Category Archives: General

Alpine Property join FNAIM

Alpine Property is now a member of the France’s Estate Agency Confederation, La Fédération Nationale de l’Immobilier or FNAIM as it is generally known. Its logo, a yellow diamond, is often seen on the doors of the traditional French high street Agence Immobiliere. You can now see the logo on the welcome page of our website.
So, why have we, an international internet based Estate Agency taken this step and why is our membership relevant to our clients?

FNAIM-Logo small

Estate Agency in France is a highly regulated and scrutinised profession. You can’t operate in France as an Estate Agen​t without the relevant licence. Once you have the relevant licence you must abide by a series of regulations or risk losing your licence, being fined or​,​ in rare cases​,​ sent to jail.

Over the last 12 months the French government has passed a new law (the Loi Alur) which extends and strengthens these regulations. This new law has been passed to increase consumer​ protection against the actions of over zealous Estate Agents. As an example, when you sign a contract agreeing to sell your house through a particular Estate Agent you now have a 14 day period in which you can change your mind.
Another example is that all properties must now be advertised inclusive of agency fees. In the past some unscrupulous agencies have advertised properties net of their fees.

And just to complete the picture, a little more context but this time about the Estate Agencies themselves. Since the advent of the internet many new agencies are now starting up on​-line, just like Alpine Property. No bricks and mortar office, just a website. In itself this poses no problem for the consumer if the operation on the ground is professional and trustworthy. However, many of these new agencies have been using their virtual existence​,​ and loopholes in the old legislation​,​ to avoid its full impact and operate unprofessionally, to the detriment of clients, both buyers and sellers. We, at Alpine Property, have become increasingly aware of this issue through our clients and have been looking to support any initiative to curb the activities of such unscrupulous agencies.

These new laws have been brought in to close the loopholes and prevent the rogue agencies from operating. They have been designed in collaboration with the FNAIM. This has been our first reason for joining the FNAIM​ – to support ​its work to make our profession more professional!

The second reason we have joined this organisation is that as members of the FNAIM we receive information and training on changes in the law which ensures that our agents are fully ​up to date on of all aspects of the law covering property transactions.

We hope that our membership of the FNAIM will assure our clients, both buyers and sellers​, of the continuing professionalism of Alpine Property​.

A refuge in the Alps

Taking time out to go and visit an Alpine Refuge could well be one of the most memorable things you can do in the Alps. I try and visit one each year with my family and these trips never fail to disappoint. In fact I’ve been visiting refuges for the last 20 years, summer and winter, manned or not, I think each has left a memory to treasure.

Refuge Vogealle, nr Samoens

Refuge Vogealle, nr Samoens

What is a refuge?

I used to call them “huts” but the term tends to confuse the uninitiated. In fact I’ve just done a quick web search and Wikipedia has a long article on the subject here the term “Refuge” is hardly mentioned. The problem with calling them Mountain Huts is this really doesn’t do them justice. Many of them are extremely well appointed with small dorms or bedrooms, inside toilets and 3 course meals served every evening. The latest ones do have hot showers too but unless they are heated via the local hot spring I won’t be using them (please see Eco Living? below).

Vogealle dorms

Sleeping arrangements at the Vogealle

Where do I sleep?

The traditional refuges have communal dorms, long sleeping platforms provided with pillows and blankets. The major downside with these is people that snore. You would be well advised to take some ear-plugs! Refuges that have been renovated in the last few years will probably have bedrooms that sleep 6/8 people. These are ideal for most groups and families and reduce the noise considerably. These more modern places may have duvets instead of blankets too. Either way, you will need to use a sheet sleeping bag.

wine in refuge

Sometimes more closely related to a high mountain hotel!

What to take?

Refuges are not hotels, but then again they are not bothies either. So what should you take? Beyond your “normal” day kit for the mountains you probably only need to take a sheet sleeping bag, either to protect the duvets and reduce the requirement for laundering or to make the itchy blankets a little more comfortable. I usually take a fresh t-shirt, socks and underwear for the evening and don’t forget most of them are at quite an altitude so the evening might be quite chilly. A torch can be essential, especially if the toilets are outside. But whatever you do, try and travel light, the less you have to carry the more you will enjoy the walk!

Bouquetin near the Refuge Presset

Bouquetin near the Refuge Presset

Which refuge?

I live in the Haute Savoie so my recommendations are based on this. In the Massif du Mont-Blanc alone there are 50 to choose from, there is loads of information on the web and a book that covers them all too. I’ll cover a few here:

The following have shortish walks so would suit families.

Refuge de Loriaz, Chamonix, old style
http://www.refuges.info/point/370/refuge-garde/aiguilles-rouges/refuge-de-loriaz/
2 hrs of walking, 680m of climbing (from the valley) or start from the dam at Emosson, same time but much easier walk.

Refuge Tinderets, near Chatel, old style
http://www.refuge-abondance.com/
1 hr, 295m, very basic, very lovely

Refuge Folly, Samoens, old style but with small dorms and fresh food.
http://refuge-du-folly.perso.neuf.fr
2hr15min, 561m, lovely spot, donkeys for the kids to play with too. These guys are running an old refuge but with excellent eco-credentials. Have a look at the “Ecologie” page on their website.

Refuge de Varan, Passy (nr Chamonix)
http://www.varan.tourdesfiz.com/
1hr45min and 520m, amazing views of Mt Blanc.

walk to Refuge Presset

Walk to Refuge Presset

These two are a little farther to walk, maybe best left to the more experienced.

Refuge de la Vogealle, 1902m, Samoens, recently renovated
http://www.refugedelavogealle.com/acces.html
3hrs15min, 950m of ascent, a really smart refuge in a great location.

Refuge de Presset, 2514m, near Beaufort (Savoie), brand new
http://refugedepresset.ffcam.fr/
A CAF (Club Alpin Francais) refuge, discounts for members. Various routes 800m of climbing, about 3hrs.

Monta Rosa Refuge, 2,795m sleeps 120 near Zermatt

Monta Rosa Refuge 2,795m sleeps 120 near Zermatt

Eco Living?

Placing a building that can accommodate up to 100 people high in the mountains will have an obvious impact on the environment. The most extreme example is the new Refuge du Gouter, at 3,835m altitude on Mt Blanc, it accommodates 120 climbers each night. There is no running water so most of it is collected as snow and melted. Although the building is covered is solar panels the energy uses by this number of people is enormous. The very latest technology is being used to mitigate the impact but the people using  the facilities need to be educated too and foregoing a hot shower for one night will go a long way! The other step forward the modern refuges have made is how they deal with the toilet facilities. Nowadays they have managed to bring the toilets inside the buildings and make them water free.  A huge advance on the old system which I won’t be describing here.

Books and games to pass the time

Books and games to pass the time

 

Swimming in the Haute Savoie

The French Alps are known for the mountains. Most of our activities involve climbing up and down the Alps, skiing, walking or biking. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the mountains make a beautiful backdrop to the many swimming and watersports opportunities too. During the short summer months the Alpine lakes and numerous outdoor swimming pools come into their own.

swimming in warm water with snow in the background

At the end of the winter I decided to enter the Traversée du Lac d’Annecy, an annual event held on the “Quinze Août” a bank holiday in France. Over 2000 people take part in various swims across the lake with distances of 1km, 2.4km and 5km. As a result this summer has been a summer of water for me. I started my training in May in Thonon les Bains. The “Thonon Plage” could be one of the best swimming pools I’ve ever been too. Even in May they have two heated pools, a 50m pool and a 25m laned training pool. The main pool is surrounded by a glass wall which creates a sun trap. The 25m pool is surrounded by hardwood decking and thanks to the lack of surrounding wall it gives the impression of an infinite pool with just Lac Leman as the backdrop. This picture was taken on a cold windy day. The pool was 28C and I had it to myself for an hour. Not bad for the entry price of 3.20€. In July an open water swim starts and finishes at the plage, the “Rives Ripaille“.

thonon plage

 Just up the road is the swimming pool at Evian, “Evian plage”, again 50m and surrounded by beautifully manicured grass. Once the lake has warmed up there is a secure swimming area in the Lac Leman too. This doesn’t happen until about July at which point the lake temperature is about 21C.  This pool is great for the kids as the (free) slide is enormous and will keep them occupied for hours. Wind direction and temperatures are available from windspots.com.

evian swimming pool

Morzine swimming pool is the most local to me. Oddly I don’t have any photos of it! There is a new (opened in 2012) 25m indoor pool and in July and August the 50m open air pool is open too. The “Club des Nageurs Morzinois” is one of the summer only swimming squads in the area. There are others nearby in Samoens, Evian and La Roche-sur-Foron. These “club estivale” only train outdoors and compete against each other for the 2 summer months. This suits many of the squad as they spend more of their year on skis! Thanks to Morzine’s new-found status as a triathlon training venue you could easily end up swimming next to the likes of  Jodie Stimpson and Alistair Brownlee. Stimpson in particular seems to have spent most of summer 2014 training around and about. Maybe it’s the altitude they like?

paddlle board on lac montiond

© reelfunmedia.com

Or perhaps it’s the Lac de Montriond? A 1km long lake just 5 minutes outside of Morzine. Quiet and thanks to its altitude (1057m) this summer it has been rather cold. Summer 2014 has not been a good summer, we have had no period of sustained heat to warm the higher mountain lakes. I’d be surprised if it made it over 15C. I swam a length in June but even with a wetsuit that was a bit of a trial.

Lac de Passy is well-known to swimmers and triathletes from Chamonix. It has hosted the Mont Blanc Triathlon for several years now. 2014 saw the first edition of the Traversée du Lac de Passy too. The water is clean and thanks to its lower altitude (550m) it often hits 23C in a warm summer.

passy lac

There is a beach, café and some miniature boats for the kids to play in.

lac passy activities

Lake Annecy is world renowned and  has plenty of beaches and access points. The most well-known is the “Plage de l’Imperial” which is surrounded by plenty of parking.  Further along the east side are beaches at Veyrier-du-lac and Menthon too. Thanks to it’s lowly height (445m), shallow sandy bottom and large surface area it’s another warm lake, the temperature of the water can be found on the web, it’s updated every couple of minutes on the annecy-meto site.  Considering it was August. This year’s Lake Annecy swim was pretty cold, even then the water was still 20C so it was better in the water than out!

lake annecy swim

Schooling in Fra

How English speaking children cope with schooling in France is a frequent discussion amongst the foreigners living here. This shouldn’t be a surprise; schooling is often a hot topic in your home country, so wondering how your children will cope with the alien environment of a French school can be doubly stressful! Choosing which school to send your kids to is not so much of an issue, (in most of the areas we deal with there is just one school to choose from) it’s how your children can get the most from that one school that needs attention.
This is my opinion, it is based on fact (I have three children aged 8, 10 and 12 years), but it should probably not be quoted as gospel. I do seem to have to express it quite frequently though so I thought I’d publish it.
14593367561_a412fe4936_z

My kids have had the (massive) advantage of being born in France. In addition to this, and unusually, we took the decision to send them to a French childminder from age 1 until school started. (This facility is heavily subsidised and in our area was organised by the local ‘Relais des Assistantes Maternelles’ or RAM). This meant that my kids pretty much learnt the two languages together. BUT both my wife and I speak only English at home and, although we have both French and UK television we tend to gravitate towards the UK TV 95% of the time.

I’m not saying this to brag, just to give you an idea of how they are doing, they are average in the class for French, in most other subjects they are slightly above average. In the primary schools many English speaking children manage to follow the curriculum without too much difficulty. However if the basics of the language aren’t mastered by the time they start collège (secondary school) at the age of 11 it can become quite an issue. We’ve done some analysis and I think some (more) of the reasons our kids cope quite well are:

* We enrolled them in as many French run clubs and holiday activities etc. as we could. Here the kids are exposed to more ‘conversational’ French than in the school environment.

* My wife is a full-time Mum and speaks good French (mostly self-taught) so can help with their homework.

* We have a tutor who comes to the house once a week to fill in the gaps.

Even with these ‘extras’ the kids just about keep their heads above water on the schooling front. You shouldn’t expect much extra help from the schools either. Some do run remedial lessons for non-French speakers but only for an hour or so per week, and there is normally no classroom assistant to help them on a daily basis. Quite often any difficulties that your child might have will just be put down to the fact that they are not a native French speaker.

In fact I was talking about this yesterday with someone from Samoëns and another from Chamonix. Apparently can get a bit frosty on occasion in the Chamonix schools, they have had to deal with too many non-French speakers and it sounds like they are getting fed up now (this wasn’t reported in Samoëns). Of particular ire was the scene of an English parent picking their kids up from school whilst dressed in ski kit. You can imagine what the teachers think. There isn’t the same hostility where I live in St Jean d’Aulps, but the proportion of English speaking children in the three primary school classes is 25%, 30% and in one class 50%! You can perhaps understand a little why the French can feel put out.

So you’ve got a couple of options to think about. Either “go native” and find somewhere “French”, or to head for somewhere like the Annecy area that caters for the bi-lingual aspect of your childs education.
Go Native
So to try and avoid other English speaking kids at school. We have witnessed many new English speakers starting school who cling on to a small group of Anglophones in the class. It’s not exactly the language “immersion” many parents imagine before coming here. It slows progress significantly. Stay on top of the situation too; it’s hard work but if the first time you discover you child is struggling at school is in their end of term report you may well have a lot of ground to cover to sort the situation out.
With this in mind here are some suggestions for the predominantly French areas in the Haute Savoie.
Le Petit Bornand and Thones in the Aravis: http://www.alpine-property.com/area/5/aravis
Possibly Samoëns but in fact, on this subject, I think you will be better off further down the valley in Taninings or Mieussy.
annecy
The Annecy Options
It could be Annecy’s proximity to Geneva but there are now several options available to relocated families with bilingual kindergarten and primary schools such as Ecole Bilingue de Haute-Savoie in Annecy and  the Mésanges Ecole Bilingue Montessori in Veigy. French secondary schools in the area are also starting to offer specialised classes  for native English speakers and gifted French kids, seeing  the benefits of having native English speakers in the school.

These developments will no doubt help families avoid having to needlessly  move back to the UK for educational reasons when their children can profit from diverse, high quality schooling in situ – and still go skiing!

You can read more about the Lake Annecy area here: http://www.alpine-property.com/area/10/lac-annecy or see a list of the properties we have for sale around the lake here: http://www.alpine-property.com/lacannecy

The bottom line is – schooling cannot be left to chance; which in fact is the same everywhere!

New Alpine Property Website

Alpine Property has recently launched v4 of the website. As usual we are keeping up with current technology and have made a website that will adapt to all the various devices that are being used nowadays. Mobile phones, tablets (big and small), laptops and massive screens too. With this milestone in mind I decided to look at our websites over the years.

To give a bit of a timescale.

  • AOL mail went online in 1993
  • Amazon in 1995
  • Hotmail in 1996
  • BBC online in 1997
  • Google in 1998
  • Facebook 2004

v1, Spring 2000 the first Alpine Property website

Built by Steve Norris (now the MD of Alpine Property) for Claudia Buttet, built and maintained with Dreamweaver. One fat finger could render the whole site useless!

2000

v2, Spring 2002

Already technology was leaving us behind so we brought in a professional database programmer and intranet master. This website was dynamically driven (Microsoft ASP), text heavy and image light. Still designed with dial-up modems in mind.

2002
v3.0, Spring 2005

We moved onto our own dedicated server, changed to PHP and designed the site with  broadband connections in mind. The same programmer did the technical stuff, the look of the site was the brainchild of Alex Lewis (our marketing man) and a big-shot in the advertising world.

2005
v3.5, Spring 2009

A mild update to the look but a massive update to the back-end, Lehman Brothers went under in September 2008 . This caused the property market to stall over the following winter. We had time on our hands so after a reappraisal of what we were doing we decided to diversify from the UK market and have everything professionally translated into French and Dutch.

2008

Winter 2012 Mobile site created

It became clear that many of our customers were accessing our website on their mobile phones. We’ve always liked to stay ahead of the game when it comes to technology so we commissioned a mobile version of our website. Designed to be super fast to cut down on roaming charges and compatible with all devices be that Apple or Android. It was very successful too. If we ever needed a low-bandwidth version of our website we’d all turn to this one!

2012

V4, Spring 2014

The way people access the web has moved on again; at is usual lightning pace! Our clients are now using mobile phones, tablets (big and small), laptops and massive screens too and the technology of websites is moving on to accommodate this. The architecture of our database has remained the same but the website needed new technology, a new programmer was brought in to apply his skills with Bootstrap to create a Responsive website. Alex Lewis came up with the base design again. In total we put 7 months work into this, exchanged over 2,000 emails, had dozens of web conferences and numerous face to face meetings, it’s also the first website we beta-tested on users before release.

New Alpine Property Website

Build your own chalet

We frequently get asked how much it will cost to build your own chalet. In general we quote 2500€/m2 as a benchmark. Sometimes we qualify this with “of course it depends on many 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. But in the end 2500€/m2 is a good place to start. So if you were building a 4 bedroom 140m2 chalet then a starting point would be 350,000 € to build the chalet after you have bought the land.

When I mention these figures to UK-based buyers that know about these things they take a sharp intake of breath. Apparently you can build houses in the UK for much less than that. Closer to 1500€/m2 I’m told and sometimes even less. So why the big difference? Some of my opinions follow:

  1. Everything costs more in the Alps. In particular materials and more importantly labour.
  2. We are not comparing like with like. The “average” chalet in the Alps is higher quality than a cheap house in the UK.
  3. 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.

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

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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 2000€/m2.

 

kit chalet in Samoens

We’ve recently been approached by a ECSUS Design, who have recently completed a chalet in Samoens and are constructing a couple more in Morzine this summer. These guys either design your home or adapt an existing design and fabricate using Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs) that are precision engineered and 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 2000€/m2. Now I can’t act as a reference for these guys but they can offer references if interested. The company is http://www.ecsusdesign.com/ and the SIPs system is http://www.tek.kingspan.com/ They supplied me with the lovely photo of the finished chalet in Samoens. I have used it to illustrate this post.

 

 

Giving your chalet a makeover

The final stages of finishing off a renovation are often overlooked, the furnishing and decorating of the newly renovated apartment or chalet is often left to the owners to undertake – a daunting enough task close to home! Many of the renovation projects managed by members of the Alpine Property team are finished off by professionals, you’d imagine that this would increase the cost even more, it doesn’t have to. Especially if you take into account the amount of time you would need to finish the job. Time better spent enjoying the finished product!

Liz Ockelton – MAKE SPACE DESIGNS (www.makespacedesigns.com) has completed a number of projects for Alpine Property. Here are some of the results.

1. Chalet Robri in Morzine.  Situated in out of the  most sought after locations in Morzine and well worth going to some effort to present in the best possible light.

1. Chalet La Roche SAMOENS – sold by Denis Barbier of Alpine Property renovations completed by MSD adding an extra bedroom and now 4 new bathrooms. The original property listing is here. A selection of photos of the updated chalet are below.

2. La Christiana MORZINE – sold by Lee Massey of Alpine Property though before it ended up on the website. Newly furnished by MSD.

3. This BONNEVAUX farm, sold by Claudia and Ed. Chalet Bonnevaux. The original listing is here, this old farm was habitable but it has now been renovated. Below are some images of the construction and renovation work.

Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc update

Here are some images from the 168km Ultra Trail race that took place last weekend in the Mont Blanc area.

Competitors left Chamonix at 4.30pm Friday and these pictures are from the first feed station in St Gervais. The earliest runners reached it in under 2 hours. Volunteers, friends and family lined the street to cheer them on, very conscious of the mental and physical challenges that lay ahead: to get through the entire night and following day, running. Just running.

After St Gervais, participants were headed for Les Contamines and then over the col de Croix de bonhomme into Italy and finally through Switzerland back to Chamonix.

 The Frenchman Xavier THEVENARD, won the race after 20:34 hours.

My friend who took part said it was the single most difficult thing she has ever done in her life. She finished after 37.58 hours, coming 11th in her category which is amazing in itself given she has only seriously taken up running a few years ago after the birth of her second child. When I saw her Sunday afternoon she was understandably beyond exhausted having had just a few hours sleep since completing the equivalent of ascending twice Mt Blanc from sea level and running 100 miles.

‘The last 10 hours of the race were brutal and no longer enjoyable’ she reckoned, as I struggled to comprehend how any of it can be undertaken for fun. My hat goes off to this busy mum of two young children, for completing this monumental event and for returning to work as a full time cardiac nurse after a day’s rest!

Next time my 10k runs drags on, I will think of her. Bravo to everyone who took part!

On of the pictures above is of David Kadunc who was came 27th overall with 25.35 hours of running.

French Mortgage rates

We’ve just had an update for the French mortgages rates with the bank we work with. The last update we received was 6 months ago in January, the rates have been coming down steadily over the last couple of years and these figures are no exception.

The new French mortgage rates we have are:

Standard variable 2.65% to 2.85%
Standard variable rates from 2.65% to 3.00% with a +1% cap
Fixed rates from 3.10% to 3.90%.

Compared to the old rates of:

Standard variable rates in capital repayment from 2,90% to 3,10%
Capped rates in capital repayment from 2,80% to 3,45%
Fixed rates from 3,80% to 4,45%

If you are interested in more information just contact us at Alpine Property and we’ll arrange for a quote.

This might be a good time to mention a couple of the new properties we have for sale. From the “high end”

Chalet Lanos near St GervaisChalet Lanos, 1.390.000€, 5 bedrooms and situated between St Gervais and Les Contaimes, click on the image above for more info.

To the more modestly priced:

diamantblanca1_2

Apartment Diamant Blanc near the skiing at St Jean d’Aulps, 2 bedrooms and 203.000€

This is the time of year where we experience peak property availability. This is combined with the cheapest time to fly into Geneva too. So if you wondered when the best time to look was- this could be it!