On the slippery slopes

Forget about buying a holiday home overlooking a sun-drenched beach. Opt instead for the Alpine snows, says Tom Rowland
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The Independent Online

October and November are the best time to see a ski apartment or chalet before you buy. You view without being blinded by the romance of the winter wonderland with all of that seductive snow, and, because it is outside the peak seasons, most properties are empty so you have a clear run in viewing them.

October and November are the best time to see a ski apartment or chalet before you buy. You view without being blinded by the romance of the winter wonderland with all of that seductive snow, and, because it is outside the peak seasons, most properties are empty so you have a clear run in viewing them.

In many resorts the most common and predictable seasonal presence these days, apart from autumn drizzle, will be other purchasers from the UK. Buying accommodation in ski resorts has become a part of the investment strategy for increasing numbers of younger, relatively affluent buyers, wary of putting their money into conventional pension funds. But older couples whose children have fled the nest are increasingly buying too; a winter holiday is a big family draw.

If you are also a skiing fan, it makes very good sense; you get your ski weeks guaranteed, and rental returns will be significantly better than anything you could achieve in the UK.

On top of all that, the growth in capital values over the past few years has been as spectacular as the mountain views. "Prices have increased enormously," says Zigi Davenport, of the Alpine Apartments agency, which focuses mostly on the French Alps. "Studios that two years ago were £25,000 today cost more than £50,000 and will rent out without difficulty for £250 per week in the ski season."

Mark Pirie owns two apartments in Chamonix; the first, a second-floor 46-square-metre flat, he bought last year for £207,000. "It is amazing how many friends come out of the woodwork when they find out you have a place. I don't advertise - all my lets are by word of mouth," says the 36-year-old former army officer. He then bought a smaller studio in Cham Sud, intending to use it himself. "As an investment it has turned out much better than the bigger apartment. It cost £50,000 and I can rent it for anything between €200 to €800 [£140 to £560] a week."

Simon Malster, of the Investors in Property agency, believes Switzerland is a better bet for prospective buyers. "Some French resorts have been overrun by Brits," he says. He tips the traditional resort of Wengen, which he says offers good value. He has four new apartments on his books in the village, each with three bedrooms and an attic that could be converted to a fourth, priced at £170,000 each.

Take good advice about buying in Switzerland; the regulations are confusing, as each canton is autonomous, and each commune free to make its own decisions about what foreigners can buy and on what terms.

In fashionable - and very expensive - Verbier, foreigners are free to buy but must hold for up to 10 years. Price rises have been less frenetic than is the case in French resorts, with steady increases of five to 10 per cent a year on new-build apartments.

Access to an airport offering budget flights has a significant impact on ski chalet prices. If you're keen to buy, but put off by the high prices of the last couple of years, you might consider looking in the high pastures, slightly further away from the big resorts. Nicholas Stallwood of The French Property Shop in Ashford recommends L'Arraron, in the centre of France, where he recently sold a small chalet for £60,000. "The area is opening up enormously, it's now on the expanding motorway network and you can fly to Rodez from Stansted with Ryanair," he says.

Alpine Apartments: 01544 388 234

Investors in Property: 020 8905 5511

The French Property Shop: 01233 666 902

WHERE TO BUY A HOLIDAY AND A HOME IN ONE GO

With the increasing overlap between property-buying and holidays it was almost inevitable that some enterprising travel company would dip its toe into the property-selling market, writes Bernice Davison. Luckily for ski buffs, the latest company to do so is the ski and spa holiday specialist Erna Low, which is selling new apartments in the Arcs 1950 village at Les Arcs.

Erna Low began selling skiing packages in 1932, when a fortnight in Solden, including German lessons, cost £15. The apartments - for sale either outright or through a leaseback scheme with the developer Intrawest - start at £150,000 for studios and go up to £600,000 for four-bed flats with underground parking.

For that you buy into probably the last resort to be built in the French Alps - a year-round resort with ski-in, ski-out access to the Paradiski region with its 400kms of runs; plus you have the reassurance that your property can be managed by one of the major players in the ski holiday market - most importantly, a fully bonded tour operator.

"There is such great synergy between tourism and property," says the Erna Low chief executive Joanna Yellowlees-Bound. "The kind of clients who book our holidays are just the type who would invest in property abroad."

Erna Low Property: 020-7590 1624, www.ernalowproperty.co.uk

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