That’s snow business: owning property in a ski resort
PUBLISHED: 12:00 24 December 2014 | UPDATED: 11:54 28 September 2015
Fulfilling a lifelong dream to own a property in the French Alps, Tessa Regan shares her experiences of buying in a ski resort and how she still enjoys the best of all worlds
Buying a property in a French ski resort is a big decision, especially if, like me, you enjoy skiing in lots of different French resorts, and also in other countries from time to time. One way to do this and still feel you are getting value from your own property is to purchase in your favourite resort, but then consider a ski resort holiday home swap for those occasions when you might want to go skiing elsewhere.
My husband and I, both obsessive skiers since we were teenagers, had dreamed of buying a property in the French Alps for many years. We finally took the plunge 11 years ago and have never looked back. We thought long and hard about where to buy. We wanted great skiing of course, but also good transport links so we could easily and quickly travel back and forth from the UK. It was also very important to us to be in a proper mountain town or village, rather than a purpose-built ski resort, so we could enjoy our property all year round and perhaps even move out there permanently in the future.
After a lot of research we finally settled on Les Houches, a small ski village in the Chamonix valley. It is less than an hour’s drive from Geneva airport with no icy winding mountain roads involved and is close to Chamonix with its fabulous world-renowned skiing, but at the same time has its own quieter ski slopes as well as stunning scenery and a village atmosphere.
A home for all seasons
We looked at quite a few properties, but eventually decided on a new-build apartment, one advantage of which is that the building and grounds are maintained by a management company – great if you just want to lock up and leave and return to the UK.
As we bought off-plan we were even able to make some changes to the layout of the apartment before it was built and managed to incorporate an extra bathroom – essential when you have several freezing cold skiers who all want to jump in the shower as soon as they get home!
We found the buying process fairly straightforward, although we did get some advice from a specialist company, and even though I can speak French we had important documents translated into English to avoid any potential misinterpretations.
One thing we would advise from our own experience is to get some professional advice on the implications of French inheritance law, so that you can take any necessary steps to ensure that your property will be inherited according to your wishes. When we bought we had a tontine clause inserted into our legal documentation to ensure that when one of us dies, their half of the property passes to the surviving person, rather than to ‘forced heirs’, which for us would have been our parents.
Buying our French property was without a doubt one of the best things we’ve ever done, as we’ve enjoyed many years of amazing ski trips and summer holidays too. We’ve made many friends, both English and French, who we always look forward to seeing. Even my husband’s lack of French language skills doesn’t seem to prevent him from having lots of lively conversations with our neighbours using a combination of Franglais, sign language and mime!
However, much as we adore skiing in the Chamonix area, like most passionate skiers we cannot resist the lure of new mountains and new adventures. When we did take ski trips to other resorts though, both in France and other countries, we always had that feeling that it was a bit crazy to be paying out for ski accommodation elsewhere, while our own property was sitting empty.
For one ski trip we did something a bit different and stayed with friends of friends in New Zealand, who introduced us to some fantastic skiing in a number of different resorts, and even took us on a heli-skiing trip. In return they stayed in our property in Les Houches the following season and experienced the delights of skiing in Chamonix – a great way for all of us to have some truly memorable new skiing experiences, without any extra accommodation costs.
That’s when my sister and I came up with the idea of setting up a home-swapping website specifically for people who own properties in ski resorts. We decided to specialise purely in ski resort properties, so we could provide essential ski-related information and cater for the needs of dedicated skiers like ourselves. Property owners who sign up can upload details and photos of their ski property and their resort, indicate where they would be interested in swapping to, and can contact other members via a secure in-built messaging system to discuss potential swaps.
It is fairly early days for us and we are still busy building up our membership so that we can offer a real choice of swapping opportunities to all our members, but we currently have properties available to swap with in 12 countries. France is without a doubt our most represented country, and there seems to be a lot of interest from British people in particular who own properties in French ski resorts, but are keen to try other resorts in France or elsewhere.
We do encourage our members to get to know their potential swap partner before anything is agreed, initially via the site’s messaging system, but then when they feel comfortable perhaps by email and then a phone chat. One advantage of swapping homes with another skier is the opportunity to get insider information on the new resort that you plan to visit. Your swap partner will be able to tell you the best places to ski and eat, recommend ski shops and instructors and share many other top tips to help you get the best out of your ski trip. In our experience skiers are usually a very friendly bunch, who like nothing better than to chat about skiing!
So if like us you love to ski wherever the fancy takes you, don’t let that put you off buying a ski property in France. It is lovely to have your own place where you will undoubtedly make many friends and enjoy becoming part of a community, but it doesn’t mean you have to be tied to only skiing there forever. There seems to be no shortage of like-minded, property-owning skiers who might just be really keen to swap their homes and open up a whole new world of skiing opportunities to you.
Tessa Regan is a director of Snow Swappers