Buying a property in Spain should not be approached frivolously. It is a big investment in time and money, and the result is likely to have a significant impact on your life. This means that you need to think hard about why you are buying and what you should buy given your circumstances. Doing so helps you get your ideas clear from the start, and encourages you to do some careful research. This may sound like stating the obvious but the truth is that many people allow dreams and wishful thinking to cloud their judgements. People who fail to do the hard thinking at the start are more likely to waste their time and be disappointed.
Once you have done some background research into the market the next step towards a successful purchase lies in analysing and defining your needs. Doing so not only helps you understand and prioritise your requirements, it also helps you to prepare a clear, written brief describing the characteristics of the property you need. This results in a useful document that helps guide your search and that you can share with estate agents and other professionals who you deal with during your search.
Wishful thinking will do you more harm than good so be dispassionate and realistic when defining your requirements. Think hard about your circumstances both now and in the future, try to identify the property characteristics that will best fit with your evolving circumstances, and try to challenge your own assumptions about what you really want and need. Be honest with yourself during this process, even though it may involve shooting down a few fantasies. For example a rural property can be very appealing but the isolation often proves too much for some people. You need to identify the important issues at the outset rather than once you have bought. And be sure to include everyone affected by the decision and arrive at a consensus that everyone can support. It is a recipe for disaster if your children or partner are not fully supportive.
Example questions to consider
Needs are as varied as the individuals that have them so it would be impossible to create a complete list of the issues to consider. However the following are some suggestions that cover the basic issues that affect most people.
Will this be a holiday home for a few weeks a year, or will it be a main residence for spending all or part of the year?
A holiday home means you probably not be there for large parts of the year. Therefore you will need a property that doesn’t require a great deal of attention on a regular basis. The last thing you want is for your holiday home to become a burden that interferes with your life. Apartments or villas on urbanisations are the best option in this respect, as security and maintenance tend to be easier for these types of properties. Perhaps look for something with good rental potential to earn income and avoid leaving the property empty most of the year.
A more permanent home requires greater thought. You plan to spend large parts of the year living there, so you need to be somewhere that offers you the best quality of life. This means considering the local infrastructure and facilities, community, security, accessibility, and so on.
What do the family need?
Generally speaking, if you have young or teenage kids, your life will be a lot easier if you a buy property that allows them to have fun without you having to drive them everywhere. Residential estates that attract families are ideal, as both parents and kids are happy. On the other hand if you are relocating on a permanent basis then you need to think about issues such as schools and healthcare.
What sized property do you need?
Be realistic about the size of property you need. Don’t buy a property on the assumption that extended family will always be staying, as you may end up with something too big for you. Focus on your own requirements.
What kind of property do you need?
Different kinds of property (for example new build/resale, villa/apartment, on- estate/off-estate) suit different needs, and it is important that you are aware of their relative merits before deciding what to buy. This is one of the most important questions that you need to answer.
How much effort do you want to put into maintaining the property?
Essentially it is just the end of the beginning when you complete the purchase. Property in Spain, as anywhere, doesn’t look after itself, and maintaining property in a foreign country can be more of a challenge than at home. Depending upon what you buy, you may find yourself having to deal with local government, local builders, cleaners, plumbers, gardeners, and what have you, and all in Spanish.
What sort of maintenance budget do you have?
You need to be clear about the maintenance costs that different properties involve, and budget for them before you purchase. Otherwise you may find yourself owning a property that is too expensive for you to maintain. A good agent will give you a guide to the maintenance costs of different properties. For more detail on the sorts of costs you will face see the ‘Owning a property’ section of this guide.
Which regions best suit your needs?
Whereabouts in Spain to buy is another important question. You may have personal reasons for choosing one region, such as family or friends located there. However bear in mind that each costal region of Spain has a different set of advantages and disadvantages, and it helps to know which one best suits your needs. The vast majority of real estate agents are locally focused which means they know very little about the other regions of Spain, and will be determined to sell you a property in their area. If you have no strong personal reasons for choosing one area, then it is in your interests to know about the merits of all areas. You may be surprised to find that some of the lesser-known areas are the most attractive. The only way to find out is to visit and research the area.
How important is accessibility?
Convenient access will be important to you if you wish to travel regularly. As an expatriate you will probably find that you need good access, both for you and for the convenience of family and friends who may wish to visit. Good access means a choice of international airports that can be reached within an hour or two by car. It could also mean proximity to a TGV/fast train terminal.
What is really important to you in terms of surroundings?
Some properties offer rural charm whilst others offer urban glamour. Being in the centre of town or right on the beach front will have advantages and disadvantages, as will being out in the countryside. What to choose depends on the qualities you value the most at this time in your life. You also need to think about the infrastructure you would like to have around you, such as hospitals, schools, shopping, leisure activities, and so on. A good agent should be able to advise you on all these issues.
What kind of community would you like to be living in?
Some people may prefer the solitude that comes with a house in the woods far from anywhere. Others may like the idea of a vibrant international community that you find on many of the best residential estates. Think about what you would like from a social life if you are going to spend a lot of time in Spain.
What will you need from the property in 5 years time? In 10 years?
Never forget how quickly the years pass by. If you are buying a property for the long term then bear in mind how it will suit your needs as they change over time. As always a good agent should be able to advise you on this matter.
What level of security do you need?
Holiday homes make for easy targets and burglaries against these types of property are increasing in Spain. So if you are buying a property that will stand empty for much of the year it makes sense to look for an environment with extra security measures such as a gated urbanisation.
Is investment a primary or secondary concern?
Many people have bought Spanish property in recent years primarily as an investment, both in terms of rental income and capital gains. If you are buying as an investment then you have to focus on the type of property with the greatest potential in these terms. A good property agent will be able to advise you on the factors that drive property investment returns, along with the tools to help you analyse them. If you are buying primarily as property for living in and enjoying, then you will find you have a wider choice of properties.
© Mark Stucklin (Spanish Property Insight)