Author Archives: Gareth Jefferies

Holidays in the Alps in 2021

The ski lifts are closed to the public. Hotels only operate on room service. Restaurants are “fermé”. Customs officers are checking for skis when you drive across the French – Swiss border. There is no getting away from this, it is a tricky time for the holiday industry in the Alps.

Holidays to the continent never used to be easy. I have some evidence of this. I’ve collected a couple of books from the late 1800’s that I’ll refer to below, I’ve also raided my Grandmothers holiday snaps from 1934. Holidays were long and expensive voyages. In some respects that might make them more memorable. Keep this in mind when lamenting the current lack of conveniences.

Edward Whymper

Edward Whymper is famous for the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 on his eighth attempt. I have an early copy of his best-seller “Scrambles 1860-69”, Whymper was not a rich man, an engraver, he was first sent to the Alps on a work trip, to document an ascent by others of Mt Plevoux in the Dauphiné, in the end, the ascent failed. The French guide that had been engaged encouraged Whymper to try again, they succeeded and at 20 yrs old, a mountaineer was born. This was before photography became convenient, so these engravings were less art and more documentation. Travelling to the Alps in those days was by train and took days, the cost will have been high. Tourism was not new. The first ascent of Mont Blanc had been in 1786.

I have selected a couple of pages from Scrambles that discuss the Chamonix mountain guides.

Alfred Wills is from the same time. Maybe 10 years ahead of Whymper. Another famous Alpine tourist. He had money though, he was a famous Judge. Famous because he presided over the trial for gross indecency of Oscar Wilde. Wills bought a “chalet” near Samoens, it is still there and still in his family I believe. Way up the valley at 1350m a few kilometres walk from the road head. “Chalets de Fonts”, further up the hill, the Refuge d’Anterne is named after him. In those days Samoens was an obvious choice for a holiday, it was connected by rail into the main network. I have his book, “Wanderings” from 1853.

Below is the first page. A mention of his 4-day journey to Chamonix and like Whymper he took the opportunity to take a dig at the Chamonix guides.

My Grandmother

My Grandmother travelled extensively around Europe in the ’30s. This would have been possible thanks to her wealthy background. The first I knew of it was when visiting her before she died in 2005. She was 94 at the time and not making a whole lot of sense. I told her I was living in the Alps so she asked me where. I said it was close to the French/Swiss border. Her response was to point me towards a drawer and ask that I dig out her photo albums, saying she was sure she’d been skiing near there when she was younger. Her albums were fairly well buried, but I pulled them out and started flicking through them. The pictures were so good I assumed they were a collection of postcards. Thanks to her failed eyesight my Grandmother was unable to guide me through them. I kept turning the pages, not really believing what I was looking at until I started to recognise some of the architecture, I could see the wording on one of the hotels was in French too. And then finally I saw the Dents du Midi, when I saw them I knew it had been taken from above Morgins. Right on my doorstep. I was astounded. These images where dated 1934.

As far as I can find out, the first ski lift in Morgins was the Foilleuse, built in 1958, a single-seat chair lift

https://www.remontees-mecaniques.net/bdd/reportage-tsd3-de-la-foilleuse-wso-stadeli-lift-129.htm

And from the pictures, it was clear that “skiing” in those days meant hiking up the hills. There were no ski lifts at all. The skis were enormous and made from solid wood, the skins they attached to the bottom to give grip to allow uphill movement were made from seal skin.

I can’t help but write a few more lines about my Granny. Since her death we have had a closer look at some of her other papers, we have her passport from the time. Amongst the stamps, it is clear she made half a dozen trips to Austria, Yugoslavia and Switzerland in 1937 & 38. A very “active” time politically for those areas. We can see that she left Austria either on the 7th March 38 or the 17th March 38, so either 5 days before the Anschluss or 5 days after!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anschluss#German_troops_march_into_Austria

Beyond mentioning she drove an ambulance, Granny hadn’t spoken much about her time in the war. We found an official photo of her. The officers uniform suggests she did more than drive an ambulance. My uncle recently asked for her war record. It seems that she did indeed start out driving ambulances during the Blitz but then went on to work for various Anti-Aircraft Brigade Groups, then in 1945 she was posted to the CSDIC (Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre), Military Intelligence, where we surmise she used her German language skills (Swiss finishing school had its uses). Then towards the end of the war in August 1945 she spent 6 months in Germany with BAOR (British Army of the Rhine). This time overlapped with her time with CSDIC. Exactly what she was up to is classified. Yet another example of the modesty of her generation.

An Alpine cycling tour in 1937

Holidays in the Alps in the inter-war years were not confined to the well off. I recently came across an article written about 3 friends from Middlesbrough and Stockton-on-Tees. They were inspired to take the train to Munich and tour with their bikes through Bavaria, the Austrian Tyrol and the Dolomites. Their pictures are fabulous and can be seen on the link below. Some of these pictures and the pictures of my Granny overlap. Same place, same year!

http://drmarionb.free.fr/1937CyclingTour/Pages/16.html

I’m British and live in the UK. How long can I stay in France?

At some point, the UK and France may enter into a further agreement, or there may be a new agreement with the EU, but until then the requirements that apply for those who arrive from 2021 onwards will be those that already apply to other non-EU nationals. So you can either come for a holiday or apply for a Visa to stay longer.

I want to stay for less than 180 days a year.

From 1 January 2021, a new 90/180 rule will apply throughout the Schengen area of which most EU countries are members. This allows UK residents to spend 90 out of every 180-days in the EU. This means UK residents with second homes in France can spend 180 days a year at their French homes, but not all in one go.

I want to stay for more than 180 days a year.

Then you will need a long-stay visa costing 99€. There is a useful website that covers this:

https://france-visas.gouv.fr/en_US/web/france-visas/long-stay-visa

There are 4 categories for the visa application

  • Stay for an extended period for tourist or personal reasons
  • Carry out a professional activity; for instance, to start a new business
  • Pursue education
  • Join family members

At least 90 days before you leave the UK, you will need to apply to the French Embassy in the UK for the visa. If you are living outside of the UK, then the application should be made to the local consulate. There are Embassy offices in London, Manchester and Edinburgh, all of which can handle these applications.

For the grant of this type of visa, two important conditions apply: 

  • Sufficient financial resources 
  • Health insurance.

Test of Resources

The test of resources requires that you have resources at least equivalent to the minimum working wage (SMIC), which is €1,231 net/month in 2021, for the period of your stay (maximum one year), after which a residence permit is required.

The test is applied differently to those who are economically inactive, and to those who are proposing to run a business activity, or who will become salaried.

Retired

If you are not proposing to work, the SMIC figure is per adult in the household, although in practice a lower test may be applied. Some relaxation of the SMIC rule also operates if you own your home in France without a mortgage.

Also, if your income is below the minimum level, but you have capital resources that would enable you to live in France for a year or more, that may compensate for the lower income level.

Health insurance

You must have an insurance certificate covering all medical and hospital expenses for which you may be liable for the duration of your stay in France, as well as medical repatriation costs and expenses in the event of death. This does not seem hard to come by.

We have another blog on Brexit and buying property in France.

https://france-visas.gouv.fr/en_US/web/france-visas/long-stay-visa

Brexit and buying a property in France

Brexit and buying a property in France: Some FAQ’s

The UK’s departure from the EU has a number of consequences for British nationals buying and selling properties in France. Below we have set out some of the main changes and how we think they will impact our customers.

If I am looking to buy in France, does Brexit make it more expensive for me?

No, there are no additional costs for non-residents looking to purchase in France after 1 January 2021. Acquisition costs will remain at about 7 to 8% for an existing property and around 2.5% for a new-build home.

What changes if I want to sell my property in France?

This is where the changes are. It’s all to do with Capital Gains Tax.

Capital Gains Tax (CGT)

CGT has always been payable if your property has increased in price. Don’t forget that, if your sale attracts tax, this indicates an increase in value in your property, which is largely a positive outcome!

Primary residences are still exempt from CGT. 

If a second home has increased in value, CGT is levied on the increase. In France, there are two payments due on a capital gain, the CGT and a social levy.

The standard CGT on the sale of a property will remain at 19%. The standard social levy charge for EU residents with a second home in France is currently 7.5% but this has increased to 17.2% for British homeowners from 1 January 2021. This means the total tax now due on a capital gain will be 36.2%, up from 26.5%.

BUT a taper relief also exists for both CGT and the social levy. For CGT the rate decreases from 6 years of ownership, with no CGT due after 22 years. The social charge taper also starts at year 6 with no charge applicable after 30 years of ownership. You can see this in the table below.

To deal with these taxes, in the majority of cases, a non-EU resident selling a second home in France will be required to appoint a fiscal representative. There are exemptions where the sale price is under €150,000 or if the property has been owned for 30 years or more. The fee for this can range from 0.5% to 1% of the property’s sale price, payable out of the sale proceeds but deductible as part of the CGT calculation.

We have another blog post on the subject of how to spend more than 90 days in France.

Cycle paths in the Alps (or the lack of them)

#See the note at the bottom, it seems the council has been listening to my dreams!

I’m not talking about mountain bike tracks here. I’m talking about transport. At the moment cyclists mostly share the alpine roads with motor vehicles. On the mountain cols that can work OK. Unfortunately, as the valley roads get busier and busier tensions between the two communities rise. And before I polarise this discussion, it should be remembered that almost all the cyclists drive cars too! And some of the drivers ride bikes. So these two communities are really one community.

Between Morzine and Les Gets, my dream, nothing more at the moment © Please do not reproduce this image!

We see all the new investment being spent on skiing, on snowmaking, ski-lifts, new pistes. Not forgetting the new buildings, chalets and apartments. It’s easy to see the link between investment and return. This is not a criticism, I understand the business. We are used to seeing money being spent on new tarmac, new roads, bridges, tunnels. We don’t question this necessity. But I think we are missing a trick.

Between Morzine and Les Gets, the solid blue line exists as a gravel track. The rest is just a suggestion.

We all rely on the mountains to “provide”, we know that they offer more than just skiing. I came here 20 years ago looking for mountains (not skiing). Skiing provided the industry to pay the bills. At that time I was in the minority. Now it’s normal. Now the majority come to these valleys for the mountains. They might ski but they will also bike, run, swim, climb…the list is long. There needs to be a change of emphasis in investment to reflect this.

Cycle paths

I don’t need to state that more people are cycling on the alpine roads. It’s obvious. Many, many times more than 20 years ago. And now we have e-bikes too. Yet another explosion, and this is just the start. All across Europe, there is fantastic cycling infrastructure being created. If you have never been to the Netherlands on a bike, I recommend it. It’s another world. Even closer to home, just the other side of Lac Leman you never have to ride on a busy road. Almost no expense has been spared to keep powered and non-powered transport separate.

Wooden cycle bridge
Pont Rotary on route 5 in Switzerland, for walkers, bikes, roller skis or skates!

But it’s not just in Switzerland. France is catching up too. Near us is the mighty ViaRhona, 815km from Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) to the Mediterranean. There is still work to do around Lac Léman, but the section I rode this summer from Geneva to Lyon was either on smooth cycle tracks like the one pictured below or quiet side roads.

Pont du Lit au Roi on the Via Rhona cyle track, pretty much the “middle of nowhere”.

The bridge in the next image is due to be finished by the end of the year. Again, on the ViaRhona, it’s an investment of 1.8m€ so the cyclists can avoid a busy road. More information here https://www.savoie.fr/entre-la-balme-et-virignin and a reportage here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXCBQJwI9DI

A 170m bridge being constructed on the Via Rhona

At a departmental level there is progress being made. From Chamonix to Geneva the Véloroute Léman Mont-Blanc is progressing well. The Tour du Lac d’Annecy and Annecy to Thones too. There is more information on this dedicated website. http://veloenhautesavoie.com/plan-departemental-74-velo-voies-vertes/

The cycle tracks under construction in the Haute Savoie.

It’s not just national infrastructure either. In the Abondance valley the local municipalities have got together and linked the quiet roads from one end of the valley to the other. 20km in all. An excellent job.

Le Chemin des Bords de Dranse

It wasn’t all easy. This section of raised route clings to the side of the river valley, to avoid the main road on the other side. Unfortunately, it is not a route that is likely to attract the dedicated road cyclist. To do that it would have to have a smoother surface.

However, it is at the Municipal level that progress is much slower. There is so much more work to be done, and some very particular “pinch points”. One of the worst is from Morzine to Les Gets. Two villages only separated by 5km, but if you are a cyclist it’s a very unpleasant section. People even try and walk it, sometimes with tragic consequences. The first two pictures in this blog illustrate what could be done. It should not have to be a dream. It should be a priority. There are plenty of others. Morzine to St Jean d’Aulps, Samoens to Taninges, I could go on.

This sort of thing should not be an afterthought anymore. Cycle provision should be a priority. It does pay too. If the local municipalities prioritise this sort of infrastructure the visitors will appreciate it as much as the local inhabitants. And that is good business!

# It looks like Morzine and Les Gets municipal councils have mobilised to create something ambitious. Excellent! Have a look at this article for more information! https://c.ledauphine.com/culture-loisirs/2020/10/08/une-voie-verte-pour-securiser-les-cyclistes-entre-les-gets-et-morzine

How fast is the internet in the mountains?

We are 6 months into COVID and it seems that the main effect on the property market in the Alps is to increase demand. I’m not sure I know anyone that would have predicted that at the start. However, it seems obvious now. For those that have been thinking of escaping their homes in the city, this has been the final straw. So it is no surprise that the second question we get asked about a property we have for sale is “how fast is the internet“?

The other COVID effect is to force many people to work from home. That has helped the Alpine Property market too. Because if your home no longer has to be near your work, then you might as well live in the place that you want to spend your free time. In which case you need a good internet connection! I have been working from home in the French Alps for the last 20 years. Without a good internet connection, I can’t work at all. So I’ll share some of my experience here.

If you are looking at a property in the alps to buy then you probably want to know how good the internet is. The estate agent often won’t know. Maybe in this day and age, it should be listed in the particulars! The easiest thing to do is to ask the current owner. Unfortunately most of the time you won’t get an accurate answer. So if you are visiting the property take the time to connect to their internet and go to https://www.speedtest.net/ . Thanks to enormously secure wifi passwords, even this is easier said than done! So that leaves you with making an estimate.

Estimating internet speed.

There are various sites that you can use to check the speed of someone else’s internet. You will often need their fixed-line number. Sometimes an address is enough. https://www.degrouptest.com/ is a good start. Basically what these tests are doing is calculating how far the property is from the telephone “exchange” in the village.

Here are some examples

Property 1
central téléphonique : SEYTROUX
longueur de ligne : 1215 mètres
affaiblissement théorique : 14.01dB
état de la ligne : ACTIVE
débit maximum estimé VDSL2 : 29.3 Mb/s

Property 2
central téléphonique : SAINT‐JEAN D AULPS
longueur de ligne : 2471 mètres
affaiblissement théorique : 38.57dB
état de la ligne : ACTIVE
débit maximum estimé ADSLMAX : 5.6 Mb/s

You can see that property 2 is twice as far from the exchange as property 1. The download speed is 5x slower! That’s par for the course with broadband over telephone lines, and until fibre is installed that is where most of our internet comes from.

If you don’t have the exact address or phone number this map is quite useful. https://www.ariase.com/box/carte-couverture-internet

It simply shows houses close to the exchange in red (10-30 Mbps) or Yellow (5-10 Mbps), it worked for the test above. The first property was in the red zone and the second in the orange zone.

You could stop reading here. However if you want to know a bit more about the numbers please carry on…..

I’ll start with a glossary

  • ADSL is a type of broadband internet. If comes into the house on a telephone line.
  • Mbps (Megabits per second) is how you measure internet speed.
  • 4G is a type of mobile data connection (internet on your phone)
  • Fibre or Fibre-optic, sometimes called FTTH, this is super fast internet.
  • PING (or latency) is how fast information takes to leave your computer and then return. It is measured in ms (milliseconds)

Many of our properties have a download of around about 5 Mbps, this is normally good enough for watching a movie on Netflix and good enough for using Zoom or the like. However, if there are 5 people in the property trying to do that at the same time it will struggle.

BUT download is only half the story. You download video data to watch a movie. But to use Zoom you need to upload video too. In theory, Zoom will work at 0.5 Mbps up/down. That’s not helpful is it? We’ve thrown in UP AND DOWN. But people only ever talk of downloads. All ADSL internet (so the stuff that comes in on a phone line) downloads faster than it uploads. Usually by a factor 10x . So if you have 5 Mbps download, quite often the best upload you will get is 0.5 Mbps, just about good enough for Zoom. But only just.

Here is the speedtest result for the ADSL in my home

Which you’ll know, if you have read this far, is just enough to get by. However, there are 5 of us in this house and frequently the others are all using the internet at the same time. At which point it is nowhere near enough. I have had to add a 4G connection. With this connection my result is

Which is always good enough. You’ll see that there is another number. A Ping of 47ms. this is “latency” or more simply, this is the delay in sending and receiving the information. The higher that number the longer the pauses required when using Zoom. Anything under 150 is OK. However, it is not good enough for online gaming. the gamers would prefer a Ping of 20 or so.

4G? What’s that?

4G or even better 4G+ is the mobile phone signal. With 4G the difference between the upload and the download is only 2x. As you can see from the numbers above, using 4G improves my upload speed by 40x. If a property is struggling with internet speeds using a 4G box can be an enormous help. A number of us in Alpine Property already do this. It will depend on if you get a good mobile phone signal at your house AND if the phone company has space for you on their system. I know that in St Jean d’Aulps the available slots are full. However, in Le Biot down the road, you can still sign up for a 4G box.

Fibre? Isn’t that coming soon? Won’t it solve the issue?

Yes and Yes! Most of the Haute Savoie is due to be connected to the Fibre optic “soon”, people are being connected now (2020) but you might have to wait until 2025. Syane are undertaking the work and they have a website here https://www.syane.fr/les-projets-du-syane/le-reseau-public-fibre-optique-du-syane

They are installing fibre to the home (FTTH). The minimum download will be 100 Mbps, the maximum could be 1000 Mbps (1Gbps), upload at 50+ Mbps. Ping should be less than 20ms. So more than enough for working from home. More than enough for anything really.

When I test my eligibility they say “Vous serez éligible à la fibre entre 2019 et 2025”. This is confirmed by looking at their maps. I live in a grey zone. If you compare this map to the previous map (of current speeds) you will see that they have prioritised properties with really terrible internet. Le Biot is a good example.

Because I rely so heavily on my internet I have kept my ADSL and I have 4G too. I have added a system from OVH that combines these together. This means that if one of the connections is playing up then the other may still be enough. These are connected to one wifi signal that covers the whole house. If the children are clogging everything up I have an app that means I can prioritise my office computer. Obviously, this increases the cost somewhat,

  1. Bouygues ADSL 25€
  2. Bouygues 4G 40€
  3. ovhtelecom.fr/overthebox/ 20€
    Total 85€ /month

What if there is no ADSL and no 4G?

Then currently you are left with satellite. Which doesn’t have to be that expensive. Especially when you compare it to the amount I am paying. AND it looks like you can get some help here.

https://www.syane.fr/122-122-1-Amenagement-numerique-%3A-plan-satellite-haut-debit

This site seems to explain the situation well.

https://www.echosdunet.net/en/satellite

The problem with satellite broadband is limited data. Even the “unlimited” plans (70€/month) are capped at 100GB of data. Which for many is fine. Not for my household though. We used 600GB of data last month!

Starlink

As I write this Starlink is not yet operational. It is Elon Musk’s project to connect the entire earth to the internet without wires. This is satellite technology but without the need for a dish. They have just started testing this, so it might be operational in the next few years. It should take over from satellite broadband. It is bound to start out expensive and is most likely going to have data limits. For those who will never get connected to the main networks, this could be the ultimate answer. Take a look at the Wikipedia article for more information.

Alpine Property market report, July COVID edition!

This is my third market report since the start of the COVID crisis. Right now we have returned to some sort of normality. The mountains and lakes were the first to have restrictions lifted (May 11th) then cafe’s, bars, restaurants and hotels opened. Now pools, ski lifts and shops are open too. The border with Switzerland has been open since June 15th.

There are restrictions in place. You have to book to go to the pool, all shops have to provide a sanitising station on the way in. Most are asking that you wear a mask. Some insist some don’t. It’s a 50/50 thing around here. I’ve eaten out a few times but always sat outside. You are generally required to wear a mask as you move around a premises but it’s not required at a table. It’s always table service too. Order and pay whilst seated. As I write this some of the protocols are being adapted. One of the local pools has given up with the booking system because so few people came. So now it’s first come first served.

We’ve been keeping an eye on the flights in and out of Geneva airport. At the worst point, there was literally only a handful of passengers coming in and out. By the beginning of July that was up in the hundreds. As I write this there are about 100 flights a day coming in and out. However, that is still only a third of what they are used to.

The number of tourists in our Alpine villages has shot up this weekend. This is the week of the “quatorze Juillet“, traditionally the start of the holidays in France, and the French are making the most of a “Staycation” (it’s the same word in French), many British second homeowners are arriving by car, far fewer by aeroplane. Self-catering bookings are good. Most of the British tourists have cancelled but their place has been taken by the French.

I wrote the first report back in mid-April, you can read it here. Coronavirus COVID-19 and your Property in the Alps. Back then everything had come to a halt, the Gendarmerie were on patrol and we could only leave our homes briefly and with the correct paperwork. We carried on working from home (no change there for Alpine Property) but we could only guess what the future held.

I wrote the second report at the end of May. How is COVID affecting property prices in the Alps? At this point, we were caught between two realities. Many of the sales we had “in process” so pre-COVID sales were struggling because the buyers feared for their future and didn’t want to take on extra risk. They were either trying to reduce the price of the property they had already agreed or were looking for a way out. On the other hand, we were feeling a very significant pressure from new post-COVID buyers. New enquiries were back to normal. I wrote this market report to try and provide some facts and figures to attempt to shore up some of our crumbling sales.

This third report that I am writing (July/12) is more of the same. We have just seen a record-breaking number of enquiries in June and we are heading the same direction in July. I reported 16 agreed sales at the end of May, that number has now doubled. The average sale price and average offer prices remain the same. The only slight change is that the Francophone buyer is in the ascendancy. I say Francophone because some of them live in the UK! We have seen about 30% of our “pre-COVID” sales fall through which obviously leads to all sorts of heartache for all involved, however many of these failed sales are being quickly rescued with new post-COVID customers. It would be great to think that this is only the experience of Alpine Property. However it never works like that, I have heard similar reports from many other agents in our area.

It’s not just in the Alps either. There is a similar effect being reported in the UK, I also heard an off-the-record report from a very good source that new enquiries in June in one UK sector are easily 50% higher than usual. And that was before the announcement of a higher stamp duty ceiling!

So what of the future? We can’t be complacent. I for one appreciate the strong “confinement”, it has really brought the numbers right down in France. Of course, the numbers will go up. That is inevitable. We just hope the current measures are sufficient to keep enough of a lid on it. As far as our property market goes, the bottom line is, the French Alps is a fantastic place to live or take a holiday and that won’t change. We can’t imagine going back to another country-wide confinement. But then again, we could never have imagined being confined in the first place! I’d never have guessed we’d have carried on doing the same levels of business as usual. With that in mind, I don’t think I can make any predictions for the future!

How is COVID affecting property prices in the Alps?

Contrary to the received wisdom in the media we are not seeing a drop in demand or a reduction in prices for property in the Alps.

The popular press is predicting a drop in prices. We won’t list the articles on this subject. They certainly play well to our assumptions. And if you are in the market for a property, it plays well to your hopes! However, it is not our experience on the ground.

If you don’t have time to read on, then I will summarise our findings here. These are based on our historical record that goes back 20 years. We have increased activity on our website, and so far this month we have almost record numbers of enquiries. I say “almost” because as I write this, the month is not finished. But on the performance so far, enquiries for May 2020 could break our record. And since the beginning of our confinement, we have agreed 16 sales. Our prediction during this confinement would have been zero sales! The ratio of agreed prices to asking prices is minus 3.7%. Based on previous experience that is completely normal. Unless the property is new to the market and there seems to be other interest people will often make a lower offer than the asking price.

I’ll breakdown our 16 agreed sales here.

  • Average property price 422,750€
  • Agreed offer on average 3.7% lower than asking price.
  • Ranging from 62.000€ to 1.595m€
  • 8 Anglophone buyers (based in the UK or elsewhere)
  • 7 Francophone (mostly based in France)
  • 1 Finn

There are 2 distinguishing features of these buyers

  • 80% of them are new to us this year. Normally that would be about 50%, many of our customers spend some time looking for a property.
  • Most of them don’t need a mortgage, and therefore don’t need rental to help pay for the purchase. In fact, less than half of them see a rental return as important.

At the moment we are experiencing two types of buyers

  • Buyers in the middle of a purchase. Something they might have started last year, a long term project, they have signed the first contract and would normally be finalising the purchase at this point. COVID has destabilised these sales. The world they knew before they made the decision to buy has changed, and they are not sure about the future. Many of them are having second thoughts. Sometimes forced upon them by financial worries. Inevitably some of our sales agreed before COVID will falter and the properties will return to the market.
  • New buyers, buyers who have had the dream of an Alpine home for a while and have made the decision to take the plunge during this crisis. These sales may well be more secure. As far as these purchasers go, the world situation can only improve (and seems to be doing so).

So what is the main motivation of these new buyers? Some have suggested that they are looking for a lock-down bolthole. We don’t think that is the case. Travelling during the lockdown to a second home has been outlawed. Most (but not all!) have remained at their principal residence. We get the feeling that these “new” customers are reevaluating their lives and priorities. They are taking the opportunity to follow a dream. When you think of your own situation you might be able to emphasise with a reset of what your own aims and objectives are!

If you are interested you can see the list of properties we have recently sold on our “SOLD” property page. This is somewhat old news though. Contact us if you would like a more detailed breakdown of our sales.

Coronavirus COVID-19 and your Property in the Alps

Are people still looking to buy?

For the first few weeks of the COVID crisis, demand for property in the Alps really did stop dead. One month into the confinement, and that is not the case now. Enquiries are down, but only by about 30%; activity on our website did drop by 40% for a couple of weeks, but now it is up on the same period as last year.

Pageviews on the Alpine Property website, March/April 2020 compared to 2019.

Do we expect a drop in prices?

We went through something similar in 2008, similar but smaller. Many people will wait to see if prices drop. If you are looking for a bargain then you need to act now. During the hiatus. And people are doing just that – we have agreed 4 sales over the last week. And two of them were at the full asking price. We can feel there is plenty of demand. If you wait until everything is stable again then you might have to wait for a while.

Do we expect a rise in prices?

It is possible (but arguable) that prices will rise in the medium to long term. The various governments may print money to try to deal with COVID and the recession that follows. In the past, this has led to inflation and property prices go up when this happens. If there is an imbalance between how countries react then you will see changes in the exchange rate. If the UK prints more money than the EU then the value of sterling could fall. All this also has to be weighed against the performance of the economy.

What is Alpine-Property doing during the Pandemic?

Up until 11th May, we are in “confinement”. This means that we are all encouraged to work from home, save for essential activities that cannot be done remotely. So, for Alpine-Property, there is no change. We don’t have bricks and mortar branches. All our agents are available as usual and working from their homes. We are on hand to answer your questions and discuss your plans.

How can you view a property?

On the whole, we can’t meet anyone in person at a property. And, even if we could, it is very unlikely that anyone could travel into the area legally for this purpose. However, we do have virtual tours for the majority of our properties. And assuming a property is empty we can make a virtual tour if one is missing. Obviously you can view these tours on our website in your own time. However, we encourage appointments with our agents so that they can accompany you on a virtual walkthrough, explaining about the property as they go. Our agents are doing this every day. You can see the properties we have for sale here.

Can you start the buying process?

You can, and some people have. Most of our customers are using this time to do their research, find out what is available. Decide which ski village suits their requirements. If you would like to borrow against this purchase, speak to the mortgage companies and find out what they can offer. Discuss the areas with our agents. We have 16 agents spread across the Haute Savoie. Each one would love to talk you through why their area is the best!

Will COVID prevent a current sale from completing?

Unlikely. Though it might delay it. During the first few weeks, we had to deal with various jams at the notaires’, the banks, and with more mundane issues like arranging energy reports! All these jams are beginning to become free now. All deadlines have been extended too. Contracts aren’t going to immediately fall apart because a deadline has been breached. So this means that a sale is more likely to be delayed than stopped.

Valmorel in the Tarentaise

Valmorel is a little gem of a ski resort in the Tarentaise valley, in the Savoie department which was created in 1976. It sits at an altitude of 1,400m with skiing from 1,270m to 2,550m, offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, including Mont Blanc and the valley.
The centre is pedestrianised, giving it an authentic charm. In 2018, TripAdvisor awarded it a certificate of ‘excellence’.

Credit photos : OTVVA/Scalp

It links to Saint-François-Longchamp via the Col de la Madeleine, a well known challenge of a climb for cyclists, and, along with the resort of Doucy-Combelouvière, makes up the “Grand Domaine” which consists of 165km of downhill skiing (31 lifts), 40 kms of cross country skiing and 15kms of snowshoe tracks.

But, there is more than just skiing and snowboarding to enjoy! There is snake-gliss, a series of toboggans joined together that wiggle down the mountain, headed up by an experienced ski school instructor; fat bikes, ie. Bikes with very thick tyres that grip the snow; biathlon, why not try out this exhilarating sport and appreciate how hard it is to ski then breath in a controlled manner whilst shooting at a target; 100% electric snow mobiles for 7-12 year olds; airboarding, lie on an inflatable airbed that glides you down the mountain! So much to enjoy!

Credit photos : OTVVA/Scalp

There is an impressive line up of events during the winter season including:-

  • The Grande Odyssée (16th edition) which is THE yearly husky sledging event in Europe. This year will be its first in Valmorel. The mushers race and demonstrate their expertise. There is also the possibility of learning how to drive a sledge and trips in the sledge for kids.
  • The 5th edition of the Winter Spartan Race which is over 10 kms with 25 obstacles to be conquered – any obstacle missed = 30 burpees!!
  • 3rd edition of La Valmo-Belle, a nighttime ski touring race with 490m and 560m height differences, with a welcome buffet in a mountain restaurant at the end!
  • 6th National Paragliding (Fly & Ski) Challenge, where paragliders have to complete a number of technical challenges such as touch and fly. This is all to raise money for orphaned children of the fire service.
  • E-Wax Music Festival at the end of the season, when Valmorel becomes one giant dancefloor with multiple stages all over the resort, even at 2,000m!!

There are plenty of activities to enjoy in the summer too. There are 185kms of mountain bike trails, a 25m outdoor pool, archery, leisure park, along with many other sports such as pump track, via ferrata, canyoning, rafting, airboating, paragliding and treetop adventure course, to name but a few.

Credit photos : OTVVA/Scalp

Valmorel is a 15 minute drive from Moutiers, 2 hours from Geneva and Lyon airports and 4h15 from Paris by TGV.

We have various properties and new build programs outside of the Haute Savoie. To see the properties we have for sale in Valmorel, click on this link.

Chalet Building in the Alpes

We are often asked how much it would cost to build your own chalet. In 2014 I wrote that it would cost about 2,500 €/m² HT. Now in 2019, we quote 3000 €/m² HT (before TVA) as a benchmark. Normally we qualify this with “of course it depends on so many, factors”, such as the floor area, quality of materials and fixtures and fittings, easy of building on the site, proximity of services and things like that. And you will most likely have to pay the TVA so in the end 3600€/ m² TTC (including TVA) is a good place to start. So if you were building a 4 bedroom 140 m² chalet then a starting point would be about 500,000 € to build the chalet after you have bought the land.

Chalet du Cret near Morzine. A SIP built property

When I mention these figures to UK-based buyers that know about these things they take a sharp intake of breath. Currently, you can build houses in the UK for much less than that. Closer to 1600 €/m² and without VAT to pay either. And sometimes even less. So why the big difference? Some of my opinions follow:

  • Everything costs more in the Alps. In particular materials and more importantly labour. In fact, everything costs more in France.
  • We are not comparing like with like. The “average” chalet in the Alps is higher quality than a cheap house in the UK.
  • The build methods in the Alps are more expensive. In general the properties have concrete basements and first floors. This makes a very solid property, sometimes due to earthquake and avalanche risks it’s mandatory to build this way. It’s also just “the way it’s done”, much like in the UK houses have traditionally been built from brick or block. Plots are often sloping and require heavily engineered foundations.

There are various things you can do to reduce these costs. Taking each point one by one.

  • I’m not going to suggest importing your materials from afar or even you labour (though both these things are possible and may save money).
  • Building a cheap quality chalet is not a good idea, it would be a real shame to waste the worlds resources on building a house that won’t last.
  • Build methods, there could be money saved here. It may also bring in points one and two. I’m referring to kit chalets.

My neighbour is a carpenter and he has just built a chalet using mostly traditional techniques. The basement is concrete as are some of the first floor walls. The main frame was a kit though, the walls arrived on a lorry and ready built. He’s obviously building on a budget but doesn’t want to live in a cardboard box. His build costs will be well under 2500€/m².

Chalet Neuf Bechigne in Chatel, a traditional construction.

ECSUS Design have built a few of the chalets we have sold recently. These guys either design your property or adapt an existing design and fabricate using Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs) that are engineered and pre-cut to size to ensure an exceptionally quick method of building a highly thermally efficient chalet. The main weather-tight structure can be erected in as little as 3-4 weeks and can be easily finished by an adventurous self-builder or they can do the entire job for you. The average costs of the SIPS structure is about 450€/ m² which represents about 30% of the overall costs of a new chalet and means that a fully managed build can come in at under 3000€/m² .

I recently came across this website for what look like low cost A-frame houses. https://avrame.com/

I have listed some of my previous blogs on this subject below.

https://blog.alpine-property.com/2017/01/02/eco-building-alps/

https://blog.alpine-property.com/2014/03/18/an-eco-chalet-in-the-alps/

https://blog.alpine-property.com/2018/07/26/land-for-sale-in-the-alps/