Living in Spain, warts and all

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Thinking of renovating or building in the campo?

I wrote piece this a few years back – long before the other issue of “Thinking of opening a compliant business in Spain?” reared its ugly head …

I thought it was time to resurrect it!

Thinking of renovating or building in the campo?

Then you may need to consider the following points – from one who has been there, done that, failed dismally…..

(1) The reality check

OK – so you have trawled extensively around various bits of Spain in the economy hire car to discover the mountainside or valley or olive grove that most closely resembles the picturesque setting for your dream home that has been plastered inside your eyelids for many a year. Having avoided untold pressure from various agents specialising in rural properties, you have finally found The One.

Is the situation of the property or land really tenable? Are you happy to replace your shock absorbers every year traversing the potholed and rock-covered camino that leads to it? If you intend to build, is it accessible for lorries to bring materials to it? Are you prepared to use a car each time you need bread and milk, and to pick up your post from an apartado de Correos, or to collect from a more civilised meeting point anyone who needs to get to you? Is it legally for sale?

You can ask to see the Catastro entry to establish who owns it. Not a bad idea to attempt to speak to the owner, too, if humanly possible – the estate agent will be adding a large amount to the sale price for himself, which may mean that you pay much more than the value that will eventually be entered on the escritura. Is the entire area fully represented on the escritura? Historically, much smaller areas than actually exist have been entered, to reduce contributions. If there is a property on the land, does it appear on the escritura (or even on the Catastro)?

If not, insist that it is entered before you consider buying (this one is a case of “do as I say, not as I did”, I regret to say). This process requires the measurement and certification of antiquity by an architect and a valuation by a tasador, plus a visit to the Notary, and does not come cheap If you intend to renovate or build, is it likely to be feasible? You need to know something about the local requirements and restrictions.

For example, in my area (Bullas, Murcia) you will need a parcela of at least 20,000m2 in order to even consider the building of one house. Is the parcela in an area set aside as National Park or otherwise protected? My (illegal) house is sited in an area considered to be non-urbanisable because it is in an area of natural beauty– something we didn’t know when we started it. It doesn’t matter that the parcela we bought, which occupies the south-facing slope of a river valley, was full of rusting car parts, dead dogs, old beer cans and a rubber plantation of condoms all lurking in shoulder-high overgrowth before we turned it into something much more beautiful. Be very careful, and …..

(2) Trust no-one

Except a very good and knowledgeable interpreter if you don’t speak the language, and possibly even if you do. Estate agents here have no obligation to be accurate, fair, or even truthful, let alone qualified or affiliated with a professional body. In my experience, truth is to many agentes inmobiliarios what a bicycle is to a fish. You are likely to be misled, misdirected, misinformed and be told downright lies – even the solicitors and the Notaries have been complicit in this, especially if they are local and (likely) related to the estate agent, builder, vendor…..

While I don’t usually subscribe to the notion that it is best to use English-speaking people to carry out all that is necessary to achieve your desired ends, I would highly recommend seeking out a firm of Solicitors from the UK but firmly based in and knowledgeable about Spain. As Brits, we suffer very much from the expectations that arise from having lived in a country where processes are prescribed, and we believe that in paying a professional here in Spain our interests will be guarded and all necessary procedures will be carried out on our behalf.

Certainly not so. Having sold our first house in Spain and bought our particular little piece of heaven here late 2005/early 2006, I am still struggling, in 2010, to remove my name from the Catastro for the first and get it onto same for the second because I only discovered mid 2007 that this was not done at either point of sale. I’m still not even clear who should have done it, in the time-honoured Spanish fashion of not being able to elicit a clear answer from anyone on the subject.

Ask your Solicitor to detail the processes for buying and for applying for permissions to renovate or build, and check that they are happening.

(3) Be prepared for a long wait

The “mañana, mañana” attitude holds never more true than in dealings with the Ayuntamiento. They are hopeless. Even after we were told by way of a denuncia, that our house-building was illegal (point 1) and that the paperwork our builder and architect alleged to have had in place to commence the work was, in fact non-existent, it took three years to obtain a resolution and the fine from the Ayuntamiento – and even then because I made such a fuss almost daily in the Oficina Técnica that they hurried it through just to get rid of this “crazy English woman who won’t be content until she has given us many thousands of euros to settle a fine”.

Our builder and his architect, by the way, had disappeared off the face of the earth at point of denuncia, leaving us to face the music.

(4) Sourcing the tradesmen

So you have your parcela and your planning permission. To source the tradesmen, insist on seeing their work and talking to their previous clients. Word of mouth is not enough. Be sure that they will be compliant with your requirements, including materials and methods. Anyone who has lived in Spain will know that their methods are a continent apart from the ones we have always known – and, while some are better, some are definitely sub-standard. You may find that some builders are not entirely up to speed with current regulations regarding, for example, sewage disposal treatment units rather than the old concrete soakaways, or solar tanks for hot water. Make sure that you do your homework so that you can keep a tight check on their compliance.

Know what you want in terms of insulation, windows, electrics, plumbing, waste – and demand that it is done to your satisfaction. Be actively involved in decision-making (they hate this, by the way, but it pays off). Do not pay before you are satisfied, or before the job is complete and functional. Above all, BE THERE.

(5) Befriend your Spanish neighbours

They are likely to be your biggest allies in times of trouble. If nothing else, it may at least minimise the encroachments on your land that could otherwise arise (“oh, actually, this particular field is mine … yes, I know it’s shown on your escritura to be yours, but it is an error, and everyone here knows that it is really mine…”).

Be aware that you may need to fork out extra to prove your entitlements. Are you sufficiently deterred? If you still believe, as I did, that you will only be happy once you have realised this particular dream, then go armed and prepared.

Above all, the very best of luck to you.

Believe me, it is worth it, if you have the stamina.

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