Demand for Ski Homes in the Alps

12.09.14

A review of property purchase restrictions in the Swiss Alps is bolstering demand for ski homes, reports Terry Brine of Ski Invest.

Adding a sprinkling of slope-side glamour to the après-ski circuit - wealthy foreign buyers in Switzerland have laid claim to around 450,000 holiday homes since the 1970s. Now, chalet investments are set for a further value boost as a cap on second-home development takes full effect.

A country with a population of just 8m, the Swiss sanctioned a ban last year on the construction of holiday homes in communities where they already account for more than 20% of the housing stock. The law, which has now come into being, impacts on property supply in upwards of 570 resort communities with quotas in several cantons including Valais and Grisons already past their peak. The cap applies to all owner types including Swiss and Residency Permit holders but won’t be retrospective to existing projects and properties.

For overseas buyers, investing in a slice of second-homedom in Switzerland has always been a rarefied process. Across the country, only 1,500 foreign-ownership permits are issued each year for second-home properties and some towns, such as Zermatt and Saas Fee, are virtually closed to non-Swiss buyers. There are also restrictions on the size of the plot of land and the habitable area of the chalet. Usually the maximum is around 250 square metres although it is possible for foreigners to buy larger chalets if they have a Swiss B permit which entitles them to reside in Switzerland. Restrictions also remain, in relation to property retention periods before selling on, usually a minimum of five years.

One notable change since the vote has been an uplift in property values (up 10% to 15%) in popular mountain locations with a corresponding spike in investor interest. Davos one of the highest Alpine resorts in Europe is among the top five locations to see the biggest property price increases since the second quarter of 2013. Holiday homes in St. Moritz are now nearing 15,000 euros per square metre, compared with 11,500 euros in Chamonix, France, and less than 11,000 euros in the Austrian ski villages of Lech and St. Anton, with the long term average forecast at 2-4%. Investors clearly equate the new higher price culture with a future rarity value.

Switzerland’s ski slopes, lakes and hiking trails attracted 35 million tourists last year, with second homes currently accounting for some 12% of the overall housing stock. Smart redevelopment in lesser-known regions is expected to offset some of the supply shortage with new locations stepping up their game in a bid to attract buyers. Cantons such as Uri and Obwalden still have decent volumes of real estate in circulation – we can expect an ebb and flow on the supply side in coming years as buyers and sellers look to cash in.

As to buyer preferences - typically, clients want to buy a chalet off-plan and finish it to their specifications, and that is still possible here, although such an option may be something of a rarity in the future. Scarcity of land means the political agenda is inevitably moving towards residential condensation with available plots increasingly being used to build townhouses and apartments rather than single family homes.

For all its legal machinations, Switzerland has and will continue to have global appeal, not only for the lifestyle but also because it offers long-term stability. People are happy to be exposed to the Swiss Franc because of its strength, and the housing market is stable compared to most others. The barriers at present are restrictive, but there’s nothing to say that the legislation can’t and won’t be revised at a future date. There have been legal shake-ups before. Each time the market has found a new equilibrium.

WHERE TO INVEST

Vaud
Set in the spectacular Vaudoises Alps, yet just 90 minutes from Geneva, this rustic resort has purposely steered clear of package tourism, dovetailing wide rolling alpine boulevards with state-of-the-art ski facilities. Villars is without question one of the easier resorts to purchase in, with a choice of competitively priced turnkey projects aimed at foreign buyers. If you are buying your property off-plan, you will usually get your permit before the property is finished. Foreigners must retain their property for five years, but after that period there are no restrictions on selling on the open market.

Valais
A high calibre choice of resorts including Haute Nendaz, Verbier, Veysonnaz and Les Collons, makes the southerly canton of Valais a savvy choice. The region is also home to Crans Montana, Switzerland’s premier dual season boasts a PGA standard golf course alongside its superb ski facilities. Situated on a sun-soaked high plateau overlooking the Rhone Valley and around a two-hour drive from Geneva, property has made gains of 10-15% here in the last 5 years. Projects slated for the surrounding satellite villages also promise good capital yield growth, with a thriving rentals market. Two-bed units net in the region of £1,200-£1,500 per week peak season. As in neighbouring Vaud, buyers can sell on without restrictions after five years.

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