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Falling head over heels for chalets

Buying ski properties is one of the hottest trends for Britons in France.

28 September 2010

BUYING ski properties is one of the hottest trends for Britons in France.

BNP Paribas International Buyers, which specialises in mortgages for foreigners, says the first half of this year saw 15% more sales to Britons than the same period last year; the Alps is currently the most popular area, followed by the Luberon and the Côte d’Azur.

Damien Duraton, a director, said this confirmed the trend last year when the notaires’ Perval database of sales outside the capital showed the Rhône-Alpes was the most popular region with British buyers (it was Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in 2008).

He said: "The last ski season was good, the snow was there and the tourist industry takings were good, so people are considering buying, especially in the most popular towns."

An estate agent from Chamonix Immobilier, Nicolas Meinard, said buyers preferred detached wooden chalets on their own wooded ground, though apartments were also popular. "The main things to consider are location, how close it is to the town’s amenities and the slopes, and also view and the exposure.

"A chalet with a view of Mont Blanc will be valuable. They are mainly modern, but we also regularly have older properties requiring renovation to freshen up the interiors."

A notaire from Cluses, Haute-Savoie, Jean-Marie Cabourdin, said there was an increase in activity this year: "Some British buyers love France and want to stay here for the holidays, or to live here with their family. In Haute-Savoie, in towns like Les Gets or Chamonix, there are Britons who work in the City and go to work by easyJet and return every weekend.

"There are also others who buy to rent, though this is less typical. The French Alps remain popular with Britons because it is the closest place for them to ski and it is very accessible – one hour 10 minutes from London to Geneva." Prices depend on resort and location, he said.

Mr Cabourdin said many holiday homes were left empty when not in use, though renting them out is an option. One convenient way is to buy in a residence de tourisme, where a managing firm finds tenants. "You sign a rental agreement saying you will use the apartment for, say, four months, and the rest of the year they will rent it out for you. It can be a good investment."

The success of such schemes had helped keep the market for mountain properties afloat through the economic crisis, he said.

Purchases of homes that will be rented out to others (at least part of the time) are especially interesting for French residents, because you can benefit from the Scellier scheme, which allows you to deduct part of the purchase cost from income tax.

Mr Cabourdin said it was important to talk to a notaire before signing a compromis de vente with an estate agent, to work out the best legal structure for ownership.

One option is to set up a Société Civile Immobilière (property ownership company). This may be useful where a group of friends are buying, as it can avoid some legal complexities in simple joint ownership if one person wants to sell his share or if someone dies.

People buying alone also sometimes consider an SCI because it can help bypass French inheritance law. However, this may not be the best bet for tax reasons: "There is no one-size-fits-all solution and you have to analyse the situation, especially concerning the future effects in terms of passing on the property to your spouse and children," he said.

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