When most of us dream of a holiday home, we have a long list of demands beautiful scenery, year-round activities and, most of all, somewhere to retreat to when the British weather disappoints. Ideally somewhere with skiing, perhaps, but also somewhere to swim. So where can you find this perfect combination? One answer is the Italian lakes. But there's a problem here: you need to have starred in a couple of Hollywood films to afford the price tag. Since George Clooney arrived in Lake Como in 2002, property prices have tripled.
But across the border, Switzerland boasts similar attractions at half the price: several of Italy's lakes span the border, and prices aren't so bad. Certainly, a chalet in one of the country's top ski resorts comes pricey, but the rest of the Swiss property market does not. Prices have risen "a modest 15%-30% in total over the past five years", says Peter Conradi in The Sunday Times. Only 10,000 Brits own homes in Switzerland and most of these have opted for major ski resorts rather than the south: here you get stunning scenery, sporting activities and a generous tax regime that would make Gordon Brown weep for the price of a studio flat in Hackney.
So where should you look? Ticino, just on the Italian border, "offers a unique mix of Latin lifestyle and Swiss organisation and efficiency", says Conradi. It sits between the Alps and the northern shores of the Italian lakes, providing access to skiing in the winter and a Riviera lifestyle in the summer. Apartments in the town of Locarno on the shore of Lake Maggiore sell for anything from £3,000 a square metre upwards. A little further out of town and prices drop even further. A stone-built rural property (a rustico) can be bought for as little as £36,000, "but count on spending at least that amount on making it habitable", warns Conradi. Holap (00 41 91 730 1171) has a fully-furnished 60 square metre rustico with 1,070 metres of land for sale at £146,000 in Monti Motti, near Locarno.
Subscribe to MoneyWeek
Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE
If you have to be nearer to the ski slopes, try the Valais region. The sun shines 320 days a year here and apartments in Nendaz (near Verbier) start from £100,000. The government has imposed a one-year block on foreign purchases in the region, but there are ways round it: second-hand homes already licensed for foreign ownership and developments that got planning permission before January 2007 are exempt. Overseas Homesearch (0800-652 0769) has houses for sale in the town of Leukerbad, five minutes from the cable car. A one-bed apartment costs from £129,000.
So why are prices still so low in Switzerland? Mainly because the Swiss government is making it difficult for foreigners to buy property. In Lake Lucerne and most of Lake Geneva it is impossible for an overseas buyer to buy a main home. They are limited to "part-time residences in the resort' stretch, from Montreux to La Tour de Pielz", says the Daily Mail. Restrictions apply to the rest of the country, too, but vary in severity. In Ticino, EU citizens are allowed to buy small holiday homes but then can't sell them for five years.
However, anyone with a B' residence permit can avoid these restrictions and the permits aren't too difficult to obtain, "as long as you can prove to the authorities' satisfaction that you can support yourself", says Conradi. Across the country purchases are limited to annual quotas, but this should be abolished in three years when a review of all foreign property laws will take place. If, as expected, the government levels the playing field making the law the same for both domestic and foreign buyers, the market should really take off.
Three properties at promising prices
One bedroom, 63 sq m apartments with a lounge, kitchen and balcony or terrace.
A recently refurnished one-bedroom home with views of the Blenio valley and 568 sq m of land.
This 60 sq m fully-furnished rustico has a living room, kitchen and 2 bedrooms.
00 41 91 730 1171, www.holap.ch.
IHT receipts approach record year – will the tax be reformed?
News The Treasury is set to take £7.6 billion from inheritance tax payments this financial year amid rumours of reform in the Spring Budget
By Marc Shoffman Published
Stocks and shares ISAs beat cash ISAs despite rising interest rates
Exclusive analysis for MoneyWeek shows that the stock market beat cash ISAs last year - and when inflation is factored in, cash savers actually made a loss. We run through the figures.
By Ruth Emery Published