House Hunting in the French Alps: A Chalet for All Seasons

In the skiing village of Megève, increased tourism and development have kindled the market, but prices remain mostly static.

A Ski Chalet in the Hills of Megève, France

House Hunting in the French Alps: A Chalet for All Seasons

Allard Cooke & Associés

This five-bedroom chalet is built into a hill above the world-renowned skiing village of Megève, in the Haute-Savoie region of the French Alps.

The 2,153-square-foot, Savoyard-style home was built in the 1970s. In 2005, it was gutted and fully refurbished by local craftsmen using wood from an old ferme d’alpage, or alpine farmhouse, said Jean Blower, who owns the home with her husband.

“We bought an old alpage up in the mountains, and it was taken apart piece by piece,” Ms. Blower said. “Every piece was numbered, cleaned and treated, and then it was reconstructed into our new home.”

Alpine farmhouses were traditionally roomy enough to house a small herd of cattle in the summer, which is reflected in the three-story design, said Jon Cooke, a partner with Allard Cooke & Associés, the listing agency.

House Hunting in the French Alps: A Chalet for All Seasons

The living area has a central wood-burning fireplace, an open kitchen and dining nook. “The top-floor living area, with its full ceiling height, resembles the barn area of local farms,” said Jon Cooke, a partner with Allard Cooke & Associés, the listing agency. Credit…Allard Cooke & Associés

“The top-floor living area, with its full ceiling height, resembles the barn area of local farms,” Mr. Cooke said. “Plus, use of reclaimed timber and stone” — including the recycled oak-plank flooring — “adds to that look.”

The main entrance, on the second level, opens to a foyer with a powder room. There are three en suite bedrooms on this floor, with rustic wood walls and en suite bathrooms. Two bedrooms open to a long balcony with carved wood railing and shutters. The master suite, with oak floors and carved wood details, includes a study with a fireplace, a dressing area and a stone shower.

The living area, on the top floor, has a central wood-burning fireplace stretching up to the 12-foot ceiling, along with an open kitchen and dining nook. Doors open to a south-facing wraparound terrace with views of the village and mountains, including Rochebrune and Mont Blanc. The kitchen has a breakfast bar, reclaimed-timber cabinets and slate floors, along with a traditional Lacanche gas range. The dining area has built-in benches and walls clad in a mixture of granite and local stone.

The chalet has been furnished with vintage mountain farmhouse pieces, including an end table fashioned from a primitive cheese-making table, Ms. Blower said. The furniture is not included in the asking price, but is negotiable.

The lower level has two bedrooms, one of which opens to the garden, as well ample storage space, a laundry room and a one-car garage. The 5,700-square-foot lot is landscaped with pine, birch and maple trees, along with summer-flowering plants, Ms. Blower said.

The chalet is about a 10-minute walk from the center of Megève and the Le Jaillet ski lift, or you can walk 150 yards to ski onto the slopes, she said. The village is also a popular summer destination, with hiking trails, golf courses, a large sports and entertainment complex, as well as dozens of restaurants and upscale stores. The area attracts high-altitude runners and cyclists, and holds a jazz festival and an international show-jumping competition every year.

“Megève is as spectacular in the winter as it is in the summer,” Ms. Blower said. “You really live in nature every month of the year.”

Megève, in southeast France, is less than 40 miles from the Swiss and Italian borders. The closest international airport is in Geneva, an hour away by car. High-speed rail service to Paris is less than 20 minutes away.

Megève is a traditional alpine farming village of about 3,000 year-round residents that sees its population swell by tens of thousands in the winter and summer seasons. It bills itself as the first ski resort to be built in the Alps, conceived in the 1920s as an alternative to St. Moritz, Switzerland, by members of the Rothschild family.

Home prices in Megève have held steady in the past year after a recent slow period, brokers said, adding that the opening of the Four Seasons Hotel Megève in 2017 and growing tourism investment in the village have kindled the market.

“Prices here decreased about four years ago, because we didn’t have new restaurants, hotels, investors, so the people started to go to other ski resorts, like Val d’Isére, Méribel, Courchevel,” said Nicholas Grépillat, an agent with John Taylor Megève, a local affiliate of Home Hunts. “But since the Four Seasons opened, many other investors have come to Megève, and it’s helped the market a lot.”

According to the 2020 Knight Frank Prime Ski Property Report, the 2018-19 French Alps ski season saw a 5.3 percent increase in tourist visits from the year before. The report tracked the price of a four-bedroom chalet in central locations across popular resorts in the French and Swiss Alps, and while favorites like Val d’Isére and Chamonix saw prime prices rise by more than 2.5 percent between June 2018 and June 2019, Megève’s prices stayed flat, said Roddy Aris, an associate partner with Knight Frank.

That is likely because Chamonix and the eight resorts in Les 3 Vallées continue to outpace Megève in investment. “It comes down to investment levels and what is visibly happening in resorts,” Mr. Aris said.

Megève’s skiing season — one of the shortest, at about 18 weeks — also plays a role, Mr. Cooke said, as does the recent spate of new development. “Building land is becoming more and more scarce in places like Val d’Isére, due to geographical restrictions,” he said.

According to Knight Frank’s report, a four-bedroom chalet in central Megève is now worth about 13,700 euros a square meter (about $1,400 a square foot). But “there are pockets of Megève — the most obvious being the Mont d’Arbois, which is one of the most exclusive areas — where, for the right property, you could pay as high as 20,000 or 25,000 euros per square meter,” Mr. Aris said, or $2,050 or $2,600 a square foot.

The selection of homes in Megève is split between chalets and apartments, with old alpine farmhouses among the most coveted for their conversion potential. Newly developed apartments in the village center run about 15,000 euros a square meter ($1,530 a square foot), while similar apartments on the outskirts might be half that price, Mr. Grépillat said.

Proximity to ski slopes or to the center of the village are the driving factors. “If you can ski right up to your front door, you have an asset that will hold its value and increase every year,” Mr. Aris said, while a home in the village center appeals to buyers whose “primary reason for being in Megève is to enjoy the old town, shops and restaurants, and the town life.”

Back in the booming 2000s, buyers in Megève were split evenly between French nationals and foreigners, Mr. Cooke said, but today French citizens make up 70 to 80 percent of buyers.

Many foreign buyers come from Geneva, just an hour away, brokers said. They also come from other parts of Switzerland, Italy, Britain, Belgium, Holland, Turkey, Australia and Brazil.

And the Middle East is “a burgeoning market,” Mr. Aris said. “We have huge demand out of Dubai and United Arab Emirates, from Arabs who aren’t necessarily skiers, but they see Megève as a summer destination.”

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in France, agents said.

A notary working on behalf of the government handles the transaction for both buyer and seller, with the fee paid by the buyer. But it is common for buyers to request their own notaries, which costs the same, with the fee split by the notaries, Mr. Aris said: “If you’re a foreign buyer, it’s nice to know you’ve got someone who’s got your back and is independent.”

On a resale home, the notary fee and other taxes typically come to about 7.5 percent of the sale price, Mr. Grépillat said. For a newly developed chalet or apartment, the fee is about 2.5 percent.

Foreign buyers don’t need a local lawyer, but a financial adviser is a good investment, he said: “They really don’t take any risk in France, but the real concern is how they can pay less tax.”

Real estate agents typically charge 4 to 6 percent, a fee paid by the seller unless advertised otherwise. While Americans may have difficulty obtaining mortgages from French banks, loans are available to buyers from other foreign countries, agents said.

French; euro (1 euro = $1.10)

The annual taxes on this property are about 9,000 euros ($9,915), Mr. Cooke said.

Jon Cooke, Allard Cooke & Associés, 011-33-450-587-240;

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