Shopping for a chalet

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The Independent Online
To own a home on the side of a ski slope, with only a few metres of crisp snow between your front door and the ski lift, must be the dream of many a passionate skier. Skiing is, of course, an expensive sport, but if you buy a chalet or apartment in a good location you can cover your costs by letting it out when you are not there.

When deciding to go shopping for a chalet, consideration should be given to international access, how easy it is to get to the centre of the resort, the ski lifts, and the variety of skiing for all members of the family.

"In most cases, this decision is based on past holidays," says Paddy Dring of Knight Frank. "The skiing property market has remained slow during the past two years, but the strong French and Swiss francs have pushed prices downwards, which in turn has led to an increase in the number of people now considering buying a skiing property."

It is relatively easy, if you have the wherewithal, to buy a ski property in many parts of Europe;France and Andorra especially spring to mind. But buying in Switzerland can be difficult. The Swiss government restricts foreign ownership in several cantons and although allocations are made each year for a number of newly built properties to be sold to foreigners, you sometimes have to put your name down on a waiting list.

"In those cantons where it is possible for foreigners to purchase, you may only resell to another foreigner after 10 years of ownership - sometimes five years, in cases of ill health or financial distress," says Simon Malster, of Investors in Property. "In the canton of Vaud, in which Montreux and Villars are, it is proposed that these restrictions will be reduced to five and three years respectively. The vote will take place mid-November."

Simon Malster is selling a one-bedroom apartment in a very pretty chalet, Chalet l'Oree du Bois, in Barboleuse, near Villars. This is within a 15- minute walk of the telecabine that gives access to all the pistes of Villars and Les Diablerets. The apartment is carpeted, has a fully fitted kitchen, and is priced at 195,000 SFr, about pounds 97,500.

Arlette Adler, of Villas Abroad, is selling a semi-detached chalet at Les Diablerets, which has a large lounge, three bedrooms, separate studio/ granny flat and garden, for 430,000 Sfr (pounds 215,000). "Les Diablerets is a very good ski resort, only half an hour from Lake Geneva," she says. "Switzerland is no longer the most expensive place to ski as it has recently brought its rates down by at least 10 per cent, and it is now much better value, especially for family skiing. Meanwhile France has become expensive, as well as the exchange rate being bad for British visitors."

In France, Val d'Isere and Meribel remain popular. Here properties sell for between 3m and 4m FF (pounds 400,000 and pounds 540,000). At Trois Vallees prices have dropped a little, and there are plenty of resales and some bargains to be had. Here, and in the Portes du Soleil ski area, you would be looking at prices mostly over 2m FF (pounds 270,000).

At the top end of the market in Meribel, an eight-bedroom, seven-bathroom chalet which belonged to the late Sir Peter Scott is for sale. This has been on the market for a couple of years, but has recently seen a considerable price reduction, and Knight Frank and Hamptons are now offering it for pounds 1.9m.

For those without this sort of cash, a very much cheaper option would be to buy a newly built apartment at Oz-en-Oisans, a new resort 45 minutes from Grenoble. It is due to be expanded in 1997 if the new mayor agrees to a hotel being built. Here two- and three-storey chalets have been built on the slopes on the Grandes Rousses. Prices range from around pounds 40,000 for a one-bedroom apartment to pounds 110,000 for a four-bedroom flat.

"It is just as good a resort in the summer as the winter," says Charles Eyston, who is marketing the properties. "People still don't think of the Alps as a place to go in the summer, but there is plenty to do - from white-water rafting to mountain biking."

Meanwhile, in Andorra, the top resorts of Arinsal, Ordina La Massana and Soldeu (the star resort with the biggest ski terrain), business is good. Resales start at around pounds 42,000 for a one-bedroom apartment with a garage, while a small house with a garden and a chalet will sell for about pounds 125,000 to pounds 130,000.

CISA, an established construction company in Andorra, builds apartments and houses and also offers a management and letting service for those wanting to rent out their ski homes. One of their tiny studio flats, 10 minutes from Soldeu, costs around pounds 22,000, a two-bedroom flat sells for from pounds 65,000 and a large house will cost around pounds 265,000.

Investors in Property (0181-905 5511); Villas Abroad (0181-941 4499); Oz-en-Oisans (0181-394 1114); Knight Frank (0171-629 8171); Hamptons (0171- 824 8822); CISA (00376 835 228).