FACE TO FACE WITH THE OWNERS OF WETAG CONSULTING: UELI SCHNORF AND PHILIPP PETER.
An unusual interview to discover the characteristics of Lake Lugano and the wealth of its shores. What are the most beautiful properties? Are there still families looking for a holiday home in Ticino, or is the trend to travel to exotic locations?
The holiday home by the lake, an image from the past?
PHILIPP PETER: "Absolutely not. The holiday home is a luxury that wealthy families, both Swiss and foreign, continue to allow themselves. We mustn't forget that for many people it's still an investment: I find an object I like, in a beautiful location near the lake, I use it - perhaps until the children are at home - and then I sell it to them or resell it, without excluding a profit margin (he smiles)".
As Wetag, you have some of the most beautiful properties in Ticino for sale, unique objects worth tens of millions of francs...
UELI SCHNORF: "Yes, it's true, we specialise in the luxury sector, but perhaps it's important to say that the most beautiful houses are not directly on the lake, especially in the Locarno area, because here (I say here because I live here and my office is in Via Ciseri in Locarno) the shores are defined, not gentle, so from the 1960s until the 1980s rich families preferred the hilly area below the mountain, carving out wonderful spaces for themselves, with lake views and large parks".
When people hear you speak, it's immediately clear that you prefer Lake Maggiore to Lake Lugano...
UELI SCHNORF: "Of course (laughs). Joking aside, I think Lake Maggiore has a few more advantages than Lake Lugano. First of all, it's very interesting for those with big boats - from Locarno you can sail all the way to Italy, covering a good 70 kilometres on the water. The view, the wide, magical profile, all of this is pleasing, and it's not just me saying it, my clients have been saying it too, for more than twenty years now. Another aspect is that nature on Lake Maggiore is tropical, we have orange groves, grapefruit plants, this is because we are lower (by almost a hundred metres) than the level of the Ceresio (catch your breath). Then I stop... the holiday air you breathe, there's less stress, you feel less pressure from the city, from doing everything in a hurry".
It's not an easy challenge Philipp... what do you think? Lugano or Locarno?
PHILIPP PETER: "I can't say anything against Lake Maggiore, but I'm staying on Lake Lugano (laughs). Lugano is, and remains, a very interesting place to find a holiday home. Moreover, Lugano has been a tourist destination for centuries, appreciated not only for its lake, but also for its mountains, its Mediterranean climate, its gastronomic offer, its exclusive restaurants and its grotti, where people take refuge in summer to eat a nice salamin e furmagin, all accompanied by a good Merlot. At the same time we are very close to Milan (I use the "we" because we also have offices in Via Riva Caccia in Lugano), exactly on the most important transit axis in Europe. In our vicinity we have Malpensa Airport and Lugano Airport, which is currently only operational for private flights".
In Switzerland, municipalities are not allowed to have more than 20% secondary residences, what does that mean?
PHILIPP PETER: "The 20% threshold for secondary residences was set by the "Lex Weber", a law named after its promoter. The "Lex Weber" wanted and wants to avoid ending up with too many closed houses that are only used a few weeks a year. Many people underestimated this law and it was only when it was passed in 2012 that they realised what it actually meant. In a nutshell, municipalities that already had 20 per cent secondary residences were blocked from any possibility of tourism growth. One exception was Andermatt, which is located on the Gotthard massif in the canton of Uri. In this mountain village, the promoter of the revival of tourism, Egyptian Samih Sawiris, reached a compromise with the federal government, asking for all restrictions to be lifted. In the new part of Andermatt, i.e. not in the old town centre, the buildings are mostly holiday homes and foreigners can buy anything of any size, without limit. We have numerous clients who have opted for this location, where we are present as Wetag, also because in addition to the residential part there is the five-star superior hotel The Chedi with its exclusive penthouses and flats".
But does this law penalise you on a business level?
UELI SCHNORF: "Not very much, because we deal in properties that are "in the last stage of luxury", our average annual sales are between 3.5 and 8.5 million francs, and these figures mainly concern primary residences or holiday homes for those with a Swiss passport or permanent residence".
So in addition to the 20% threshold, are there any other restrictions for foreigners wishing to buy a holiday home in Ticino?
PHILIPP PETER: "There is also another law, the "Lex Koller Friedrich" (LAFE), which limits the size of a holiday home for foreigners. So a person, not resident in Switzerland, who wants to buy a holiday home in Ticino, can't have access to property larger than 200 m2 net (which can be 230/250 m2 gross) and land larger than 1000 m2. This law was introduced to prevent foreign property speculation".
UELI SCHNORF: "In this case the luxury sector is penalised, because foreigners cannot buy houses larger than 200 square metres and the most beautiful properties far exceed this surface area. The reality is that historic villas, where generations of families used to live in the past, with servants in tow, are no longer a reality and so many of them remain closed, or with only one inhabited wing. If wealthy foreign families could have access to these properties, from my point of view, it could be an advantage... we would be safeguarding historic houses that with time and high maintenance costs risk remaining uninhabited anyway. I think it's time for Ticino to focus more on luxury tourism. Let's take the example of the Brissago Islands: a jewel, but no one really goes there... whereas the Italian sisters, with their small restaurants and well-kept bars, are a favourite destination for locals and tourists alike".
Can we indicate who your typical client is, perhaps their nationality...?
PHILIPP PETER: "Completely varied: Italian, Swiss... the Germans are coming back, the British (because of Brexit), in short, there's no real rule. Just think that we also have people from Ticino looking for a holiday home on the lake, perhaps a dock, where they can escape from the city's frenzy.
Does the same thing apply to Locarno?
UELI SCHNORF: "We're a bit more northern: Dutch, German and Swiss German (it shouldn't be surprising), but very few Italians. People who can reach the region by car. We have to think that since the 1960s Ascona and the surrounding area have been taken over by wealthy German families, so the love for this land has been passed down from generation to generation. Nowadays, unlike in Lugano, the market for building luxury villas has diminished a lot: people don't invest tens of millions in villas any more, whereas in Sottoceneri they still do".
Why should I buy a holiday home on Lake Lugano and why not Locarno?
PHILIPP PETER: "Diplomatically and rightly, I have to say that both areas are very beautiful, but what does Lugano have over Locarno, Ascona and Minusio? It's a livelier city, it's the third financial centre in Switzerland, so that means that even in the low season there are more clubs open. Then, as I said before, we're close to Lugano, but also to cities like Rome, which can be reached in a few hours by train".
Same question for you, Ueli: why Locarno and not Lugano?
UELI SCHNORF: "The future of Lake Maggiore seems bright. Agreements and Italy permitting, one day we'll be able to go as far as the Navigli in Milan by boat and even (I hope) go on to Venice, thanks to the historic waterway traced by Lake Maggiore, the River Ticino and the Po.
But where would you buy your holiday home?
PHILIPP PETER: "That's a question I've never asked myself (laughs), but if I had to choose... I'd stay on Lake Lugano, I grew up there, I like its light, its grottos, plus it's good for waterskiing. I could also think about moving to Malcantone, near the golf course, since we're talking about holidays and I wouldn't have to use my car too much". Ueli Schnorf: "When I had small children I used to take them all over the world, but often during the summer they would ask me to stay at home, near the lake, exactly where I still live. In short, I always feel like I'm on holiday at home, I'd stay exactly where I am (smiles smugly)".
Wetag Consulting Immobiliare SA
Riva Antonio Caccia 3, CH-6900
Lugano Via Antonio Ciseri 13A, CH-6600 Locarno
Via Beato Berno 10, CH-6612 Ascona
+41 (0) 91 601 04 40