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Fortunate in Spain

06/09/2007

The heat that met them at the door of the plane was glorious. After the damp, dank, dreary 'summer' they'd suffered in London, the sun and warmth seeped into their bones and dispelled are fears. It was August 2005 and John and Mary had had enough! The kids and their kids (not to mention the dogs and that goldfish to look after when the family went away); the new, noisy, foreign neighbours; the fears of how their home town was changing; and the sad release from the worry of looking after their last parent. It's now time for them to think of themselves. So, with eyes wide open and a child-like sense of wonder and trust, off they went.

They'd been to Spain on a number of holidays and though strange in parts, it felt in a way like their old home memories; reminiscent of relaxation and freedom from worries. So they decided to buy a 'home in the sun'. They'd met a lovely man last year when they were out. He spoke English - of course he did as he'd been brought up only 10 miles from them in England - and he was going to show them some places that he'd found that weren't really on the market, but he could get them at a good price. And there he was at the barrier, smiling and helping them round the noisy bustle out to his lovely air-conditioned car. Cruising down the highway around to the east of Málaga city, then into the hills beyond. Warmth, openness, enticing smells and bright colours. This was the life they had imagined. They stopped for a coffee at a quaint cafe at the roadside, such wonderful coffee it almost made the flight there worthwhile in itself.

Now Peter indicated they were approaching the land. What a view out over the lake. They'd soon get over the vertigo, Peter said. All roads wind upwards from Málaga so wherever they went they'd have fabulous views. The house was almost complete. Just some internal decoration and fitting of kitchen units and it would be ready. "Come onto the terrace of your house" said Peter, and they all laughed. Yes, it was just what they'd dreamed of. And the price! Well they'd checked on the internet and this certainly seemed in line. OK there was some work to be done, but Peter said that building costs were so low in Spain that they'd be able to afford to complete the house and still it wouldn't have cost them what it would be valued at by the bank's estimator. "OK, let's do it" said John and Mary smiled. Peter too. In a whirl of introductions, Peter introduced them to the seller's lawyer who would act for them too and so save fees as he knew the property so well; to his bank manager who would transfer the seller's mortgage to them with very low costs; and so to the notary with a swipe of a credit card and the contract was signed. Off home they flew, after so few busy days choosing furniture, fixtures and fittings.

Once home, the doubts set in. On the TV, down the pub, in the paper, at the coffee morning, over the garden fence - everybody had tales of disaster. They'd heard this; had they done that; it would all end in ruination. John soon realised what they'd done and Mary was awfully, unnaturally quiet. Trusting one man, who's only known attribute was to be English, they'd signed away their life savings without any independent checks whatsoever. Would the lawyer check everything, when any fault found would rebound upon him with the seller? What of the planning position? Was the house of a permitted size? And what of the building itself? Even if all the planning and 'legals' were correct, that didn't matter if the house was slowly slipping down the hillside, leaking like a sieve or being eaten from the inside out by termites.

Are you expecting disaster? Well John and Mary were lucky. The planning was OK, both at the ayuntamiento and in Sevilla; the lawyer had checked everything thoroughly the first time round - though he never would return their phone calls - and Peter organised a Chartered Surveyor to look over the property for them. Yes, there were some problems and he pointed out that it was smaller than they'd all thought, but nothing that couldn't be sorted quickly. In fact, with his report they were able to get a reduction in the asking price that would easily cover the costs of the work and of the Report. What a relief. And Peter still drops by for a 'fino' sherry when he's passing. He frightens them too with his tales of what can happen when things go wrong. Next time, they'd do the investigation before signing the contract.

And everybody lived happily ever after? Well, only one problem. Those bloody kids keep coming out to stay and are talking of bringing the whole family down here as it's such a good environment and culture for children to grow up in. And as for noisy, foreign neighbours .....!

By Campbell D Ferguson, F.R.I.C.S.
Chartered Surveyor and Survey Spain

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