Despite all of its neighbors, Switzerland opened its ski slopes this month. But that hardly means that it will be Christmas as usual. In the mountain town of Gstaad, where the jet likes to get together for festive parties and is home to some of the most expensive ski resorts in the Alps, the atmosphere will be subdued this year due to restrictions of the corona virus.
Instead of lavish receptions in the Gstaad Palace Hotel or late evenings in the hotel's GreenGo nightclub, soirées are limited to 10 people and must be held in the privacy of your own chalet.
Last weekend, the authorities imposed a ban on public events and a curfew at 7 p.m. for around 100 restaurants in the city in view of increasing infections.
"For many regulars, it won't be the very sociable start to the winter season (as it usually is)," says Helen Maixner, a Brussels-based Boston woman who bought an apartment in Gstaad almost 50 years ago when Hollywood Stars like this as Richard Burton visited Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot.
"I hope I can ski and it's still magical to be in the mountains," she says.
Despite ski lifts with limited capacity, queues were less of a problem in Gstaad than in other Swiss resorts such as Zermatt and Verbier. "A lot of people don't come to ski now," says Maixner.
She suggests that the numerous upscale boutiques that have proliferated along the cobbled boardwalk – including Hermès, Loro Piana, Prada, and Chopard – have become more of an attraction than the slopes for some. "It has become the Swiss version of the Hamptons," she adds.
Gstaad is valued as a picturesque and protected place where building regulations are strict. © Alamy Stock Photo
Even before the pandemic, the immaculately groomed slopes were often empty in the morning, says Alex Koch de Gooreynd from the real estate agency Knight Frank. "If you're a hardcore skier, you'll likely prefer Verbier," he says. "But it's not the right place if you want to show your Ferrari – Gstaad is all about discretion."
According to Knight Frank, luxury properties in Gstaad – the best 5 percent by market value – ask for an asking price of 35,500 francs (32,659 euros) per square meter, the most expensive in the Alps and the second largest in the world after Aspen, which equates to 39,000 francs per m².
The average prices in Gstaad are about half as high. A report from UBS last year found that houses in the city cost 15,000 francs per square meter, behind the Swiss resort of St. Moritz, where properties averaged 16,000 francs per square meter.
Why so high? The prices didn't rise suddenly, says Benjamin Worbs from Gerax Real Estate Agency, one of the most established in Gstaad: "In the last 20 to 30 years it has been a steady increase averaging 3 percent per year", despite a period of flat growth about five years ago.
The prices for high-end apartments were more volatile. The number of properties available for sale or rent has slowly declined in recent years, says Claudio Saputelli, head of Swiss and global real estate at UBS. "As a result, prices for high-end condominiums have increased 40 percent since 2016," he says.
Some wealthy non-Swiss buyers opt for a branch in Gstaad because of the country's flat tax policy, where they pay income tax on lifestyle expenses rather than income and assets.
“After 2012, there was a period of uncertainty in the luxury market due to the strength of the Swiss franc and the introduction of the upper limit of 20 percent for second homes in ski areas (Lex Weber law),” says Koch de Gooreynd.
A nine-bedroom chalet, CHF 36 million (EUR 33.13 million), via Engel & Völkers © Sebastian Devenish
Another reason why buyers choose Gstaad is the picturesque and protected nature of the resort – the tourist office offers carpentry tours through the strictly planned village.
“The building regulations are very strict compared to other Swiss holiday resorts. Instead of large concrete apartment blocks, there are height restrictions and chalets are made of handcrafted wood and stone, ”says Marcel Bach from Bach Immobilien.
Gstaad is also characterized by the quality of its schools. It has been the winter campus of the exclusive L’Institut Le Rosey boarding school since 1917 and is home to the John F. Kennedy International School (alumni included the children of Gstaad chalet owners such as actress Julie Andrews).
If you look into the windows of real estate agents between jewelers and chocolatiers, you will hardly find prices. "It's a small town with (usually) lots of dinners and events, so the owners don't want the neighbors to know the price of their chalet," says Worbs.
"Many deals are not on the market," says Antonia Crespi from Engel & Völkers. "People prefer to contact us to find the right buyer for their property than to promote it."
The land register of the canton of Bern does not make transactions public, nor do local agents like to discuss individual deals or sales, but Bach suggests that 5-10 chalets with a price of over CHF 10 million per year change hands and five over CHF 20 million .
House & House unlocked
FT subscribers can sign up for our weekly email newsletter, which includes guides on the global real estate market, distinctive architecture, interior design and gardens.
Register here with one click
In the most exclusive areas of Gstaad, houses can fetch breathtaking prices. On the Wispile, a quiet location near the five-star Park Hotel, they cost around 40,000 francs per square meter, according to Worbs. and from 50,000 francs per m² in the trophy location of the Oberbort – near the Palace and Alpina hotels.
But go outside the capital and prices will fall: In Saanenmöser (home of the Gstaad Golf Club), according to the real estate appraisal website Real Advisor, they averaged CHF 10,395 per square meter; and in hamlets like Lauenen the chalets drop to around SFr2m.
Despite the quieter Christmas festivities this year, 2020 has also accelerated the shift towards full-time owners versus second home buyers. The pandemic has resulted in people trying to spend long periods of time in the mountain village. Many homeowners have arrived for Christmas – even without the big parties, Gstaad is still where they prefer.
Gstaad is 95 km from Geneva Airport (GVA) at 1,050 m with a
220 km long ski area and access to the glacier in Les Diablerets.
Annual sports and cultural events include the ATP Swiss Open, the Menuhin Festival and the Hublot Polo Gold Cup.
Overall, the acquisition costs are around 2.5 to 2.7 percent of the sales price. The transfer tax is 1.8 percent, the notary and legal fees 0.5 to 0.7 percent.
What you can buy for. . .
€ 1.935 million An eight bedroom chalet in Lauenen by Engel & Völkers.
€ 9.951 million A three bedroom penthouse on Gstaad's promenade. Available from John Taylor.
€ 33.13 million A nine-bedroom chalet in Gstaad from 1795. The 500 m² property is available from Engel & Völkers.
Follow @FTProperty on Twitter or @ft_houseandhome on Instagram to catch up on our latest stories first.
Listen to our Culture Call podcast where FT editors and special guests talk about life and art during the coronavirus era. Subscribe to Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen.