How to own a high-end holiday home abroad 

Ruth Bloomfield

30 November 2020

Whether longing for a Tuscan villa, a château in the French countryside or a penthouse in Verbier, these are the trusted estate agents, home-sharing platforms and companies that specialise in luxury holiday homes and co-owning experiences across the world

30 November 2020 | Ruth Bloomfield

Buying a holiday home abroad is no small feat. First, you will need to whittle down your wish list of destinations, before negotiating an alien buying system. Getting on-the-ground guidance will be vital. You can seek expert advice from blue chip companies like Savills, Christie’s International Real Estate and Sotheby’s International Realty, all of which have affiliates covering most of the globe – or you can look to a local market leader.

Aside from the tried-and-tested route of simply buying a property in a place you love, you could also opt instead to invest in a portfolio of design-led properties or join the luxury travel club dubbed as 'Airbnb for millionaires'.

International: August Collection

A luxury home in Provence, available to co-own through August Collection

Why own one holiday home when you can have five? This is the premise of August, which offers the benefit of home ownership without the upkeep. Founders Mélie Dunod and Nico Watzenig buy properties in sought-after locations across Europe, which are then renovated to the highest standard. Spacious, light-filled homes promise stylish, contemporary interiors, set against enveloping scenery. 

Each investor co-owns the portfolio and can book slots to stay in each abode for an average of 12 weeks each per year. August manages each home, so all you have to do is pack your bags. If you want extras, from cooking to childcare, the August Concierge service will arrange that too.

A four-bedroom home in the heart of Chamonix Village, August Signature Collection

Currently, collections feature luxury homes in Majorca, Tuscany, Provence, Chamonix and the Cotswolds. Unlike property clubs, buyers can opt for real ownership in larger homes, from the Family Collection (€215,000, plus monthly fees of €450), which features houses and apartments with two to three bedrooms, or the Signature Collection (€325,000, plus a monthly management fee of €590), with upwards of four bedrooms.

Dunod advises that care is taken to ensure owners of the curated portfolio are well suited. “We purposely mix our demographic to make sure that clients can easily access the weeks that they want. Retirees are more likely to travel off-season, whereas young families are tied to the school holidays. We also have a lot of older families with children at university, who are more flexible.”

If an investor wants out, or their circumstances change, then August will help sell their share of a portfolio.

Switzerland: Sphere Estates

Chalet Foulon for sale at approximately £8.1m

Buying a ski home in Switzerland can be an arduous task, thanks to a series of restrictive laws for overseas buyers, as well as tight planning regulations to prevent over-development of picturesque Alpine villages.

Despite this, Knight Frank’s 2020 ski report, which assesses the market across the Alps, found that buyers are increasingly enthusiastic about second homes in Switzerland, particularly following its effective handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Three of the most expensive ski resorts in the world are in tiny Switzerland: Gstaad, Verbier, and Zermatt.

“For the last six months, Switzerland has been our most sought after destination, globally,” said Rob Green, founder of Sphere Estates, which sells luxury holiday homes around the world. “Buyers like the lifestyle, the security, and they think it will be a good investment."

A luxury penthouse in Verbier for sale at approximately £4m

“Verbier in particular is very popular. We have just sold a property this week to a British family, who already have a property in Switzerland but wanted something a bit more substantial. They bought a four-bedroom penthouse for just over £4m, and they plan to split their time between the UK and Switzerland. They can operate their business remotely so it doesn’t really matter where they are.”

Verbier is a hit because of its varied slopes, vibrant social life and gorgeous looks. Gstaad is also beautiful, but Green believes it is more of an area to be seen in, than ski in: “The actual skiing is not as good,” he comments.

Green estimates that the average price in Verbier is around £16,000 per square metre. In exclusive Gstaad, you are looking at a starting price of £20,000 per square metre.

France: Leggett

A 19th-century château in Brittany, for sale at €2.835m

This award-winning family business offers a seamless, multi-lingual service to an international clientele, whether they want to buy a gîte in the Dordogne or a vineyard in Bordeaux. It also trades in equestrian properties, ski chalets, city apartments, and seafront villas.

Romantic types could opt for a glorious 19th-century château in western Brittany set in 131 acres of land (€2.835m). The ten-bedroom château is less than three miles from the coast and comes with a separate 14th-century manor house, a converted dovecote, and a chapel.

If you are after a lock-up-and-leave home, you could plump for a two-bedroom apartment within a newly-converted Belle Epoque building in Nice’s swishy le Carré d'Or neighbourhood (€297,000).

A luxury apartment in Île-de-France for sale at approximately €1.1m

Around half of the company’s clients are French, while the rest are from overseas – notably British 50-somethings looking towards their retirement, and younger families who plan to WFH from a French country property (with excellent broadband). “Houses that sit on the edge of a village with countryside views tend to sell quickly,” said Joanna Leggett, the firm’s head of marketing.

“Since Covid, many British buyers are looking in Brittany, Normandy, Loire Valley and other areas that are easy to get to by car. They see this as a safe way to travel and rural property in these areas is exceptional value for money compared to buying a second home in say Sussex, Dorset or Cornwall.”

Italy: Lionard  

An eight-bedroom villa with a pool and private dockyard in the lakeside village of Moltrasio, £POA

Since 2008, Leonard has been selling the Italian dream to international buyers, whether they are looking for a front-row mansion overlooking Lake Como, a bellissima Tuscan castle, a palazzo in Venice or a villa on the Amalfi Coast.

Italy, like the rest of Europe, has had a tough year but its prime property market appears to be remarkably resilient, despite the pandemic. According to Knight Frank, enquiries from Dutch, British and German buyers have “accelerated” since its market reopened in May, particularly regarding properties priced between €1.5 and €2.5m. At the very top end, prices on Lake Como increased by five per cent between May and August.

A nine-bedroom mini castle in Arezzo, approximately one hour from Florence. £POA

Country homes are also in favour as buyers seek to distance themselves from their neighbours. Amongst the forests and olive groves of Arezzo, eastern Tuscany, you could opt for a nine-bedroom mini castle, complete with turrets and an extravagant tower.

“UK clients are particularly keen on country estates and sea villas,” said Jennifer Giraldi, Lionard’s sales director. “They like properties with history and character, surrounded by large plots of land. The Brits have also rediscovered the hills of Fiesole, Tuscany, and the average sale has been in around the €6m to €10m budget.”

Global: Thirdhome

Villa Topanga, Costa Rica

Referred to as 'Airbnb for millionaires', Thirdhome is an international community of second (and third, fourth, and fifth) homeowners who put their holiday pads up for grabs when not in use. In return, they can stay in rather lavish homes belonging to other members of the luxury travel club.

Thirdhome properties are worth an average of £1.8m, and there are some 10,000 to choose from. Money doesn’t change hands between members, but there is a joining fee of £1,800 plus booking fees of £375 to £1,000 per week, depending on which property you choose.

Amanali, Whale Beach Australia

“Our members are successful entrepreneurs, surgeons, architects, lawyers, bankers, accountants and those that have inherited family wealth,” said Giles Adams, European president of the luxury house-swapping service. “They tend to be very seasoned travellers who are probably more adventurous than most and are open to trying new experiences and new ways of getting them.”