A timber chalet, its roof piled high with snow. Snug, warm interiors, with an open fire, windows looking onto spectacular Alpine views. We are all familiar with the stereotype. But the property market in Switzerland is changing, principally due to recent legislation. We spoke to Pierre Hagmann, director of Naef Prestige Knight Frank Switzerland.
Pierre, how has the real estate market in the mountains changed over the last 10 years?
From 2000 to 2010, market prices increased tremendously, tripling in resorts like Gstaad or Verbier. But since 2010 the market has calmed down, as a lot of winter resorts have taken measures to prevent the town from being deserted in the summer. Crans-Montana, for example, has placed a special tax on chalets bought as second homes, to prevent the tendencies for properties to be empty for more than six months a year. On a property of CHF 15 million this would represent an additional cost of CHF 220,000. In addition, the Weber law, voted by the Swiss in 2012, will change everything. It has placed a limit on the number of second homes in the country: no more than 20%. This means that for places like Gstaad, Verbier, Crans-Montana or Villards, it will be more difficult to buy a chalet as a second home, as the 20% quota has already been reached.
Which are the most exclusive resorts in Switzerland?
The top resorts have always been St.Mortiz, Zermatt and Gstaad. But the two locations that has expanded and increased in prices most since 2000 are Verbier and Gstaad. Verbier is very popular amongst people coming from the north of Europe and from Great Britain. It’s a very sports-oriented place, compared to Gstaad where people come more for the social scene and for the cosy ambience.
How are trends changing as regards demand for properties? What are people looking for?
The clients are increasingly looking for furnished properties. You don’t just buy the walls, but the whole ambience. In chalets, there is a great demand for spas and everything related to 'water and relaxation.' A pool, a Jacuzzi, a massage room are highly appreciated; other features that people ask for are a wine cellar or a home cinema. People are becoming more sensitive to green attitudes. They want to know if the house has been built with environmentally friendly materials, by local artisans... Another trend is linked to the ski resorts themselves. Most of them are trying to attract people in the summer as well, and they are organizing international music festivals such as Verbier, Gstaad or Zermatt.
Generally speaking, how long does a transaction for this type of property take?
More or less two years. In 2000, a purchase could be completed in up to six months, but today, with all these new laws, it takes much longer.
How easy is it for the new owner to renovate his new property?
Changes inside are never a problem. You can decorate your interior exactly as you wish. Outside is more difficult, as you have to comply with municipal laws.
What is your approach to international clients?
Naef Prestige is associated with Knight Frank, which is represented in 43 countries, but many new clients approach us through our website. Often we contact people who are already clients with us, and we propose them something unique, knowing their taste and expectations. We have a very close contact with our clients and always try to understand their requirements.
How would you describe your clients?
Most of our clients already have at least one or two properties. Most of the time their first residence is in a big city like London, Paris or New York where they work, and they have another house on the coast, often in the south of France, Italy or Spain. So they may come to us because they would like to have something in the mountains for the winter, where they can celebrate Christmas around an open fire.
How will the luxury real estate market evolve in Switzerland?
The market will become more and more difficult due to all the new laws, but also due to competition from other countries. Switzerland is not the only country with spectacular mountains and resorts, France, Italy and Austria also have a great deal to offer customers looking for something unique.
Pierre, could you give us a dining recommendation in Geneva?
Easy! Brasserie Lipp, for the diversity of its food, and the excellent wine list.
Naef Prestige Knight Frank has offices in Geneva, Nyon, Lausanne and Neuchatel. For further details, see their website www.naef-prestige.ch