SPECIAL REPORT: PROPERTY MATTERS

Renewed appetite for resorts

Research notes shift towards leisure-oriented property investment, writes Peta Tomlinson

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 January, 2015, 7:54am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 January, 2015, 7:54am

Much has been written about the pros and cons of buying resort real estate. And it's that time of year when some of us are sitting back in places where the weather is hot and the cocktails are cool - or the snow is cool and the jacuzzi hot - nurturing those "brilliant" seeds of an idea which relaxing vacation resorts tend to sow.

So, can we buy a place of our own to holiday at will at the beach or on the piste, and also have a worthwhile investment?

Knight Frank's Prime Ski Property Index has good news for snow bunnies. The sector's value increased by 5.9 per cent in the year to June 2014, following growth of 4.6 per cent a year earlier. The index reached its lowest point in June 2009, but has since risen by 23.5 per cent.

Queenstown in New Zealand and Aspen, United States, recorded the strongest rise in luxury prices, up by 24.8 per cent and 20.7 per cent, respectively, over the period. Bargain hunters take note, as even with the recent hike, Aspen prices are still 18 per cent below their pre-crisis peak.

In the year to June 2014, Knight Frank's Alpine inquiries came predominantly from prospective European buyers (61 per cent), but the firm notes the rise of Asian and Middle Eastern buyers, accounting for 12 per cent each. Analysis shows stronger demand for properties priced below €2.5 million (HK$23.1 million) last year (72 per cent), compared with 47 per cent a year earlier. The proportion of buyers looking at properties above €20 million shrunk from 7.6 per cent in 2013 to 3.8 per cent last year.

Yet, even at the top end, the Knight Frank report found that more and more purchasers are looking at the rental yield they can achieve, not just the long-term capital growth that a ski home can provide. "Savvy investors who already own a ski home in Switzerland, or who are still able to buy may, as a result of the limited supply, see some of the strongest rental demand and returns," the report found, noting the rise of the "superchalet" as a rental option for even those owners in possession of a €20 million-plus chalet.

Knight Frank compared the annual gross investment yield of a ski chalet in Courchevel Village (bought off-plan) with a property in prime central London. The calculations, based on a 14-week occupancy for the ski chalet and year-round tenancy for the London property, showed 6.7 per cent for the chalet, and just 2.8 per cent in prime central London.

In terms of seaside properties, a low buy-in price, teamed with sound fundamentals, may tempt investors.

Knight Frank research shows that resort property values have come down by as much as 40 per cent, specifically in the European resort areas of Spain, Italy and Portugal.

"These markets are attractive due to the property prices on offer, but they also remain key second-home markets due to the lifestyle on offer, quality of life, solid infrastructure and easy access to and from the UK," says James Price, international residential development, Knight Frank.

Other markets offering good value include the Caribbean and parts of Eastern Europe. "Very little has been developed here recently and values have dropped off, meaning it is easier to make more of an immediate return due to limited supply," Price says.

However, not every "bargain" is good value. As the global economy continues to stabilise, Price says, it is emerging markets which investors should be cautious of as these marginal markets are easy to knock off kilter. Other markets to be cautious of are those dependent on their tax environment and where there is nervousness around tax changes.

"People looking to buy off-plan need to look at the property market and evaluate whether it is secure and that they are happy buying there," Price says. "It is advisable to look at the track record of the developer as well and the payment terms on offer."

Savills research notes a shift towards more leisure-oriented property investment.

"The last 10 years were the decade of prime urban property investment; the next 10 years will see a growing appetite for island real estate investment and lifestyle," says Yolande Barnes, director, Savills World Research. "For the world's wealthy, the pinnacle of achievement is to own what is exclusive and rare, so an island property goes hand-in-hand with a luxury apartment in a prime city."

Savills recently collaborated on a report on island real estate in the global prime sector with Candy & Candy in London and Deutsche Asset Management. The report lists the world's top 20 islands for real estate investment, topped by Bermuda, where the price of a typical four-bedroom property exceeds US$4 million. Several Caribbean islands - the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands and Antigua - all rate highly, based on their proximity to the huge wealth-generating market of the US, while the Channel Islands, Europe's "safe haven", also features as its property prices have remained resilient.

The report identifies a number of factors changing the shape of island real estate markets such as increasing global wealth, new transport infrastructure and philanthropy and conservation.

"The global ultra-high-net-worth population is forecast to grow by 22 per cent by 2018, which will fuel demand for alternative real estate, particularly with a boost from Asia, the region where it is set to grow fastest," Barnes says. "The lower end of the luxury island market is also set to explode as young money buys into ultraprime property and resorts on the world's most sociable islands. This spurt of activity will also drive demand at the top end of the market. The uber-wealthy, in search of the ultimate adventure, will seek out the rarest opportunity, paying a premium for scarcity."

She adds that while the top end of the private island market "remains largely uncharted territory" for new Chinese money, rich mainlanders are starting to dip their toe in the water, purchasing prime property on the party islands off the south coast of China, and Ibiza and Sardinia.

But whatever price point your leisure property budget allows, due diligence is a must.

Beth Ross, contributing real estate editor at Nolo.com, a US-based provider of do-it-yourself legal solutions, has produced an online guide. If the property you are interested in has views, for example, check to make sure they will stay that way, and not be built out. Other points - can you deal with peak season crowds, or are you prepared to live (or holiday) in a remote location? - are mooted, along with the reminder that in a resort area, where the economy is based on tourism, property markets sometimes experience downturns.

Contracts should also be scrutinised so buyers are aware of the management and maintenance fees and conditions.

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