Cover A penthouse in Niseko Kyo, a ski-in ski-out property in Niseko, Japan

The pandemic has seen a spike in the purchase of second homes. Ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics on February 4, the trend is reaching new heights, as Asian buyers give in to the lure of mountain living in winter chalets around the world

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home,” said British poet Edith Sitwell. Her succinct summary of what constitutes a home is timeless—and it is truer now than ever before.

As more countries begin reopening their borders to overseas travellers, these ongoing changes have nudged potential buyers and investors to cast their eye again on second homes in resort towns and the countryside. Another trend that has accompanied this is the appeal of winter holiday havens, which brings us back to Sitwell’s quote: the lure of snow and the ski slopes.

Don't miss: Why Hotel-Branded Residences are the Next Property Investment Trend to Watch

One might still wonder at the viability of an investment property that is tied to a sport that is not mainstream in Asia. But as a 2018 report by Club Med observed, it is a sport that has been gaining popularity in the Asia Pacific region, with countries that experience snowfall such as China leading the trend, followed by India and Japan.

With the rise in affluence among millennials and the growing desire for experiential lifestyles, more Asian buyers from countries with little or no snowfall such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia are being drawn to the appeal of winter havens.

According to Knight Frank’s Global Buyer Survey 2021, which collected inputs from 900 respondents across 49 countries and regions, 22 per cent of Asians surveyed said they were likely to purchase a ski property as a result of the pandemic—“especially those with access to clean fresh air and green spaces, are high on the list for second home purchases”, says Victoria Garrett, head of residential at Knight Frank in Asia Pacific. 

In case you missed it: 12 Notable Singapore Luxury Property Launches In 2021

Maureen Yeo, Asia regional director at the alpine ski resort property Andermatt Swiss Alps, says that their Swiss resorts have attracted immense interest from adventure-seeking Asian investors looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. “Usually, these individuals are well-travelled and outdoor adventure enthusiasts who are commonly avid skiers. These investors tend to be high-net-worth individuals who are looking for a new home or investment property in Europe,” she says.

St Moritz, which started with 90 ski homes in June 2020, ended with just 20 properties in its inventory in a year’s time—recording a 17 per cent growth in price due to shortages. This may be largely attributed to the independent decision the country has taken towards pandemic handling—it was the only European country to open its ski resorts in December 2020, which drove domestic demand.

The resilience of the market in Europe may not come as a total surprise, considering the popularity of the winter sport. Pent-up travel demand of Asian investors has added another interesting dimension; resort properties such as Andermatt Swiss Alps have contributed by increasing their marketing efforts in Asia.

Read more: Property Trends: 5 Reasons to Buy Real Estate in Southeast Asia Now

Knight Frank’s recently released Ski Property Report 2022 further confirmed this new direction. It indicated that ski properties in the French and Swiss Alps have seen a hike in price over the past months.

“This is despite the fact that ski properties in France were ordered to close in March 2020 and remained shut until June 2021. Nevertheless, properties continued to change hands,” says Kate Everett-Allen, head of international residential research at the real estate agency. “In a reversal of fortune, Swiss resorts lead the ski index for the first time in three years due to the stock shortages and strong domestic demand.”

In case you missed it: 4 Luxury Waterfront Villas In Southeast Asia For Your Private Yachts

Yeo confirms that this strategy has shown results. “We have seen increased interest in apartments, with enquiries increasing by at least 100 per cent over the past 12 months,” she says. “Anecdotally, many prospective buyers want more space abroad, especially those from Hong Kong and Singapore. It is not necessarily all about investment yield, but about the lifestyle and the ability to enjoy a Swiss alpine property while riding on rising asset prices.”

This may come as a surprise especially given that Switzerland has strict rules on where and what size of property non-residents can purchase, says Everett-Allen. “In some zones, there is a 20 per cent cap on the number of secondary residences,” she says. “However, Switzerland continues to appeal to those seeking a safe-haven investment which offers a strong currency as well as a safe and private lifestyle.”

In the case of Andermatt, being the only region in Switzerland where foreigners and Swiss residents alike have equal rights when it comes to property ownership has worked in its favour. Buyers do not have to pay stamp duty on their purchase. “The buying cost is only 0.3 per cent, which covers the notary public fees and land title deed registration fees. Furthermore, all properties in Andermatt are freehold,” adds Yeo.

Read more: Skip the Renovation: Will Turnkey Apartments Become More Popular in Singapore?

Everett-Allen adds that the concept of long stays is causing ski resorts to rethink their seasonal strategies. These includes popular regions such as Chamonix in the French Alps, which is situated at the base of the famed Mont Blanc, and conveniently close to the junction of France, Switzerland and Italy.

“In the European Alps, several mid-altitude resorts are re-positioning themselves as year-round resorts offering a host of activities from ultra-marathons to mountain biking, paragliding and water sports,” she says. “In terms of investment potential in the European Alps, buyers have the option of generating a higher winter rental from a high-altitude resort such as Courchevel 1850 and Val d’Isère (in France) or targeting a mid-altitude resort such Chamonix or Verbier (in Switzerland), which would generate a year-round mid-range rental income.”

Don't miss: 3 of the Most Unique Luxury London Homes on the Market Right Now

Yeo agrees that buyers from Asia and across the world are getting more discerning in terms of their activity demands from the standpoint of evaluating the investment potential of a property. “This has been accelerated by the pandemic, and locations that have a full calendar of outdoor activities throughout the year would fill up room occupancy (thereby returns to owners) and tourism receipts. Buyers are looking for a mix of flexibility, healthy yield and good capital gains over the long term,” she adds.

Add to that, a winter home with easy access to the city increases its viability as an investment. “Some are looking for a convenient base while their child is at school. Several resorts including Villars-sur-Ollon and Crans-Montana have top private schools,” says Everett-Allen, alluding to the long-term investment potential of winter homes. She adds that buyers more focused on rental yields from domestic travel are not heavily affected by international border restrictions.

While the trend of second home buys since the pandemic has long been led by high-net-worth expatriates, buyers are now looking to tag that need to be close to family and friends with holiday destinations that throw nature and lifestyle into the mix.

Among Southeast Asians, Niseko in Hokkaido, Japan is among the top destinations. It “remains aspirational among Asia’s resorts and attracts both local and overseas demand”, adds Garrett. Mugi Fukushima, who sits in the Ginza office of List Sotheby’s International Realty Japan, says this increased demand is due to proximity and affordability. “Most Southeast Asians and people from Hong Kong do not have ski resorts in their own countries, which adds to the popularity. Niseko is popular because it is accessible in the region and the resorts are reasonably priced.

Don't miss: Property in Japan: Why Niseko Kyo is a Dream Holiday Home for Ski Lovers

Add to that the fact that the Hokkaido region records high quantities of snowfall and is also known for its superlative powdery-soft quality of snow. “Until now, most of the customers who were interested in winter homes have been inbound, but now the number of inquiries and sales from Japanese people is rapidly increasing since the pandemic,” says Fukushima.

As borders open and travel resumes, Fukushima expects more interest from overseas buyers given that there are no restrictions on property purchases for foreigners in Japan. That many branded residences are in the pipeline in Karuizawa, Hakone, Okinawa, Hokkaido and Shonan is another positive sign that ski destinations are levelling up to meet demand. Garrett is equally optimistic, especially with new developments such as the Seasons Yōso residences in Niseko expanding the region’s branded residences offering. 

Saranyu Adhyanasakul from Kiroro Resort Holdings confirms the slow but steady spike in demand. “The market slowed down since the beginning of 2020 resulting from the various levels of lockdowns and restrictions globally. However, we started to see some pick up from the third quarter of 2021 after the vaccine rollouts,” says Adhyanasakul.

As chief business officer of one of Hokkaido’s most popular ski resort and hospitality companies, Adhyanasakul has been front and centre to the rapidly growing trend and observes that “even though the overall trend slightly dropped, online inquiries remain high particularly from Hong Kong and Taiwan”. According to Adhyanasakul, the people responding to the call of snowy slopes have been millennials and younger clientele—so the impetus has been on balancing functionality with privacy when planning the spaces. 

“The work-from-home concept has accelerated the need for resort properties to incorporate functional elements such as workstations, facilities that cater to the needs of individual members of the family and other features that can facilitate residents to entertain,” he adds.

From spectacular views and access to nature to better work-life balance, mountain living ticks all the boxes that Covid-19 added to the list of second home buyers. Garrett, however, expects that “most buyers will continue to want amenities on their doorstep and easy accessibility rather than remote living”.

That said, rather than speculating about what this would mean for the future of winter homes, the question to ask may be how the property market will further redefine itself to stay on top. As buyers continue to prioritise the importance of wellness and their desire to reconnect with nature, the allure of these second homes may grow, tapping into the allure of winter travel.

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.