Buying property in Spain without the pain

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By Rupert Wright, Published in The Sunday Times 06/06/2004

Many Britons complain they are being misled and exploited when they buy Spanish homes. Rupert Wright warns would-be sunseekers about some of the possible pitfalls

Nearly 60% of British people buying property in Spain claim they have been misled at some point while making their purchase. Nearly 75% think it is impossible to get truly independent advice. More than 60% feel that estate agents understate the full cost of buying and owning property in Spain. Despite these complaints, however, only 3% are unhappy to have bought there.
These are the findings of a survey of 200 purchasers carried out last month by Spanish Property Insight, an online consultancy that reports on the country’s property market, and Inmueble, a Spanish-language real-estate trade magazine.

“It is hard not to reach the conclusion that British buyers run the risk of being exploited in Spain,” says Mark Stucklin, head of Spanish Property Insight.

“Buyers are often misled, then overcharged and, if they try to complain, sometimes even threatened.”

When Sarah and Frank O’Brien put down a deposit on a house in Puerto Banus at the end of 2000, they imagined it as just reward for more than 25 years of hard work. They had sold their business in Ireland and were looking forward to a spot of relaxation. Instead, they describe what followed as “four years of hell”.

The couple visited Puerto Banus after seeing an advertisement placed by Interealty, one of the biggest estate agencies on the Costa del Sol. The company introduced them to Immobilien Plus, a German-owned agency, and they were shown an artist’s impression of the Banyan Tree, a development later renamed Bahia de Banus. They say they were taken to a nearby complex, the Oasis de Banus, and told that Banyan Tree would be similar to it.

They paid  500,000 (£332,500) for a two-bed apartment, to be built in a Thai style. It took more than 16 months longer to complete than they were told, and the O’Briens claim the specifications are quite different to the ones they were promised. Four years later, the development is still not finished to their satisfaction.

“The whole place is jerry-built,” says Sarah. “We were promised a waterfall in the complex. The only waterfall we have seen is in our drawing room. Water rushed through this winter, ruining a Persian rug and irreplaceable photos of our children.”

Luis Prandi, sales director of Immobilien Plus, admits there have been problems with the O’Briens’ property and with the project. “But they were compensated. We have asked them to give us a list of complaints, but they have not done so. We are going to take them to court, because they put up placards accusing us of being crooks.”

Problems with agents and developers are not confined to the south of Spain. Bernard and Jenny Etherington decided to buy in Catalonia three years ago. After meeting a representative at a property fair in London, they visited Vizcondado de Cabanyes, a development on the Costa Brava. They wanted a new property but were told none was available. So they bought a house almost 30 years old, then watched as new houses sprang up around it. “The developers just keep building and lying,” says Jenny.

Derek Denham, manager of World Class Homes on the Costa Brava, says: “All the houses built at Vizcondado in the past few years had been sold some years before. We have built another three new houses, but they were more expensive, selling for around  480,000 (£320,000).”

Denham says there will always be people who moan. “More than 90% of the people who buy through us are happy,” he says. “If anybody has a complaint, they should come to us.”

The lesson is: don’t leave your brain on the plane. If you are about to make a serious investment, do your research – which may involve more than one trip. Rueful buyers often blame themselves for taking sellers’ claims at face value, and for not being more wary of sales techniques used to persuade people to hand over a deposit, such as being lured into an instant decision because “the price is due to go up tomorrow”.


  • Do appoint an independent lawyer
  • Don’t be pushed into putting down more than a 10% deposit, which is all that is legally required in Spain
  • Don’t believe claims that yours will be the last property to be built on the complex; what guarantees are there?
  • Don’t count on property paying for itself. Upkeep can eat into rental income and lets are not guaranteed
  • Don’t let yourself be pressured into buying on the spot

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