What should buyers consider when looking at property in Spanish holiday hotspots that may not have been used since the summer of 2019?
We are talking of two years of sun, heat, rain, and wind. The garden will be overgrown unless there’s been a gardener tending it. There is likely to be paintwork needed, and maybe even replacement of guttering, roof tiles and other items that have been exposed to the weather. Facades that are exposed to the sun, being especially south, east and west, experience considerable temperature differences throughout the year and often throughout the day. At this time of year, early November, the sun still has heat, but the night temperature can get down to relatively low single figures and, if away from the coast, frost is a distinct possibility in the colder snaps. This inevitably causes minor fissures in the surface render of the walls, and drying out and cracking of window and door surrounds, tile grouting and woodwork. These need to be filled and maintained on a regular basis to avoid rainwater getting into the house itself. Beachfront houses will have been sandblasted and covered in salt spray during the winter storms, so that rust prevention and redecoration will be even more necessary.
What are the likely defects that may have occurred in a house that’s been empty for the last two Covid restricted travel years?
The most common defects we see in all our building surveys are those related to damp. Often the design and construction conventions, both of the traditional and new styles of houses, relate more to the four or five months of summer heat and dry, and tend to forget about the seven or eight months when there can be periods of intense rain and chill.
Inside the houses, if there has been any damp problem, and the house has been closed up for two years, it can only have got worse. There can be condensation throughout, which causes mould growth in dark cold corners, especially in the upper parts of the house and the basement. Due to the absence of guttering and downpipes taking the roof water away from the house, all that rain pours off the roof down beside the foundations, and this eventually will cause damp in the basement, maybe even reaching into the ground floor. If there has been proper perimeter drainage installed, that should be much reduced, but the eventual solution must be the installation of guttering.
Additionally, when water services are connected, there can be damage caused by burst pipes or just accidental overflows. This water gets underneath the floor tiling and can take years to evaporate out, often causing damp in the walls as they soak it up. The only 100% solution is to lift the tiling and sand bedding underneath, remove the damaged wall plaster, leave the area to dry out, ideally over hot summer months, and then replace everything.
Are there any particular kinds of property more likely to be affected by being empty for a number of years?
Villas and independent property will be more affected by damp and other problems than apartments and townhouses. These latter ones are normally within a community administration, which covers all the external walls and roof, so it’s only internal problems that need to be worried about That’s always assuming that the annual Community charges have been paid by the houseowner.
Anything else we should know if considering buying a property that’s been empty for a number of years?
Enquire why the property has not been occupied for the last two years. Whilst the UK has been affected by Brexit and Covid, there have been many fewer restrictions for other EU nationals. Make sure that the property has all the proper permissions, and especially the first occupation license, as without that you cannot connect to mains water, electricity or sewage.
Check that the property has not been occupied by squatters or informal tenants, as, with the increasing protection being given to both, the owner of a property may not be able to get occupation easily.
If you are wanting to rent out the property to cover the cost of a mortgage, for example, make sure that you’re aware of all the costs and especially taxes that will apply to rental income. These have changed for Brits due to Brexit.
Also, make sure that when you’re looking at a property that you are given a copy of the energy certificate. With the rising cost of energy and increasing penalties on carbon dioxide creation, it’s likely that poorly graded properties are going to become much more expensive to live in in the future, and therefore lose their value unless improved. You have a right to this certificate as soon as you enquire about a property, for purchase or rent, in the same way as for the Nota Simple, which confirms who is the registered owner, so you should insist upon it and certainly not accepted it just being provided at the notary when you purchase.
All the above also relates to new and bank ‘resale’ property, as the basic building could have been part finished for years, before finally being cleared for marketing. Ensure that building, construction and design guarantees and insurances still apply and for how long.
The importance of getting the building inspected before you commit yourself to buying.
All of the items mentioned earlier in the series, and many more, will be brought forward by your building surveyor, so that you can know whether you are buying somebody else’s problems, or whether this is the house for you to relax in and enjoy for many years. Sellers often say that nobody gets a building survey in Spain, but that is not correct and Survey Spain has never been so busy as now. We have surveyors in all the Costas of Spain, plus the Islands. We will be pleased to discuss your property with you before and, more importantly, after carrying out the survey. A short email of headlines of our findings is provided within 24 to 48 hours of the inspection, and the full report in English, is given ideally within seven days of the inspection. The cost of the survey, which varies according to our estimate of the time needed to be spent inspecting and creating the report, can often be returned many times over with knowledge of the defects that you’re taking on, and being able to discuss them knowledgeably with the seller and their agent.