With ‘Summer in the Alps’ flourishing during lockdown, the Swiss Alps continues to offer a safe sanctuary for buyers and seasoned investors seeking an alpine home for winter too. Founder of Alpine Homes, Larry Levene, explains what the property market has been like in the Swiss mountains over the last few months and what he expects for the upcoming ski season.
How active was the Swiss Alps property market during the summer, despite lockdown?
Once lockdown measures started to ease and physical viewings could happen again, we saw a big increase in active Swiss Alps buyers looking for alpine homes during the summer. In June, the highest proportion of our enquiries came from Switzerland, Holland, Germany and the United Kingdom, and from early July, when it was announced that UK travellers didn’t need to quarantine once returning from Switzerland, British enquiries rose even further. Consequently, we had one of the best summers we have ever had, with 70% of clients who visited us during July and August making an offer.
Are alpine buyers visiting now?
Despite concerns of another rise in new coronavirus cases across the world, we are still receiving good interest from various nationalities for alpine homes, most of whom are hoping to find something that they can start to use as soon as possible. Currently, the Swiss are our biggest buyers, followed by the Dutch and Belgians. However, with evidence of the impending ‘second wave’ combined with uncertainty over the UK economy and needing to self-isolate once back home, most British buyers have stopped visiting the Swiss Alps for the time being. They still very much plan to purchase an alpine property in the near future, and are taking advantage of our virtual tours, but they would rather wait until the dust settles first.
Have buyers’ requirements changed as a result of Covid-19?
The common denominator between most alpine buyers now is space, privacy and dual season. Buyers simply want more space, both inside and out. They want to be in the Alps rather than at home if there is another lockdown so that they can enjoy the clean alpine air, and they want to spend more time at their property during the warmer months, where they can entertain friends and family in a garden or on a large balcony or terrace.
The more secluded hamlets and/or smaller resorts have become very popular now as a result of Covid-19. People used to be wary of being isolated, but now they love the fact they can walk around and not bump into anybody. This is particularly important for clients who live in busy cities such as Paris, London and Berlin, who are most likely living in small apartments with little to no outside space. With people looking for more space, this has meant many buyers are now looking at Veysonnaz or Nendaz more than they did previously, because they can purchase something bigger for their budget that provides the extra space they now require, yet still have access to the slopes of Verbier next door. This is particularly true for the UK market. Owned by a British couple, Chalet Wanda is a classic example of what a UK buyer is looking for now in an alpine home.
With working remotely becoming the ‘new norm’, many of our clients have also enquired about home offices, either looking for a dedicated room or somewhere they can create a working space.
Having had their travel plans postponed from late winter/early spring to the summer due to lockdown, people have also realised the joys of being in the Swiss Alps in the warmer months as well as during the ski season. I’m not surprised. It’s a beautiful time of year, with loads of interesting events on, plenty of sunshine and array of tranquil lakes for swimming in or enjoying a picnic by. Not to mention endless outdoor options on offer to include cycling, hiking, water activities and adrenaline fuelled fun, plus wonderful views, nature and wildlife. In June for example, we had a call from a UK buyer who had read Cassandra Levene’s blog on why she loves Crans Montana in summer. He told us that he had no idea he and his family could do so many things during the summer there. I have also heard a few stories where sellers who spent the whole of lockdown in their mountain home have actually taken their properties off the market now, because they enjoyed it so much.
How expensive is it to buy a property in the Swiss Alps?
The joy of the Swiss Alps is that it doesn’t need to be expensive to buy a property – there is something for most budgets. This obviously depends on size, location and the resort itself. We are currently selling a wide range of properties on the open market, from a one bedroom apartment in Crans Montana for 277,000 CHF to a four bedroom chalet in Verbier at 8.9million CHF. We are just about to launch a new off market service for the Swiss Alps too.
Which resorts offer great value for money and why?
I would say that the resorts of Les Masses, Les Collons and Veysonnaz are very attractive at the moment. They offer the same ski domain as Nendaz and Verbier, but the property prices are much more affordable, offering much more space for your money – which has become key for buyers now.
Which properties provide the best return on investment?
There are a lot of factors to take into consideration, which is why it’s important to speak with a local agent who really understands the local markets. Generally, properties offering ski-in ski-out or boast a central location in a good resort and easy access to facilities offer an excellent return on investment. These can either be chalets or apartments, resale or new builds offering plenty of space and light, but generally they tend to be in a dual-season resort so that they can provide a rental income all year round.
However, it’s worth looking at the smaller resorts as well as the bigger ones where a lot of investment is going on to improve the area. Property prices will be lower now than in a few years’ time where a good return on investment should be seen. Such locations include Les Masses, Les Collons or Champex-Lac for example. If you look at hamlets where the demand is growing the most at the moment, you could argue that there are some great opportunities here right now because prices are lower than the equivalent property in the main resort. If those locations continue to be highly sought after as a result of Covid-19, those prices should rise accordingly – both for rental and sales.
Why is now an ideal time for buyers to purchase an alpine home in the Swiss Alps?
I put this down to security, safety and space. Even more so now with everything that has been going on, it seems like the Swiss Alps are considered a safe heaven, both for investment and wellbeing.
It’s also a lot quieter time of year when compared to winter, meaning there’s more time to speak with estate agents and it’s much easier to visit properties. Many buyers believe they should only buy an alpine home in the winter, but whilst there are many advantages to doing so, it can be quite hard to organise viewings because most of the properties are rented for skiing.
Can buyers view and purchase an alpine home virtually?
With today’s technology, you don’t need to physically see properties if you’re unable to travel, or don’t wish to due to Covid-19. Our virtual tours are a great alternative, and are proving very popular with our buyers - whether for shortlisting their favourite one’s to view physically when they can, or in some cases, to purchase without having to visit. For example, we sold a chalet in Veysonnaz to a Belgian family via a virtual tour only, and we received an offer in Verbier by a UK based buyer this way too. We do it via WhatsApp, Facetime, Zoom or Skype and are on the video call the entire time.
Are you expecting a ski season this winter?
It is very hard to predict what will happen during winter, but everybody in the Swiss Alps is intending there to be some sort of ski season here… we just don’t know what it will quite look like yet. Going skiing is undoubtedly one of the best winter holidays one can have, and so I very much doubt the coronavirus will stop people pursuing that. Things will just be a little different in order to keep everybody safe.
Alpine Homes are still expecting there to be a big demand of people looking for ski homes, especially from the Swiss as the travel restrictions will mean they probably won’t go abroad. It’s easy for the Belgians, Germans Dutch to drive here so I expect we’ll see a lot of them, and if the UK drops Switzerland from its quarantine list, more will be in here in an instant. However, this obviously all depends on where we are with Covid-19, which is why we are still offering buyers a video tour on WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype or Zoom, where we will walk round the properties with them, on hand to answer any questions they may have.
What are ski resorts doing to keep everybody safe?
Capacity has been reduced substantially across the ski resorts, masks are mandatory, and plans are already in place with how the ski lifts will be managed. I believe you won’t be able to share a lift with somebody outside of your own household, and hand sanitiser will be at all of the stations. Ski schools, restaurants, bars and so on will also be enforcing social distancing and handwashing, night clubs are shut completely, whilst bars are closing earlier than usual with many not allowing standing. All of the resorts are taking Covid-19 very seriously, putting in excellent measures to ensure the safety of everyone.
How have you changed the way in which people view properties now?
We have the ability to adapt to a lot of different situations when it comes to viewing a property physically and have put in place the necessary measures of protection and precautions to keep our buyers, sellers and colleagues safe.