The French ski property market in 2022
With the French ski property market experiencing its busiest ever season on record - even with Covid-related travel restrictions making access difficult for some - our Head of French Alps operations was invited on to French news channel BFM Business to give his insight into the current state of the Alpine market in France. Here is his interview with Guillaume Sommerer from BFM.
"The market is very active with lots of new residences and hotels being constructed as well as a high level of demand from property buyers."
GS: Today we welcome Charles-Antoine Sialelli, the Head French Alps at Athena Advisers, who has 18 years of experience in the French ski property industry. Before we get into the details of the different resorts, does the ‘call of the mountains’ remain strong with buyers in the face of the closures we saw in the resorts last year and the fact that the snow line is edging higher and higher?
CAS: I would say that the call of the mountains is stronger than ever. Looking at the overall dynamics across all the resorts in the Alps, the market is very active with lots of new residences and hotels being constructed as well as a high level of demand from property buyers.
The Christmas period is usually active, however, this year we were extremely busy with property viewings and handling enquiries from clients much earlier than usual. Since All Saints’ Day in fact. This is likely due to the changes in travel restrictions (many of our clients are international) as well as the fact that the market is very dynamic at the moment.
GS: It’s a very dynamic market indeed! We’ll discuss the individual resorts in more detail and whether the best resorts for investment are those which depend less on snowfall. You mentioned that many of your clients are international. Have there been fewer international clients as a result of the pandemic? Has the pandemic affected how the business operates?
CAS: The pandemic has affected how we help our international clients, especially last year as we had to adapt and conduct lots of video calls so we could show international clients what they were buying. Obviously this year it has been a lot easier. British clients, a nationality that is especially interested in the French Alps, managed to travel even when Boris Johnson changed the travel policies one evening in the second week of the holidays.
Quite a few British buyers managed to leave in time. We also saw an influx of Dutch clients. Usually, Dutch clients ski in Austria due to the distance and language, but this year Austria prevented them from heading to the Alps as a result of Covid. After a period of absence, there are now lots of Dutch buyers heading back to the French Alps. Earlier today when I was driving through the Alps I saw lots and lots of Dutch number plates on the road.
GS: How do property prices vary throughout the resorts?
CAS: The Alps is a huge market and when we exclude the very small resorts that have only two or three ski lifts, the price per sqm ranges from €5,000 to €35,000. In my opinion, the biggest price difference can be seen between properties in Savoie and Haute-Savoie. If you exclude Val d'Isère and Megève, prices in Haute-Savoie sit at around €15,000 per sqm. However, when you look at big resorts like Val d’Isère, Méribel and Courchevel, prices can easily surpass the €30,000 per sqm mark. So as you can see it is €15,000 per sqm on one side and up to €32,000 per sqm or higher on the other. This price discrepancy is not only due to the difference in altitude but also the size of the resorts.
Resorts at a lower altitude, 1,000m or so, have more buildable plots than resorts higher up. High-altitude resorts have many technical and natural constraints, such as an increased chance of avalanches, and this ultimately means that the resort can only grow so much outwards. As a result, in these higher altitude resorts, new opportunities only come about when older existing properties are renovated and transformed into larger, more beautiful residences.
GS: The variation between the different resorts is astounding from what you tell us! According to you, has global warming had an impact on property prices in the French Alps? Have higher resorts become even more sought after and expensive as a result?
CAS: Not necessarily. When we are looking at prices at around €30,000 per sqm we are looking at very expensive resorts, those in a similar sphere to Monaco where the average price per sqm sits slightly higher at €43,000.
I would argue that resorts lower down have a lot of potential for capital appreciation. I am seeing a lot of demand from clients who want a property not only for skiing but for enjoying other mountain activities too. Generally speaking, the higher up you go, the fewer activities you have in the summer. This means that resorts set around 1,000m work very well as you can ski well in the winter and these resorts are more accessible as they are less isolated, and we have footfall from people who stop and basically bring these mid-altitude resorts to life.
GS: So are prices always a reflection of the relationship between supply and demand and non-skiing-related activities in the mountains? The demand must be a particularly important factor as only around 9% of French residents ski, so as skiing is quite a niche sport, the potential resorts where we can do something other than ski are experiencing great demand. Do you think that supply in these lower resorts will fall short of demand in the future?
CAS: This isn’t necessarily the case. As I mentioned earlier, there are more buildable plots in these resorts which means that there are plenty of new projects coming out which will absorb this demand. At Athena Advisers, we work with lots of different developers, around thirty across the Alps, which gives us a global vision of the market that local agencies do not necessarily have - they might not know what is going on in the mountains just behind them. We have this global vision and I am in the resorts every day so I can tell you that there are people, there is demand, room for new properties and opportunities to buy residences for less than €10,000 per sqm.
At Athena Advisers, which resorts do you think have the most potential? Which resorts are becoming more attractive because they are evolving or because the market is changing?
One resort that we have become especially interested in is Les Gets in Les Portes du Soleil which has 650km of pistes, making it a comparable size to the Three Valleys where you’ll find the likes of Courchevel, Méribel and Val Thorens. One of the great things about Les Gets is that it is much more accessible. It is about an hour or one hour and fifteen minutes’ drive from Geneva airport. This airport is quite large and works well for international visitors as there are plenty of return flights throughout the year between London, Amsterdam and other European countries. On the other hand, Chambéry only offers seasonal international flights.
Why Les Gets?
Les Gets is very pretty and has a lively summer season as it hosts the mountain biking world cup and has a nice golf course. The mountains are beautiful here and each one is a little different. As you were rightly saying, you have this phenomenon of scarcity in the higher resorts which is one of the reasons why the prices are so high and there are very few property offerings, especially on a budget, with large surface areas.
Many properties in the mountains were built between the 70s and 90s and during this period properties were a lot more compact. To give you an example back then a one-bedroom apartment would measure around 25 sqm. A one-bedroom apartment in a property built today would span between 35 and 40 sqm. Plus, during these eras, developers tended to build only studios or apartments with two or three bedrooms. There were no four-bedroom and five-bedroom apartments.
Today, there is a lot of demand for these larger apartments and, in fact, we sell more large top-floor apartments than individual chalets as these apartments have many of the features that make chalets so desirable: beautiful cathedral ceilings in the living rooms, large windows, exposed beams and a good number of bedrooms.
Though you can find some six or seven-bedroom chalets, most chalets have four or five bedrooms and it is possible to efficiently accommodate four or five bedrooms in an apartment of 150 sqm to 200 sqm. With smaller surface areas than a chalet, these spacious top-floor apartments offer many of the perks of a chalet at a competitive price point.
GS: So it is not only the popularity of resorts that is shifting but also the demand for certain types of properties with apartments becoming increasingly favoured over chalets?
CAS: This is true to an extent, however, the chalet architecture style remains popular. In my opinion, the mountains are the only place where the new is more beautiful than the old as the chalet style is quite easy to reproduce with wood and stone.
When you buy a new property in Paris obviously it lacks character compared to Haussmannian apartments, if you buy new in the South of France, apart from very contemporary and refined properties, new homes often look like white boxes with four walls. While in the mountains, if we look at what is being done today, the town halls are very careful not to reproduce the same mistakes that were made during the 70s when developers created large buildings with flat roofs. No, today developers have a real conscience to build something beautiful and lasting.
GS: Thank you very much for coming to tell us about the latest trends in mountain real estate.