The race is on for a place in the snow as the Swiss raise the draw­bridge

Switzer­land is turn­ing away for­eign buy­ers from some of its most pop­u­lar re­sorts, says Ni­cola Ven­ning. But there is still a way in Don’t knock the self-preser­va­tion­ist Swiss, says Emma Hart­ley. Bri­tain would do well to fol­low suit and help curb house-pri

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Chalet Shut-out -

With Switzer­land clos­ing its doors to for­eign buy­ers in Valais faster than an Olympic skier, many would-be pur­chasers are feel­ing left out in the cold. But just as there is more than one way to ski down a moun­tain, so there are al­ter­na­tive ways of still buy­ing in this pop­u­lar and risk-free coun­try.

The Swiss mora­to­rium on for­eign na­tion­als own­ing prop­erty came into force in Jan­uary this year. It is in re­sponse to surg­ing de­mand for snow-homes from for­eign na­tion­als who have been al­lowed to buy for the past six years. One of the most pop­u­lar can­tons – the Valais, home of Ver­bier and the Four Val­leys – has seen cap­i­tal ap­pre­ci­a­tion of nearly 50 per cent more than the na­tional av­er­age in the past four years and there are cur­rently al­most 1,000 out­stand­ing ap­pli­ca­tions from non­res­i­dents aiming to buy here.

In re­sponse to this, a 12-month mora­to­rium (un­til De­cem­ber) is in place on sales of sec­ond homes to non­na­tion­als in seven Valais com­munes: Bagnes (Ver­bier), Gri­mentz, Here­mence, Nen­daz, Rid­des, Val d’Il­liez and Veyson­naz, af­ter which the sit­u­a­tion will be re­viewed. “The Valais is a large can­ton; the mora­to­rium af­fects only seven com­munes. There is still de­mand for prop­erty and many won­der­ful re­sorts in which to buy,” says Andy Hawkins, of Chesterton In­ter­na­tional.

One way to buy in the Valais is through lease­back – that is, when a home is leased back by the own­ers to a man­age­ment com­pany which lets and main­tains it. Sav­ills and Alpine Homes have re­cently launched the sec­ond phase of Pra­condu, in Haute Nen­daz. The range of ski-in, skiout apart­ments come with a lease­back scheme guar­an­tee­ing a 4 per cent net guar­an­teed rental in­come for 15 years. They cost from £105,000.

Oth­er­wise, Chesterton is sell­ing eight lux­ury apart­ments, Les Chalets De Marie in Ovron­naz, which is un­touched by the re­stric­tions. South-fac­ing, with a spa, the re­sort is as pop­u­lar for its sum­mer pur­suits, as it is for ski­ing. A onebed­room apart­ment starts from £155,000. Still in the Valais, you can still buy in the fam­ily- friendly re­sort of Les Mayens De Sion. Chesterton is sell­ing five be­spoke chalets built by Alpin Chalet, the sis­ter com­pany of re­spected French builder Gros­set Janin. With a dis­tinc­tive style, com­bin­ing wide win­dows and dou­ble­height ceil­ings, prices start from £740,000.

Mean­while, the Vaud can­ton has no re­stric­tions and has some de­light­ful vil­lages. One of the most pop­u­lar is Vil­lars. “It has a name for be­ing low-key and laid-back,” says Larry Levine, of Alpine Homes. “There aren’t many English in the vil­lage – no more than 5 per cent.”

Alpine Homes and Sav­ills have 10 lux­ury apart­ments in Les Cimes, the third phase of a 72apart­ment de­vel­op­ment, on the out­skirts of Vil­lars. Prices start from about £243,000 for a one-/two-bed­room home. There are stun­ning views of the Dents du Midi moun­tain, un­der­ground park­ing, and it is a 90-minute train jour­ney from Geneva to Aigle, where you catch the 20-minute bus ride to the vil­lage.

On the vil­lage out­skirts, in an area known as the Bev­erly Hills of Vil­lars – For­mula One driver David Coulthard has a £4.5 mil­lion chalet here – is So­lalex, an Alpine Homes/Sav­ills de­vel­op­ment of 14 four-bed­room chalets with garages and Jacuzzis – though you will need a rac­ing driver’s salary to af­ford them: prices start from £1.08 mil­lion. There are stun­ning views, ski­ing on nearby Di­ablerets 3,000m glacier as well as walk­ing in the pic­turesque neigh­bour­ing val­ley Miroir de l’Ar­gen­tière.

More com­pet­i­tively priced apart­ments can be found with Over­seas Home­search, which is sell­ing two-bed­room apart­ments in Res­i­dence Le Closel and Jardin du Closel A from £275,862, in Vil­lars. Si­mon Triggs, a prop­erty con­sul­tant, bought a three­bed­room pen­t­house apart­ment in cen­tral Vil­lars with views of Mont Blanc, three years ago and it has al­ready risen in value by 30 per cent. “I love Vil­lars,” says Mr Triggs. “It’s beau­ti­ful and dual-sea­son, so the sum­mer is as good as the win­ter.”

An­other area also open to for­eign buy­ers, though still rel­a­tively un­known, is the Ger­man-speak­ing Ber­nese Ober­land, in the Berne can­ton.Chesterton is sell­ing Sun Brook – a col­lec­tion of 12 be­spoke lux­ury chalets by lo­cal de­vel­oper At Home in the Alps, in Zweisim­men, near Gs­taad. A five- minute walk from the vil­lage cen­tre and ski lifts, prices start from £500,000, with com­ple­tion next spring.

Le­gal charges are ap­prox­i­mately 4.8 per cent. In the Valais they are 3 per cent. For­eign na­tion­als can­not sell any prop­erty for 10 years. Rental yields in Vil­lars on a 60 per cent mort­gage are roughly be­tween 4.5 per cent and 5 per cent.

Alpine Homes: 00 41 (0) 27 323 7777; www. alpine­home­sintl.com; Sav­ills: 020 7016 3740; www. sav­ills.com; Chesterton In­ter­na­tional: 020 7201 2070; www.chesterton-in­ter­na­tional.com; Over­seas Home­search: 0800 6520 769; www. over­seashome­search.co.uk

To Bri­tish ears, the mora­to­rium on for­eign buy­ers im­posed in parts of the Swiss can­ton of Valais sounds pretty dra­co­nian. But looked at from their end, it makes sense.

Per­haps we could learn some­thing from the Swiss about plan­ning and eco­nomic sus­tain­abil­ity, es­pe­cially in the hous­ing mar­ket. Many ar­gue, and I am one of them, that Bri­tain suf­fers from the kind of prob­lem that they are try­ing to solve: house-price in­fla­tion and rural dev­as­ta­tion caused by high num­bers of sec­ond-home own­ers. This prob­lem is also known as “cold-bed” syn­drome.

Why do I be­lieve this? My first job af­ter col­lege was in Corn­wall and I re­mem­ber sit­ting in a car in Rock, on a filthy win­ter’s day in 1995, un­able to be­lieve I’d both­ered to go there. It was the most fash­ion­able of West Coun­try re­sorts and, off-sea­son, it was im­pos­si­ble to buy a cup of tea, let alone lunch. In the longer term the mis­match be­tween the cost of ac­com­mo­da­tion and my cub re­porter’s wage made it im­pos­si­ble to re­main in the county.

So when Ver­bier, in Valais, be­came sim­i­larly fash­ion­able alarm bells rang. Over the past cou­ple of years, a Bri­tish horde, washed there on an eco­nomic tide, has poured over the moun­tains look­ing for some­where to spend its money: the in­ter­est has been such that an es­ti­mated half of all wouldbe buy­ers in Valais are now from Bri­tain. To reg­u­late the num­bers, the Swiss can­ton has a sys­tem of per­mits – only 310 for­eign buy­ers a year, with a back­log now in four fig­ures. The mora­to­rium is in part to work through this back­log.

Philippe Lan­delle, of be­spoke chalet de­vel­op­ers Alpin Chalet, ex­plains: “If you are a Swiss cit­i­zen, you can buy any­thing you like. But for­eign­ers are re­stricted to own­ing 1,000 square me­tres of land, of which only 200 can be liv­ing space. Bal­conies and swim­ming pools are counted as one third of their ac­tual size and if there are sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of the same fam­ily hop­ing to buy to­gether, ex­cep­tions can be made.

“It is still highly pos­si­ble to buy in Valais – there are more than 90 com­munes un­af­fected by the mora­to­rium. If you want to live, get a job, start a busi­ness, send your chil­dren to the schools, ap­pre­ci­ate the qual­ity of life or the tax ad­van­tages of be­ing a pen­sioner here – that’s fine. No prob­lem.

“But if you want to build a sec­ond home, you have to demon­strate that you will con­trib­ute to the lo­cal econ­omy. You must agree to run it as a busi­ness ‘with ser­vice’ and per­suade the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties that it will be suc­cess­ful. ‘With ser­vice’ means em­ploy­ing clean­ers, cooks and laun­dry ser­vice. You must rent it out and this is to pre­vent what we call ‘cold beds’.”

I come from Nor­folk, and I see this same “cold bed” syn­drome hap­pen­ing in the north of the county. It’s what drives house prices be­yond the reach of so many young peo­ple in rural ar­eas, and has made en­claves in Corn­wall (and other parts of Bri­tain) eco­nom­i­cally in­ert. The con­se­quences in­clude low wages, closed schools and ex-post of­fices.

In Valais over­all, 35 per cent of prop­er­ties are now sec­ond homes – far more in the ar­eas af­fected by the mora­to­rium – and prices have risen by nearly 50 per cent above the Swiss av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tish es­tate agency Sav­ills. This is pos­si­ble partly be­cause of our easy­go­ing approach to credit that is for­eign to the Swiss.

Whereas they have to pay 20 per cent of the value of a prop­erty at the out­set and of­ten, in fact, buy out­right, we don’t. This con­trib­utes to our our own house-price in­fla­tion here in Bri­tain and, the Swiss ar­gue, is con­tribut­ing to theirs.

The Swiss, with their stead­fast re­fusal to join the EU, are uniquely able to re­sist our eco­nomic blan­dish­ments be­cause they con­sider their so­cial de­vel­op­ments care­fully. They know how this story ends and – let’s face it – they don’t need the cash enough to make the dis­rup­tion worth­while.

In­evitably, this makes a Swiss hol­i­day home more of a prize for those who can’t man­age with­out one and has the knock-on ef­fect of push­ing up prices for those who al­ready own in Switzer­land – mainly the Swiss, who have turned look­ing af­ter num­ber one into a po­lit­i­cal art form.

But there is a logic and so­phis­ti­ca­tion to their wellthough­t-out, lo­cally based and grad­u­al­ist approach that throws our messy at­tempts to tan­gle with the same prob­lems into stark re­lief.

The mora­to­rium in Valais was an­nounced un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally swiftly by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment be­fore Christ­mas; it was im­posed in Jan­uary, and took many by sur­prise. Ini­tially, it will last a year and there has been talk of it be­ing ex­tended na­tion­wide, al­though so far there has been no of­fi­cial re­sponse from cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

“We are hop­ing that Berne will change its in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the law to bring it more into line with our­selves,” said Jean René Fourniere, the Valais can­ton’s fi­nance min­is­ter.

“But in Switzer­land, if you want to change the law, it takes three or four years.”

Ul­ti­mately, the dif­fer­ences be­tween the Swiss approach and the Bri­tish are deep and cul­tural, rather than eco­nomic. Our plan­ning sys­tem is such that even if we wanted to do some­thing about the prob­lem, our lo­cal politi­cians wouldn’t have the tools, be­cause that’s not how our ver­sion of democ­racy works.

We have made our cold bed, so to speak, and our cul­tural mores de­mand that we lie in it. It is messy and mud­dled — but per­haps it is not all bad. Adrian Strittmat­ter, a Swiss na­tional in his early thir­ties who works in the Lon­don prop­erty mar­ket, is an an­glophile who sees the up-side.

“In Switzer­land, prop­erty is re­garded as a lux­ury. Most peo­ple rent from the same com­pa­nies that de­vel­oped their build­ings in the first place and the pace of change is very slow,” he says.

“While this makes the place at­trac­tive if your main con­cern is sta­bil­ity, Switzer­land is also in­cred­i­bly bor­ing for young peo­ple and it has one of the high­est sui­cide rates in the world. Here you rush into your laws, get them wrong and then mess up even worse try­ing to fix it. And it doesn’t mat­ter! That’s why I love Bri­tain.”

‘Did David Has­sel­hoff End the Cold War? 50 facts you need to know: Europe’ by Emma Hart­ley (Icon, £7.99)

Alpin Chalet has sev­eral chalets avail­able in Valais, start­ing from about £250,000. It can also pro­vide de­tailed help on how to con­form to Switzer­land’s com­plex rules on where and how to buy. De­tails: www.alpin­chalet.ch (00 41 27 329 05 62) or Chesterton In­ter­na­tional (020 7201 2070; www.chester­ton­in­ter­na­tional.com).

Open to of­fers: Grindel­wald (above), in the Ber­nese Ober­land, has es­caped the ban on sales to for­eign buy­ers. Be­low left, happy cus­tomer David Coulthard

Ready and wait­ing: homes for sale in­clude those at So­lalex, Vil­lars, through Alpine Homes/ Sav­ills (main) and, left to right: Les Chalets de Marie, Ovron­naz (Chesterton In­ter­na­tional); Res­i­dence Le Closel, Vaud (Over­seas Home­search); and Res­i­dence Les Cimes, Vil­lars-Gryon (Alpine Homes/Sav­ills)

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