Mark: Welcome to episode 3 of the SnowOnly Property Podcast. We are here today with Erica Cirbus and she owns ECSM property. She is a specialist in Italian property. Welcome Erica to the SnowOnly property podcast.
Erica: Thanks Mark. Thanks for invitation.
Mark: Let's get some questions started for you. I'm sure everyone that's listening would love to hear about investment in Italy. First of all, if you could tell us a little bit about yourself and your agency and your experience just to get us started.
Erica: Okay. So hi, everybody. ECSM property is a family run boutique, a brokerage agency. We have started about five years ago with this adventure. Our background is in international real estate, finance, and basically we have specialised in properties in the Dolomites, in Tuscany, Apenines in Italy. We mainly focus on areas where we’re very familiar with so that we can provide to all our customers the best knowledge about the relevant area. That's basically our mastermind that we really want to be able to provide as much help and support to our buyers and our clients.
Mark: Yeah, of course. So, obviously being SnowOnly, we are very ski specific. So, can you tell us a little bit about the ski areas that you cover and what's so appealing about them. Obviously you are specific to Italy, so, just give our listeners a little bit of a background on the appeal of Italian real estate in ski areas.
Erica: Okay. So, we cover the Dolomites in Italy that's our primary area. Within the Dolomites there are lots of different areas as well. So, we narrow down to Alta Badia in South Tyrol to the Val de Gardena area to the Fassa Valley, San Candido and also we covered the Brenta, Madonna Di Campigio and Pinzolo.
So, these are the areas where most of the international buyers are looking for properties. And why are they so appealing? Because obviously of the ski area, and also the main reason our international clients point out why they're looking in these areas to purchase a property is the dual season. So, they can enjoy beyond skiing also other activities in the summer months, for example, cycling, hiking, there are lots of different… (beyond current times), international events, cultural events, festivals, and so on.
And also of course, I don't need to mention the Italian flair. But again, some of our clients have pointed out they have traveled between different skiing areas across the globe and they prefer the Italian food, Tyrolese food, which you get in the Dolomites. And of course what comes with it: the apres ski, the different cultural events, the traditions in South Tyrol. So, all of that together, I think, attracts people. And of course the scenery. Beyond that really, the scenery is just fantastic.
Mark: So, you're certainly selling it. That's interesting about the dual seasons. So each of the places that you offer with real estate, they all are very prominent with their dual season offerings, I assume?
Erica: Yes, they are. Absolutely they do. Because, perhaps another point what I would like to point out about Dolomite is the versatility. So, we’ve got, beyond the mountains, different lakes. So, they're also very nice for families to spend time. Also, there are lots of different activity parks. In the recent years, they have added different activity parks for families for children so that in winter, (also in summertime), they have different entertainment for all different generations.
Also, they are very nice hiking areas, different sports facilities. So, riding, cycling also in wintertime, beyond skiing, the number of different activities one can pursue, for example, ice skating, sledging, walking in the snow. So, there is really lots of different ways of enjoying the mountains, not just skiing.
Beyond that and of course not forgetting skiing, something that I would like to also highlight, one of the key reasons why our let's say expert ski clients are looking to buy property in the Dolomites, is the vast area. 1,200 kilometers of interconnected ski area. So, this is one of the largest skiing areas in the Dolomites and each year they're developing it further. They're adding further ski lifts. And also these are really the most modern, very well equipped ski lifts. So, this is again something to mention.
In addition to this, the ski slopes are all equipped with artificial snow making facilities. So, this is something again, very important because some clients ask me about how much snowfall there is in the Dolomites. And of course, with global warming, it is one of the key questions to be asked and I must say that there is guaranteed snow across the Dolomites.
Mark: Yeah, actually we spoke to Gareth Jeffries in another podcast in and around France and with the ski seasons closed last year, I imagine there's still a lot of people that are enjoying the Dolomites just without the slopes, without the skiing. I'm sure with the dual season, it's fundamental important for investors that they might just want to live in Italy around the mountains rather than specifically for a ski property. Although that's the obvious bonus.
Erica: Yes. We have a number of clients who actually purchased the property with us and they are not really skiers. So, they come from very far away, they travel almost 24 hours getting to the Dolomites because they really enjoy being there, for the nature, far away from any industry, from motorways and everything, peace and quiet and of course the views are amazing. And really not least importantly, the Dolomites, it has been announced, about 10 years ago, is a UNESCO heritage location.
Mark: Wonderful. So, that segues nicely onto my next question. What is the typical buyer for these areas? Is it more geared towards families or individuals and where are you seeing the buyers come from?
Erica: The buyers come from all over the world. They are not really primarily skiers. They are nature lovers. So, they enjoy being in nature, again in summer and winter time as well. We have different age groups for families with young children, individuals, but also we have people who plan even to retire in the Dolomites and stay there perhaps all year round or at least six months a year or maybe do a few different trips. So, we have a variety of people.
We also have people who are investing in the Dolomites. So, there can be a good rental return, the rental returns in the Dolomites is about 3%, maybe even more. It depends how one manages the property. But yes, we have people with different purposes, different reasons.
Mark: It's interesting what you said to me about people coming from all over the world. So, I assume the Dolomites is a place that allows ownership for lots of different nationalities, is it?
Erica: Yes. Correct. So, in the Dolomites or Italy, generally speaking, there are no limitations. So, whether it is an EU citizen or from any other part of the world, one can purchase a property and in 99% of cases it’s a freehold property. So, even if it's an apartment, it's a freehold property and in the Dolomites, very, very rarely are there any restrictions regarding rentals.
So, there are no rental obligations. One can use the property as much as they like. They can rent it out if they want, but there are no restrictions or obligations. So, this is another aspect which attracts buyers to purchase in the Dolomites. And recently I have also had a few inquiries from clients who are moving away from other countries in the Alps in Europe because there are various restrictions regarding rental and usage and they are looking to purchase now in the Dolomites. So, this is another aspect to be aware of.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah. That's very important. Actually on the same subject. The opportunity for an investment we've already covered has a return around 3%, if you've got some good management. But in terms of the Dolomites which is so well known, is there still opportunity for investment maybe in terms of appreciation on land purchases? What do you see in that regard?
Erica: In the Dolomites there are, opportunities for investment. Something, that one should be aware of, whether it's during Covid or beyond Covid, it is again, a very desirable area of Italy and the prices are very different, or the property market, is very different compared to the rest of Italy. The prices are, let's say, going up annually year on year by 3 to 5%. Across the province of Bolzano.
So, the prices can be a little bit different, for example, around Cortina, which is also part of the Dolomites It's a very different scenario. So, that's perhaps an area I would very much consider buying, or not buying because the prices have tumbled by about 12% in the last couple of years even without Covid. So, Covid is not a factor in that, but if one looks at south Tyrol especially the province of Bolzano area, the towns and villages in that area, it's a very good investment.
Mark: Obviously we don't always want to focus on Covid but it's ever present at the moment. Do you think that it's had a positive or negative effect on the market over there? I imagine just from previous podcasts I know there are sometimes less properties which are pushing the prices up because there are a lot of buyers moving to the mountains. Are you experiencing something similar?
Erica: Well we have certainly lots of interest in purchasing properties in the Dolomites. From buyers from all over the world, the attraction of being in nature and far away from crowds of people and so on. So, that's obviously very attractive to people. But yes, there is a shortage of properties available to non-residents in the areas where we sell properties. So I wouldn't say necessarily across all of the Dolomites, but in the province of Bolzano, Trente, there are some restrictions as to which properties can be sold to non-residents and only about 40% of the properties can be sold to non-residents. And I'm saying non-residents: One would need to live there for at least five years. So, that's the rule. So, that's one of the key concerns: the number of properties available to non-residents.
Mark: If a particular property comes available, are you having some bidding wars. How's that working for you as a real estate agent? What advice would you give to a buyer that's looking to buy there if that is the case?
Erica: Yes, we have certain locations that are very popular. So, let's say I mentioned one village, perhaps Corvara in Alta Badia, that's the top, most sought after village in the Dolomites. The top location. If you ask anybody who knows the Dolomites they will know about this village. So, most people would love to own a property in that village. So if a property becomes available, then obviously, perhaps not al l properties are the style or size which our buyers are looking for so, it depends really.
Mark: Of course.
Erica: Another thing to be aware of is that there are some restrictions as there are strict urban laws in place. So, the key factor to know is that they're trying not to become an area of mass tourism, they're trying not to advertise the Dolomites too much and they don't want mass tourism across this area. So, they try to keep it as natural as possible. And so there are very strict urban laws in place. So, they're not giving out many planning permits for new construction. So, that contributes also to the high prices.
Mark: Actually, before I ask you one more question, I'm curious about this: are there many options for financing there or is there a lot of cash buyers?
Erica: Most of the buyers are cash buyers, however, recently we have established some collaboration with Italian banks and there is a possibility to also get bank loans.
Mark: They can do that through you?
Erica: Yes, correct. We have established some contact and we and help buyers. I would say that it takes around three months to go through the process. If somebody's interested, I can talk through the process and help with that. But something, that I would perhaps advise our buyers firstly, is to check in the home country or in the country where their income is, where they are resident, if there is a way for financing. As things stand today with banks internationally they are doing lots of checks. And if they don't have credit history, then it might be a little bit more challenging to obtain a bank loan and financing in Italy or in any country abroad, not just our own country.
Mark: In terms of the future of the Dolomites, you've painted quite a pretty picture and it sounds like it's got some real good roots there in terms of overseas property appreciation and what it has to offer. Do you see the next couple of years being fruitful for any buyer that wants to go there? I assume the Dolomites is going to be a place of appeal forever. So, I assume you concur with that thought?
Erica: Yes. I would say that if you’re buying it for your own use the dual season is a key appeal there, with the different events which are taking place. So, you name it, film events, film festivals, or different traditional events. There are two, three different skiing world cup events taking place as well across the Dolomites, so just to name some of the key events. So, these are key attraction for visitors but also if you're looking for a rental return, it's again, something to consider.
And also something to know about the properties in the Dolomite is that you can resell them without any restriction, you can resell anytime. There is a high demand for properties in the Dolomites. Also, as I mentioned previously, the prices are increasing year on year.
Mark: I guess that's why you're in the business!
Mark: You mentioned one resort but I'm curious to know about more places as I think people are looking for the next opportunity or the next place to invest in. So, are there any villages that are up and coming that are developing their infrastructure and becoming then more appealing to people? Any tips?
Erica: Yes. I will mention a couple of locations which I would say are becoming more popular and they are already well known. So, one is Canazei. This is a quite nice village again in the Dolomites, Very good infrastructure, very well connected with ski lifts. So, for expert skiers, this is a great area. Part of the super ski Dolomites, 1,200 kilometers of interconnected, skiable area. And there are some very nice traditional properties there also newly built properties, which we have at the moment. They will be completed by next summer. And also something to be aware of in addition to the very good skiing facilities, are the other sport facilities and village prices, house prices are very affordable let's say. So, they're almost half than in Alta Badia and some of the other sought after areas.
Mark: What's it called? How do you spell it?
Erica: Well, Valle de Fassa and Canazei spelled with a Z.
Erica: Another village I would also focus on is San Candido and it's very close to the Austrian border still in South Tyrol in Italy. This is also very traditional Tyrolese village, very traditional buildings and very good infrastructure. The ski lift is right in the middle of the village. So, you get out of your house/property and you literally just walk onto the ski lift.
In summertime. It's also very, very nice to stay there, different activity parks for families, and also hiking, cycling areas are very good. Close to the three peaks, a very famous tourist area of the Dolomites with lakes, beautiful views and so on, and literally just across the road from the Austrian border. So the beauty of this area is that you can go across to Austria cross country, tracks across to Austria. And also if you just wanted to take a day trip, so you have basically, you can visit both countries on the same day.
Mark: Wonderful! I've lived all around Asia and I'm always interested in schools and hospitals. Are they close? Is that something that your buyers are asking for in terms of the infrastructure, if there are families moving, are there good international schools there that are accessible? How good are the hospitals? I know these things for me are fundamentally important.
Erica: Sure, sure, they are. In all these areas that we cover there is very good infrastructure. There are schools as well. And most of these villages in the mountains are just about 40 minutes’ drive from a bigger town where there's a big area with many things, but yes, most of these villages and towns also have their own health service and schools as well.
Mark: Yeah. Good, good. That puts my mind at rest. I know you've given us some real insight into up and coming resorts, but for any potential buyer, what advice would you give to someone that's considering investing in the Italian Dolomites? Obviously the first thing would be to speak to you, but do you have any particular advice that you would give in terms of the process?
Erica: Sure. Something, that I would advise our buyers to do as we touched upon is about finances. So first, to establish their budget: how much is it, what can they spend on a certain property, because it's really important that they can then look at certain properties, certain price range.
Secondly, I would advise to try to narrow down on a location. Some of the buyers are looking across different countries. So, perhaps at least try to decide which country you are looking for a property in and then to narrow down on the location.
It would be obviously helpful if you get familiar with that area, if you can visit. However we also had certain clients this year who purchased their property without even knowing the location, the village. It might have already been in the Dolomites and so on, but they have purchased the property [without seeing it]. And we try to help, as I mentioned at the beginning, all our clients with as much information as we can about the location, about the process, the property, and so on. Nowadays with all the modern technology we can thankfully do that.
Mark: Yeah. The first step is always to speak to you and you can help them narrow down the enquiry, sort out the criteria.
Erica: Yes, we have also helped some clients this year who were not certain about where to purchase so we point them also in the right direction. Well, perhaps explain about the different areas of the Dolomites, what is the difference and so what type of properties there are. And then when we understand what are the key criteria of our buyers then we explain and give them advice: which location would be more suitable for them.
Mark: Great. So, we're coming up to the last question. It’s a question I ask everyone that's on the podcast. I don’t know if this budget is appropriate, but if you had 500,000 Euros, what would you spend it on and what would your choice of property and location be for you?
Erica: Sure, sure. So, if I had 500,000 Euros I would buy a newly built property in South Tyrol. The reason I'm saying newly built because the newly built properties are built so well with most of the high quality materials, good installation and so on. And most of these combine nature plus energy efficiency. So, in the Dolomites, across South Tyrol, that's something to be aware of, that newly built properties, or even older properties are very well built.
Mark: And for a newly built property, what would you typically get for say 500,000 Euros? What would you be expecting? Studio, one bedroom, two bedroom, three bedroom?
Erica: It depends where. To give you an example at Canazei, you could get a two, three bedroom newly built property for that much literally attached to the ski lift. And we have some of these...
Mark: So ski in, ski out? Wow!
Erica: Yes, yes, that's right. Really does depends on a village but yes, for that much you can get -- and I mean, I personally would buy a property somewhere on a panoramic location with big windows and so on and close to a traditional town with amenities, facilities and so on close by. So, that would be my ideal home.
Mark: Yeah. And just before you go, Erica, I assume there's lots of new build properties around? You said that you would buy a new build, is there opportunity to invest in a new build property?
Erica: Yes. We have some newly built properties at the moment, however they are quite rare. So, as I mentioned earlier, there is a very limited number of building permits given out but there are some. So, we work with local construction companies and we get firsthand knowledge if there is something new coming onto the market. So, yes we have on our portfolio some newly built properties.
Mark: Wonderful. Details to contact Erica will all be below on all the links. So, you can contact Erica through SnowOnly for that. Erica, thank you so much for being on the SnowOnly Property Podcast. And hopefully lots of buyers will be calling you and asking you many, many questions.
Erica: Thank you. Maybe if I can just say one more thing about Dolomites…
Mark: Of course.
Erica: Just which we forgot to mention and is very important, because I know most our clients are looking to get quickly to the Dolomites if they're coming from Europe. They have recently opened and introduced some flights to Bolsano airport, which is just attached to the Dolomites. And they are flights from all major cities from Europe. So, literally within three hours, let's say leaving from London or Berlin or Amsterdam, you can get to Val Gardena and the Dolomites. So, perhaps something one can consider when traveling to the Dolomites.
Mark: I think I'll go and book my flights now!
Erica: Okay. Great. See you there!