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Considerations when buying a Cave House in Spain

- Updated: 19/07/2013
Considerations when buying a Cave House in Spain

Of all the types of property available in Spain, it is perhaps the Cave House that causes the would-be buyer the most cause for concern. Undoubtedly, this is because of the fact that it is so unfamiliar to those who have not lived in a certain area of Spain before, but why should this fact alone deter so many ?

Tumbit asked Spanish Inland Properties to tell us why Cave dwelling deserves further consideration :

”Cave Houses can be found in quite a few areas of Andalucía where the terrain is suitable and the climate relatively dry. Unsurprisingly cave houses have been around in one form or another for thousands of years and are still with us now, complete with all the mod cons. that you would expect to find in the 21st century.

Most people have never heard of Spanish cave houses and, unless you have been fortunate enough to stay in one, you cannot imagine what life must be like for the modern day troglodytes.

So what are the main differences between a cave house and a conventional bricks and mortar building ?

Locations : Almost all cave houses are build into the sides of a hill in an area which is dry and has rock types that lend themselves to their construction. Virtually every cave house you see when driving around southern Spain was originally dug out by hand in the first 70 years of the last century. Digging your own home out of mother earth and shifting all the resulting rock was an arduous task not to be taken without first carefully selecting your site, after all this was the family home. As a result cave houses are strong, dry and have stood the test of time.

The cave houses of old were the homes of poor peasants and were very basic affairs, no water, no sewerage and sometimes only the very basic electrical supply ( a couple of lightbulbs if you were fortunate). After the 1970s most cave houses were abandoned as the village inhabitants were either forced away by farm mechanisation or the plethora of jobs on the Costas and in the major cities. Abandoned, they may have been, but everyone still had an owner.

During the 1990s rural tourism began to flourish. Supported by government grants, some enterprising individuals started to buy up derelict cave house, modernise them in a very traditional style and rent them out to the curious and those looking for something a little different. It was not long before cave houses pricked the interest of International tourists, closely followed by others who wanted to own their own, giving birth to the revival of the cave house.

Today's modernised cave houses usually have several rooms built on the front of the old traditional cave home. In the conventional build you will usually find living rooms, kitchen, bathrooms etc, basically this is the part for daytime living. The front build has plenty of light through large windows and the cave rooms at the back are mostly used for ‘snug as a bug in a rug’ bedrooms.

It comes as a surprise to some that cave houses can have every modern facility, including electricity, potable water, sewerage, satellite TV, Internet and log burners for winter warmth. If you want, you can have central heating preferably in the form of underfloor heating. As cave houses maintain a relatively constant internal temperature summer and winter, air conditioning is not required. Outside swimming pools are not uncommon.

Because the original cave houses were self-built by hand (architects and developers were totally unnecessary) each one is different and unique in its layout. Internally cave houses are best described as being like the quaint old cottages found in Cornwall and Devon with beamed ceilings and whitewashed walls.

Legally cave houses are treated in the same manner as resales of conventional houses and homes. They have escrituras and are registered in the Land Registry and Tax Office. As such, mortgages and insurance are available so they are safe to purchase so long as you take all the precautions that you should take when buying any property in Spain.

So, if you are looking for a unique, affordable property in southern Spain, Cave Houses are definitely worth a closer look.

Further Resources :

Cave-Living Forum.

Comment on this Article

Can you please let me know what restrictions there are to adding on to the internal portion of a Cave house, as well as onto the part built outside of the house (obviously attached to the Cave). Would we be able to increase the internal rooms at all?
Veronica Sanford - Tue 7th Nov 2017
Which Bank would supply a Mortgage on a Cave house?
Veronica Sanford - Mon 12th Jun 2017
Can you advise of an insurance company who will insure both buildings and contents ? We have been with Linea Directa for 3 years and they are no longer insuring cave houses from 2014.
Jayne Lingwood - Mon 23rd Dec 2013
It all sounds great - and I agree that if people have been living in Cave houses for generations it can't be a bad idea - but I am curious about the risk of exposure to earthquakes ? The Granada and Inland Andalusia area seems to have it's share of seismic activities and I wondered what the risks were ?
Gideon Palmer - Sat 16th Nov 2013
In reality the overwhelming majority of cave houses are dry and the reason is simple. The cave houses in southern Spain were dug out using simple hand tools more than one hundred years ago. This required a huge amount of effort by the person doing the work who almost invariably was going to live, with his family, in the result of his efforts. Because of this the position of the cave house was carefully selected to ensure that the surrounding rock was both dry and strong. There is no need of drainage channels inside of a cave house not of false internal walls to protect against damp or water ingress. Also most cave houses, that are lived in today, do not have any type of ventilation other than the air that naturally circulates. Some cave houses do have simple extractor fans, mainly installed in bath rooms and deep internal rooms, taking air to the outside. I have been in hundreds of cave houses and damp and structure are not the main issues.
Les - Wed 26th Jun 2013

As an RICS surveyor based in Spain, when looking at a cave house the principal concern would be damp, both from rainwater percolating through the rock and also from condensation due to poor ventilation. Both of these can be dealt with easily by appropriate drainage channels along the inside of the cave, perhaps behind a false wall or seating arrangement. Similarly, piping for services and ventilation would have to be allowed for and hidden. Externally, these services would have to come from and go somewhere, so make sure that they are connected to legal, reliable supplies/drains. Yes, the geology is important as that will dictate the amount of water percolation and possible cracking/landslip potential. Check the older, neighbouring properties for what’s happened to them.

The legality issue must have been addressed in the past, with the ownership being like an apartment as the landowner of the surface ground above in theory owns a cone based on the land boundary and from ‘the centre of the earth to the sky’. Who knows, there may be gold underground!

The survey required to get a mortgage on a cave house is the same as on any other property. It is a valuation survey only. If you want a structural or geological type survey that is something different and not required by a lender.
Les - Tue 25th Jun 2013
What criteria does a surveyor need to consider when looking at a Cave House ? Is some kind of Geological inspection a requirement before a survey can be passed and therefore a mortgage granted ?
Stephen Carves - Tue 25th Jun 2013
The criteria for getting a mortgage on a cave house is pretty much the same as on a conventional property. Not all insurance companies will give cover on cave houses but two or three big companies will and again costs are similar to conventional properties. Running costs are generally considerably cheaper because of the lack of heating and cooling that is required. Dave below is offering good advice about trying one for a few nights as it is the only way to find out whether they are for you or not.
Sean - Tue 4th Jun 2013
In answer to Paul Coulson, there is no catch with buying a cave house compared to buying a conventional property. You need to take the same precautions i.e. get independent legal advice and carry out your usual due diligence. You can get mortgages to buy a cave house both from UK and Spanish lenders. Not every lender will provide a mortgage but most will subject to the usual market and personal conditions. Running cost are quite low, rates and other taxes are low, electric usage is low due to the the high thermal insulation and that air conditioning is not required for the hot months. Insurance is available and comparable to conventional properties. I hope this helps.
Les Edwards - Tue 4th Jun 2013
No catch. Why dont you book a holiday in one of the many holiday caves? See if you like it. Theres a really nice self catering holiday cave in the village of Fuente Nueva that our friends have stayed in, or the estate agent mentioned in the article can arrange a holiday cave for you.
Dave - Mon 3rd Jun 2013
As a regular visitor to the Granada area, I have often been drawn to considering buying a Cave House - especially as they seem so competetlively priced when compared to a conventional property, but have always thought that there must be a catch.... is it difficult to get a mortgage for one ? what about running costs or Insurance costs ?
Paul Coulson - Mon 3rd Jun 2013
There is a very large multi cultural community living in cave houses around the Altiplano area, some permanent & some for holidays. If you would like more information, log into the Cave Living Forum link (Above)
Dave - Tue 28th May 2013