Tag Archives: alpine property

French Mortgage

So you’d like to obtain a mortgage to help buy your French property? That seems reasonable, especially as rates are so low. You might have heard that the lenders have tightened up their criteria since the 2010 banking crisis. It’s true they have, though things are more reasonable now. I’ve put together a little checklist on the mortgages available as of April 2015.

chaletcrestvole_2

Mortgage types.

  • Repayment (most common)
  • Interest Only (rare and fairly short term, so no more than about 14 yrs)
  • A 50/50 combination of Interest Only and Repayment (new to the market!)
  • Mortgages periods up to 25 years and LTV (Loan to Value) 85%

Interest rates. 2.5 to 3.6%

  • 2.6-3.6% fixed
  • 2.5-3% variable
  • 2.65% interest only​

Other Mortgage requirements

You are tax resident in one of the following countries.

  • UK
  • Belgium
  • Netherlands
  • Belgium
  • Italy
  • Ireland
  • Switzerland
  • Norway
  • Germany
  • France
  • You have an “expatriate / international” contract for an international company.
  • You work on a Superyacht.

Are you mortgageable? Points in your favour.

  • The property is residential (ie non-commercial).
  • The property is habitable.
  • If you are moving to France will you earning situation remain the same?
  • Do you have a regular salaried income, on a permanent contract and are out of any trial period?
  • If you are self employed or are a owner/director, do you have at least 3 years of accounts?
  • Do you have cash that will cover the 15% deposit and the Notaires Fees and Stamp duty (so about 8%), so total cash of 23% of the purchase price.
  • Is the mortgage for more than 50,000€

Points that counts against you.

Don’t despair, these don’t always make the process impossible. Just harder!

  • Renovation properties.
  • Businesses and small hotels (catered chalets).

So f you are after a mortgage and you think you will qualify drop us a line here.

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​.

Right in the middle of St Gervais

La Comtesse development in St Gervais is, in our opinion a pretty good option for property hunters looking for something in and among it all. Set behind the church, right in the centre, owners will have a quiet location surrounded by trees and views of Mont Joly, yet with all amenities on their doorstep. In fact next door is the Sérac, a gastro restaurant that has recently obtained its first Michelin star, and very proud of them we are.

la comtesse

Within a 100 paces of La Comtesse there’s a number of banks for all your international transfers, a few locals’ bars – La Grange where you’ll meet the lifties and ski instructors or the more recent Brasserie that offer a pool table and covers sporting events; the Serac’s gourmet bistort and deli; the Mairie for all your French admin or marrying needs and the little police station where the local ‘Policiers’, who get all excited if a car breaks down in the centre of the village and who double up for lollypop duty for the school kids, reside. Ahhh, sweet rural living.

There’s also the choice of 3 supermarkets, the office de tourisme, the potters shop and the historic Haute Tour – which are fortified buildings dating back to the 13th century that can be visited and where cultural and artistic events take place. If you buy in La Comtesse, you can literally holiday in your slippers!

La Comtesse is nearing completion and the other day, they had planted the trees which will give privacy and help landscape the newly implanted building.

Only 6 apartments were ever available and there are currently only 4 left. We have just taken pictures of the insides of the apartments, which until now didn’t have bathrooms and kitchens. Yes, they still need their final clean, so you’ll spot dust on mirrors and floors and the odd ladder in the images, but have a look at the new mountain interiors with a modern twist.

For those wanting a large spacious apartment, then La Comtesse 5 is your best option

alpine-property.com/index.php?page=prop_3_aptcomtesse5

If a ground floor apartment with some outside space is your desire then No 1, 2 are still available

alpine-property.com/index.php?page=prop_3_aptcomtesse2

alpine-property.com/index.php?page=prop_3_aptcomtesse1

and finally a popular 2 bedroom arrangement (no.3) but with a private terrace can be purchased here

alpine-property.com/index.php?page=prop_3_aptcomtesse3

How to buy your Alpine Property

So you have decided to make the move? You want to buy your first property in the French Alps but you are not really sure where to start. Buying a property anywhere, even in your home country can be a daunting prospect but then added to that, you want to buy in France. This creates additional work and research to make sure you get it right first time. Here are our top three tips for making the process as painless as possible.

IMG_0294

Get your mortgage agreed in principle

The first thing to do is talk to a good mortgage provider (if like most mortals you need a mortgage) so that they can confirm how much you can afford to borrow. They should give you an in principle decision to lend. We work with the biggest provider of mortgages to non-French residents, just ask Alpine Property to put you in touch. Don’t forget to add in the Notaires fees and Stamp Duty (called Frais  de Notaire), budget on 8% for everything except off plan properties in which case it is 2.5%.

Find an Estate Agent to work with

If you don’t speak French then seek out a good local English-speaking agency. They will be on hand to go through everything with you in a language you can understand. The property and the area in which it is located can be fully explained to and you can be guided through the French property buying process, without fear that you have misunderstood something. If you are looking in the Haute Savoie then you obviously should contact Alpine Property!

Get to know the agents. Once you have made contact then arrange to meet to view some properties in person. From our website we have a Google map with all the properties marked. It would be tempting to visit using just this information! With your telephone in hand you could drive right to the door. It would be better not to do this! You’ll miss out on the nuggets of information like “this owner really needs to sell, the asking price is xx thousand euros but I spoke to him yesterday and he’ll accept a lot less”. OR “I’d like to show you this property, it’s not on the website yet but the owner has told me they want to sell”.

One of the main differences when buying in France compared to the UK is the speed at which you’ll be asked to sign the first contract. Once your offer has been accepted the next stage is to draw up a Compromis de Vente (a preliminary contract between buyer and seller) it is then difficult for the seller to sell to someone else, this stops gazumping.  At this point you’ll need to lodge a 10% deposit with the Notaire. You will also be tied into the sale so you would be well advised to add “clause suspensives” that would allow you to withdraw from the process if you fail to obtain a mortgage or if your planning permission is refused. If the buyer fails to fulfil the contract they risk losing this deposit.

Only consider buying for the longer term

Buying a property in the French Alps should be considered a long-term commitment. It is recommended that you buy only when you plan to retain the property for at least five years.  Transaction costs are high so “churning” properties is rarely cost-effective. You may need to undertake additional research if you intend to live in the area full-time or perhaps rent out your holiday home for part of the year. The cost of living in France is comparable to the UK, though some things will seem expensive (professionals fees) and some things will seem cheaper (diesel which is 20% less expensive according to my calculation in March 2014).

View lots of property in the Alps to make sure you find the chalet that is right for you and your needs and is within the location that you want it. If you want to rent it out, make sure it has all the attributes needed to be rented out easily. I’ve written on the subject of renting here. If you plan to live in it full-time, think about the lifestyle you want to lead once here in the Alps. Do you really want to be above that noisy bar in the centre of town in winter? Or in that “high-altitude” purpose built resort during the summer season?

An Eco-Chalet in the Alps

Now we have to obtain energy ratings (DPE or Diagnostic de performance énergétique) for all the properties we sell we are shown the stark reality of the amount of energy homes in the Alps use. We know it’s not a cheap place to live but of course we have to heat our homes over the long winter and that is going to cost! Take a look at the following chart for the distribution of energy ratings across our properties.

 

chartgo

 

So most of our properties are D, E or F. I’m not sure that I’d buy a car or a fridge with a rating that bad, and of course our houses cost more to run than either of those! When I see a property with an A or B rating I’m generally sceptical, I always ask our agent how they managed a rating like that and I’ve had replies like “it’s unoccupied and they convinced the assessor that it doesn’t use any energy” or try this one, “it was an E but they got the assessor back and told him to do it again and it came back as a B!” so you can see why I am a sceptic.

We’ve recently taken on a pretty little place in the Vallee Verte which has a “C” rating. As you can see even a “C” is hard to get. To give you an idea what you need to do to get a “C” we have asked the owner some fairly searching questions. He was happy to respond, not a big surprise as reducing his energy bill has been a labour of love. For comparisons sake, it houses a family of 3 in a fairly large house (4 bedrooms/168m2), is detached and at 1000m of altitude and is situated in the bottom of a valley that runs from North to South.

 

Water (not part of the DPE rating but it ought to be in this context, it’s still a resource)

Rain water and snow melt is collected from the roof in a 10,000 ltr tank. It is then filtered and used for everything. This is almost sufficient for the needs of a family of 3.  The additional costs amount to 50€ but this is mainly the standing charge.

Heating

The house is heated by two methods. An air-source heat pump and an 18kw wood burning stove. Air-source heat pumps are gaining ground on the ground-source systems (often referred to as geothermal heating) as they are less costly to fit and don’t require a large surface area of garden to bury the pipes. These air-source heating systems are a very efficient form of electric heating, you can in fact see the unit on the wall of the photo above.

The house has Solar Panels fitted which supply energy to the grid. At current prices they provide about 1100 € of income. The domestic electricity bill (heating the house, hot water, lighting) comes to 1,500€ a year, so the net cost is 400€/year.

Apparently the main wood burner is only used in really cold weather or for “effect”! Total wood usage is about 3/4 stere (a stere is 1m3 of stacked wood) which at today’s rates will cost 240/320€. I’ll take an average figure for my calculations. So total net resource costs come to about 730€/yr

As a comparison I’ll use my house, it’s not new, it’s a hotch-potch of renovations. I guess it will be an “F” on the DPE scale. The most important insulation (in the roof) was put in over 20 years ago and is not up to current norms. Only half the house has double glazing. We are a family of 5 and the property is semi-detached (4 bedrooms/150m2) at 830m altitude and faces south. Our electricity bill is 2,800€/yr, water 500€ and wood 240€. Total 3540€/yr

So a saving of 2,800€ a year is certainly worth having! Probably 10% of the average family income around here.  Even if you take the real consummation figure (so you’ll have to take off the income the Solar Panel provide) the savings are still huge (real consummation figure = 1830, so a saving over my house of 1710€).

Chalet Renovation

Liz Ockelton is married to Ed our Chatel agent. Liz has brought her professional training as a commercial and domestic interior designer in the UK over to France. She complements Ed’s work as an agent very well, so when he sells a property that needs some work then Liz is on hand to take on the job. From time to time we like to showcase her projects.

Chalet Joyeux was purchased in Chatel in 2013 for 720,000€. The chalet was bought as a second home, the owners wanted a mountain retreat for the family. The aim of the project was to open up the main living space into one large open plan area and make it have more of a cozy chalet style. The open plan living area was really important for the family who want to spend time together on holiday. Upstairs the renovations created an en-suite shower room for the parents and a large family bathroom with bath for the children.

Renovation costs – new kitchen and electrical appliances, 2 new bathrooms, all walls, floors and ceilings in the living space, lighting throughout, old wood interior doors. APPROX 80,000€ and then full furnishing throughout at an additional APPROX 40,000€.

The design research works started in mid Oct when the chalet sale completed. The building works on site took 4 weeks start to finish. All finished in time for the Christmas holidays. All work was completed by local company Alpine Renovation, kitchen and bathroom and tiles all supplied by local suppliers.

Chalet in Chatel

 

Opening up the living area has created a communal space for all the family.

 

New kitchen in Chatel

 

Below are a couple of pictures of the chalet kitchen in its original state.

 

kitchen old

 

And below a before and after shot.

 

living

 

A great example of how modernising a bathroom can in bring an old chalet into the current century!

Chalet renovation in Chatel

New Chalets in St Jean d’Aulps

If you thought all building work stops in the Alps in the winter (so all the tradesmen can go off to their second jobs as ski instructors), then think again. It is still the case on a small-scale but in general the tradesmen try to keep working all year around. The idea is to make a structure waterproof so work can carry on inside during the winter months. As an example have a look at this development of the Chalets des Cimes project, it has been continuing throughout this winter in sight of the pistes. The developer has just sent me these photos.

chalets in st jean d'aulps

This is my favourite as you can see the piste and the ski lift in the background.

These chalets are excellent quality. Note the copper guttering, the granite faced first floor walls (this is an option for an extra cost), the charred and brushed Douglas Pine (this means you won’t need to varnish or treat the wood). I wrote an article where I mentioned the quality of chalets we see in the Alps and how it’s hard to compare with a cheap build in the UK. These chalets are a good example of this.

Don’t forget that these chalets are at the base of the piste at La Grande Terche (Espace Roc d’Enfer), they are in the Portes du Soleil and only 20 minutes drive from the skiing in Morzine or Avoriaz.

chalets in st jean d'aulps 2

Out of the 9 that are being built, a couple of them are sold and another 2 more are “in negotiation” (as of 18/Feb/2014), we’ve listed the different types on our website here:

Les Chalets des Cîmes, No. 9 
600 000 €uros, 5 bedrooms, 144m2

Les Chalets des Cîmes, No. 3 
580 000 €uros, 4 bedrooms, 133m2

Les Chalets des Cîmes, No. 4 
550 000 €uros, 4 bedrooms, 121m2

Les Chalets des Cîmes, No. 2
525 000 €uros, 4 bedrooms, 121m2

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.

 

 

I want to run a Chalet Business in the Alps

I used to get asked this question twice a week.

“How do I start a chalet business in the Alps?”

I think 2005/6 was the peak. Everyone wanted to move to the Alps, sometimes it was 1 in 4 of the enquiries we received . There was a lull in interest from 2008 to 2011 but the question is returning now. Not to the same level but maybe once a week.

Pic de la Corne 2014

I have learnt over time that the question should really be phrased a bit better. Perhaps:

“how can I make a life in the Alps?”

would be more appropriate. I think the reason that most people assume a Chalet Business is the way to do it is because most people that have gone skiing have witnessed at first hand a chalet business. The holiday cost them €800 so the embryonic business plan started over the dinner table.

€800 x 10 people staying in the chalet = €8,000

€8,000 x 16 weeks for the season = €128,000

That sounds like a lot of money! There must be a margin there?

Obviously you need a chalet or even better a small hotel, then there are the usual bills, food and linen to pay for too but surely there is a fair living to be made? And that’s not including the summer business. Right, sign me up, where do I start?

Well I’ve been there. Now I earn my living from my full time job with Alpine Property I’ve also worked a couple of winter seasons, I did run a chalet business (mostly summer based) for 10 years and now I live in the Alps with my wife and 3 children. Surely living proof that it’s a good idea? Well “Yes” and “No”. I’m now going to give my advice. Feel free to take it with a pinch of salt!

My first bit of advice is “don’t do it”. Well don’t start the chalet business that is. Living in the Alps is a great idea! Have a look at your skills, can you carry them over to the Alps and keep working? That’ could be a possibility? And it might be better in the long term. There are plenty of people that live in the Alps and make a living here or based from here. These are the trades I know of:

Accountants, #pilots, #lawyers, journalists, IT experts, various consultants and #project managers, guides (walking / biking / climbing), ski instructors, electricians, carpenters, plasterers, plumbers, builders, bankers (in Geneva), doctors, nurses, #engineers, estate agents, interior designers, graphic designers, photographers, artists, writers, teachers, taxi drivers, hotels owners and hospitality workers….

The professions marked as # generally work away from home and use the Alps as a base. There are bound to be more, these are just the ones I know personally.

Alpine Property Team Meal 2011

Even with the various jobs I have mentioned there are some fairly thorny issues that you need to take into account. Living in another country is the main one. Of course there is the language but that isn’t half of it. The French have a different attitude to life and this should not be forgotten. In fact it’s crucial. Before I came out I read “60m Frenchman can’t be wrong”.  I read it but I didn’t really understand it. I’m still coming to terms with that 14 years later. I’ve three observations to make on this subject.

1. France loves rules. The French pretend they don’t. The state loves rules and regulations though and as far as a profession or job goes you would be well advised to find out about the rules and work within them. In contrast the UK seems to have no rules. Commerce seems to be something that anyone can try their hand at. Not so in France.

2. France is a socialist country. When labour governed in the UK (in my lifetime) they were only pretending to socialist. When Sarko was in charge in France he was only pretending to be right-wing. The fact is it costs a fortune to run a socialist country and this will need paying for. The cost of living in France seems high compared to the UK, everything costs more (almost everything) and everything in a ski resort costs more than that! It seems that in general the French are taxed considerably more that in the UK, this means that everyone needs to charge more to break even.

3. The French value their time off. Be that eating times or weekends. Never get between the French and lunch. An Anglo Saxon might find this funny but if you are French it’s deadly serious. It becomes before business. No question.

So if you don’t feel that you can carry over your current skills and you still think running a chalet is the way forward then hang on! I’ll go on to explain some of the issues and pitfalls in the next post.

PT 2, updated in Dec 2016.

New apartment development in Samoens

Les Rivières des Montagnes is a new development right next to the Grand Massif Express in Samoens. It’s a prime location that is hard to beat. 250m from the lift and a 5 minute walk from the centre of Samoens . In the summer it’s a great spot too, it’s next to the riverside path and only a short bike ride from the park and municipal swimming pool too.

near the ski lift

for sale in samoens

rivieresmontagnes4_10

rivieresmontagnes4_9

If you look at the map below you’ll clearly see the ski lift, swimming pool and edge of Samoens village centre. I’ve marked the plot in red too.

Samoens development

There are 17 apartments and a ski shop in the building. Currently there are 13 apartments left to sell (as of February 2014)

apartment samoens

We have one studio for sale 3 x 1 bedroom apartments, 3 x 2 bedroom apartments, 7 larger 2 bedroom apartments, one 3 bedroom and one 4 bedroom. I have listed them below.

#Apt 14 – studio
#Apt 4,6,9 – all 1 bedroom (#4 is SOLD)
#Apt 2,7,12 – 2 bedrooms (#7 is SOLD)
#Apt 3,5,8,10,11 – 2 bedrooms+study (#3 and #8 is SOLD)
Apt 13 – 2 bedrooms+study+store
Apt 15 – 2 bedrooms+mezz+study
#Apt 16 – 3 bedrooms + study
#Apt 17 – 4 bedrooms

#On our website

Appt. Rivières des Montagnes, 2
http://www.alpine-property.com/index.php?page=prop_1_rivieresmontagnes2

Appt 5:
http://www.alpine-property.com/index.php?page=prop_1_rivieresmontagnes3

Appt. Rivières des Montagnes, 6
http://www.alpine-property.com/index.php?page=prop_1_rivieresmontagnes4

Appt 13:
http://www.alpine-property.com/index.php?page=prop_1_rivieresmontagnes13

Appt 14
http://www.alpine-property.com/index.php?page=prop_1_rivieresmontagnes14

Appt. Rivières des Montagnes, 16
http://www.alpine-property.com/index.php?page=prop_1_rivieresmontagnes16

Appt 17:
http://www.alpine-property.com/index.php?page=prop_1_rivieresmontagnes17

The price list is available here:

Price list only

The new apartments are due to be completed by early summer 2015. That might sound like some way in the future but it’s not. Construction has just started. There will have to be a break for winter. It will restart again in the Spring of 2014, then the major works will have to be completed by the end of 2014, when you think that there are 17 apartments and a ski shop to build that’s a big job! The building will need to be watertight by the Christmas 2014 so the internal finishing can take place over the following winter for completion at the end of Spring 2015.

Here is a picture of the works up to date (Dec 2013)

Current state of the works

and the advertising sign erected on the site.

for sale board