Mark Stucklin outlines the pitfalls to avoid en route to securing a Spanish country property – from inept British agents to squabbles overs deeds.
Sunday Times Home Section, 3rd July 2005
The number of British people buying in rural Spain has surged in the last five years.
But it can lead them up a dusty track to nothing but problems.
Rural estate agents
Spaniards generally buy rural property through word of mouth or local dealers, corredores, who typically charge 1% of the agreed price to each party. British buyers, on the other hand, usually run the gauntlet of dealing with the new breed of British estate agents that has sprung up in the emerging rural destinations.
Many are recent arrivals who have drifted into selling property for lack of professional alternatives, often once their B&B plans have flopped. Ill informed, and with derisory Spanish that prevents them from understanding even the simplest legal documents, they set about selling property to naive British buyers. That their clients know marginally less than they do is their greatest asset and, to make matters worse, they often charge eye-watering commissions of up to 35% on cheaper properties.
Buying rural property is a complex business that requires the help of genuine experts. Traditional rural methods of exchanging property can create a legacy of title deed and boundary problems, and issues such as renovations, mortgages and connections to utilities in rural areas can be a nightmare if not dealt with in a knowledgeable way. My advice is to work only with British estate agents who can demonstrate at least 10 years of experience in the rural property market, along with fluent Spanish. Using a buyers’ agent can also be a good idea; they cover popular rural areas such as Andalusia, Catalonia and the Balearics.
Title deeds, or the lack of them, can be a big problem in the countryside. Barbara Wood of The Property Finders says that after more than a decade in the business, she has yet to see a correct set of rural title deeds. In the worst case, title deeds don’t even exist, which, according to Wood, is a no-go area for British buyers. “In rural Spain there are many legitimate claims to property that have never been formalised in notarised title deeds. While it is possible to buy these properties, British buyers would be biting off more than they could chew. Just walk away if there aren’t any deeds,” she says.
More common, though, are title deeds that don’t correspond to the amount of land being offered for sale, or that don’t reflect the size or existence of a dwelling.
It’s usually possible to resolve these problems satisfactorily before buying. If you don’t, once you have bought the problems become yours. You need to identify title-deed problems in good time -something many British buyers fail to do and build the solution into the negotiations with the vendor. The golden rule is: never buy until the title deeds are correct.
Building permission and renovations
There are relatively few renovated rural properties on the market outside Catalonia and the Balearics. For the time being, most rural properties will need substantial work to make them habitable. Many buyers overestimate the kind of building permission they will get, and underestimate the costs of refurbishments (often on the advice of British estate agents).
Building permission rules in rural areas are now very strict, and you can only expect permission to refurbish an existing registered dwelling rather than increase the footprint or build new. Given that most properties will need new plumbing, wiring, flooring, damp-proofing, plastering and painting, not to mention new kitchens and bathrooms, figure on a budget of more than E50,000 (Pounds 33,000). Use local Spanish builders rather than the British cowboys popping up all over the place. Note that many British agents recommend builders who pay them a kickback, which drives up the renovation budget by 5%-10%.
Utilities and other issues
If you are looking for tranquillity and birdsong, be sure to buy a property that is connected to the electricity grid. If not, you will go mad listening to the sound of your generator. Few rural properties are connected to mains water, although one can easily get by with a good deep well in all but the driest parts of the country. However, it is essential to investigate the water supply before buying.
Mortgage problems, rights of way, hunting rights, land-grab concerns (in Valencia) and septic tanks are some of the other issues that need to be considered in detail before you buy.
© Mark Stucklin (Spanish Property Insight)