Investors hear the call of the Swiss Alps

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 November, 2010, 12:00am

Foreign property developers are beating a path to Hong Kong to sell their projects, lured by strong investment demand and waning markets in their home countries.

Operators from London, New York, Sydney, and Singapore are bringing sales' road shows to Hong Kong. In a first, a property agent in London is arranging an exhibition here to sell ski chalets and apartments in Switzerland.

'Five years ago, most of our clients came from the United Kingdom. Now we find that only 40 per cent come from the UK, and the rest are from around the world, including Dubai, Hong Kong, and Singapore,' Simon Malster, managing director of Investors in Property, said.

The company is a marketing agency based in London, and is selling ski chalets and apartments in the Alps.

Malster said the launch of the first exhibition in Hong Kong was triggered by the recent sale of four chalets to Hong Kong expatriates, who work for the finance industry. 'They came individually and they knew each other,' he said.

Availability of credit and growing wealth in Asia had prompted Asians to buy, according to Malster.

'The advantages of buying in Switzerland are that the country is out of the euro zone and the Swiss franc is a very strong currency.' he said.

Swiss banks would lend up to 70 per cent of the purchase price, he added, and loans were 'cheap', with rates about 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent.

An added attraction is that property prices in the Alps are on the rise.

'When we first started selling chalets in Les Collons about five years ago we sold five-bedroom units for around 950,000 Swiss francs (HK7.63 million). Now we are selling similar-sized chalets for 1.45 million francs.'

Properties to be sold next week are located in Les Collons in the Verbier region, about two hours drive from Geneva. However, foreign buyers should be aware of conditions of purchase, Malster said.

The Swiss government restricts the sale of second homes to foreigners and issues an annual quota of just 1,500 permits. Also, only some cantons are authorised for sale to foreigners, and then only in tourist resorts.

There are also restrictions on the size of the plot of land and the habitable area of the chalet. Usually, the maximum will be about 200 square metres, net habitable.

Non-Swiss may buy only one property per family in Switzerland. A family is defined as husband and wife and /or under-age children.

In some cantons, foreigners may be prohibited from re-selling property within a certain period. For example, there is a 10-year period in Valais, and five years in Vaud.

Foreigners can rent their properties but are expected to occupy them personally for at least three weeks of each year.