Expert advice for buying a ski chalet | Athena Advisers

Expert advice for buying a ski chalet

Nick Leach, a Partner at Athena Advisers, and Charles-Antoine Sialleli, our Head of Alpine Operations, share their top tips to help you if you are interested in buying a ski chalet.

For many, buying a ski chalet represents the ultimate lifestyle investment. However, the search process can be quite daunting, especially when there are so many ski chalets for sale and resorts to choose from.  Below we share our 10 tips for picking the perfect Alpine chalet.

1. Don’t let a ski property lead your search

Because so much of a ski chalet search can be done online these days, people often fall in love with a particular ski property or floor plan before fully considering where that ski chalet for sale is, in terms of both the ski resort and exact location within the resort.

In most ski resorts, you will find ski chalets for sale on the outskirts of a resort and apartments are normally more centrally located. So when you are browsing ski chalets for sale, do take a look at its proximity to the things that matter most for you, be it the pistes, restaurants or bars.

2. Choosing your ski resort

One of the most common questions we get asked at Athena Advisers is which ski resorts generate the best rental yields. As our portfolio only comprises ski chalets in the best resorts, there is very little discrepancy between the resorts when it comes to rental yields. Instead of focusing on yields, think about the type of ski resort best that suits you. 

Some key points to consider include:

  • Ski resort ambience: some resorts have a lively après-ski scene with plenty of bars whilst others are more low-key or family-orientated. 
  • Slope difficulty: this one is especially important for those with children or novice skiers in the family as you’ll want to choose a resort with some easier runs to help them build confidence. 
  • Proximity to the airport: if you want a ski chalet for weekend trips as well as longer breaks, choosing a ski resort close to the airport can help you make the most out of those briefer stays as you’ll be spending less time in the car.
3. Don’t buy a ski chalet or a ski apartment, buy square metres

Twenty years ago there was a big difference between owning a ski chalet and a ski apartment. Ski chalets were the expensive, spacious, wooden, chocolate-box ski properties and ski apartments were almost always small, compact and much lower in price as they were designed and built for the high-turnover ski tourism market.

Due to the way ski property markets have evolved and how construction techniques and materials have improved, the old division between buying a ski chalet or apartment is now much closer in terms of how they look and feel. 

Everyone who has skied has had that dream of buying a ski chalet, but depending on the budget and requirements, a multi-floor apartment (duplex or triplex) may provide a more suitable option than a ski chalet and if it is a new-build, it will likely have the same chalet-style feel, both inside and out.

Another option for those who like the look and feel of a ski chalet but do not necessarily have the budget is a semi-chalet. Sometimes called a demi-chalet, these properties are essentially the chalet equivalent of a semi-detached house where you have the intimacy of a private entrance and, though you lose the apex of the roof, you still have that signature slope to the roof.

4. Create a ‘buying a ski chalet’ checklist

When looking for a ski chalet, it is helpful to draw up a list of what is nice to have and what is a deal-breaker. For some people having a fireplace and waking up to gorgeous views over the mountains is an absolute must-have whilst proximity to the slopes is their main priority for others. Though it can be challenging, knowing what is a must-have and what you are willing to compromise on can really help narrow down your ski property options.

At the same time, it is important that you are realistic when it comes to drawing up this list. For example, many clients want to buy a ski chalet in a high-altitude resort but also want a dual-season destination where they can enjoy the summer holidays. This simply isn’t possible, though resorts like Méribel can provide a happy medium.

5. Draw the investment-lifestyle line

Draw a line in your head, with investment at the left and lifestyle at the right, and then think about where you would place a line in between those. If your desire to buy a ski chalet is purely around enjoying that Alpine lifestyle with family and friends and you’re not too interested in the ski property generating rental income, then it’s much easier to focus on chalets that are suited towards this.

If investment, be it in terms of rental income or potential capital appreciation is a very important factor in the purchase of a ski chalet, then it is equally easier to focus the search, but there are also many other things to consider.

Take a €2m budget in Méribel for example. For a piste-side property in Méribel’s Rond Point or Belvédère, this budget might get you a 100 sqm three-bedroom apartment, potentially with some on-site communal facilities (pool, spa, etc). Being piste-side, this would lend itself well to high turnover rentals. If you took the same budget to Méribel’s La Gittaz area, however, this would buy you an entire four-bedroom ski chalet of up to 200 sqm, just a short walk from the ski lifts. So you would get a much larger ski property, but you’d need to be sure of the location in order to attract weekly rentals during those peak weeks.

6. Think about what you’re used to

What sort of space are you used to at home or when on holiday in other places? How does the lifestyle of you and your family interact with this space? Some ski chalet buyers, whose primary residence is perhaps a large rural home, can find it tough if their budget can only stretch towards a small three-bedroom ski chalet, which would feel smaller and less spacious for a busy family ski holiday. 

Do remember that ski chalet architecture can be quite different from the architecture that you are used to. For example, when looking at ski chalets for sale, many clients are taken aback by how small the bedrooms are. However, this is in fact very typical in ski chalet architecture. The bedrooms tend to be located at the rear of the property and do not always have windows. This is because most of the time is spent in the generous living areas which are often on the upper floors to make the most out of the natural light and views.

7. Calculate your ski chalet affordability

Discussing budgets can often be a tricky and sensitive process depending on the person or company you are speaking with when buying a ski chalet. But whether or not you want to be open about your maximum or minimum budget from the start, it’s going to be a lot easier for you to negotiate if you know your true affordability profile in the beginning.

If you are a cash buyer, this can be quite advantageous if you are buying a new-build ski chalet as you can move faster than those who are seeking a mortgage to finance part of the ski chalet purchase. 

If you are taking out a mortgage, then it’s imperative that you get a decision in principle before you start your search so you can have a clear picture of what you can afford. What you tell someone about this budget is still completely up to you, but at least you know for sure.

8. Optimise your ski chalet purchase

French taxes needn’t be taxing: if you plan and optimise your purchase you can minimise your tax exposure. Whilst taking out a mortgage is one way to get below the wealth tax threshold, you will need to weigh up if it is really worth it. If you are only over the threshold by a small amount, it may be more cost and time-efficient just to pay the tax. Purchasing via a SARL is another way that one can optimise their purchase but again setting up a company comes with financial costs and can be time-consuming so you really need to weigh up whether the sum saved is worth it.

9. Save €1,000s by renting out your ski property

We often get asked about the French new-build ski property rebate programme by investors. This rental incentive allows you to recover 20% VAT from the ski chalet purchase price. Though it may seem cheaper at first to manage the rental of the chalet yourself, it is important that you factor in your time. Choosing to go with a rental management agency is a very hands-off experience so you do not need to waste any of your valuable time.

For more information on this, do take a look at our Complete Guide to Renting Out Ski Properties in the French Alps.

10. Understand the nuances of a ski chalet

While buying a chalet is not too different from buying a regular property, there are some nuances that need to be taken into account. 

Though orientation is important when buying a property elsewhere, this is not as important when it comes to buying a chalet unless you plan on spending lots of time there during the summer. Even north-facing properties can be bright as there is lots of reflective light in the mountains. 

Chalets are often more spacious in person than what they seem on paper as areas where the ceiling height is less than 1.8m, such as where the roof slopes, are not included as habitable space on the floor plan but they do add volume to the property. 

As well as individual bedrooms, you may see a coin montagne, a bunk bedroom, a cabine or a dormitory on a French chalet floor plan. Though the traditional French ‘dormitory’ might not sound too alluring, having one bedroom that can fit two double bunks increases the sleeping space, making it a more affordable option for those with young children than buying a chalet with further bedrooms. Plus, it potentially opens up further opportunities within the rental market as family properties are especially sought-after during the Christmas break and the half term. 

Handpicked chalets.