When contemplating a purchase in Spain, you really should automatically take the same or even more precautions that you would when buying a property in your home country. A common sense approach is necessary every time. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen and buyers can get carried away by the dream of owning a place in the sun, especially when prices are as comparatively attractive as they are now.
Below we have highlighted seven common problems identified by our surveyors. Add these to your mental checklist when looking at properties to buy in Spain:
• Damp – the most common defect we find
There are two sorts to look out for: firstly, rising damp or patches of dampness coming through walls common in properties which have been built against rock or earth; secondly, damp descending from ceilings or terraces above. Both are principally due to improper or no application of damp proofing at the time of construction. Removal of planted troughs and installing gutters and downpipes, would cure many of these problems.
• Climate Don’t forget that for around eight months the year, most of Spain has a temperate climate with wind, rain and chill, especially in mountainous areas. It’s easy to concentrate on how to deal with the heat of summer and completely forget to cater for the winter season. If you are planning on spending the winter here, you’ll need heating of some kind as you’ll be used to having it at home.
• Required Documentation Insist that your lawyer obtains written proof that planning and/or other permissions and/or title registration for the initial construction or alterations have been obtained. Watch out in particular for properties encroaching on restricted areas affected by the Coastal Law or Ley de Costas. Just because the property pays taxes or has a registered title, doesn’t mean that all the permissions are in place.
• Utility Connections Inadequate, ineffective, illegal and/or absent electricity, water and drainage connections can be a problem, especially with rural or country dwellings. They can also be a good indication that a property does not have its first occupation licence.
• Personal Responsibility When buying a property abroad, it’s important to keep your head and not believe all you are told without making your own simple checks. Insist on being provided with copies of all the documents as that will concentrate your adviser’s mind. ‘Misrepresentation’ and buying ‘in good faith’ are often euphemisms for buyers not accepting personal responsibility for their own imprudence. Buyer beware!
• Professional Conduct It can be argued that there is an absence of ‘professional conscience’ among some Spanish lawyers who shrug their shoulders when asked: “Why didn’t you tell me?” They may reply: “You didn’t ask,” even when it was obvious that the client didn’t know what to ask. There are many good, reliable and responsible lawyers out there so do not use the same lawyer as the seller on any occasion. Suing a lawyer for negligence or even fraud is not easy anywhere.
• Mortgages Some Spanish property buyers fail to realise that a mortgage is a personal loan, which will have to be repaid in its entirety. If the property used as security can only be sold at a price inferior to the value of the loan, the individual will be liable for the balance. Spanish banks can and do chase debts to other countries and arrest assets and even earnings there. When a bank awards a 100% mortgage over a property it is selling, be warned. If you have to sell again you will not be able to offer that to a buyer and you may be competing with the banks selling other neighbouring property. This is probably not the bargain it initially appears, but instead may be an amoral offer for you to acquire a liability for instant negative equity even if just the selling costs are taken into account.
Help is at Hand
Residential RICS chartered surveyors and valuers give an unbiased, professional opinion of market value, neighbourhood, condition, construction and permissions. They are instructed by their client and work only for them. They have no conflicting loyalty to banks, developers, contractors, owners, estate agents, lawyers, family or town halls.
The Survey Spain Network has individually designed software linking 14 residential RICS chartered surveyors and valuers working all round the coastal and inland areas of mainland Spain plus the Balearics, Canaries and Gibraltar. All reports are reviewed by another chartered surveyor and covered by professional indemnity insurance.
Campbell D. Ferguson, FRICS, has been advising buyers on what’s real and what’s not for more than ten years on the Costa del Sol and for 40 years throughout the UK and Europe.