Overseas property: buying a ski home

Posted on: 15 March 2012 by Laura Henderson

Drop-dead gorgeous ski homes and perfectly groomed pistes, the Alps are still tops for those in the snow, says property expert Laura Henderson.

ski chaletEven though the ski season is closing and many over 50s Brits continue to be squeezed by the global recession, the piste has remained as busy as ever, with one in three of us unwilling to give up their annual holiday on ice.

The sheer quantity and quality of the ‘white stuff’ is the primary draw, Les Trois Vallees and Paradiski the world’s biggest ski areas, offering a bumper mix of family-friendly village-style resorts and high-octane purpose-built alternatives kitted out with ‘young at heart’ crowds in mind. Improved rail and air links have also brought a number of smaller more intimate resorts into vogue-Chatel, Morzine and La Clusaz, three of the best weekender getaways within a snowball’s distance of Geneva airport. 

What’s the property market like?

Prices in key stations in the Savoie and Haute Savoie, have dropped by around 10% - 20% in the past two years, (confirm the Chambre des Notaires), with sales volumes in the first quarter of 2011 in the Haute Savoie outstripping those of its traditionally more popular and expensive neighbour. British buyers account for over 60 per cent of the market, although fresh interest from Russian and also eastern European markets, are giving a fillip to the property-buying scene. Guaranteed to empty your wallets are the jet-set winter havens of Courchevel, Val d’Isere, Megeve and Chamonix, prices averaging between £12,500 per sqm and £18,000 per sqm, depending on property size and location.

Those with more modest aspirations will still find plenty of choice in the lower-lying valleys. Prices drop dramatically in stations like Les Carroz and Chinaillon-hovering around the £6,500 mark, although they still deliver on quality build and ambience, big-name developers like MGM now venturing into similar low-slung villages such as Crest Voland, Sainte Foy en Tarentaise and Bisanne, which offer good linked access to the higher Espace Diamant area.

Shrinking snowlines continue to be a concern. Low-lying Abondance for example, shut up shop recently because it was not able to keep the slopes open long enough to make the season viable. “Those buying below 1,500 metres need to be aware that skiing is only part of the equation,” explains local agent Pierre Massoubre. “Lower-altitude resorts fit the bill perfectly for families for whom only one or two member ski. Others can make full use of the leisure and sports facilities on the doorstep, plus there’s the added bonus of dual season rental opportunities.”

How do I get there?

Geneva Airport is a one-two hour drive from most mainstream resorts, with additional options at Lyon, Chambery and Grenoble. The TGV from Paris to Grenoble takes around three hours. Ski aficionados can enjoy an extra couple of days on the slopes by catching the night ski train from London St Pancras/Ashford to Moutiers, Aime La Plagne, and Bourg St Maurice, with a short shuttle service to Courchevel, La Plagne, Les Arcs, Meribel and Tignes. 

Where to buy now


Courchevel 1850 and 1650

Dubbed the ‘St Tropez of the French Alps’, recent projects in jet-set Courchevel have seen redundant industrial buildings being replaced by five-star turnkey residences. The scale of this ‘brownfield’ development underlines the shortage of new sites for real estate growth, explains Nathalie Turchet of MGM one of the main developers selling the new apartments to UK buyers.

Capitalising on demand for ‘hands off’ investments, the company has launched several high-end leaseback projects. They enable the purchaser buying a freehold property to become a shareholder in the overall development, offering two key benefits: an annual income which is a share of the total profit from rentals earned by the residence, not a fixed rental income, so there is scope for year-on-year increases in the sums received. The owner can also occupy his or her apartment for an unlimited number of weeks during the year. The value of the weeks used by the owner is then deducted at the end of the year from his or her share of the profits.

Prices start from £130,000. Further down the valley and straddling the main access route, Courchevel 1650’s year round population and farming community atmosphere is, to many, le vrai Courchevel. “The slopes are less crowded with excellent lift access to higher-altitude skiing,” says local agent Thomas Peters. “Prices are also considerably lower than those of 1850, with plenty to suit most palates and pockets.” French agents FSI Property are marketing a stunning south-facing one-bed apartment for £230,000.

Isere: Les Sept Laux

The third largest ski area in the Dauphine region, Les Sept Laux has become something of a winter Mecca for weekenders from Grenoble, with only a handful of British investors having put down roots in the area. Offering 120kms of runs up to a height of 2,600 metres, and a lift system across the three satellite resorts, skiers can move between the exposures and ski throughout the day in the sun. Now earmarked as one of the Isere department’s key resorts, ambitious plans are underway for a stylish makeover. Says Gordon Roughan of Maison Individuelle. “The resort is an easy transfer from both Chambery and Grenoble. Prices are also a good 20-30 per cent less expensive than nearby Les Deux Alpes and Alp d’Huez.” One-bedroom re-sale apartments at Les Granges des Sept Laux, start from just £100,000. 

Haute Savoie chaletHaute Savoie: 


Located an hour and a half from Geneva airport and boasting 650kms of high altitude slopes, this trend-setting station has sleighs instead of cars, ample ski-in ski out real estate and a distinctive architectural style-chalet roofs covered red wood cedar shingle tiles sloping off at eccentric angles winning the resort numerous design awards. 

“It’s a good all-round resort catering to skiers of all abilities,” says Simon Malster of Investors in Property. “High-speed chair lifts and upgrading of existing lifts have given super fast access to the slopes with fabulous cruising skiing for intermediate skiers over a massive area.  The resort is also famous for its lively nightlife during the winter season with a lot of bars and clubs to enjoy. It’s also possible to go down to Morzine.” Drawing attention from UK buyers is the landmark Amara Residences project; five classic contemporary style residences fully consistent with the Avoriaz architecture. 

These spacious 1-4 bedroom apartments are sold fully furnished and equipped, ready for rental. Phase 1 stock is almost sold out, with Phase 2 expected to complete by December 2012. Prices start from £250,000 for a one-bed unit, with 100% mortgages (interest only and repayment) still available.

Buy wise

Make sure the resort has good artificial snow making facilities and always get information on the past few seasons’ snow conditions.

Find out how many weeks the resort is open in the winter and in the summer in order to establish a realistic rental income plan.

Consider ease of access – weekender skiing is all well and good if transfer time from the airport/train station is minimal. 

Further Reading


By Laura Henderson

Property journalist, columnist and author

Laura is a UK-based property journalist and author specialising in domestic and overseas markets. A regular contributor to the Financial Times, Sunday Express, Daily Telegraph and Homes Overseas magazine, she also edits a monthly property column for the Scotsman newspaper and is the author of several on-line investor guides for among others, Channel 4 Homes.

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