Resort Town: The Alps

From Switzerland to France and Italy, second homes present real estate opportunities...

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In villages from Switzerland to France and Italy, storybook second homes present real-world real estate opportunities.

Picture an Alpine ski chalet, and what comes to mind may resemble an illustration in a fairy tale: a cozy timber house under a gabled roof with wide eaves. Small decorative hearts and scalloped edges are carved into the balconies; painted shutters frame the windows. Such gems do exist, and they sit among the most exclusive real estate offerings in the world. Surrounded by the sublime natural beauty and history of Europe’s Alps, these chalets garner interest from across the globe. The lifestyle of hosting ski holidays with family and friends is as revered as the chalet market’s attractive long-term capital investment return and potential rental income.

“The French Alps have started to attract a lot of interest from people who are not skiers but looking at it as an investment opportunity,” says Roddy

Aris, a senior negotiator for Knight Frank. The Wall Street Journal reported last October that, according to Knight Frank residential research, investing in Courchevel 1850 can generate a 6.7 percent annual return on investment. “Tight supply and controlled development throughout the European Alps mean luxury homes in quality resorts will always be good long-term investments,” says John Hagelin, director of Signature Residences Worldwide, a luxury real estate firm based in London.

A traditional, authentic chalet built of local wood and stone is perennially the most desirable. Architectural design can be limited by strict building codes, but top listings feature highly customized interiors behind storybook facades. “Ideally they should be newly renovated to a very high specification, but with as many traditional features as possible,” says Hagelin. “They should include modern features such as under-floor heating, home automation, Wi-Fi, a gourmet kitchen, a spa, a home cinema, etcetera.” A small but growing number of buyers seek modern chalets with clean lines and open spaces.

Prices for high-end properties remained relatively stable throughout the economic downturn; however, the Alps were not unaffected. Italy more than France and Switzerland saw price decreases. “Demand for exclusive, upmarket properties in the Alps has seen a healthy increase during the last 12 months,” says Hagelin. Potential vacation-home buyers can begin their search on the following pages, where we review four of the finest Alpine villages across France, Italy, and Switzerland. Each is a possible setting for a second-home purchase with a storybook ending.