Frequently Asked Questions
Where are Mountain Base based?
Mountain Base are based in Chamonix and are French registered company (SARL Mountain-Base.com). We have lived and worked in the Valley for several years so know the local property market intimately. We have personal experience in all forms of the property market, including purchase, sale, rental, management, refurbishment and construction.
What estate agency qualifications do Mountain Base have?
Both Matt and Andy are qualified UK Chartered Surveyors (RICS) with over 15 years of experience between them in the commercial and residential property markets. We also hold the Carte Professionelle (No. 1497/07), which enables us to operate as property professionals and Estate Agents in France.
What assurances do I have with Mountain Base?
As part of the regulations for being able to get the Carte Professionelle, all agencies must have full professional indemnity insurance and maintain a cash bond (30,000 Euros) against which aggrieved parties can claim.
Why buy in the Chamonix Valley?
The Chamonix Valley is one of the most dynamic and popular places in France to invest. With Mont Blanc (Europe's most visited natural attraction) towering over the Valley, Chamonix retains a year long draw and consequently a potential rental market in every month unlike nearly all other ski resorts. A transfer time of under an hour via direct motorway link to Geneva airport makes it the most accessible ski town in the Alps. With the explosive growth of value air travel, Chamonix leads the way to exploit the decline in the package holiday industry and provide property owners with healthy rental income opportunities and steady capital growth.
Is there any potential left for capital growth?
Despite its natural attractions as a resort, Chamonix lags behind the premier resorts such as Courchevel and Val d'Isere in terms of lift systems, mountain restaurants and top class services. Its worldwide reputation has always been built on the winter and summer activities that is has to offer. That is, however, changing. The town hall is investing heavily in the improvement of the town with the creation of new public spaces, landscaping and road systems. This is being matched by large investment from the Compagnie du Mont Blanc, who own and operate the lift systems and pistes. That investment has changed the face of Chamonix over the past few years, attracting retailers such as Chanel and Svarowski and top end chalet operators. Despite the non-existent summer season, Courchevel and Val d'Isere property is still at a 50%+ premium to Chamonix prices.
What are the buying costs?
The main buying cost is the notaire's fees which are made up of the actual notaire’s fee plus the equivalent of stamp duty, land registry taxes and administration costs. For older properties, this is around 7% of the property purchase price, dropping to around 3% for properties less than 5 years old. On top of that, there can be mortgage arrangement fees of up to 1%. The agency fees are paid by the seller.
What are the selling costs?
Agency fees in France are much higher than the UK at between 4% and 6.5% of the sale price. Other than that, there are no other fees of note.
Should I borrow in France or in my home country?
It is normal practice to borrow in France as the banks know the market, are used to dealing with foreign borrowers and offer lower interest rates. You are also then protected against fluctuations in the Euro exchange rate.
How much can I borrow?
The rules vary from bank to bank, but in general French banks take a more cautious approach to lending than in the UK. Most will lend a maximum of 80% of the purchase price or value to foreign borrowers. Rather than a multiplier of income, the banks lend on the basis of affordability, i.e. whether the net income of the borrower, after deducting outgoings, will cover the mortgage repayments.
What about the effect of the Euro exchange rate?
The rate of exchange has fluctuated greatly over the last several year, but has settled more recently to between €1.20 and €1.25 to the Pound. There is little that can be done to protect against exchange rate fluctuation. For rentals, most owners have a French bank account, pay their mortgage in France and receive their rent in Euros, so are as protected as they can be.
Do I need to get a survey before I buy?
It is not common practice in France to get a survey before purchase. Mountain Base are able to give a preliminary opinion as to the condition of a property but are not qualified for the advice to be relied upon. It is more usual to consult a local builder or artisan for an informal opinion as to condition of a property. For apartments, the structure and fabric of the building are covered by the co-propriété.
Do I need a solicitor?
A solicitor is not normally necessary unless the purchase is complex (such as a new build), indeed it can make a straightforward deal unnecessarily difficult. We work with a locally based bilingual notaire who has an English assistant, which makes the process much more straightforward. As a buyer, you have the right to appoint a separate notaire to act on your behalf, which doesn’t affect the fees payable.
What running costs are there?
Aside from the usual utility bills, there are 2 taxes to pay which make up the equivalent of UK Council Tax - the Taxe Foncière and the Taxe d'Habitation. The former is payable by the owner, whether resident or not and the latter is payable by the occupier (although that only applies to long term tenants). The taxes are collected centrally by the Trésor Public but used locally to pay for schools, roads, snow clearance, rubbish collection etc. In many of the older apartment blocks, the heating and hot water are communal and therefore covered in the service charge, leaving only the electricity to pay.
How much is the service charge for an apartment?
The service charge will cover all the costs of running the communal parts of the building plus the administration costs of the co-properietaire. It varies greatly, but tends to be higher in the older blocks where maintenance charges are higher. Typically, the service charge for a 1 bed apartment is around 300 Euros per quarter.
Is there a service charge for a chalet?
Some chalets are part of a co-propriété, a collection of buildings under single management. This usually occurs when chalets share a private road where the co-propriété organises snow clearance, hedge trimming etc. The costs are minimal.
Can Mountain Base provide advice on the rental prospects of a property?
Mountain Base are one of the largest rental agencies in the Chamonix Valley so can provide detailed and accurate advice on the rental prospects of any property (see our sister Rentals site)
Can Mountain Base help me if the property needs refurbishment?
Yes, we have English speaking building and architectural contacts within the Valley.
Should I buy a new or old property?
The decision whether to buy new or old is mostly personal choice, but there are various advantages to buying new build and they are all reflected in the price! Land supply in the Chamonix Valley is increasingly limited so the majority of purchases will be existing properties.
Can I buy a plot of land and build my own chalet?
Yes, it is possible but the supply of land within the Valley is limited and buyers need to react quickly to any opportunities that arise. There are several chalet building companies in the Valley that offer the full service including architecture, planning, project management and construction.
How much can I build?
Each area within the Valley is allocated a COS - the coefficient d'occupation des sols - the ratio of habitable floorspace that can be built on the relevant plot. This ratio varies with location, tending to be higher closer to the town centre and lower further out. For example, a plot of 1000sqm with a COS of 0.15 can accommodate 150sqm of habitable floorspace. On top of that, there are various utility areas such as garages, bike stores and laundry rooms that are not counted within the habitable floorspace.
Can I extend my property?
The SHON - the surface hors-d'oeuvre nette - is the amount of a property's habitable floorspace . If that amount is below the amount permitted in relation to the plot size, then the property will have 'Residual SHON'. In these cases, you can extend your property until all the Residual SHON is used.
What is the difference between 'habitable floor area' and total floor area?
There are defined criteria for the measured area of a property to give the surface habitable, as opposed to the total floor area. For instance, any area below 1.80m head height is not counted within the habitable floor area, as well as staircases, walls, etc. As a lot of alpine properties have bedrooms and other accommodation within the roof space, the actual floor area is often much larger than the quoted surface habitable.
NB. If you have any other FAQs, please email us and we'll answer them for you