French Alps ski property buyers have returned to the market this year with vigour. The combination of a good supply of new-build properties, low French mortgage rates and buyers coming out of a holding pattern created first by Brexit and then intensified by the coronavirus pandemic, has turned into an unexpected trend.
Charlie Williams, one of Athena Advisers’ ski property specialists, comments “Developers getting a slight head start due to the shorter ski seasons has fed a good supply of opportunities, especially in ski resorts where there is normally very little. Then for buyers, who have been unable to ski this season and spent much of the past year inside due to lockdowns, it seems a year of waiting has been long enough for many and this pent-up demand is now hitting the market.”
At Athena Advisers, the number of investors buying a ski property in the French Alps over the 2020/21 season (Oct to May) has more than doubled compared to the same period pre-covid in 2018/19 and has almost tripled when compared to last year.
“The start of 2021 has been the strongest in our history, which is an interesting dynamic considering there’s been little skiing and few visits” continues Williams. “This dynamic is confirmed not only by our activity but most other developers and others in the industry.”
The number of people enquiring about French ski properties has also increased, but not to the same extent as sales. At Athena Advisers, enquiries from October 2020 to May 2021 increased 24% when compared to 2018/19 and by 55% against last year’s numbers. More French ski property buyers from fewer enquiries mean that those that do get in contact are generally more serious about buying a ski property signalling what is perhaps the beginning of the end of the wait-and-see market that has stretched from Brexit through to the recent pandemic.
Although travel to France is continuing with some uncertainty, the market is expected to remain stable, with ski property companies relying on remote and virtual tools to support ski property investors.
“Around 80% of our clients buying ski properties in France over the past year used virtual tools such as video calls or pre-recorded video tours to view properties,” adds Williams. “Fortunately for us, as many of our clients over the years have been expats buying from the Middle East and Asia, so we were conveniently prepared to provide support in this way. Our hope is that visiting during the summer will become a possibility as resorts across the Alps are expecting another busy summer season, at least from domestic travellers.”
For the French Alps, when lockdowns were lifted last summer many on the continent and the UK exploded into the Alps, favouring mountain air rather than their usual longer haul travel abroad. Resorts in the Haute Savoie such as Châtel and Les Gets which normally run at 40% to 50% occupation levels in July and August hit 90%. Agencies and developers across the Alps reported record levels of property transactions for the summertime and Knight Frank confirmed 3% average price increases between January to October 2020 across many French Alpine resorts, showing the underlying demand for Alpine property in the face of adversity.
The French, unsurprisingly, are still the top buyers of properties for sale in the French Alps. They have been able to move about for much of the past year (especially for the purpose of buying homes) so many went into the mountains over the school holidays, accounting for a good proportion of the transactions. The mortgages available to French residents remain at all-time lows, fixed rates just above 1% for 20 years and LTVs up to 100%. As such the level of domestic transactions has been incredibly high.
Contrasting with the activity in the market, there are actually fewer lending options for Brits following Brexit. Mortgages for Brits are harder to find than they were pre-Brexit, but the rates are still low and good. Subject to a strict affordability check, you can generally lock in around 2.0% fixed for 20 years on a repayment basis. Get in touch with our sister company French Private Finance to find out your mortgage options.
All ski resorts have remained popular thanks to their varying attributes, style, skiing and lifestyle opportunities. Charlie Williams, our French ski property specialist gives a run down on his top resorts and tips for those thinking of returning to the ski market.
The stunningly beautiful and relaxed neighbour of Les Gets and Morzine in the Portes du Soleil continues to see interest due to its great connectivity with the rest of the ski domain thanks to the recent lift improvements. Buyers are increasingly realising its charm and the extra value that can be secured in comparison to nearby ski resorts. It is also right next to Pre La Joux which is now Europe’s largest bike park, helping boost summer occupancy levels further. Prices are between €7,000 and €10,000 for prime central property in comparison to Les Gets and Morzine where you are looking at up to €14,000. Châtel remains a favourite of mine and other members of the Athena Advisers team. We spend a lot of time there and our affection for the resort is apparent when talking with our clients! See our portfolio of properties for sale in Châtel.
Alpe d’Huez is becoming increasingly popular with ski property enquiries soaring. The resort has redefined itself with hundreds of millions of euros of investment into lifts and accommodation. Not only does Alpe d’Huez have a huge skiing offering, but it had become the destination of choice for the large music festival Tomorrowland, which is due to return in 2022. A significant new lift link is confirmed for 2023 which will join the area with Les Deux Alpes to create a huge 400km+ ski domain. Any such major infrastructure project always generates attention and increasing prices but let’s not forget the already strong core elements of the resort: high altitude, large ski area, good summer occupancy thanks to the Tour de France and comparatively low price per sqm when compared to other resorts of the same criteria. Inspired? Explore our portfolio of properties for sale in Alpe d’Huez.
This entire domain remains as popular as ever. Méribel is enjoying a warmly received spate of new-build ski property to the market due, in part, to the reclassification of older hotels built around the time of the Winter Olympics in 1992, now being replaced by incredible 5* private residences. Courchevel 1650 remains popular too as prices are still considerably lower than 1850.
It hasn’t got any closer to Geneva or Lyon, but properties for sale in Val d’Isère are, as always, in huge demand. Prices are up to a lofty €35,000 per sqm but we have been struggling with stock, both resale and new build. When we do identify properties here, they are moved on by our clients very quickly. The mayor has halted all future planning permission and there is hardly any developable opportunities or land remaining anyway. If you have a property to sell, please let us know as we have buyers waiting patiently. See our current selection of apartments for sale in Val d’Isère.
Chamonix is another resort where ski property demand and enquiries are very high but opportunities are lacking. If you want to be in the town centre then you will be looking at ski apartments and penthouses, for ski chalets you need to move slightly further out. Those that know Chamonix understand that moving about and taking transport is necessary anyway. At the moment, chalets in the Le Praz area are proving popular. See our full range of properties for sale in Chamonix.
Many potential ski property buyers tell us in their first enquiry that they want to purchase a “ski-in ski-out” property. With a highly limited number of such properties in any given resort and prices always commanding the highest premium, buyers often realise that for the sake of a couple of minutes walk, yet still in the main part of a resort with great views, you are still able to find the dream ski property.
There is often an element of adjustment between initial enquiry and buying a ski property, whether it be on location or type of property. New-build properties for sale are popular thanks to the lower stamp duty and notary fees of only 2% (compared with 7% for an existing property), and you can also reclaim the 20% VAT when renting out a new property too.
Given the activity recently we expect a huge surge in activity and purchases as vaccinations increase and travel eventually reopens. Now is the time for ski property buyers to do their research and get prepared so they are able to make decisions when on their buying trips. Look at all the options available, take advantage of video recordings and virtual viewings of the areas and properties that are of interest.
Book consultations with the Athena Advisers team in our various European offices. Speak to a good mortgage broker like French Private Finance (link) to understand the borrowing options available. There are great long-term fixed-rate mortgages at low rates but the bank’s criteria are often different to that of your home country. Therefore it’s better to understand your financial profile now rather than after you find the ideal ski property, as if there’s an unexpected delay on your end, someone will likely beat you to the property.