Why have a survey? – The discovery of defects lets the buyer negotiate with the seller to have them repaired prior to sale or to reduce the price to cover the costs, uncertainty and inevitable hassle involved in building work. In extreme circumstances the decision is to ask “not what I can do for this property, but what this property can do for me”. It may be that there is too much to be done and it’s better to look for another property that will enable you to ‘live the dream’ of the Costa life.

  • Surveys
    • Building Survey – involves inspection of all accessible areas of a property, plus research into available papers, etc. The report contains notes of all defects found that are likely to affect enjoyment of the property, though these may not have an effect upon the Value.
    • ‘Snagging’ Survey – depending upon the contract signed, buyers may have only 15 days after signing the acceptance of a new property to report differences between what they thought they were buying ‘off plan’ and what they find when they receive the keys. If ‘discovered’ later, it can be more difficult to get things replaced. Especially if someone else with the power of attorney is carrying out the final signing, it’s always best to have the property inspected in detail prior to that date by an independent professional and any faults and omissions formally recorded in the purchase contract.
    • Valuation Survey – involves a visit to a property to confirm the location, style, accommodation and floor areas. Only major defects that will have an effect on the value are noted. Comparing the property to others with known sale and/or asking prices forms the opinion of value. It is normally required by security holders such as banks or building societies, or by owners/buyers unfamiliar with the property market in an area.
    • Structural Survey – we rarely carry out a structural survey, as that would involve breaking into and testing the structural elements. It is normally only required to find the cause of a defect for which evidence has been found in a Building Survey.
  • Essentials – As most clients have already viewed the property and have agents’ sales information, we tend not to describe the location, building, structure, accommodation, services or facilities in detail, but to concentrate our inspection and report time on defects and any other matters of particular relevance. We can of course include more details if requested.
  • Plot/land boundaries – In the time available for a survey, it is impractical for us to measure the land boundaries and calculate the areas. Also this can involve significant effort due to irregular shape, mature plants or steep slopes. To be accurate, it needs to be prepared using appropriate instruments. We shall be pleased to arrange to have a separate survey carried out if required. This should be compared to the Catastral Plan that will become available for a new property. (See Catastral Plan). Unfortunately, the Catastral Register, which should record all boundaries on a master plan of the area, is incomplete in not having records of all subdivisions of larger estates and may not have these plots recorded in detail. Sellers, their agents or lawyer rarely provide these plans. We can carry out a search for the plan, which would also be included in a detailed land survey.
  • Nota Simple – This is an extract from the title deed for a property. A very efficient Internet system enables these to be obtained in 24-48 hours as long as the land reference is available. The NS provides the registered description, owner and debts recorded against a property.
    • Inaccuracy in the description, both in accommodation or floor area, is important and should be rectified by the seller prior to the sale. It can indicate that improvements of the property have been carried out without permission, as all licences have to be shown before the Registrars accept changes.
    • Inaccuracy may also mean that a mortgage valuer for a Spanish lender or insurer could have to value on a reduced basis, as they are obliged by law to use the lesser of the actual area or that recorded in the title. Outbuildings such as garages, stores and swimming pools should be recorded.
  • Catastral Plan – This is a copy of the formal plan and building description contained in the official Catastral Register and used by the Authorities to calculate the local and other taxes. (See IBI) It shows the registered boundaries of the site and the location, size and age of the original buildings and any additions. Again, if there is a variation between the Plan and the actual property, it can affect mortgages, boundary disputes, etc. As the Registrars for the Nota Simple and the Plan Catastral are not the same, there often area variations between the descriptions.
  • Areas – Conventionally, the overwall (construido) area is the one used for the Title Deeds and is therefore usually the one quoted in most sales details. Regulations now state that the internal (util) area is also quoted, but that is different from what could be described as the ‘carpet’ floor area of a house. We normally provide comment on the constructed areas quoted. We can provide detailed room dimensions and plans, measured on site, if requested. Buyers of apartments should also note that the officially quoted floor area can also include part of the common floor areas e.g. landings, entrance, etc., so that the usable area can be significantly less than the area quoted. This can also apply sometimes to townhouses.
  • N.B. As a legal nicety, it should be noted that the land and floor areas stated in the Registry and Title Deeds (Escritura) are those ‘Declared’ and are not guaranteed or checked by the Registrar or Notary. For more accurate land and overwall building areas, the Catastral Registry is more reliable. However, it is only as accurate as the last inspection, which could have been many years before. In addition, the Catastral Registry does not cover all country areas, but these measurements can often be found in the Ministry of Agriculture Register. For larger land areas, the safest action is to instruct a Topographical survey of the land boundaries.
  • Measurements – All measurements given are based on the metric system. Where requested, we can provide conversions to the imperial system (acres, feet and inches) All measurements must be re-confirmed on site.
  • Weather – Damp readings are made with an electronic meter. Experience also enables a surveyor to know the signs of likely problems. However, during long dry periods it is often impossible to identify faults that will become problems when the rain starts again.
  • Climate and Building – Generally, throughout Costa del Sol, but especially in higher mountain areas, there is a need to remember that whilst the three to four summer months are dry and often very hot, the remainder of the year has a ‘normal’ climate of occasional rain and wind and sometimes even frost and snow. Unfortunately, many architects and owners appear to ignore this, thus leading to ventilation, water penetration and draught problems. Also, you should note that wall mounted combined AC/Heating units work well for cooling, but their usually high position combined with blown air can mean that they are expensive due to heating the upper levels of rooms first and creating drafts.
  • Neighbouring area – A large part of the value of a house is due to its neighbourhood and outlook. A benefit of being in a large urbanisation is that the future neighbouring development is known.
  • Road access and parking – The access road to a property can also significantly influence its value. If it is not the responsibility of the local Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), neighbours will probably have to agree and share the costs of maintenance and/or improvement. If there is no immediately adjacent parking area, the carrying of heavy shopping or the like to and from the house will be inconvenient, with removals being especially difficult. Similarly, vehicle security may be a concern. Again, being within a planned urbanisation removes that uncertainty.
  • Practical limitations of inspection
    • Roof – Not on roof or in roof spaces unless open and easily accessible.
    • Under Floor – Not under floor unless open and easily accessible.
    • Electrical system – we try most lighting and socket circuits, and record significant shortages or defects found. However, we do not carry out a detailed test of the circuits or supply. We shall be pleased to make arrangements for this to be done when we find items of concern or if particularly required by our client.
    • Plumbing – we try most taps and note heat and pressure and drainage from the receptacles. We check most w.c.s, baths, showers, basins and sinks to ensure that they appear to empty without trouble. However, we do not carry out any purity or pressure testing. We shall be pleased to make arrangements for this to be done when we find items of concern or if particularly required by our client.
  • Water Supply – We identify if there is a public water supply and also if there are significant water storage tanks, which can be essential if there are water restrictions due to pipe failure or drought. We also note if there is an irrigation system in place in the garden. Being within a planned urbanisation should remove that uncertainty.
  • Sewerage – We comment on whether the house is connected to the public sewerage system or whether it has a community or private septic tank. If connected to a septic tank, it will restrict the use of certain chemical cleaners and inorganic debris should be removed every few years, which may involve a cost. Being within a modern urbanisation, drainage is dealt with as a common matter and is not an individual’s concern.
  • Machinery and Equipment – A modern house contains many items of machinery from heating and air conditioning systems to digital intruder alarms and kitchen equipment. Whilst we do make efforts to check their functioning, e.g. AC fan working and heat or cold supplied; pool pumps working; etc.; we cannot check all items nor guarantee that any work effectively. We cannot test for compliance to manufacturers’ specification nor guarantee that it will work the next time it is used. The survey alone should not be relied upon with regard to such items. In a new property, their functions are normally explained, tested and replaced if necessary by the developer’s after-sales department. We can make arrangements for any items to be checked by appropriately experienced technicians.
  • Fireplaces – We note if the fireplaces have been used and whether there is evidence of smoke ‘leaking’ from the fire and chimney into the living space. We are unable to confirm whether there is efficient ‘draw’ or that the fires function effectively in all weather conditions.
  • Roof – the majority of the properties in the area have concrete and clay-slab pitched roofs, covered by fired clay roof tiles. These tiles protect the impermeable surfaces from contact, sun and water damage. The water gullies created between the tiles have to be kept clear of debris to stop water backing up or being drawn over them by osmosis and thus percolating through the roof structure and into the house. As the roof tiles get older, they become more delicate and care has to be taken when maintaining them not to cause more damage than one is trying to cure. It is also uncommon for guttering and down-pipes to be fitted. This can cause dampness in the lower walls. If down-pipes are installed it is best that they be connected to an underground drainage system rather than being left to spill the water collected onto pathways which can again cause water to collect and damp problems.
  • Windows – the tradition within this area of Spain is for hinged windows to open inwards, probably due to the former customary external ornate security grills. However, this means that they need a projecting drip rail at the foot to throw off rain before it leaks in underneath them. Often these rails do not extend the full width or prevent wind-blown rain. Sliding windows and patio doors have a similar problem, with the lower rails filling with water and leaking into the house as the ‘weep’ holes are usually much too small to let heavy rain flow away quickly. Also, the sealant and damp-proofing installation around the frames can often be defective. Security must also be considered.
  • Web Search – As part of our investigations, we always search the Internet for items relevant to the property being surveyed. Due to practical time restrictions, we are unable to use every Search Engine or study all reference discovered, sometimes being many thousands. Therefore, comments must be looked upon as a headline guide rather than detailed research.
  • Planning Zoning – All areas of Spain are regulated by a PGOU or general plan of urban use. This regulates the areas where residential or other uses are permitted and, when and in detail what density development can be carried out. These plans can be varied by Partial Plans, which amend the details of the PGOU. Buyers should check with their local authority as to how the property and the neighbouring area is regulated by the PGOU and whether it has been varied by any Plan Parciales. If possible, by a meeting with the local planner, you should check whether there are any amendments proposed that might affect the property or the immediate neighbourhood.
  • Planning Permission – We advise that, prior to purchase, you should always check with the local authority and community in which the property lies that permission will be granted for any alterations or additions to the floor space that you are proposing. All areas have regulations that govern the height and ratio of floor space to land ownership. It is especially the latter element that could restrict expansion. Enquiries should be made to the local planning authority, preferably at a meeting with the appropriate individual and confirmed in writing. In addition, the Community in which the property lies may also have similar regulations and again written confirmation of compliance with these should be sought. In the past, owners often took a relaxed attitude in carrying out development without permissions and accepting paying a fine if discovered as a small additional cost. These times have changed and the fines can now be substantial, with demolition of the offending property without compensation having been carried out on a few occasions. Additionally, even if you are not proposing any works, if a property has a significant percentage of unused expansion ratios, it can add to its value.
  • Licences – All dwelling houses require completion of work licences and separate first occupation permissions. These are of less importance in an older building, but it may be that significant changes of use or additions have been carried out without permission. It is the property owner at the time that is liable for reinstatement if the authorities should discover the works within the prescriptive period, normally 5 years. Your lawyer should insist upon receiving copies of all documents.
  • Opinion of Value – Where possible, we form our opinions of value by comparing to other properties in the general area and/or of similar character. If the property is exceptional or without close comparison, we can value on the basis of land and building costs.
  • Definition of Market Value – Unless stated otherwise, all our market values will be calculated subject to the following RICS mandatory definition – ‘The estimated amount for which a property should exchange on the date of valuation between a willing buyer and a willing seller in an arm’s-length transaction after proper marketing wherein the parties had each acted knowledgeably, prudently and without compulsion.’
  • Value Assumptions – In the absence of detailed information to the contrary, we assume
    • Vacant possession with no leases.
    • No unusual restrictions of use or rights for use of all or part by others.
    • No debts attached to the house.
    • Full permissions for all structures.
    • No planning proposals that will directly or indirectly affect enjoyment of the property
  • Liability after sale – A private householder can be responsible for hidden defects for a period of at least 6 months after the date of their selling a property.
  • Builders’ liabilities – New built properties are subject to four continuing liability timetables.
    • First 15 days – Or whatever alternative period is stated in the developers’ contract. The ‘snagging’ period is where defects are noted and the builder conventionally should repair them within 28 days. Major alterations or omissions from the agreed specification can result in the buyer being able to withdraw from the contract and receive refund and compensation.
    • First year – the builder is generally liable for all defects reported within this time.
    • Next two years – the builder is still responsible for repairing major defects that affect proper enjoyment of the property, such as defective roofs, ill-fitting doors and windows, etc.
    • First 10 years – if a building licence was requested after 6th May 2000, the builder is obliged to take out seguro decenal, a 10-year insurance policy guaranteeing the costs of reinstatement if the structure if the building fails. N.B. The definition of structure can be very limited and may not cover inevitable additional costs such as disruption and redecoration.
  • Inspection Timetable – As the timetables are strict, we strongly advise that homeowners should note the appropriate anniversaries applicable to these responsibilities and have their building inspected a short while before the end date. That way, any defects found can be registered with the builder before their liability period ceases.
  • Acceptance of Liability – Clients have suggested that there is no need for a building survey if these builder’s liabilities exist. We point out that often it can be many months of argument before the builder and/or insurance company accepts their liability, with blame often being part transferred to perhaps even a previous owner who has carried out work on the building, thus negating part of the guarantee. During the ‘discussion’ time the householder is suffering from the defect and hassle involved. Thereafter, there will be the inconvenience of the actual work being carried out, which may make the house uninhabitable for a period. A prior survey will at least let the buyer know what problems they may expect in the future and even amend the price they pay accordingly.
  • IBI (local rates equivalent) – This is often not set up by the authorities until some time after first occupation. Owners should check that the description is as a house and any other items match the actual property. Owners should note that prior IBI debts attach to the property not the occupier, and thus liability for the last five years will fall on the owner at the time of the charge being pressed, rather than the owner when the debt was incurred. We understand that this is not the case with telephone, electricity or water debts, as they remain personal to the account holder when the ownership changes.
  • Purchase Deposit – The buyer should insist that the holding deposit is held by the agent or the lawyer and NOT passed on the owner until the sale is completed. If there are title or other genuine problems with the property and you therefore decline to acquire it, you should be due repayment of the deposit. If the seller should withdraw from the sale without good reason, the buyer is due refund of the deposit plus a compensation payment of a similar amount.
  • Community – By law, all urban properties have to be part of a neighbourhood community of owners for the administration of common areas. The direction of the community is by elected owners, with the day-to-day administration normally being by a contracted private firm. You will be obliged to join and contribute financially to the community administration. As the community has powers to charge the owners substantial annual and ‘one-off’ sums and to change the character of the development, it is very much in the interests of owners to participate in meetings
  • Catastral Value – This is a notional value of the property, shown on the IBI invoice, usually much less than the market value, calculated by the authorities. It is the base for a number of taxes.
  • Annual Taxes – We are not tax experts and advice must be obtained from your lawyers, accountant, asesores, etc. However, we understand that there are at least the following annual tax liabilities on owners at present. The liabilities can be different for resident and non-resident owners.
    • IBI – Local rates equivalent – The tax is calculated according to a variable factor applied to the Catastral Value (See above). The factor varies each year.
    • Income Tax – If the property is rented, there is annual income tax at 24% of the gross income. If the property is used only by the owner, then there is a tax of 1.1% to 2% of the Catastral Value (See above), with the amount varying according to the municipality.
    • Wealth Tax – There is also an annual Wealth Tax (Patrimonio), which is a variable scale from 2% to 2.5% of the Actual value of the property, which is calculated by the higher of the recorded purchase price or the Catastral Value. The value is reduced by the amount of loans that may secured on the property.
  • Translations – We can arrange for Reports to be translated by agencies. However, Snagging Lists may require specialised local vocabulary used within the building trades here. Without that, if a List is passed to a building contractor by the developer, the contractor at best isn’t sure what is required. Sometimes they just ignore it and do their best by their own standards. We make a charge of 200 euros for specialist translations into Spanish.
  • The Coastal Law – Ley de Costas 1988 – this is a very important law, which is being applied increasingly strictly. Effectively it means that no residential buildings should be within 106 m of the high tide mark. Buildings located there before 1988 had a dispensation for 30 years, thus from 2018 onwards there is the possibility that they will be removed. It should also be noted that some sections of this act also apply to riverside properties.
  • Other Professional Assistance – You will probably require assistance from a lawyer (abogado) and perhaps an accountant (asesor). In Spain, to help with all the bureaucracy, they also have a professional called a Gestor. They fill in all the forms, stand in all the queues and do all the running around that is required to get permissions, licences and whatever to comply with the laws in Spain. They know where to go, who to see and what to say (or not!) and should get things concluded in half the time and 100th of the frustration. All professionals vary greatly in competence, experience, ethics and conscientiousness. Compare and ask other contacts for recommendations and keep in contact even if they don’t!
  • Caveats and Cautions – All of our reports will be subject to the following conditions –
    • This report has been prepared specifically for the party to whom it is addressed and no liability can be accepted to any third party.
    • It may not be reproduced in any form without written approval of the author and Survey Spain.
    • No detailed test of the services, installations or equipment has been carried out and thus we cannot guarantee that they are functioning and/or free from defect.
    • We have only seen the documents listed above relating to the property and therefore this report must not be taken as confirmation that the property described is within the legal title or owners/occupiers are or are not responsible for any particular matter. In particular, unless otherwise indicated, we have assumed that all extensions, etc., have all the appropriate permissions and licences and are recorded on the escritura along with an accurate description and floor area, as it existed at the date of our inspection.
    • We are unaware of any government planning or other such matters that might affect the property other than any already mentioned. However, as no specific enquiries have been made we cannot confirm that the property is unaffected.
    • We have carried out a visual inspection only and cannot comment on internal, inaccessible or hidden construction details or defects in the property or its surroundings. Any absence of comment on a particular part of the property must not be assumed to mean that part of the property is without defect. Surveys cannot be a guarantee that a property is sound or that all defects have been found.
    • We cannot advise on the existence of contamination, asbestos or other deleterious material within the buildings or on the site. We have not checked for any environmental matter within the building or its surrounds that may have an unacceptable effect upon the property or occupiers. This includes the possibility of future problems as a result of Global Warming, although we will comment where we feel that there is an exceptional history or likelihood of flooding.
    • As all the work is carried out in Spain and Survey Spain is based here, all legal matters will be judged according to Spanish Law except those relating to the professional governance of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
  • DISCLAIMER – Whilst Ferguson Eley S.L. has taken every effort to be accurate in the preparation of this information, given the changing nature of laws, rules and regulations there may be errors, omissions or inaccuracies. This document should not be used by the reader or any third party as a substitute for specific consultation with competent professional advisers. It is provided as a guide only and professional advice should be sought before taking any action. Ferguson Eley S.L. accepts no liability whatsoever for any act, omission, loss or damage that results from any inaction or action taken by the reader or a third party in reliance upon any information contained herein. 

Copyright
Campbell D Ferguson
F.R.I.C.S. Chartered Surveyor
Survey Spain
00 34 952 923 520