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Life in Apline Property Market

Ski resort at dusk

1 December 2014

Investors looking to add a touch of winter wonderland to their portfolio would do well to invest in the Alpine property market, experts say.

With its rugged mountainous landscape, snow-capped peaks and picture-perfect backdrop for a white Christmas, it’s no wonder the Alps are the playground of the affluent. In fact, according to property consultant Savills, the Alps are so popular that they capture 45% of all global skier visits compared to North America which captures 21%.

In its latest report Spotlight Alpine Property Market, property consultant Savills revealed that more Alpine sales are taking place at lower price points as the resilience of the ultra-prime markets starts to ripple down the ladder.

According to Jeremy Rollason, Managing Director at Savills the Alpine property market continues its upward trajectory with sales volumes up 52% year-on-year.

Cityscape magazine investigates the major Alpine resorts in Switzerland, Austria and France; resorts which attract more than 70 million ski visitors between them annually.

SWITZERLAND

According to the Savills report Switzerland’s position outside the EU cements its appeal as a “safe haven” for wealth. With a GDP of 2% recorded in 2013, continued strength is forecasted.

Switzerland attracts 26.5 million ski visitors each year, half of which are foreigners. With more prestigious resorts than any other country, it has a reputation of being expensive. The country has been an earlier recipient of the small but fast growing Asian ski market.

In general, Swiss resorts have the longest seasons (and deepest snow), with Saas Fee enjoying 168 days of quoted season, coupled with average monthly snowfall of 165 cm between November and April. “In general, Swiss resorts are at high altitude and therefore more snow guaranteed. They also start the season earlier than those in France and Austria,” said the report.

Resorts in Switzerland carry a price premium. In the case of Verbier, values can reach EUR 22,400 (USD 27,536) per sqm or 80% more than the average. For a family-friendly resort, Saas Fee stands out as offering a long season with good quality snow but with comparatively lower priced property at averages of between EUR 4,000 (USD 5,010) and EUR 8,000 (USD 10, 000) per sqm.

“Verbier and The Four Valleys remains ever popular and is the destination of choice for many international buyers. Supply restrictions with the new Lex Weber law (limiting the number of second homes to no more than 20% of the total) will begin to bite in the next one to two years, once existing supply is absorbed. Upward price pressure in the leading Swiss resorts is inevitable, although there are still deals in the resale market for those that shop around,” said Rollason.

Investors looking to the market should be advised that foreign buyers are also heavily restricted on residential property purchase – just 1,500 permits are released a year, although the rules vary significantly by canton. The number of permits issued has been falling in recent years.

According to the report total costs are lowest in Switzerland, which is characterised by low transfer taxes and notaries fees (1.5% and 1.2% of property value respectively. Costs may be low in Switzerland, but entry to the market is restrictive).

AUSTRIA

To the east of Switzerland is Austria. The country’s economic performance was tempered in 2013 by ongoing austerity measures aimed at resolving the EU sovereign debt crisis, and recorded GDP growth of 0.3%. Over the last decade Austria enjoyed a period of buoyant house price growth, at a time when other Eurozone house markets were in decline.

Austrian resorts, meanwhile, have the shortest quoted seasons and relatively low levels of snowfall. Costs and property values are lowest here which can boost gross rental yields. As Europe’s biggest international visitor recipient, the country recorded steady annual growth in skier visits at a rate of 2.25% per annum since 2000.

“The number of visits is now approaching that of France, despite the fact that Austria has almost a quarter fewer resorts. Ski operators have invested heavily here in infrastructure in recent years, a strategy that seems to be paying off in maintaining a competitive edge,” said the report.

“Austria’s comparative affordability, dual seasonality, diverse culture and attractive rental returns make it the country of choice for those chasing bang for their buck. Indeed, rental returns of ski property in Austria are roughly double those of either France or Switzerland, at circa 5% – 7% gross,” said Rollason.

Kitzbuhel is the only Austrian resort included in the Savills Top 10 Ultra Prime Resorts Index where prices range from EUR 8,000 (USD 10,000) per sqm to EUR 15,000 (USD 18,585) per sqm. Kitzbuhel, a popular site for the Prince of Monaco, is known to have difficult pistes, a low altitude along with a sunny aspect so snow can be unreliable. According to Savillss report it is the most affordable of the Alpine ultra-prime resorts for property. Attracting advanced skiers, demand for property is the type that appeals to couples or groups.

For buyers seeking value, Bad Gastein and Zell am See offer lower priced property and average ski conditions, although the latter boasts a particularly strong summer season. The resort of Ischgl, also called ‘Ibiza of the Alps,’ is highlighted as one to watch. Prices here are under EUR 4,000 (USD 5,010) per sqm.

FRANCE

In its report Savills revealed that stability is returning to the French market with good opportunities for those looking to invest. Prices grew by a modest 0.5% in the second quarter of 2014, the first quarterly growth recorded since 2012.

The French ski market is still the world’s largest, supported by a large and mature domestic ski market, which accounts for 68% of ski resorts.

At the top end of the market, Courchevel continues to dominate. Prices here can reach EUR 34,200 (USD 42,375) per sqm. With access to Les Trois Vallees, one of the largest ski areas in the world, in addition to its own 150 km of pistes, it is one of the world’s most exclusive resorts. Host to six Michelin starred restaurants, the ultra-prime property here is the highest-priced in the Alps. However, buyers looking for value should consider St Gervais which is seen as an affordable alternative to better known Megeve, with property values under EUR 4,000 (USD 5010) per sqm.

“All eyes will be on Meribel next year as it takes the global stage and plays host to the World Ski Cup finals. Prices here range from EUR 8,000 (10,000) per sqm to EUR 19,000 (USD 23,541) per sqm and there is room for growth as its profile increases,” said the report.

French resorts have average season lengths, but good levels of snowfall. High-snowfall resorts such as Val d’Isere enjoy peak seasons that run in April.

Outlook

The rising popularity of freestyle skiing and growing appeal to an international market is driving the success of Alpine resorts.

According to Savills, large family-friendly resorts like Saas Fee stand out as offering a quality season (long-length, with good snowfall). Andermatt (Switzerland) stands out as another resort offering high quality ski conditions; and as a comparatively small resort it may offer expansion opportunities.

“At a national level, we anticipate further outperformance of Austrian resorts, as a growing number of EU and international buyers seek value property with fewer buying restrictions and associated costs,” said the report.

Overall, the ultra-prime Swiss and French resorts, defined as much by their non-ski offer as the quality of their pistes, will continue to appeal to the global elite, although Swiss resorts with long seasons and reliable snowfall coupled with growing number of purchasers from outside Europe may have the edge.

INVESTOR TIPS

WHERE TO INVEST?

According to Rollason, Mayrhofen and Ischgl in the Austrian Alps and Saas Fee and Grimentz in the Swiss Alps are the places to invest in now. These are forecasted to yield the most profit over the next few years.

“This is because of resort infrastructure investment/expansion and relatively affordability compared to some of the better known or bigger resorts,” said Rollason.

SUMMER REVENUE?

Zell am See in Austria and Crans Montana in Switzerland are examples of a dual season resorts and therefore a good investment during the summer season, according to Rollason.

WHO BUYS?

German and UK buyers appear to be the most active across all price ranges. According to Rollason, the Dutch prefer property in Austria.