Spotlight: Alpine Property Market

Alpine Property Market
 
Putting the national markets in context

4 October 2016, by Paul Tostevin

The Alpine residential markets are largely driven by second home owners and investors, but also national trends

 

Located within a few hours travel of a Western European market of 400 million, the Alps boast large and well-established second home markets. The region’s resorts all have winter sports in common, but are as diverse as the countries in which they located.

FIGURE 3

Alps buyer snapshot (last 3 years)       Age distribution 2014–16

 
Figure 3

Source: Savills World Research

In general, Swiss resorts are the most expensive in which to buy property, an average 20% above the all-Alpine average. Austrian resorts have risen later on the global stage and prices are on average 28% below the Alpine mean.

Additional home buying activity in the Alps peaked prior to the global financial crisis in 2007/08. In the years that followed transaction volumes declined, but price falls were generally not realised as few owners were forced to sell.

Recovery began in 2013 supported by economic recovery in the major source markets, spurring new developments in resorts across the region.

Ski resorts tend not to follow their national markets, although policy and national housing market trends do influence them (see Figure 4). Ski property owners typically hold for the long term.

Transaction volumes are low and prices do not fluctuate as much as their city counterparts. Ninety-two percent of purchasers buy for both lifestyle and investment. Most ski property is brought for owner use for at least part of the year, but is often let out to cover running costs.

FIGURE 4

Alps in context: European housing markets

National market performance in Austria, Switzerland and France has diverged

The residential markets of Alpine resorts are driven foremost by second home purchasers and investors, but are also influenced by national trends. The chart below explores the divergent performance of Austria, Switzerland and France over the last decade.

 
Figure 4

Source: Savills World Research

Currency impact

Movement in sterling marks the biggest change for GBP buyers and sellers.

With prices broadly static in resorts across the region, international buyers and sellers have found any profit or losses dictated by currency movements.

In the wake of the UK’s EU referendum and the weakening of sterling, Swiss Alpine property has become 8.6% more costly to GBP buyers (May to Sep 2016), while French or Austrian Alpine homes have become 7.6% more expensive (see Figure 5).

This is good news for British vendors who intend to repatriate sale proceeds, but makes buying more expensive.

For US Dollar, Euro and Swiss Franc buyers, the picture is broadly unchanged. Dollar denominated buyers are in a marginally stronger position than in May of this year, the dollar up 1.1% to the euro and 0.2% to the Swiss franc.

FIGURE 5

Currency impact pre and post Brexit referendum

 
Figure 5

15th May 2016 vs 15th September 2016

Source: Savills World Research

FIGURE 6

Alpine resorts: prime prices

This map shows the range of prime residential prices in resorts across the region. The spread is wide; from exclusive St Moritz in Switzerland, the birthplace of winter tourism in the Alps (€21,200psm) to French resort Flaine, developed in the 1960s (€5,300psm).

 
Figure 6

Source: Savills World Research

 

 
Switzerland

Swiss resorts have been impacted by the recent changes in second home legislation. The Lex Weber law limits second homes to 20% of all housing stock in each municipality, effectively putting a cap on the pool of stock available.

Switzerland’s most popular resorts are affected most. Verbier, for example, is already above the cap and the final existing planning permissions are being built out. This is therefore the last season that off-plan apartments are available for foreign buyers, and in the medium term we expect to see upward pressure on prices. Prime prices per square metre currently average CHF18,000 (€16,800psm) but can be considerably higher for the best properties.

For a relatively large resort, quality hotel accommodation is limited (although the arrival of the W Hotel has helped), so rental potential is strong. In future, some smaller Swiss resorts may expect to see increased demand as foreign buyers with restricted budgets are pushed further afield. Verbier’s smaller neighbour, La Tzoumaz, offers good accessibility to the Four Valleys with affordable resale property at around CHF5,000psm (€4,600psm). Nendaz too, may benefit. It has recently added the Four Valleys Hotel and Spa to its village centre with an international school to follow. Prices for new build range from CHF10,000psm (€9,200psm).

Elsewhere, Villars and Crans- Montana are suffering from an oversupply of new property, following a glut of new development in the last five years, particularly in Crans. There are opportunities for those who shop around.

Switzerland boasts more prestigious ski resorts than any other country, a factor that has helped sustain demand in the best locations. For High Net Worth Individuals Alpine property is often a key component of a global real estate portfolio.

St Moritz tops our prime price league with prices of CHF23,000psm (€21,200psm). The first choice for global billionaires, this ski resort has been established for more than 150 years. The market is relatively illiquid and the redevelopment of La Margna hotel into luxury residences and a boutique hotel by Grace offers a rare new-build buying opportunity.

 

 
France

Demand for prime French ski resort property has traditionally been driven by British (France is the number one destination for UK skiers).

British buyers benefited from a weak euro in 2015, and were particularly active in the market. This currency advantage has since been eroded and the impact on sterling buyer volumes remains to be seen.

In the top resorts Eastern Europeans, and to a lesser extent Russians, continue to play a role. Courchevel 1850 is a favoured destination, one of the most desirable ski resorts in Europe with quality facilities and infrastructure. Activity has been concentrated in the €1-4 million bracket, though a few ultra-prime deals have taken place. The Six Senses Residences Courchevel opened last year, the first branded resort in the area, offering serviced product with extensive concierge and spa facilities.

French resorts are large and many are family friendly. Méribel is a picturesque resort with a high proportion of intermediate runs. Prime new build apartments sell for around €15,000psm.

Euro-denominated buyers, notably the Dutch and Belgians (the second two largest foreign skier groups in France), along with domestic buyers, are unaffected by exchange rates and continue to rise in importance. These buyers typically purchase at lower price points and seek value for money. Resorts priced under €5,000psm include St Gervais, offering access to the Mont Blanc ski domaine, and Les Contamines, with reliable snow at altitude.

 

 
Austria

Rising later on the international stage, Austrian ski resorts still offer value for money compared to their established Swiss and French counterparts. Austrian resorts are generally at lower altitude with shorter ski seasons readily marketing themselves as year-round destinations, in turn attracting a diverse visitor base. With ongoing infrastructure investment and growing international skier participation there is room for upward price movement.

Mayrhofen, in close proximity to Innsbruck, Salzburg and Munich is attractive to both long and short-stay visitors from the immediate region and beyond. Each spring the resort hosts the ‘Snowbombing’ music festival, now a fixture in the electronic dance music calendar, while outside the ski season Mayrhofen is a popular base for hikers, mountain bikers and paragliders. The resort taps into the short-activity based holiday markets that are in growing demand from millennials, in turn supporting demand for accommodation. In common with other Austrian resorts, prices per square metre are low, ranging from €3,300psm to €7,500psm.

Kitzbühel is the stand out ultra prime resort in Austria, although it is still at half the price of its Swiss counterparts. Infrastructure in the resort is good, the centre is pedestrianised and lift upgrades are underway. Lech is Austria’s other prime stand-out, with a much more domestic buyer profile. This is in part due to a limited amount of available stock in this small village resort.

FIGURE 7

Alpine resorts: price league:

Prime apartments and chalets, price per square metre (asking prices)

 
Figure 7

Source: Savills World Research

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Key Contacts

Yolande Barnes

Yolande Barnes

Director
World Research

Savills Margaret Street

+44 (0) 20 7409 8899

 

Paul Tostevin

Paul Tostevin

Associate Director
World Research

Savills Margaret Street

+44 (0) 20 7016 3883

 

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