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Mountain Bear Lodge, a log cabin near the scenic village of Nethy Bridge, feels like rather modern indulgence for the Scottish Highlands. Featuring a whirlpool bath, sauna and heated boot room (it is a short drive to the ski slopes near Aviemore), the lodge costs more than £3,000 a week to rent out, can accommodate up to 16 people and is already booked up for all of next year bar five weeks. Perhaps unsurprisingly the property garnered an “unusual amount of interest” when it sold last year with a guide price of £900,000, according to its agent Strutt & Parker.
In the Cairngorms – where skiing, mountain biking, water rafting and other outdoor pursuits have become increasingly popular since the Cairngorms National Park was established in 2003 – homes that double up as holiday lets have become big business. Although just 17,000 people are reported to have their permanent home in the 1,748 sq mile national park, it is estimated that 1.4m people visit the area every year.
The ability to turn a profit with a second home not only provides a decent income, but can also help when it comes to sell in a market that is far more subdued than that in London and southern England.
Scottish property prices are down 0.3 per cent year on year on average according to the lettings agent LSL Property Services, and in the Highlands, where Nethy Bridge is located, prices are down 3.4 per cent.
“Many of our buyers are keen on the skiing element, and many now plan to rent out their properties at least part of the time, which has made things like chalet-esque log cabins and modernised properties more popular,” says Suzanne Moss, an associate at Strutt & Parker’s Inverness office. “The snow can be quite unpredictable, but skiing enthusiasts say that both the forecasts and the slopes themselves have improved, with better lifts, parking and services than 10 years ago. Plus, there are so many other things to do that it’s not such a big deal any more as a resident or landlord if you have a bad ski season. The lets are just as, if not more, popular in the summer.”
Strutt & Parker is the agent for Corrour House on the Rothiemurchus estate, near Aviemore, which is being marketed for £820,000. Originally a Victorian dower house, it is built in stone and functions as a 10-bedroom guest house.
Scotland boasts five ski centres, three of which are in the Cairngorms: Glenshee, The Lecht, and Cairngorm itself, for which the town of Aviemore, probably Scotland’s best-known resort, is the base. In the years after the first chairlift was installed in 1961, Aviemore fell victim to overdevelopment and for a long time it was rather drab and tired-looking. In recent years, though, some modernisation has occurred. Upmarket shops popular with a wealthier skiing crowd and better restaurants and bars have made the area more desirable. An Camas Mòr, a planned community of 1,500 new homes just outside Aviemore, recently received the go-ahead.
As the local infrastructure and rental demand have improved, so have the properties themselves. John and Emma Fursman, who live in Edinburgh, decided to transform John’s childhood home, Spey Lodge in the forested Rothiemurchus estate, into an environmentally friendly, upmarket rental property popular with skiers and where they also stay several weeks each year. “It can be expensive to maintain these properties,” says Fursman. “It makes more sense to make some money from it.”
Stephanie Clark, of Savills’ office in Perth, agrees that the part-home, part-business model has become increasingly common. Improved technology and the ability to work from home has attracted growing numbers of buyers from Edinburgh, Glasgow and even south of the border. “Some of them are couples moving here for a change in lifestyle. One person finds they can do their previous job or something similar from home, while the other sets up a hospitality business.”
There are foreign buyers too, she adds, although just a handful. “About half our buyers are from down south, and we have seen a few Americans, too. I think they all come for the same reason, whether they are from nearby or afar – they all just love the idea of that cosy mountainous Highlands idyll, from cottage to castle.”
Buyers who want to spend a substantial amount of time at their property tend to choose something away from the buzz of Aviemore, in picturesque villages such as Nethy Bridge, Carrbridge and Boat of Garten. For the less high-profile slopes at Glenshee, prospective buyers might consider something off the road from Blairgowrie or in one of the historic villages such as Braemar, home to the Highland Games event, the Braemar Gathering, which is regularly attended by the Royal Family. Savills is selling a five-bedroom Georgian farmhouse, once a drovers’ inn, just outside Braemar, with outbuildings that could be converted, for £580,000.
Families may find the numerous beginner slopes at The Lecht ski centre, on the east side of the park a good bet, with properties in villages such as Tomintoul cheaper than the southern or western sides. The Luib, a two-bedroom stone farmhouse in need of modernisation, near The Lecht, is on sale via Strutt & Parker for £120,000.
“Many of the properties feel quite isolated but that’s part of their appeal”, says Clark. “For some people, that combination of quiet and outdoorsiness makes for the perfect holiday – plus they know when they are not there they can get a good return on it.”
● There are two Scottish ski resorts outside the Cairngorms National Park, both towards the west coast. Glencoe, Scotland’s original ski resort, contains the country’s steepest black run. But Nevis Range has arguably the more dramatic scenery
● The ski season is characterised by unpredictable weather but it is cheap – a season-long ski pass costs £420, compared with £830 at the popular Swiss resort of Verbier
● Generally, in the lower level “glens and straths” (valleys) of the national park – where the majority of people live and stay – winter temperatures range from below freezing to about 5C to 7C
What you can get for . . .
£250,000: A four-bedroom cottage in Carrbridge or a modernised 1960s log cabin near Glenshee.
£500-700,000: A six- or seven-bedroom home with outbuildings in Nethy Bridge
£1m+: An estate house with at least eight bedrooms