Rural property



June 2007

The countryside in some parts of the world is so beautiful that only poets can do it justice. This applies to the interior of Castellon province, with its lush hills and valleys, and stunning views round every bend in the road. “It reminds me of the Peak District,” says Andrew Chappell, 33, a property consultant originally from Derbyshire, who now runs local search and find agency Mianna Property. “It’s a paradise for nature tourism like hill walking, and mountain biking, and there are pretty little Medieval villages dotted all over the places.”

Castellon is the second most mountainous province in Spain, and the hills start to rise just a few kilometres back from the coast. Beautiful countryside near Mediterranean beaches was bound to attract British house hunters sooner or later.

“We found the area using Google Earth,” says Pat Garner, 53, a fraud investigator from Rustington, West Sussex. “From the satellite photos the region looked pristine, so we drove down to check it out, and fell in love with it. We are taking early retirement to get away from England, which is being covered in concrete as we speak.”

With a total budget of up to 200,000 Pounds (300,000 Euros), Pat and husband Garry, a harbour boat pilot, are looking to buy a masia (country house) to renovate, or some rural land on which to build a new home.

“We don’t mind being up to 30 minutes in from the coast, and 10 to 15 minutes drive from a village where we can do all the shopping,” says Pat. “We also want to be in a Spanish environment, so we won’t be disappointed around here.”

With their budget the Garners can afford a good choice of property in the region, and could buy to renovate, for example, a 200m2 masia with a good structure and 9,000m2 of land, 20 minutes from the coast, near the town of Vilafames, on the market with Mianna Property for 215,000 Euros.

“Most rural property is under 300,000 Euros and needs renovating,” explains Hobson, a local property consultant with estate agents Gabinete Inmobiliario. “There is the odd large masia with 20 or 30 hectares of land for more than 1 million Euros, for example we have a large masia of 1,000m2 in excellent condition with 29 hectares of working farm land, great views, it’s own chapel, stables and various outbuildings is for sale for 1 million Euros, but there is very little between 500,000 and 1 million Euros.”

Ruins or semi-ruins with up to 1 hectare of land are the bulk of the market, and typically cost between 50,000 and 100,000 Euro, though cheaper properties can also be found. “If you don’t want much land you can find properties for as little as 20,000 to 30,000 Euros,” says Hobson. “We have one for sale for 30,000 Euros just outside the picturesque town of Lucena del Cid, with views of Peñagolosa – the highest mountain in the province. It needs total renovation but could be something really cosy. It has a footprint of 100m2, mains electricity, but only has 200m2 of land.”

Buying a ruin, even if you have to knock it down and build from scratch, often makes more sense than buying land without an existing structure, because it normally makes the planning process easier. “To build on land without an existing structure you need at least 10,000m2 of land, and have to apply for planning permission to build from the town hall,” says Hobson “A hectare of rural land with good access, a well for water, almond and olive trees, nice views, near San Mateu, just 10 minutes from the future airport without an existing structure would cost you 50,000 Euros, but always check the planning regulations with the town hall before you buy land to build on,” advises Hobson.

Rural properties with good structures that aren’t in a state of ruin obviously cost more. “For 188,700 Euros you can buy a fully refurbished masia in Torre de Embesora with 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a roof terrace, and 6,500m2 of land,” says Chappell. And according to Hobson, “For 250,000 to 300,000 Euros you can get a substantial country property of 150m2 in good condition, with around 1 hectare of land. At this price it will probably have utility connections, but may still need refurbishment, say a new kitchen and bathrooms.”

Renovation costs depend entirely upon the size of a property, its condition, and the quality of materials used, “but it is difficult to achieve anything for less than 50,000 Euros,” says Chappell. “A semi-ruin with 1 hectare of land and no mains electricity or water that costs 100,000 Euros to buy might then cost at least 60,000 Euros to renovate to an average standard. A high-quality refurbishment could cost 150,000 Euros or more.”

Builders can be found in most villages, and according to Hobson it’s a good idea to use the local builder. “He will know where to get things like local stone for a good price, and should know who to talk to in the town hall to get things done. A good relationship with your local builder is always important.”

Village properties are also an option in this region, but tend they to be more expensive than rural properties, in better condition, with utility connections, and more sought after by Spaniards. Village properties in reasonable condition start at around 150,000 Euros, and a fully furnished 3-bed, 2-bath townhouse overlooking the church square in Alcala de Xivert, just 3 miles from the beach at Alcossebre can be had for 162,000 Euros from Mianna Property.

Pat and Garry Garner are just the vanguard of Britons looking to buy property in the interior of Castellon. “The number of enquiries has shot up in the last year,” explains Hobson. “The natural surroundings are spectacular, it’s very Spanish, you are close to the coast and cities like Valencia, and prices are still reasonable. When the new airport opens up in Vilanova d’Alcolea, many of the rural properties in this area will be just half an hour from an international airport, and half an hour from the beach.”

If rural property in the lower hills and valleys of the middle of the province ticks all the right boxes for British house hunters with dream of rural Spain, only the intrepid will go for the big hills of the Maestrazgo, towards the border with the province of Teruel. The views here may be even more dramatic, and properties can be cheaper – a ruin with 1 hectare of land near a village like Vilafames might cost 100,000 euros compared to 80,000 Euros in the big hills near a town like Morella but the altitude means that the weather can be harsh in winter.

“Morella might be one of the most picturesque towns in all of Spain, but it can get cut off by snow in winter,” explains Hobson. “British buyers generally want a milder climate, and focus on the middle of the province, not too far from the coast. That still leaves plenty to choose from, around attractive towns like San Mateu, Culla, Vilafames, and Lucena del Cid.”

As has happened in some parts of Alicante and Andalusia, British buyers are expected to bring the rural property market to life. Locals are not interested in buying rural properties in need of restoration, preferring village houses or new build apartments on the coast. As a consequence, there are few renovated country homes on the market, and it can be difficult to find experienced agents with rural property for sale.

The idea of a charming country house in stunning countryside is highly seductive, which is why more British homebuyers are expected to follow the Garners to the interior of Castellon. But there are also some practical issues to bear in mind when buying in rural Spain. “When you find something you like, go straight to the local town hall with your lawyer and check the plans and regulations,” advises Hobson. “You can avoid a lot of problems if you do some basic legal searches.”

In rural areas you should always carefully check boundaries, water rights, rights of way, hunting rights, utility connections (and alternatives), and the structure of any property you consider buying. If renovating, make sure you get a realistic estimate from an architect on renovation costs before you commit, and don’t cut corners with insulation, as it can get cold in winter.

Finally, bear in mind that locals are not familiar with the British, and very few of them speak English. “It’s the downside of what people are looking for,” says Hobson. “Things take longer to get done around here. You have to be patient, and enjoy life at a different rhythm.”

© Mark Stucklin (Spanish Property Insight)