Guide to buying property in the French Alps
Buying a ski property in the French Alps is a fantastic lifestyle investment, a home away from home where you can make fond memories on and off the slopes during the ski season. Plus, with many resorts diversifying their summer offerings, the French Alps are becoming increasingly popular during the summer months too.
With 18 years of experience helping clients find their dream property for sale in French Alps, we have put together a complete guide to buying ski property for 2021.
Why buy a property in the French Alps?
The French Alps are home to some of the biggest and best ski domains in the world such as the Three Valleys which is the largest interconnected ski area on Earth with 600km of pistes distributed between eight resorts. It is here where you will find some of the most iconic ski resorts in the world such as Val d’Isère, Courchevel and Méribel, all of which have earned a place in CN Traveler’s 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards.
Beyond the slopes
Whilst skiing is the main draw, there is plenty to do off the slopes too from sampling mouthwatering dishes from the region’s constellation of Michelin-starred restaurants to treating yourself to some well-deserved rest and relaxation in one of the numerous mountain spas.
In addition, the summer months are becoming just as exciting as the ski season with plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. From hiking and golf with a view to adrenaline-fuelled paragliding and mountain biking, there is something for everyone.
Whilst owning a ski property in the French Alps is often an emotional decision, it can also be a great way to generate income. With high occupancy rates in winter and growing occupancy rates in the summer, there is an opportunity to generate strong rental yields throughout the year. In addition, with resorts constantly improving their ski infrastructure and undergoing exciting waves of regeneration, such as the ambitious Le Coin project in Val d’Isère, there is strong potential for capital appreciation too.
Key things to consider when choosing a ski property in the French Alps
Proximity to what matters most
As with buying a property anywhere, location is paramount. Once you have decided on your chosen ski resort in the French Alps, you will need to think about where your property is located within the resort. Ski-in ski-out properties in the French Alps can be more expensive, but they offer the ultimate convenience for skiers with the pistes literally on the doorstep and many offer great views over the slopes too.
It is also worth thinking about whether you want to be in a central location with all shops, restaurants and amenities right on the doorstep or if you would prefer something more intimate and don’t mind driving to amenities and services.
New build or resale?
When buying a home in the French Alps, there are two main types of property: new builds and resales. Which type is best is largely down to personal choice and each residence type has its own unique set of advantages
New-build properties in the French Alps
There are also some great financial incentives for purchasing a new-build property in the French Alps. For example, new-build properties benefit from lower notary fees of 2-2.5% as opposed to the fee of 7-8% which is applied to existing properties. If the future owner decides to rent out their property when not in use, they can also apply for VAT rebate which can reduce the property purchase price by 20%. We explore this in more detail further on.
New-build properties will typically have more modern comforts and will not have been lived in yet so will bear no signs of wear and tear or need any renovation work. Plus, new-build properties in France come with a guarantee.
Buying a property off-plan often gives the owner the opportunity to customise the property and make it their own. This can include choosing the finishes, altering the layout or adding additional extras such as a pool or a jacuzzi.
Resale properties in the French Alps
Though we do have a selection of already delivered new-build properties, such as Manali Lodge in Courchevel, ordinarily, you will need to wait for the new-build properties to be delivered whilst resale properties are ready right away if there is no onward chain. This can be a major selling point for those who want a ski property that they can enjoy or rent out straight away. In addition, as the property is already delivered, the future owner will have the opportunity to see it in person.
Though resale properties do have a higher notary fee in the region of 7-8%, existing properties are often more affordable than a similar brand-new one.
The ambience of the resort
Not only does each resort offer a different skiing experience but the ambience and après-ski culture vary from resort to resort. For those who are looking for somewhere with a lively après-ski scene with lots of bars, fine dining spots and music, resorts like Val d’Isère, Courchevel and Méribel Centre are likely to be right up your street. For those looking for something calm, consider a quaint hamlet like Levassaix in Saint-Martin-de-Belleville or Méribel Village.
Families should also look out for resorts which have been awarded the Famille Plus Montagne label. Having successfully met 110 criteria, these resorts have activities, infrastructure and services specifically geared towards families with children.
Infrastructure improvements – how much will your property be worth in 10 years?
As when purchasing any property, it is important to think about the value of your acquisition for the long-term. Take a look at our destination guides for each resort to discover what infrastructure improvements and developments are coming up in the near future. From new ski lifts opening up nearby to brand-new tourist facilities, all of these improvements can help your property increase in value.
From spacious chalets with private spas and even their own rock climbing wall to compact but practical ski studio apartments right on the slopes, the sheer variety of ski properties available can be overwhelming. To help make sense of it all, it is wise to make a list of what you specifically want in a property and what you are willing to compromise on. Think about the physical qualities of the property like the number of bedrooms as well as any extra comforts or services you need such as gym access, concierge service, a swimming pool or spa facilities.
Dual-season resorts: holiday home for the summer & maximise rental yields
With beautiful Alpine lakes, fantastic hikes, mountain biking and so much more, the French Alps are perfect for summer holidays too. When buying a property in the Alps, it is worth thinking about whether the resort is active during the summer too and what sort of activities it offers.
With occupancy rates reaching as high as 60% during the summer, owning a property in a dual-season resort not only means that you have a home to enjoy the mountains throughout the year, but it can also lead to good rental yields throughout the year, not only in the peak season.
When buying a property off-plan in the French Alps, it is really important that you take some time to research the developer of the project. Is this a one-off project for them or is this one of the many ski developments that they have created?
As well as making use of all of the CGIs and virtual tours available, if possible ask to see photos of previous examples of their work or see if they have a show property you can visit. This will help you get a feel for the quality of the finishes.
At Athena Advisers, we are very selective about whom we partner with, choosing trusted developers with a proven track record of success.
Where to buy a property in the French Alps
With so many resorts, each with a unique atmosphere and skiing experience, it is near impossible to find a single best ski resort. It’s all about finding the right ski resort for you.
Below we have outlined some of our most popular ski resorts in the French Alps.
Around 90 minutes’ drive from Geneva in the vast Portes du Soleil ski domain, chocolate box Châtel is a quintessential French mountain village with preserved chalet-style architecture. Marrying rustic charm with access to one of the largest ski domains in the French Alps, property for sale in Châtel is increasingly sought-after.
Both upmarket and authentic, charming Les Gets is a family-friendly resort in Les Portes du Soleil. Active throughout the year, this dual-season resort is a major hub for mountain biking too. From the delightful village centre to the peaceful Perrières area, discover our selection of the very best properties for sale in Les Gets.
The biggest and most well-known resort in Les Portes du Soleil, Morzine is a true year-round town with plenty of character and over 100 restaurants. Thanks to its family-friendly atmosphere and the excellent variety of terrain, property for sale in Morzine is particularly popular with families.
Set at 1,850m, Val d’Isère is one of the most iconic ski resorts in the French Alps, marrying superb skiing with a legendary après-ski scene. Though a mature resort, Val d’Isère is constantly growing and the older Le Coin area is set to undergo an exciting €200m regeneration programme. It is a really interesting time to invest in a property in Val d’Isère.
Part of the Three Valleys ski domain, Saint-Martin-de-Belleville is an authentic Savoyard village with charming architecture and fantastic restaurants. Active throughout the year and with an excellent array of hiking trails, buying a property in Saint-Martin-de-Belleville represents a fantastic lifestyle investment.
Located right in the heart of the Three Valleys ski domain, Méribel is famous for its extensive pistes, family-friendly atmosphere and sunny orientation. When exploring properties for sale in Méribel, it is important to remember that this resort is made up of several individual villages, each with a unique atmosphere and appeal.
Just under an hour’s drive from Geneva Airport, Megève is part of the Evasion Mont Blanc ski domain and is home to 89 restaurants, four of which have been awarded at least one Michelin star. With hiking trails and an 18-hole golf course in the summer, properties for sale in Megève are popular for those looking for a home away from home in an authentic dual-season resort.
From the glitz and glamour of 1850 through to the rustic charm of Courchevel Village, this resort is just as diverse as the vast Three Valleys ski domain it sits within. With prices varying by up to 50% between the villages, understanding its unique villages is key when looking for a property for sale in Courchevel.
Welcoming skiers since 1906 and the host of the first-ever winter Olympics, sporty Chamonix is one of France’s oldest ski resorts and a true year-round town. With property prices rising by 5.4% in 2019 (the highest increase in the French Alps), properties for sale in Chamonix represent an interesting investment opportunity too.
Perched on a wide and sunny plateau at 1,200m, Les Carroz is located in the heart of the varied Grand Massif ski domain. An authentic French mountain village that is busy during winter and summer, properties for sale in Les Carroz have 265km of pistes on the doorstep as well as a plethora of summer sports such as golf, paragliding and mountain biking.
Property prices in the French Alps
Property prices vary according to the resort, proximity to amenities, the size of the property and, of course, its finishes. The graph below looks at the average property price for new-build properties in some of our top resorts in the French Alps.
How to buy an off-plan property in the French Alps
Off-plan property remains a popular way for both investors and second homeowners to buy real estate in France. It allows developers to secure buyers and capital before beginning construction but is equally beneficial for buyers as they can pay for their property often at a lower rate and benefit from favourable progressive payment options. They may even have the opportunity to personalise their property.
France is one of the most secure countries in the world when it comes to buying off-plan property as buyers’ interests and money are protected by a number of clauses along the way. Of course, whilst there is a robust framework of consumer rights for property investors in France, the law always has its limits so buyers still need to take a commercial approach towards their investment.
The ‘VEFA’ (Vente en l’état futur d’achèvement) is the main contract used for the purchase of an off-plan property in France.
1. Placing an option
Once you have made a decision to buy a certain property, most developers allow you to ‘place an option’ on the property. This takes the unit off the market for a short period of time thus giving you a small window of time to finalise your details (secure mortgage finance) and collate any outstanding information you require in order for the agent/vendor to put together your official reservation contract ‘contract de reservation’.
To plan an option you simply have to complete a reservation form and send a security deposit of between 2% and 5% of the property price. This deposit will confirm your reservation and it is held by a ‘Notaire’ until the final VEFA contract is signed and ratified. This means a buyer’s money is secure and protected right up until the point at which the title deed transfers take place (carried out by the Notaire) and you then become the freeholder of the property.
One of the most common ways a buyer loses their ‘option’ and therefore their preferred unit is by being slow to provide the necessary information. Once all the information has been supplied, reservation contracts can normally be prepared and sent to a buyer within two days. Below is a list of the information usually required:
- Completed reservation from
- Passport copy
- Birth certificate
- Proof of address (Note: If the clients are married, the same documents are required for each along with their marriage certificate.)
- Proof of deposit transfer
- Indication of financing — whether you’re buying cash or using a mortgage
- Type of usage (leaseback only) — investment or occupancy (plus usage package)
2. Reservation of the property
Once your deposit, reservation form and all necessary information have been received, you will be sent the reservation contract. The reservation contract must contain certain information, in particular:
- The surface area of the property in question, number of principal rooms, etc
- Details on the property’s specifications (‘note technique sommaire’)
- The sale price and details of whether this is fixed or open to any revision
- The details of any mortgage finance
- The envisaged latest date of signature of the sale deed (and usually the envisaged latest
- building completion date)
- The reproduction in full of the provisions of articles R261-28 to 31 of the Code de la
- Construction et de l’Habitation (French Construction and Dwelling Code)
Hopefully, by this stage, you have already begun the process of organising your mortgage finance, if necessary.
3. Cooling-off period
Once the reservation contract has been signed you have a seven-day ‘cooling-off’ period, during which time you can withdraw from the contract and receive a full refund of your
The seven-day cooling-off period does not start until you have received a copy of the contract documentation, which should be sent to you by recorded delivery. It does not matter that you may have been handed a copy by the developer at the time you signed the contract. There must be formal, certified confirmation you have received the contract, which can normally only be achieved by a recorded delivery receipt.
If you withdraw from the contract beyond this date then you will lose your deposit, unless you are able to invoke one of the permitted reasons allowed by law, e.g. failure by the developer to proceed in accordance with the preliminary contract.
4. VEFA signature with the notary
Once the cooling-off period has passed you have essentially agreed to purchase the property in question. As the property is off-plan, there can sometimes be certain details for the developer to confirm before the final VEFA contract can be put together for each buyer. Once the VEFA contracts are ready you will be asked to sign the ‘acte de vente’, which will make you the official owner of the property.
As non-resident buyers may not be able to travel to the Notary’s office in person, they normally sign over power of attorney to their own notary and then send this to the notary in charge of the project. At the same time, you must transfer the necessary funds to the notary for the deed signing. If you are a UK resident you must also get your power of attorney documents ratified at the Foreign Office.
The notification by the notary is the final stage in order for the signing of the deeds to go ahead.
5. Stage payments — L’appel de fond
Under the terms of the VEFA contract, you will be required to make stage payments to the developer. The schedule is referred to as ‘l’échelonnement du paiement du prix’. The payments will be a percentage of the total purchase price, which will vary depending on whether it is an apartment or a house.
- 5% initial deposit
- 30% of the total price when the foundations have been laid
- 35% of the total price when the property is weatherproof
- 25% of the total price when construction is complete
- 5% of the total price the day the property becomes available to the buyer (the day you receive the keys)
6. Receiving your property – La remise des clefs
As with any property purchase, the final stage of the process is when you are given the keys to the property. With off-plan purchases this stage normally coincides with the last stage payment as per the terms of the VEFA contract. You will then have a period of one month to take possession of your home and inform the developer of any issues relating to the property.
French VAT rebate programme & French mortgages
VAT rebate programme – save 20%
One of the advantages of buying a new-build property in the French Alps is that future owners can apply for a VAT rebate if they decide to rent out their property on a short-term basis with rental services in place. Renting your property out through this programme essentially allows you to save 20% on the property purchase price.
In order to be eligible for this VAT rebate you will need to adhere to the following conditions:
- The property must be let furnished
- You must let the property on a short-term basis
- You must offer at least three hotel-style services. These services include linen change, reception services (handing over the keys) and breakfast (this can be a simple as a delivery service)
There are a number of excellent rental management companies in the French Alps which offer this service. When choosing a rental management company for your property, look for a contract which is flexible so you can enjoy your property as much as you like too.
In order to qualify for this VAT rebate, you will need to rent your property out for 20 years. It is possible to cancel early but you will need to pay back a portion of the VAT. As you are the freeholder of the property, you can resell the property before the 20 years is up.
If you are buying an off-plan property, the VAT may be taken off at the start of the purchase or deducted accordingly at each stage payment. .If your property has already been delivered, you will need to pay the VAT but you will receive a refund within three to six months after the signature.
For more information, please take a look at our complete guide to the new-build VAT rebate or get in touch.
With lower rates than many UK banks, a French mortgage is an advantageous way to acquire a property in the French Alps. Our sister company French Private Finance works with private banks in France and Switzerland and can help you find the perfect, affordable French mortgage.
Navigating the French mortgage system can be quite difficult for newcomers, not least due to the sheer volume of paperwork involved. However, French Private Finance can help guide you through the process step-by-step and offer guidance on how to purchase a property through a company.
With 18 years of experience under our belt, we go the extra mile for our clients. Not only do we introduce them to unique properties for sale in the French Alps, but we guide them through the entire buying process from product selection to helping them rent out their property.
From our offices in Annecy, we organise property viewings across the entire French Alps, collecting clients from their accommodation to show them all relevant property opportunities.
- Next-day property viewings across the French Alps
- Detailed resort guidance and recommendations
- Local property market insight
- Individual property assessment
- Meet our developers and architects
360° Purchase support
From placing a deposit and signing the reservation contracts onto the signature of the deeds, our client services department can help clients through every step of the process.
- Document translation
- Process support & explanation
- Introduction and liaising with independent & bilingual French notaries
- Signature meetings at Athena offices
Purchase structuring and taxation
Taxation of a property in a foreign country can be daunting, however, the team at Athena can help you understand your liabilities. Depending on your long term planning goals, we can introduce ways of structuring a French property investment to be much more tax-efficient, using trusted UK/France taxation specialists.
- Reduction or negating rental income tax
- Understanding wealth, inheritance and capital gains tax
- Introduction of French company structures for special scenarios
If the owner of a new property intends to rent it on an ongoing basis when they are not occupying it, Athena Advisers can help them reclaim 20% VAT from the purchase price. It will need to be rented furnished, on short term lets, with 3 hotel-type services in place e.g. cleaning, laundry, key holding. Athena can provide the full reclamation service subject to conditions and a one-off fee.
- Introduce rental management team with a qualifying rental contract
- Liaise with French accountant and the Tax Administration
- Deliver the VAT rebate
FRENCH PRIVATE FINANCE
Athena Private Finance and its French-focused company French Private Finance make accessing mortgages, development finance and other financial services easy for our international clients. Their skills and experience enable investors in the French Alps to move quickly along the purchase process, increasing the investor’s chances of being able to secure their chosen investment.