So you have decided you’d like a chalet in the Alps. You have chosen the area you would like to be and have made a couple of visits looking for suitable properties. Unfortunately all the chalets you look at seem to be compromised in some way; either too old, badly built, overlooked by the neighbours etc.
So that leaves….looking for land to buy!
“Why don’t we build our own?” Good question, lots of people have. Individual chalets are being built around the Alps all the time. We “just” find a bit of land and the estate agent says she can put us in touch with a good builder. She’s shown us chalets that she has had built by the same firm in the past. So “why not?”
Pro’s of building a chalet from new
- You choose the location which suits you.
- You specify everything to your requirements; from the design of the chalet to the quality of the fittings.
- You can pay in stages. Ideally you have enough put by to pay for the land, the bank should lend the rest (in theory).
- You’ll have to wait (at least) 2 years for the finished property.
- You think you will know how much it will cost before you commit, but in fact it is only an educated guess.
- You think the builders will do a good job (because they have been recommended to you) but in fact it’s more “hope”.
- If you change your mind and want to pull out half way though you’ll be left with an unfinished chalet. Worth only slightly more than the original piece of land. Full value will not be realised until it is finished.
- You will be working in French, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t speak French but if you don’t the project will cost you more thanks to inefficient decision making and poor communication.
OK, so in my list there are more Con’s that Pro’s, this is deliberate, you know this is not for the faint-hearted don’t you?
Choosing The Land.
What will the chalet be used for? A permanent residence / holiday home / rental investment? The answers to these questions are crucial in choosing the correct location. Alpine Property has 15 or so plots of land for sale. This includes examples of good locations for each use.
The key point is that there will need to be some compromises made when looking for the plot on which to build your “dream” if the price of the land is to remain reasonable.
A permanent residence doesn’t have to be close to the slopes and bars, it can be out of town. It would be good if it were reasonably large to allow you to build a decent sized home for your family.
An investment property doesn’t have to be on a large, sunny plot, it can be shady with a small garden, as long as it has good access to the skiing.
It is interesting to watch locals choosing land. They frequently prioritise sun exposure when making their decisions. This comes from generations of experience of the mountain winters.
The Locals Will Say:
South facing is good. Some south-facing slope is excellent, it means the land will act as a solar panel allowing the sun to warm the house and surrounds. I live on flat land, it’s great for the kids, 50m away the slope starts, all the houses there lose their frost and snow earlier than I do. There is only 50m in it!
Beware of frost hollows and the bottom of valleys, cold air sinks and when there is no wind it stays! For days sometimes. Frost hollows are easy to spot in the winter but harder to identify in the summer.
Look around you, where does the sun track through the sky? Carry a compass. Is the sun blocked by the alp on the other side of the valley? Is it blocked by trees on the neighbours land (you may be able to apply to have these cut down) or is it blocked by the neighbour?
Think about the access, although you cannot be held to ransom by neighbours trying to prevent access to your land you might have to go to court to secure access rights. Though saying this it would be rare to find a plot for sale with access issues. We certainly would not advertise a plot that had no access. How steep will the access road have to be? How wide will the planners demand that it should be?
So, you have visited the land and you like it. What do you do next?
Ask the estate agent some questions.:
- Have you got a land plan (bornage)?
- Can we walk the perimeter?
- Please show me the access.
- Where are these main drains that you have mentioned in the particulars?
- What are the environmental hazards here?
- What “zone” is the land in?
- Do you know what sort of chalet I could build? The size? How high? What distance from the neighbours?
It’s quite possible that towards the end of the conversation your estate agent might not have the answers to hand. They are easily obtained, this can normally be done straight away. Ask your agent to accompany you to the local planning office, it will be situated in the local Mairie. They will be able to provide you with all the bits of paper you need, including the planning regulations that refer to this particular plot of land. It is quite possible the planning office could be very helpful and may raise issues the estate agent is not aware of.
To give you an example of the sort of issues you will encounter, consider the “zoning”. For instance a common zone is “UC”. To determine how large a chalet you can build, you must ask for the CES (coefficient emprise au sol) for the zone. As an example the CES is could be 0.2. It can be much higher in centre of town situations allowing for denser housing. You must multiply the size of the constructible land available by the relevant COS. So for land of 1000m2 multiply by 0.2 which means you can build a chalet with up to 200 m² of surface area, ample for 4/5 bedrooms. The regulations about this are in flux so be sure to check thoroughly what applies to you. An internet search will not cut it.
“Why isn’t all the land constructible?” You ask. The council worker chuckles and responds. “Some of the land is non constructible because it is in a risk zone, I’ll print off a map to show you the at risk areas”.
You are reminded of the fact that when it comes to environmental risks the mountains really know how to upset the apple-cart. It can be seen from this map that many plots are in a “safe” spot but still surrounded by risk from avalanches (from both sides of the valley), from flooding from the streams that run off the mountain and from rockfall and landslides too! You might decide to look at this map and run a mile. OR you can look at it and reassure yourself that your plot is in a small hamlet has been existence for over 200 years and that in those days you could trust the inhabitants of a valley to build with respect to the risks. Nowadays it is another matter. 30km away (as the crow flies) an event took place that illustrates the dangers well. The following link will take you to a long article on the subject. Well worth a read.
After everything you have learnt you decide to make an offer for the land. This is accepted on the phone the same day. Things are moving along nicely.
The estate agent announces that she would like you to sign a binding contract (a Compromis de Vente) and that for the deal to be sealed you will need to deposit with the Notaire 10% of the asking price. This is easily done as you have the cash ready to be transferred for just this occasion.
Questions and Answers
(Q). We have the money to pay for the land, we have assumed we can ask the bank to lend us the money to build the chalet. Is this assumption correct?
(A). Your estate agent helpfully offers to put you in contact with a variety of possible lenders and mortgage brokers.
(Q). You need to apply for planning permission, you are fearful that if this is not granted you will end up with a piece of grass of interest only to the cows. What can you do?
(A). You need to ask the Notaire to add a clause to the Compromis which states that you do not have to complete the sale if planning permission for your proposed chalet is rejected. In this case your deposit will be returned. Demand that this ins and outs of this clause and subsequent consequences are made clear to you by the Notaire.
(Q). How will you apply for planning permission?
(A). The estate agent offers to put you in contact with a local architect well versed in the planning procedures for the region. Time is of the essence here. Deadlines set in the Compromis must be met (you normally get 1 month for the “depot de demande”, 2 months for the “response”, 3 months for the “recours”, so 6 months total. You must try to meet them, particularly the first one, to keep your deposit safe.
Now up until this point you have been fairly impressed with how things have gone, you have made some preparations but they have been fairly minimal, within a few hours of setting foot on the land you are within a few days of having a legally binding contract that will lead to full ownership and the construction of a chalet? So why the emergency appointment? We don’t need to rush do we?
You do. A bit. You will need to get the planning process rolling as soon as you can. In theory planning permission can be granted in 3 months but in practice 6 months is the minimum required. You cannot leave your “get-out clause” in the Compromis open ended, the seller will want to insist on a time limit. This may well be 6 months. A long time from their point of view, no time at all from yours!
To get you started, here is a link to all the plots of land we currently have for sale. It’s always up to date.
We’ve just published a video on this subject too