It’s a good idea to do thorough research before buying a property in Spain, and then go about the purchase in an organised way. Rushing into a purchase, or acting on an impulse, can lead to problems and regrets, and the costs are high. Here we look at sensible way to approach the challenge of buying a property in Spain.
Doing the research
When one considers how expensive property is, it is mystery how little research many people do before they buy property in Spain. Background research before buying is time well spent, and those that make the effort to do this will significantly increase their chances of a successful purchase. People who buy in a hurry without doing enough research are more likely to overpay and walk into the usual pitfalls with their eyes shut.
It is a good idea to start your research as early as possible and certainly before you visit Spain to view properties. Your research should continue throughout the time you are looking to buy, though the focus will change from general background research to investigating specific issues as you proceed along the road to buying.
Background research is not a challenge that can be solved like a mathematical equation. There is no correct answer to prove. All you can do is try to get as clear an ideas as possible of the issues you face so that you can take the best decisions. Nobody would deny that information empowers people to make rational decisions, whilst taking decisions in the dark is a risky business.
Broadly speaking your objectives in the process of background research are as follows:
- To clarify the areas you wish to focus on.
- To get a feel for the property market in the areas that interest you.
- To identify the specific types of property best suited to your needs and budget.
- To get a reasonable idea of what life is like in those areas (especially during the periods when you plan to use the property).
- To identify any major risk factors when buying in Spain in general and in those areas in particular.
- To identify individuals and companies that you might consider dealing with during your purchase.
- To help prepare a clear, written brief.
The methods you can use to achieve these objectives should include a blend of the following – all of them if possible.
Visiting Spain under your own steam
In the course of doing your research there is no substitute for visiting Spain under your own steam, and spending time in the areas you are considering. Once again this might seem like a statement of the obvious but once again it is surprising how few people do this.
Holidays are one way to get a feel for an area but they are not ideal and should not be used as the only basis for your research. Holidays tend to present too many distractions and may give you a distorted impression of the area, especially if you are planning to buy a permanent or semi-permanent home. Therefore you should set aside time for a dedicated visit with the specific intention of learning about the local property market and community. In this day and age of low cost travel the cost and effort of doing this is a small price to pay when you consider the size of the investment you are going to make.
The ideal way to research is to rent in the area for a few months before buying. If everyone were to do this there would be far fewer problems and regrets than is the case. However this is often not practical, especially for people who are still working, in which case a week long ‘intelligence gathering’ visit is much better than no visit at all.
The purpose of the visit is to gather as much information as possible on property and life in the area (at different times of the year). You visit under your own steam so that you are completely free to decide what you look at and whom you talk to. If a company is paying for or subsidising your visit you won’t have this freedom and will probably only see and hear what they want you to hear. During your visit you should drive around visiting as many urbanisations, developments and residential areas as possible. Don’t be shy about talking to expats – they are easy to spot and are usually more than happy to talk to people considering buying in the area. Talk to rental companies in the area if rental potential is an important requirements of yours; they know their business and are more likely to tell you the truth about the rental market than estate agents trying to make a sale. By all means look in estate agents’ windows and visit properties to get first hand experience of what is on the market. However if you are just researching never lose sight of the purpose of your visit and try to avoid rushing into a purchase in a bout of over-enthusiasm. If you did it wouldn’t be the first time it has happened.
The internet is a fantastic tool for doing background research. So much so that one wonders how on earth people managed before the internet existed. With a few clicks you can find information on any part of Spain and the property market in most areas. As well as looking for information on properties for sale in Spain you should try to identify if there are any common problems affecting an area. This can be done by using well chosen search terms with combinations of words that might flush out the problems, and by looking beyond the first couple of pages of search results. Online forums are also a useful source of information that often reveal common problems, and allow you to make contact with other buyers, owners and residents in different areas. Expat community websites for different areas and the online versions of regional Spanish newspapers in English are another rich sources of information that you should look into.
Spanish property magazines
There are magazines dedicated to life and property in Spain, for example A Place In The Sun. They offer a wealth of information on many different aspects of living and buying in Spain and you should read at least one of them in the course of doing background research. All of them can be subscribed to and most of them are also available at newsstands around the UK.
In recent years hardly a day goes by without some or other article on buying property or living in Spain appearing in the national and regional press (check out Spanish Property Insight in the international press). Though many of these articles have tended to focus on the ‘dream’ of owning property in Spain they can also be a useful source of information on the problems that people encounter. The Home section of The Sunday Times is a particularly good source of information on property and life in Spain, and the overseas property section of the Times Online website (www.timesonline.co.uk) is certainly worth a visit.
Every year you will find overseas property exhibitions held around Europe and further afield. Many of them are organised by independent exhibition companies and bring together many different exhibitors, often from various countries. In the UK these types of shows are normally staged in one of the big regional exhibition centres like the NEC in Birmingham or Olympia in Earls Court, London. At the website you can find the details of all the big exhibitions around the UK. However, estate agents and developers from Spain are also now organising their own private exhibitions on a much smaller scale. These private exhibitions will be held over a weekend in a local hotel and will promoted in the local press. In this case there is only one exhibitor, though estate agents often invite a selection of developers to accompany them.
In the course of background research it is worth visiting exhibitions as they allow you to get a feel for the types of companies and individuals selling property in Spain, as well collecting information on properties and regions. However, be aware that most companies will try and sign you up on the spot for a visit if you talk to them, and they can be surprisingly persuasive. Many of the ‘inspection visits’ on offer are free or heavily subsidised and seem like a cheap and easy way to research the property market in an area. But bear in mind that these visits have been carefully designed to close sales rather than inform people of their options. Inspection trips are not a good way to research the market, and should only be considered once you are confident about the type of property you want to buy, the area you want to buy in, and the company you want to buy from. So when visiting overseas property exhibitions whilst you are doing background research don’t allow yourself to be persuaded into a visit that you are not ready for.
There are lots of books for sale that explain how to buy property in Spain. Some focus on the process of buying property in Spain, whilst others have a wider remit and cover other issues such as travel, moving in and living in Spain. You may wish to read several books to get information on a wider range of subjects related to moving to Spain.
It is important that you do your background research in the right frame of mind. You are trying to build up a picture that will help you take the right decision when the time comes. Consider setting yourself a timeframe for carrying it out but don’t rush it. Start a file in which you keep all your notes and findings and try to be organised about the way your proceed. And avoid all contact with pushy salesmen in this period as, despite the fact that we all know their game, they have remarkable powers of persuasion and their input is not helpful in this period, if ever.
Once you feel that you have gone far enough in achieving the objectives set out at the beginning of this section you can move onto selecting property companies and arranging to visit properties with a view to buying.