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How NOT to buy a house and move to Spain - Pt 1

By Mr Grumpy - Thu 29th Apr 2010

There is no subject or procedure that I could ever stand up and claim to be experienced or an expert in. That said, there are countless subjects and procedures that I am fully experienced and proficient in how not to do. It has taken me years of practise, but I believe that I have finally got it down to a fine art.

The whole process of my buying a property and relocating to Spain was one such fiasco that I will endeavour to tell you about below. Please try and stifle your laughs as you read this and pity my naïve attempts in striving for that ‘Idyllic Spanish lifestyle’ - I’m sure I wasn’t the first, but if I can help somebody not to make the same mistakes that would be good …

I think it was more or less 6 years ago – Mrs Grumpy and I were quite well paid professionals, no kids, average mortgage etc… like many other people in our situation at the time in the UK. We did work quite long hours, often unsociable and at weekends, and often had quite a long commute to and from work. We worked hard and were well paid, we just didn’t have the time to play hard or see much of each other, and the prospect of this continuing for another 35 years until we retired was pretty depressing, and so we decided to do something about it.

It was probably after a few too many bottles of wine on a rare Sunday afternoon off, tucked up in front of the TV and watching the ‘A place in the sun’ omnibus, that we decided that moving to Spain would solve all of our problems, and that the only concerns our new life would have would be when the freezer ran out of ice for our sangria’s.

True, we couldn’t speak a word of Spanish, and the only time that either of us had set foot on the Spanish mainland was a weekend trip to Madrid the previous year, that neither of us enjoyed, but that wasn’t going to put us off.

Fuelled by the wine, we jumped on the Internet and began searching for property for sale in Spain – no, we didn’t have any one particular area in mind as we didn’t know one end of the country from the other.

We found plenty of old buildings, full of character and in need of some reform – they even came with a decent plot of land and cost around 20’000 Euros (Remember, this was back when the exchange rate was in our favour aswell !). So of course, like many Brits in our situation we budgeted about 20 grand to buy a similar ‘property with potential’ and a further 10 grand to reform it into a enormous country pile with character, a heated outdoor swimming pool and enough room for a pony. We decided, quite optimistically, that our money would go so far that we would be spoilt for choice and really needed to arrange a visit.

By chance, the phone call on the website we were viewing was a portal as opposed to one particular Agent, we left some brief details and they called us back the next day. We explained the type of property and area we were looking for : Character building, a bit of land, not too near the town, 10 minute drive to the coast, not too many toursists, an hour from the airport …etc…

”I know just the place!” he said, and little did we know at that time that he was explaining about half of the country and about two-thirds of the properties for sale in Spain. Before we knew it he had arranged a viewing trip for us to meet up with an Estate Agent in just a few days time.

Needless to say we were exited and apprehensive, optimistic even, but above all completely clueless and unprepared.

Once we eventually managed to find the Estate Agents that had been selected for us (their offices were situated in the back room of an antiques shop), they expressed surprise at our being there at all given that it had been raining. However we introduced ourselves to the Team – one partner the ‘local builder’ and one the Estate Agent. They were confident that they could find us the property that we wanted and then help us to reform it, with all the correct licences etc… which was exactly as we would have hoped.

We were pleasantly surprised by the town itself, even though most of the rural properties that we had asked to be shown were ‘a little more rural than we expected'. We were taken aback by how the properties seemed to be either Townhouses tightly jammed into the narrow streets in the Town Centre, New built Villas on urbanisations, or rural fincas miles from anywhere and we couldn’t really decide which type of property we wanted – ideally a hybrid of all 3.

We opted for the rural finca because we could put our own stamp on the property and have a bit of space around us and set to driving around the area on our search for few days. At the end of our 2 days we had selected a plot about 10kms and 25 mins from the Town, up a mountain and with a (very distant) sea view. We excitedly drove back to their offices and immediately began the negotiation process and began to draw up some very basic plans of the kind of property that we wanted and that was possible.

Maybe then was the time to look into the qualifications of both the Estate Agent and the Builder – maybe asking for references or testimonials, professional accreditations and such like, possibly even checking into whether the company was officially Spanish Registered or not ?

So after not making all the recommended and appropriate checks into our Agent and the Plans or the plot of land itself, we decided to go ahead and pay a deposit on the property – the usual 5%. This sum, we were told, had to paid in cash, and so we trotted off to the local bank and drew out a considerable sum of cash using our visa card (and only later found out what the outrageous charges for doing this were!). We handed the deposit over, received a handwritten receipt and a typed contract, and arranged to return in a couple of weeks to take ownership of the property and sign at the notary, when the balance would be paid. The building work could then commence.

It was after a week that we got a phone call from the Estate Agent advising us not to go ahead with the purchase as the local building laws were about to change and that if we did buy the land we would not be able to build on it. It was good that this piece of useful advice had saved us a fortune, but meant that we would have to return to Spain to reclaim our deposit and start the search all over again.

The following week we did just that and found a similar property – this time a smaller piece of land and in the next town up the road, but with a massive ruin on it that we decided to reform – but again, miles from anywhere.

Again, we entered into a purchase and build contract and at first all seemed to go well.

Click here to read How NOT to buy a house and move to Spain – Part 2

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