Living in Spain, warts and all

Posts tagged ‘paperwork’

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.


Lost and ignored

Here’s the thing.

I swore that this weekend I was going to put aside all the irritations that have dogged me throughout the course of the creation of esPerro, our residencia canina de lujo, whose job it is to change our lives this year and bring John to live here permanently so that I no longer have to be a Part-Time Wife.

I planned to write a fluffy little post about new-born lambs, spring blossoms, the industry of bees and the next fiesta.

Then I went to the oficina técnica this morning.

The reason for the trip is that, although I went in on the second of March and submitted the large sheaf of papers required to request the inspection of works so that we can perhaps sidle a little closer to the issuing of the licencia de apertura, I have heard nothing more from them in the intervening two weeks.

I turned up at reception at just shy of nine o’clock of the morning, my reasoning being that at that time surely no-one would yet be at their almuerzo (mid-morning breakfast, usually a half-hour time slot somewhere between ten and half-eleven, and always chosen to coincide with my need to speak to the breakfaster). No-one was in sight, even though the receptionist’s coat and bag were slung over the back of her chair.

So I made myself comfortable in the waiting area … and waited.

Around half an hour later the receptionist emerged from a room half-way down one of the corridors off the reception area. She flopped into her chair, dropping a thick sheaf of papers onto her desk and sighed. Then she drew her mobile phone from a pocket in her cardigan and began to compose a text message, oblivious to my presence.

I cleared my throat loudly and she nearly went through the roof. Registering  that it was me, she grabbed her desk phone and punched a number. “Deborah is here,” she pronounced, as though my visit was anticipated and, furthermore, with dread.

“Please wait just a moment,” she then passed the message to me.

A further thirty minutes later, I was beckoned into an office to face an official gazing at me across his desk over steepled fingers. “Yes?” he asked, in the tone of a man who had spent the last half hour in a meeting at which a tiresome task was allocated by the pulling of straws.

I told him I wanted a progress update – that I am now about to complete my third month of paying my social security contribution without yet being able to earn a penny.

He sighed loudly, as if I was trying his patience. “Deborah, you need to submit your fin de obras (end of works) certificate before we can inspect and consider issuing your licence.”

“Señor,” I replied scathingly, “That was submitted two weeks ago. Here is my copy of the solicitud, captured at the ayuntamiento desk on second March at 09:15 hours.” (You smug bastard).

He sat up then. “Show me!” he exclaimed. “But I haven’t seen this!” He started rifling ineffectively through the stacks of files on his desk. “No,” he proclaimed. “It is certainly not here!”

Then he jumped up and hurried from the room with my proof, muttering about taking a copy.

When he returned, he told me graciously that he would try to arrange a final inspection within a week, hopefully to coincide with the report regarding the sound tests.

I asked why the licence could not be issued now, in line with the new government initiative being piloted in the Murcia region this month that allows the opening of a business to be expedited, with paperwork to follow. I was informed loftily that it wasn’t applicable to Bullas. An autonomous region within an autonomous region, huh? More likely that they haven’t found the piece of paper informing them of this initiative amongst the piles of pending files on their desk, since they appear unable to find their arse with both hands.

By the way, my proof of submission, along with all other communication from the town hall, comes with a big banner headline that says Iltmo. Ayuntamiento de Bullas

Iltmo. is apparently an abbreviation of ilustrísimo  (illustrious). I regret that the word that sprang to my mind, and, I feel, probably always will, was iligítimo.

OK, I’ll try to be fluffy next time …

Sodden budgies and sodding paperwork

I am feeling holier-than-thou just now after indulging in a couple of hours of vigorous aerobic exercise this afternoon. Not a brisk walk in the fresh clean air under bright blue skies, breathing in the heavy scent of flowering rosemary and admiring the pink and white wash of almond blossom everywhere. Not a swift jog down to the babbling stream running through our valley, dogs by my side frolicking and panting and grinning. Not (for a change) shifting piles of weighty building materials from here to there up at the almost-ready kennels.

What, then?

Well, a little while back I agreed to house thirty-six budgerigars for a local couple who have both had the misfortune to require, simultaneously, some heavy-duty medical treatment and could therefore no longer care for them. Small birds are not my thing – for some reason, I am much happier dealing with the beefier gob-on-a-stick variety like Cookie, my umbrella cockatoo, who is big enough actually to arm-wrestle. However, having a couple of large flights empty, I was unable to refuse help in the time of need, and so the budgies were set free in one of them to live for the last few months in total anarchy therein.

Reluctant to advertise them generally, given the local propensity for stuffing birds in cages exactly the same size as said birds, I nonetheless put out a quiet word to say that they were available to good homes. I was then contacted by another fairly local couple who actually already have some two hundred small birds in very large aviaries and were more than happy to take them all off my hands as soon as their new aviary was completed. So I got an email today to say that they will collect them tomorrow morning.

Thirty-six budgies in a flight five by two by two metres, all determined to avoid the mad, bad catcher-lady with the spray bottle. I don’t like netting birds – the chance of damage is too great. I soak them with water so that their flight is impeded by waterlogged plumage and I catch them by hand – eventually. It’s good to spray them all regularly anyway, to clean their feathers and discourage mites.

The scene, kindly picture it if you will, therefore involves me jumping, spinning and cavorting like the sugar plum fairy on speed whilst flinging out droplets of enchanted water to shower each bird and guide it magically into a travel cage. The birds, meanwhile, are flinging back as many protective charms as they can remember – protego, repello, impervius, expelliarmus …. (Oh, sorry – have I been reading too many children’s books lately?)

Anyhow, it took, as I said previously, a good couple of hours to gather them all into the smaller cages. By this time, I was hot, red-faced and every bit as wet as they were. I also sported a few bloody, shredded fingers – budgies might be small, but they’re potent. Especially the females in mating mode – those whose cere (the strip of skin across the top of the beak) is dark brown and swollen – who behave as though they’re already guarding their unlaid eggs.

Job done, though, and tomorrow they will move on to pastures new.

I met up with Gill for a quick, well-earned drink afterwards. “Twenty questions, just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers,” I said to her as I walked into the bar. “If you can guess what I’ve been doing for the last two hours, I’ll buy you your beer.”

I guess I knew I was onto a loser when the first two questions were, “Did it involve animals?” and “Did they have feathers?”

I’m clearly far too predictable.

Back, then, to the topic of my last blog post – the torturous path to a fully-licensed business here in Spain, which has provoked quite a reaction and a series of discussions.

Firstly, I forgot to say that, despite the long list of conditions that I am required to meet before they will grant me my licencia de apertura, they are in fact only granting me a provisional eight-year licence anyway.

Secondly, I was misinformed about the sound test. What they actually use is a machine that emits white noise, and then they place receivers that pick up only this noise at various strategic points and distances outside the barn. This tests the eficacia del aislante de ruido (the efficiency of the insulation) and ignores all the rest of the barking, baying, snuffling, honking and farting that goes on all night generally in the campo.

The engineers with whom I signed the contract for this test apparently had in their turn to put the facts before the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente at least twenty-four hours before the test. This makes me feel like I am a high national risk, and seems awfully over the top for a little barn out in the campo in Deliverance country. However, the test will be carried out this coming Tuesday from 8pm to 11am Wednesday morning.   Then I must wait 15 days for the informe (report) before I can submit it to the oficina técnica. Meanwhile, I continue to pay my Social Security without the opportunity to earn a bean.

On the other hand, I have this week managed to accomplish the following:   I have submitted the comunicación previa for the inscripción in the register as a small producer of dangerous waste. Fortunately, I could do this via a desk (la ventanilla única) in the ayuntamiento instead of going all the way into Murcia to the Consejería. Unfortunately, the woman at the desk has even less of a clue about what I need to do than I do. My first visit in this matter required her to print me a form to take to the bank to pay the tasas (some 38€), but her llave (key) wasn’t where it should have been in her keyboard, so I was obliged to kick my heels for an hour or so while she found it.

So having collected the payment form, I trotted off to the bank to pay it. I then had to take the justificante (proof) back to the same woman to add to the papers to be submitted. I asked her what would happen next, since I also need to pay for authorisation (another 200€) following the inscription.

She looked at me blankly. “I haven’t a clue,” she said. “I don’t understand these things.”   Talk about the non-sighted leading the visually-challenged!

This fact was placed in italics, in bold, underlined and highlighted when I went in a couple of days later with the block of paperwork to submit to the Confederación Hidrográfica regarding the depuradora (sewage treatment plant). This block included the (gazillionth) copy of my residencia, the form of solicitud, the catastro map of location, the memoria técnica of the depuradora and the certificado de puesta en marcha (certificate of installation/activation).   If there really exists such a thing as a paper-free office, it certainly isn’t in Spain.

Anyway, I took this little lot in to the same woman. This time, she was away at her desayuno (elevenses) and here only the one person is capable of doing any given job. If they’re away from their desk / sick / dead, the job doesn’t get done. Full stop. But at least this time I only had to kick my heels for half an hour.   As I presented her with the papers, she looked at me with something approaching awe.

“How do you know what is needed?” she asked me. “It confuses even the people who have always lived here.”

“Aah,” I replied. “I think that was the whole idea. But they didn’t reckon on la inglesa estúpida being such a tenacious little bugger, did they?”

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