Slope of Genius

19.10.15

Switzerland has long been revered for its pristine mountain landscapes and stylish ski resorts. Now the snow-sure resort of Andermatt is raising the bar for chalet-chic second homedom. Stevie King reports.

Ask any local in the vintage ski town of Andermatt and they’ll vouch that the off-piste possibilities are ‘the best in the Alps’. It’s a hard claim to counter. On a clear day from the top of the Gemsstock cable car, powder hounds can be seen weaving their way through the soft, light powder, while the endless touring routes over the Gotthard Massif are ample challenge for even the hardiest of snowshoers.

Yet despite record snow fall predictions this winter season, the whiteout scene in this steep and deep ski resort looks set to be eclipsed by changes afoot in the town valley – cue the landmark residential development of Andermatt that is opening up home ownership opportunities in the region to non-Swiss residents.

Investing in a permanent slice of second-homedom has always been a ‘by stealth’ process in Switzerland, with many regions deemed ‘off-limits’ to property-aspiring foreigners. It’s understandable. One of the smallest (and richest) nations in the world; glorified lock-up-and-leave holiday villages are not high on the aspirational agenda. For this reason, federal law, individual cantons and villages limit the number of properties available for purchase to non-swiss, who must get a special buying permit. Only one property per family (husband and wife) may be purchased and owners can only occupy their home for up to six months of the year without requiring a permanent residency permit.

“The Lex Koller ruling introduced in 1983 defines the annual quota of permits available for sales to foreigners for second homes in tourist resorts and cantons,” explains Markus Berger, Andermatt’s head of communications. “Annual permits total around 1,500, but they’re only allocated to some of the 26 cantons, with each canton allocating their permits to certain touristic resorts and applying slightly different investment restrictions.  Variable criteria apply however, in relation to not re-selling property until after a certain period to stop speculation.”

“Scarcity of land means the political agenda is moving towards residential condensation,” explains luxury ski agent Steven Thomas. “Available plots in popular tourist cantons such as Vaud and Valais are increasingly being used to build townhouses and apartments rather than single family properties. But it’s also about addressing sustainable regeneration in lesser populated regions: smart redevelopment that offers genuine scope for investment for both domestic and foreign buyers.”

For Andermatt, in the central Canton of Uri, adotping a visionary approach to residential tourism is one that is clearly paying dividends. Up until 2003, the area served as a training base for the Swiss Army. Since the military dramatically scaled back its operations however, four-season tourism has ably filled the gap, a change of fortune that caught the eye of international real estate developmenter Samih Sawiris. Pump prime funding has seen the redevelopment of the town and surrounding area – a new look resort village (an extension of the existing hamlet) under phased-construction with high-end luxury hotels, private chalets, and apart-residences in the mix, along with an upgrading of ski facilities and a spanking new 18-hole golf course.

While the initial flurry of investor interest has blown in from outlying districts and neighbouring cantons, a healthy uptake is from overseas. “Legislation relating to this particular project allow foreign buyers to by pass previous ownership restrictions,” confirms Berger. “This includes the ability to purchase multiple homes in the resort with no retention period before selling on the open market.” With pre-completion prices starting from £210,000 for a one-bedroom apartment rising to £1.75m for a three-bed unit, prices compare favourably with Villars and are (10 % - 15 % less expensive) than similar offerings in Verbier.

Adds Berger: “You have all the trappings you’d want in the car-free year-round resort – six hotels, an 18-hole golf course and driving range; wellness, leisure and conference facilities - yet within minutes you can experience the authentic beauty of the natural surroundings.”

Unlike many resorts with identikit edifices, 30 architects from around the world were involved in designing Andermatt’s 490 apartments in over 42 buildings and up to 25 bespoke chalets priced from £4.2 million. “All the homes have genuine Alpine elements, but they come with a modern touch,” Berger notes.

Different models of ownership are appealing to investors able to choose from a chalet designed from scratch, through to a pre-planned and furnished home that can go straight into the rentals pool. “Developing the ski area will connect Andermatt to neighbouring regions, making it the biggest resort in central Switzerland. There will be specially laid-out pistes not only for beginners, but also for families who want to have fun, along with advanced skiers eager to tackle more difficult runs,” he says.

Adds Berger: “Andermatt is unlike many other places, as it’s truly a year-round resort. As well as snow-sports such as downhill and cross-country skiing, and snowboarding and in the winter, golfing, hiking, biking and climbing are popular when the snowflakes start to melt.”

For more information visit: www.andermatt-swissalps.ch

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