House Hunting in Austria: Skiing Heaven in the Austrian Alps for $1.5 Million

This four-bedroom penthouse sits on a plateau at the foot of the Grossvenediger, an 11,700-foot glacier-topped mountain that looms over the village of Neukirchen am Grossvenediger, in the Austrian Alps.

Built in 2016 on the second floor of a south-facing farmhouse-style chalet with overhanging eaves, the 1,615-square-foot apartment has exposed beams and vaulted rafters with a ceiling peak of about 16 feet, said Florian Hofer, a managing director in Austria for Engel & Völkers, which has the listing. Balconies at either end of the penthouse and a loggia overlook some of the 16 other nearby chalets with mountain views reminiscent of “The Sound of Music,” which was set in Salzburg.

Steps lead from a ground-level entry to the penthouse’s thick wood door. The wood-clad great room encompasses the living, dining and kitchen areas, with wide plank floors, a fireplace and a floor-to-ceiling, triple-insulated glass door that slides open to a loggia protected from the elements on three sides. The balcony has decorative wood railings with fanciful carvings near the chalet’s peak.

The J-shaped kitchen has white laminate cabinets, a wood-patterned laminate countertop and a raised breakfast bar. An image of mountains is printed on a glass backsplash across the wall.

A short hall leads to a spa bathroom with a glass-walled sauna and an adjacent relaxation area with mountain views. A second door from the spa opens to the main bedroom.

Three bedrooms have en suite baths and double doors to a back balcony. The fourth bedroom opens to the front balcony.

Two parking spots in an underground community garage are reserved for the penthouse, with a walk of about 40 yards along a path to the chalet.

Neukirchen am Grossvenediger, with about 2,500 residents, is in the western portion of the 715-square-mile Hohe Tauern National Park. The penthouse is within 30 minutes of five ski areas, including Kitzbuhel, a fashionable winter resort with tony shops at its medieval center and an annual downhill race event, the Hahnenkamm. Zell Am See, a city of about 10,000 known for winter sports and summers on the shores of Lake Zell, is 40 minutes east.

The medieval city of Salzburg, with about 150,000 residents and a claim to fame as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is 90 miles north. Salzburg Airport provides flights to other European cities. Munich International Airport is a two-hour drive.

Salzburg has enjoyed a solid decade of housing-market growth, with prices in the city rising 110 percent during that period (and even more at the high end), brokers said. That’s in line with national trends: Housing prices across Austria surged upward in 2019, growing by about 8 percent year-over-year, according to Oesterreichische Nationalbank, the central bank of Austria.

The city attracts large numbers of tourists and students attending one of its three universities. Buyers often seek renovated apartments in Salzburg’s Baroque town center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as lakeside homes in the Salzkammergut, a nearby region of lakes, valleys, rolling hills and steep alpine mountains.

When the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the market for about six weeks starting in mid-March, “there was a postponement of certain discussions and transactions, but not a real shutdown,” said Mark Hüsges, a license partner of Engel & Völkers Zell Am See.

Prices remained “extremely stable and will continue to rise as they did the past couple of years,” Mr. Hüsges added. “I don’t see any negative consequence of Covid.”

Although about half of Salzburg’s residents rent their homes, “people have reconsidered their options,” Mr. Hüsges said, with a push to more suburban areas with “small houses and small gardens,” in case of a second lockdown. “Before Covid, they would have spent money on a city apartment,” he added.

Inventory is low in Salzburg city, where new development is curtailed by numerous “green land zones,” she said. Pickings are also slim in the Salzkammergut.

“Because of the lockdown, people found it is worthwhile to have their own property on a lake, instead of being locked up in an apartment,” she said. Some clients, shopping virtually, “bought properties without even going inside, without even going to the location.”

Sales have been helped by the ability to get “good financing” with very low interest rates, she said.

The markets in Salzburg and Vienna, about 200 miles east, run between 5,000 and 7,000 euros a square meter ($550 to $770 a square foot), said Alex Koch de Gooreynd, a partner at Knight Frank who works on the international residential sales team. Innsbruck and Bregenz are about 5 percent more expensive, said Richard Buxbaum, the head of residential property at the Vienna-based agency Otto Immobilien.

The high end begins just below 750,000 euros ($900,000) and goes up to 15 million euros ($17.8 million), Ms. Muhr said. A newer two-story, 3,200 square foot brick house with a basement and with garage on a quarter-acre lot in a good neighborhood might get 3 million euros ($3.5 million). New penthouses with roof gardens run 20,000 euros ($23,700) a square meter. Properties with views of the Hohensalzburg Fortress, a fully preserved medieval castle above Salzburg’s historical center, command an extra 25 percent.

Demand is particularly high in Kitzbuhel, “a very expensive market,” in part to its proximity to Munich (about 90 minutes) and Salzburg (60 minutes). “Prices there went through the roof,” Ms. Muhr said.

In Vienna, prestigious mansions changed hands in 2020 “for as much as 11.5 million euros ($13.6 million). Exclusive freehold apartments have reached top prices per square meter of up to 24,500 euros ($29 million),” said John Philipp Niemann, a managing director in Vienna for Engel & Völkers.

Many high-net-worth Germans move their residences to Austria “because of the lack of an inheritance tax,” Ms. Muhr said, though taxes are typically higher in Austria than in other European Union nations. British and Dutch citizens tend to buy in the ski areas, while Italian buyers go to Vienna, Salzburg or Innsbruck, which is closer to Italy, she said. Chinese clients also buy in Vienna.

Swiss nationals and Austrians living abroad also buy in Vienna, Mr. Niemann said, with the majority of buyers gravitating “toward luxury new developments and refurbished heritage buildings with state-of-the-art fittings and amenities.”

Americans “love Salzburg as a cultural and holiday destination as well as a place to live,” Mr. Hüsges said.

Buyers in ski and vacation areas like Zell am See and Kitzbuhel as well as Innsbruck are mainly from Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Britain, Mr. Hofer said.

This chalet is on a plot licensed for tourist use. Though the owner can live there, the penthouse must be rented out “for a certain number of weeks each year,” Mr. Hofer said. In order to purchase Austrian real estate, Americans and other buyers outside the European Union must form a corporation in Austria or elsewhere in the European Union. A tax adviser should be consulted, Mr. Hofer added.

In Salzburg state, using a property as a holiday home or for tourist lodging “is subject to stringent restrictions, unless the property is in one of the few municipalities that have not yet reached its maximum quota of second homes, currently 16 percent,” said Dr. Johann Brundl, a notary.

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