the local authority.
“It’s a balance of priorities,” adds Charles-Antoine. “Ski resorts want more warm beds for the village’s ski economy and property developers want to build as much space as they can, but everyone wants to protect the aesthetic of the village. Therefore instead of multiple blocks or rows of apartments for sale, we’re seeing more semi-chalets being created to keep the architectural vernacular of new development in line with the older parts of a resort. At the moment, many councils are favouring this type of sensitive development.”
For the buyers, as well as having the high ceilings, it’s also about the privacy that a semi-chalet can provide. “Even with a triplex penthouse, you are still sharing the building with others,” continues Charles. “Having private access, when you ski back to the property or via your own garage, means you feel really on your own, even if the property is attached to another.”
“If you take the same location, a semi-detached chalet would cost 10% more than a normal ski apartment but would be around 10% less than a detached chalet."
But what about rental income? If ski chalets are always the most expensive to rent, does the same apply to semi-chalets? Charles-Antoine continues: “Owners of semi-chalets can also command a small premium with rentals, as it will have the look and feel of a traditional chalet, which is favoured by ski tourists who have the budget for it.”
And what of the costs? Camille Letuve, a Partner at Athena Advisers who has helped dozens developers create thousands of ski chalets and apartments in the French Alps put it simply. “If you take the same location and compare different property types, then a semi-detached chalet would cost 10% more than a normal ski apartment but would be around 10% less than a detached chalet, which would have its own plot. For detached chalets, it’s the size of plot and the interior finish which can make the price tag vary the most.”
On whether prospective buyers were initially looking for an apartment before being swayed by the semi-chalet appeal, Charles describes the process as double-edged. “It could be a client who has a comfortable budget for an apartment and has not yet considered a semi chalet. Or there are the clients who initially held the idea of purchasing a detached, standalone chalet, but change their mind after looking what is available in a resort, and the price difference too.”
Even in the current climate, ski resort property investors and visitors are on the rise. The French ski market is currently experiencing one of its busiest periods on record, even in the face of some international travel restrictions as snow hungry property buyers and skiers have been itching to get back on the slopes after almost a two-season hiatus.
Finding these semi-ski chalets, is not as easy as you might think and it can be hard to identify a semi-chalet initially, as sometimes developers classify them as apartments, especially if joined together as multiple units. “You really need to look to find them, or speak to the people that know the resorts best,” Charles-Antoine adds.
At the moment, this property type appears most in markets where there is more room for development and not those that are at very high altitudes. “The highest resorts are extremely limited by their existing available land to develop, therefore when there is property development of some kind, it’s often refurbishment, which doesn’t lend itself towards the creation of semi-chalet buildings. It is in resorts like Chatel in the Portes du Soleil, where there is land that can be carefully developed to incorporate these types of dwellings.”
Once the little known resort of the Portes du Soleil ski region, over the past few years, Chatel has become a prominent ski village with international appeal. Arranged around a charming centre, it’s architecture embodies the best in Savoyard design and as the resort has grown outwards, this aesthetic has been retained, a fact which not many ski resorts can boast. Here, prices are still less than its Portes du Soleil neighbours in Les Gets or Morzine and there is also room for development using the semi-chalet concept.
Hameau de Ourea, in Chatel, is one such development. Released on the market earlier this year, this collection of detached and semi-detached chalets has been one of the fastest-selling projects in the French Alps within the last 12 months. Nine of the 11 chalets were sold in just a matter of days, with six of the 11 properties being of semi-chalet design.
“It was the strongest example yet of how popular this property type is becoming,” added Camille. “I think the pandemic has also fed this, as more people want the space, both inside and also garden space, to have a chalet where they can work from at times throughout the year, and this is how they can have this without paying top price for the detached home.