Don't be snow blind: Alpine homes have a summer value

French resorts are diversifying into the warmer months, allowing for greater rental income, reports Julian Knight

Hear anyone talk about the French Alps and your first thoughts are probably of the white stuff, snow, neige. Skiing and snowboarding, vin chaud and après ski is where it's at in the French Alps, yes?

No, not any more. According to the estate agent Savills, there has been a 26 per cent fall in Alpine ski tourism since 2007, as result, no doubt, of double dip recessions and financial crises. The region has had to adapt to survive – no longer reliant on a glut of tourists in a few short, not necessarily snow-bound, winter months to make their money for the year.

The French Alps is now a year-round destination and this is making its property – always a favourite with British buyers – potentially more lucrative. "The resorts used to be ghost towns in the summer, but now they buzz with holidaymakers. This provides the chance of higher rental returns," says Charles Weston Baker, the head of international residential sales at Savills.

With warmer summer months than the UK, but with lower rainfall and a cooling breeze, hiking, the most traditional of Alpine summer pastimes, has been joined by mountain biking and even the anglophile golf. And, once you add more extreme pursuits such as canyoning, paragliding and abseiling, it's easy to see why the Alps are beginning to carve a tourism niche beyond the snow.

"The Alps seems to appeal more to a younger demographic than in the past and is seen as a place for the family. That's one of the great joys of owning property, lending it to friends and family," adds Mr Weston Baker.

Property prices are still pegged to the prestige of ski resorts. Courchevel, Chamonix and the like, command some of the highest prices as do resorts over the Swiss border. Back in France, more affordable property locations – but still well established ski areas – include Morzine-Avoriaz, Meribel, Les Arc and Valmorel.

Located in Savoie, a couple of hours from Geneva airport, the village of Valmorel is next to the landmark Col de Madeleine and on a clear day Mount Blanc is visible. Club Med, one of France's biggest tourism companies, is selling 19 ski-in, ski-out chalet-apartments near to its all-inclusive resort.

The properties, which can be seen at villas-chalets.clubmed.com, start at ¤556,000 (£440,000) for two beds and go up to ¤1.3m for four beds. When in residence, owners can use the club facilities, including restaurants, bars, gym, spa and pool. It's a walkers heaven, with more than 150km of footpaths set in nearly 9,000 acres of protected countryside. Owners, like paying guests, even have the use of an onsite butler to cook breakfast and make the beds as part of the package.

The properties are available on a leaseback basis, so for the first 11 years of ownership the properties are let out by Club Med to high-end guests. In return, buyers receive a guaranteed rental return of 3 per cent and three weeks use a year.

"The idea is that owners can enjoy the privacy of their villa and dip into Club Med's all-inclusive facilities, which is ideal for families. This all-inclusive deal is a unique offering of this development," says Sylvie Ernoult, Club Med's head of villa marketing.

Leaseback has received some bad press and understandably so. Buyers have found to their cost that the guarantees are only worthwhile if the developer can follow through with its promises. After the financial crisis, large number of developers either went bust or were unable to deliver their guarantees. This wasn't just seen in Eastern Europe or less developed countries, France suffered its fair share of developer failure.

"There were problems with leaseback and people need to be alive to the risks that the guarantee is only a guarantee if the firm is strong enough to follow it through," says John Busby, a director at French Private Finance who specialises in French properties.

Big, it seems, is not only beautiful but necessary when considering buying on a leaseback basis. "Go with the big providers. The Club Med's and Pierre Vacances (P&V) of this world are massive, strong companies which should be well placed to honour their promises. Overall, people like leaseback in the Alps because it gives them the usage while the rental returns allow the investment to pay for itself," Mr Weston Baker adds.

At Club Med, for instance, the chalets are maintained for owners and materials are top drawer – essential in the often harsh Alpine environment.

There are also freehold properties available in the Alps – not tied into a leaseback arrangement – but these come at a premium as developers cannot claim the tax advantages that come with building property designed to be let out.

Savills, for instance, has just started marketing a six-apartment development in Meribel, with beautiful views over the valley and La Chapelle Notre Dame des Neiges. Ranging from two to four-beds, apartments cost from ¤720,000. P&V has a range of properties at a heady 2,000m altitude in Belle Plagne from ¤502,219, sold through athenaadvisors.co.uk.

Mortgages, although subject to quite strict criteria, are readily available in France, regardless of whether the property is bought leaseback or outright. "Mortgage rates are near record lows, with tracker products available from just 2.5 per cent and 20-year fixed rate deals at 3.75 per cent," says Mr Busby.

Generally, mortgage loan to values stand at 70 to 80 per cent. However, there is an affordability test applied to French mortgages and borrowers' total debt repayments cannot exceed a third of their income. But lenders do take account of potential rental income in their calculations.

"The best advice is to have the finance in place before you start looking. You don't want to be rejected once you have your heart set on a place. The good news is that prices are soft at the moment so serious buyers have the whip hand," Mr Busby says.

The buyers market, no doubt, is down to the euro's troubles. But buyers in France, rather than their counterparts in Spain, Italy or Greece, can be fairly sure of France's continuing place in the eurozone. British buyers have benefitted from the uncertainty because exchange rates have improved, but market jitters can strike the unwary buyer at any time.

"On average, it takes between six and eight weeks to complete a resale property purchase abroad. If you're buying off-plan this is generally elongated to 12 to 18 months. Even over just one month currency rates can change dramatically and have a real impact on the price of an overseas property," says Mark Bodega, a director at currency firm HiFX said.

One way to counter such fluctuations is to arrange a future currency contract, which allows you to buy the currency at current rates and pay after completing the purchase.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbridge Wells - £32,000

    £30000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbrid...

    Derivatives Risk Commodities Business Analyst /Market Risk

    £600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Derivatives Risk Commodities Business A...

    Power & Gas Business Analyst / Subject Matter Expert - Contract

    £600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Power & Gas Business Analyst/Subject Ma...

    Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

    £600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering