Luxury property investment in Europe: Ski resorts in Switzerland and France ramp up facilities for new investors
To appeal to a new generation of skiers, resort operators are designing streamlined properties with special attention to amenities and connectivity for the digital age
The archetypal ski chalet with its sloping roof and muscular wooden beams hasn’t changed much since the chalet first became appropriated as a luxury residence for European nobility, during the Romantic Period. However, in recent years, architects have started to experiment with the design and adapt it to new lifestyles.
Amsterdam-based SeARCH architects recently designed a chalet in Anzere, Switzerland that includes bright, airy living spaces, large windows and a lift connecting all three levels.
Le Chalet Zannier in Megève, France has added panorama windows and open-plan loft-like living spaces to its chalets and wellness centre. Across the pond, architects in Aspen are re- imagining the classic American lodge, by adding large windows and terraces.
It seems that rather than being a passing style fad, the trend towards a new type of alpine home with flow- through spaces, large windows and a stronger connection to the outdoors may be indicative of broader changes to the ski market and the tastes and demands of a new generation of skiers.
A recent Alpine Spotlight Report from Savills suggests that skier demographics are shifting and that alpine resorts will need to realign their offerings to flourish in the future. “Some resorts will win by adapting and diversifying their markets, while others will suffer from shrinking skier numbers and ageing populations”, the report states.
Some resorts have already begun adapting to new demands. To cater to the digitally connected “Y” generation, for example, some ski resorts now offer free access to wifi on the lifts, as well as slopes. “In addition to updating hardware like lift infrastructure, resorts must also offer new experiences to property owners”, says Jeremy Rollason, Director of Alpine homes with Savills in London. This includes organizing cultural events and reinvesting property taxes into resort facilities such as health spas, children’s play areas and other amenities. As resorts become year-round destinations, offering summer experiences like glacier skiing, bouldering or paragliding, is a must.
The “Y generation wants a 24-hr ski and party experience”, Rollason says. “X generation were quite happy with a fondue and glass or two of Glühwein, but millennials want sophisticated wine bars, live music or celebrity DJs, internet everywhere and world class restaurants that offer all day brasserie- style food at sensible prices”.
Paying attention to lifestyle demands is important as today’s buyers largely purchase ski homes for the lifestyle perks. “Demand is driven increasingly by cash buyers with disposable income, rather than speculators looking for investments”, says Rollason.
The ski homes market is niche and characterized by relatively low volumes. Although demand at Alpine and American resorts has grown steadily since 2013, in reality, most ski homes generate a 2% to 2.5% return.
“Alpine buyers today do not expect such investments to produce huge rental returns but instead are satisfied to ensure that such an asset requires low personal maintenance so they can maximise their enjoyment”, says Alex Koch de Gooreynd, a partner at Knight Frank and director of the Swiss Property Network.
For new-build resorts, this means more emphasis on property management, amenities and an updated design aesthetic. Last year, the Six Senses Residences Courchevel made a splash, when it announced the property would come complete with a Six Senses Spa, a gym and indoor pool and private ski-in-ski-out concierge service.
The project, which bills itself as the “first fully-serviced residential development in Courchevel 1850”, includes one to three-bedroom apartments and a selection of duplex penthouses priced from USD 2.1 million to USD 13.8 million. The residences, which resemble timber- framed miniature chalets, have private wine cellars and triple aspect balconies overlooking the slopes. Interiors come in a palette of taupe and cream courtesy of designer, Alain Foiellet.
In St Moritz, Switzerland, The Grace St Moritz Apartments promises a similarly seamless lifestyle with an onsite spa fitness centre, restaurants, martini and cigar bars and 24-hr concierge. Housed in a 1906 hotel, the project is currently undergoing an extensive overhaul by Divercity Architects and Fifth Element design. The original hotel portion will retain some period Belle Époque features, while the new annex will feature 17 apartments with generous proportions and deep windows to capture the Alpine light.
Alex Koch de Gooreynd says the apartments appeal to investors because they offer a “cool, contemporary-chic style more akin to the international city market”, and combined with the customer service Grace Hotels are known for. Prices start from USD 664,500 to USD 4.4 million for a two-bedroom apartment.
Supply is limited in St Moritz, particularly for non-Swiss buyers, and Mr. Gooreynd says the strength of the Swiss Franc has not dissuaded international investors who are attracted by the strong economic environment and lifestyle. Nevertheless, currency fluctuations do affect cross- border sales. According to Savills, ski home prices have remained broadly static in resorts across the European region, and international buyers and sellers have largely found profits or losses dictated by currency movements. In 2015, a weaker Euro opened up exclusive resorts to UK buyers. Now, in the wake of the EU referendum and the weakening of Sterling, Swiss Alpine property has become 8.6% more costly to GBP buyers (May to September 2016), while French or Austrian Alpine homes have become 7.6% more expensive.
Globally, Europe continues to offer the largest number of resorts and the highest property prices. The Alps are home to 82% of the world’s largest ski resorts and attract 44% of global ski visitors annually. Courchevel 1850 and Gstaad are among the most expensive, with prices averaging USD 3,278 per sq. ft., followed closely by St Moritz.
For now, the cachet and exclusivity of owning ski homes in established resorts continues to lure wealthy buyers to Courchevel and Gstaad or Vail and Aspen over up-and-coming destinations like Niseko. This includes buyers from Asia. “We have sold to Singapore and Hong Kong nationals”, says Jeremy Rollason. “They like Verbier and Chamonix for their rich diversity of nightlife and skiing”.
However, market dynamics are set to change. By the year 2020 the world’s ski resorts are forecast to attract more than 420 million ski visits per annum, with the largest growth happening in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, including China, South Korea, Bulgaria and Kazakhstan.
Nevertheless, as long as resort developers stay on their toes and adapt to changing conditions, the future remains bright, says Rollason. “Y generation skiers are tomorrow’s ski property buyers. If they get a consistently good experience, they will return year on year and eventually buy when they sell their tech company or receive a windfall”.
This article was first published under Features in Palace 18.