Looking to buy property in the Alps? Read this article by the Steiger & Cie team for ten top tips that will make your overall experience much quicker and easier!
10 tips for buying property in the Alps
The Alps are, quite simply, one of the most spectacular landscapes in Europe - and a great locale to explore if you are in the market for a holiday home.
For obvious reasons, the Alps will be attractive to ski enthusiasts, but a passion for the piste is by no means essential. Anyone who enjoys breathtaking scenery, fresh air, outdoor pursuits - or just the distinctive flavours of central European culture - will find plenty to love in the Alps.
Buying property can be a complicated process, with multiple factors to consider. Buying abroad adds further complications to grapple with. But although the languages and laws may be different, there are no insurmountable barriers to a dream home in the Alps. In this guide from the property experts at Steiger & Cie, we will explore the ten most effective approaches to that dream holiday property in the Alps.
1. Set your budget
Viewing properties in another country presents logistical challenges and also, of course, requires pricy flights and hotel stays - so it makes sense to narrow down those choices and limit property viewings to a manageable number.
We recommend that you start by setting your budget. Work out how much you want to spend and stick to that framework. Do your research, manage expectations, and work out what you can realistically afford. Even apartments in some of the more popular, high-end ski resorts come with sizable price tags attached.
Budgetary discipline has other benefits. For one thing, it will enable estate agents and property consultants to zero in on those properties that will be of most interest to you. It will also make for a smoother and speedier experience when that perfect property presents itself and it’s time for the finances to happen.
2. Review the Lex Koller Law
This is a must for anyone considering the purchase of property in Switzerland. Formally known (in English) as the Swiss Federal Act on Acquisition of Real Estate by Persons Abroad, the Lex Koller Law means that foreign nationals cannot purchase residential property in most areas of the country without special authorisation, unless they hold a permanent residence permit. The name is a reference to a legislator who amended the law in 1983.
Thanks to special treaties, EU citizens do not require this authorisation if they are an established resident of Switzerland - and this was, of course, the case for British citizens too before Brexit. But now British citizens must hold a permanent resident permit or Lex Koller authorisation is a necessity.
Commercial property - ie property in which business will be conducted - is exempt from this requirement. Seventeen cantons allow non-residents to purchase holiday homes without authorisation as long as they are less than 200 square metres in size.
We advise seeking legal advice from a suitably qualified professional on the Lex Koller legislation before proceeding with any purchase plans.
3. Choose a resort before choosing a property
In other words: narrow your search down to a manageable area before you begin, or - depending on your budget - you run the risk of being swamped with potential properties.
Imagine you are exploring the purchase of a property in Switzerland to pursue a passion for skiing, for example. There are 26 cantons in the country and no less than 354 ski resorts; that’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot of estate agents to deal with.
Identifying the resort first also significantly increases the chance that you will actually enjoy living in the property. The ski resorts of Switzerland can be very different places, with varying cultures, amenities and scenery. A particular resort might not be the right place for you, no matter how perfect the property seems on a screen or on paper.
You may already have particular villages or resorts in mind - but if not, enjoy some exploring and find the perfect location or locations for you, before you narrow down your search to the right property within those locations.
4. Ski apartment or ski chalet?
It won’t be news to anyone that most property purchasers interested in the Alps are ski enthusiasts. One decision such buyers may face is: ski apartment or ski chalet? Let’s look at the differences.
A chalet is, quite simply, a type of house. The word is used in the French-speaking regions of Switzerland to refer to those wooden houses with overhanging eaves so characteristic of the region. Ski chalets offer all the amenities of a spacious luxury home just a short distance from the slopes. Naturally, chalets are not a cheap option - especially those in more desirable areas.
Ski apartments represent a more affordable and compact option - one that will, perhaps, be more suitable for those without large families to cater for. Ski apartments provide finely appointed accommodation just a modest distance from all the action on the slopes.
5. Consider dual-season resorts
A dual-season resort remains open year round - or at least, during the summer as well as the winter. Instead of catering exclusively to the winter crowd, summer visitors are lured in for warmer weather activities like dining, hiking, rock climbing, or simply relaxing and enjoying the spectacular scenery.
You may like the idea of visitors and lively goings-on during the summer months, or you may prefer peace and quiet with your sunshine. You may plan to only ever visit your new property during the winter months when the ski slopes are in full swing. There is no right or wrong answer, but it is a decision you will need to make before you begin the process of purchasing property.
6. New-build or established property?
Would you be happy with a new-build property or would you prefer an established, older building? The pros and cons of each are much the same in the Alps as elsewhere in the world.
Typically, newer builds benefit from the latest housing technology and are very energy efficient - making them more cost-effective to heat: a considerable boon during the long and snowy Swiss winters. They are also much less likely to require expensive repairs or renovation. On the downside, some may cost more than older buildings, and also lack the charm and character of the latter. Many property purchasers place a considerable premium on character.
7. Understand the ongoing maintenance costs
Whether you opt for a new build or an established one, be prepared for the inevitable maintenance costs. Things will break and wear out over time. Some of this can be anticipated but some will always be unexpected. Plan for likely expenditure and ensure your budget has the flexibility to accommodate unanticipated expenses.
8. Plan ways to make money when you are not there
You may be planning to take up full time residence in your new Alpine property - but for many buyers, especially ski enthusiasts, it will be your home for a season - a holiday retreat. That means months every year when the property will be empty - or at least could be.
There is one clear way to generate revenue from your Alpine retreat while you’re away and that is renting it out. If your property is located in a dual-season resort, you should have no trouble at all finding holidaymakers seeking accommodation. It will be less straightforward if your Alpine property is found in a winter-only resort but it is certainly not impossible: you could well attract interest from adventurous travellers and holidaymakers in search of mountain scenery.
Renting your Alpine property while you’re absent will require a local rental agent, as well as a property manager to oversee day-to-day matters, so it may be sensible to include the presence of both on the list of things to check before committing to a purchase.
9. Visit the location before making your purchase
Purchasing property in a country you love and associate with fun times on holiday is inevitably exciting and it is easy to get a little carried away with glamorous photos and glossy brochures.
We urge all our clients to keep a sensible head on their shoulders and do all necessary due diligence. Part of that due diligence is visiting the location of properties of interest before signing on the dotted line and contacting your bank, even though they will have been fully assessed by your surveyor beforehand.
Pictures can only tell you so much and it is essential to see the three-dimensional reality of your chosen property to ensure it’s truly for you. The atmosphere must be right. Exactly the same goes for the surrounding village or resort.
How can we advise & what do we currently have on offer?
We at Steiger & Cie are the Swiss Alps property experts to speak to if you are in the market for a high-end home in the most Alpine of countries. Our portfolio is focused on the canton of Valais and features some of the finest properties in the ski resort of Verbier, as well as the municipalities of Zermatt and Crans-Montana.
We offer a range of property services, including purchase, design, renovation, sales and management. We can also provide our clients with bespoke concierge services.
Interested? Reach out to our team and we’ll talk you through all the exciting opportunities and perfect Alpine properties to be found in Switzerland. We’ll explain every detail and once we know just what you’re looking for we’ll send you a fully personalised property quote. Contact us today.