'Prop Int' - Erna Low's Joanna Yellowlees

Perhaps the best part of my job involves meeting many of the key individuals in the property world, and I'll use this blog to share 'Property Intelligence' with readers.

So here goes with the main points from an interview with Joanna Yellowlees, property supremo at the ski specialists, Erna Low. Her firm, which majors in ski holidays, started in 1932 and is widely regarded as the leading UK player in the ski property and vacation market – over 14,000 people holidayed with the firm in 2009.

Its legendary reputation has been earned with a small but hard-working staff; just four full time in London on property sales and about 13 on the holiday side, with a few freelances in ski resorts.

Ski property is not a large component of the global real estate market and business has dipped in recent years - for all ski-property players, not just Erna Low - thanks to global recession, the sharp decline of Sterling and, to some extent, growing concern about the long-term viability of resorts if climate change continues apace.

Even so, Joanna suggests as many as 5,000 ski properties are sold to Britons annually by all agents combined. These are the other key points Joanna makes:

• Erna Low’s property business has shifted almost wholly from new-build to resales (chiefly because so few new ski chalets, villas or flats have been built in the past two years);

• Sales volumes are down around 50% from the peak (no pun intended) of 2006/7;

• The top-end multi-million Euro villas and chalets still sell as well as before, but it’s the next tier down (perhaps Euros 300,000 to Euros 500,000) that has suffered big time;

• Buyers have retreated back to established markets, chiefly the Alps – people are no longer interested in taking a punt on ski apartments in Bulgaria or other emerging locations;

• Several sale-and-leaseback ski schemes (all the rage a few years ago) have suffered because the developer/management firm has gone bust in the downturn. Owners in a few small developments have formed their own management committee but in other larger schemes with 100 or more owners of different nationalities “there’s a bit of a mess”;

• Erna Low will soon launch new summer property schemes in premium European locations – the firm has already sold non-ski schemes in the Caribbean, Italy and Mauritius, so this is not completely new territory.

For Erna Low's property website, click here

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