France. What is there to say about France? Despite its cranky Parisians, snobby shop assistants and depressing existential cinema the country remains the world’s most popular vacation destination, racking up almost 80 million visitors in 2011 (according to the United Nation’s World Trade Organization’s most recent report), with Paris the most visited city in the world, counting 40 million arrivals that year. Hey, you’d be cranky too.
Residential and office property prices in Paris soared between 2010 and 2011, largely due to the city’s safe haven status and weak supply, but stalled in 2012. Buyers were wary of making big purchases, tax increases came fast and furious and lending practices were tight. Crédit Agricole Private Banking’s 2013 outlook for the Paris residential real estate market was middling. “At the end of 2012, residential prices have finally begun heading south. In Paris, second-hand apartment prices fell by two per cent in the fourth quarter of 2012 compared to the previous quarter, and in the Paris Region they fell by 1.4 per cent.” The bank went on to forecast a 5 to 6 percent drop in prices in France this year — 3 percent in Paris.
But regardless of how Paris’s property market performs, one thing remains a constant: people are going to continue flocking there on holiday, making resort investments a relatively safe bet. Entering the fray now is the new Villages Natures, located a few minutes from Disneyland Paris and just about half an hour from the City of Light itself. Smack in the middle of Val d’Europe, Villages Nature’s catchment area is impressive: aside from being 30 minutes from Paris on the A4, it’s just over two hours from London by train, and within striking distance of Germany, Italy, Belgium and Scandinavia. Above all, it is unique.
Co-developed by respected holiday home builder Pierre & Vacances Center Parcs and Euro Disney, the resort sits on 180 hectares with 160,000 square metres reserved for natural recreation and leisure, and will feature 1,730 residences designed purely for relaxing and recharging. As a tourism concept, there is no opting out of Villages Nature’s rental programme. “It’s not a second home. That’s not the aim of the project,” begins Isabelle de Wavrechin, CEO of Pierre & Vacances Property Investment. Owners are granted up to two weeks usage per year (as well as preferred rates at other P&V locations worldwide). And despite the singularity of the project, it’s not exclusive. Local agent Landscope Christie’s CEO Koh Keng-shing stresses that Villages Nature is not a purely luxury investment. It’s designed for anyone with an interest in healthy lifestyle, relaxation and taking a few days — or weeks — for vacationers to get back in touch with nature and themselves. The demand for that kind of location is already strong in Europe and rising in other parts of the world.
One of a Kind Spot
So what is Villages Nature? The short version is that it’s a wholly sustainable destination designed to blend nature, pampering, relaxation, education and human interaction. Villages Nature is aiming for zero-carbon operations with zero waste, use of local and sustainable foods, fair economic development and managed water use among a host of others. The features that stand out include the resort’s Aqualagoon, a covered water park with a geothermal source for year-round swimming, the Interactive Farm designed to promote connection with all types of nature — including what we eat — the lake, and its esplanade, the Active Forest and of course a spa among many others.
On the residential front, Villages Nature’s apartments and villas will come in three themes: the high-end Bulle suites, the mid-range Nature suites with a casual, country vibe and the Clan units, ideally designed for families. The properties will be situated on either the lake, in the forest or a village setting. Potential buyers would be entering into a contract with an operator currently managing 51,000 for 28,000 owners with 46 years’ experience, expecting a 4 percent yield and long-term capital appreciation.
But France’s current government, led by François Hollande has been driving money out of the country, with higher taxes frightening off the wealthy and potential investors. Are investors staring down the barrel of huge tax bill every year? “Good question about taxes,” begins Guillaume Hubert de Fraisse, Pierre & Vacances’ deputy manager of international business development. “In terms of taxes, this is interesting for non-residents. This particular development has been developed under a buy-to-let scheme, so this is definitely a freehold. There are a lot of things that make [owners] not liable to pay tax for a very long time. To give you a rough idea, a cash buyer gets a minimum of 10 years tax-free, and the rental income is net of all running charges. It makes it different from other properties on the market.”
Prices at Villages Nature range from HK$2.7 to HK$4.5 million. The project’s first phase is scheduled for completion in 2016 with a second phase the following year.