Q. – Why do people go to Southern Spain?
A. – Principally it’s because of the climate. More than 300 days of sunshine and even when it rains, it’s not that cold. The southern Costas, being Costa de la Luz, Costa del Sol, Costa Tropical (S of Granada), Costa Almería and round to the Costa Blanca, never have frost or snow on the coastal plains. The surrounding mountains though can be white-capped, with 5 months of skiing possible on Granada’s Sierra Nevada, only just over an hour’s drive from the warm Mediterranean Sea.

Q. – Why do people buy property in Southern Spain?
A. – Because they have fallen in love with the whole ambience of the area. The greenery and flowers throughout the 8 months, when it’s not parched by the hot dry summer, are rarely seen by the package tourist. All lifestyles are available from the ‘hermits’ retreat into the solitude and medieval ways of ‘old’ inland Spain to the glitzy moneyed razzmatazz of Marbella’s Puerto Banús. The choice is yours to live as you like.

In addition, their investment is secured by the stable political character, EU supported dynamic economy, developed infrastructure, ex-patriot demand and quick and easy access from all the rest of Europe. And don’t forget the Spanish themselves, as they are flocking to the south too, both for holidays and to live permanently. Spain has a great tradition of home ownership and one of the highest percentages of ownership of second homes. All this means that money invested today is likely to be easily realised again in the future.

Q. – How do I decide on suitable property?
A. – The only sensible way is to come over and look around yourself. The cost of coming over is minimal compared the house purchase. You’re going to spend a large amount of money and want the house to give you pleasure and not be a disappointment, so surely it’s worth the time. Websites there are aplenty, but it’s essential to see the place with your own eyes.

Try to decide what you want by how it’s going to be used. A place for use only as a bed as you’re all day on the beach in the summer or on the golf course the rest of the year has a very different specification to a place where you will want to live for substantial periods or even retire or emigrate and live in full time. Many families are doing so and the core of the local economy can be truly said to have its own ‘critical mass’ and be able to survive on its own without being solely dependent upon external investments. Many businesses in Northern Europe are now administered or contributed to in a major way by individuals working for them over the internet while enjoying the lifestyle of sun and sea. And it’s not just the bosses, as running and staff costs can be much less than in northern European cities.

Q. – How do I find it?
A. – Go to the exhibitions in towns and cities near you in the UK, look at the internet and drive around in Spain. By all means accept a flight offer from the estate agents, as they are the people who know all that’s available, but remember that they will only put the properties in front of you upon which they will receive a commission. To see the whole market you need to look around yourself. Go out and get knowledge of the general area you want to live in, call into a number of agents’ offices in that area and they will show you what they have. That way you’ll develop your own expertise. It’s easy to organise a hotel and hire car or use a company that organises buying tours including guides, without the estate agency involvement.

Q. – Found it! What to do now?
A. – When you find the home you want you’ll need help with all the details. Remember that the agent will be being paid commission by the seller and will only get that if there is a sale. It’s not reasonable to expect them to do anything other than point out all the benefits and move things forward as rapidly as possible to you signing legally for the purchase.

For a real ‘Pros and Cons’ analysis, you need independent help. Advisors such as a lawyer and a surveyor can provide that. Make sure that both are completely independent. For example, that they don’t also have the property owner as a client or a relation! But remember, no matter the pressure from the agent or owner, don’t sign or pay anything until you have things checked! If you sign, that is a contract and you are legally obliged to do the things stated in it. No amount of verbal promises can change that.

Q. – What things need to be checked?
A. – Many, but the main ones are that –

  • The seller is, in fact, the owner;
  • You are buying what you think you are buying;
  • The property is in the condition you think it is;
  • You are not taking over any debts of which you are not aware;
  • You will have the money available to pay for the property at the appropriate times plus the unavoidable expenses.

Q. – One at a time. How do I find out the ownership?
A. – Fortunately, Spain has a sophisticated registry of owners and your lawyer or surveyor can obtain a ‘Nota Simple’, which is an extract from the officially recorded title deed. It will confirm who is the owner, provide a brief description including land and constructed areas and list any debts secured on the building. The surveyor or lawyer can obtain these over the internet within 48 hours.

Q. – What am I actually buying?
A. – Again the Nota Simple will describe this. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a plan of the land, which is held in the Catastral register and they are not yet available on the internet. In fact, it can take some time to obtain these. When you instruct a surveyor, he can check matters on the ground and compare it with the written description in the Nota Simple. The local rates (IBI) demand should also be checked, as it should describe the official planning zoning and the structures that are registered and have permission to exist. Eventually, they can also check the catastral plan, though many buyers have to contract to buy before that is available. A good clear written description in the contract is often the best that is practical, making sure to include a detailed building specification if buying off-plan and a list of furniture and fittings if buying privately.

Q. – And will it fall down?
A. – The building needs to be surveyed to check that it doesn’t have major problems and that the value is a fair one. New ones also should be ‘snagged’. A recent newspaper article quoted that a surveyor in the UK would expect to find 10 – 20 snags per room when dealing with an average builder and many more if a poor one. With all the building that’s going on, the Costas have their fair share of shoddy builders! The Spanish Tasador will value it for your mortgage with a Spanish registered bank, but remember that they do not look at the defects that can cost you thousands to make it a quality home. Proper UK style Spanish resident Chartered Surveyor surveys are available in most areas. You can find the firms on www.surveyspain.com Remember also that any garden, pool, retaining walls and access roads have been checked too as they may not be included within the building liability.

Q. – I’m not responsible for the seller’s debts am I?
A. – As long as it’s written in the contract that you aren’t, you will have a claim against the seller if any subsequently appear. However, how will you find him/her maybe a year or two later and will they pay willingly or force you to go to court? Much better to find out first and get them cleared before you buy. Many debts, such as IBI, ‘attach’ to the property and whoever is the owner when the authority ‘knocks on the door’ is liable to pay them, even if they are from some years past. The same with community debts and any others that are recorded in the register. Your lawyer is the person to check that these are all cleared and paid up to date, without any previous years having been missed.

Q. – I have sufficient money, don’t I?
A. – In addition to the agreed purchase price, there will be taxes, fees and expenses to be paid that can add another 11% to the purchase price. Payment starts with the initial deposit and then can be stage payments or the total lump sum if you are buying from a private owner. Second mortgages on your main home is a popular way of raising money, but mortgages are also available in Spain secured on the home you are buying. Make sure that the money’s availability is confirmed in writing before signing any purchase contract or add that as a condition in the contract. Remember that if it’s not written in the contract it’s not part of the deal! Also remember that there are brokers that can assist with reducing the costs of money transfer, as banks percentages can be significant when a substantial sum is involved.

Q. – So I’ve bought, have moved in and am living the ‘dream’. Is that it?
A. – Normally yes, but just like in the UK or wherever your main home is, there will be continuing maintenance, taxes and financial matters to be dealt with. Help can be found to advise and assist with all of these. And remember, if buying a new or recently developed property, that the developer has a statutory liability to provide insurance covering the repair any defects within the first year; major defects that are affecting the quality of living in the first 3 years; and structural defects within the first 10 years. Don’t miss these anniversaries. It would be prudent to have a brief inspection a few months before them and send off a formal list of faults to the developer just to ensure that your legal situation is secure.