It helps to have an overview of the different types of property available in Spain, as realistic expectations are always important when it comes to buying Spanish property. The ‘dream’ property that you have in your mind’s eye might not be the most practical, nor the one that most enhances your quality of life. So here we try to answer the question ‘what are your options?’ when it comes to property for sale in Spain.
Villa (vivienda unifamiliar / chalet)
Villas – modern detached properties with a garden and pool – are for many buyers the classic Spanish property – the dream home (like the property for sale in Sotogrande pictured above). They represent an irresistible mix of comfort, privacy and space, setting the stage for living the good life. For this reason villas are the most sought after type of Spanish property amongst foreign buyers.
Though villas make good permanent or semi-permanent homes, especially for families with kids and pets, they may not suit everyone in terms of practicality. For a start they are not ideal ‘lock and leave’ properties and this factor should be considered by anyone looking for a holiday home. They are relatively large properties with gardens and often a private pool, all of which means constant maintenance and cleaning with its corresponding costs. Being large and relatively expensive properties they will also attract higher municipal and government taxes than smaller properties, driving up the overheads. Buying a villa also makes it more likely that you will have to get in the car to go anywhere, as the majority of villas are on residential developments (discussed below), away from town centres. What villas there are close to the centre of towns or villages are highly sought after and command a price premium.
Though most villas – especially those built over the last few decades – are on residential developments, they can also exist independently of urbanisations (as residential developments are known in Spain). However detached properties on urbanisations often benefit from being part of a gated community and having access to a range of communal facilities. In the Valencian region villas on urbanisations are also protected from any issues related to the ‘land grab’ law, more of which is said below. Putting aside questions of taste and looking at it from a purely practical point of view, villas on residential developments probably offer the best overall solution.
After detached properties, apartments are the most sought after type of property amongst buyers looking in Spain. In towns and cities (like the property for sale in Barcelona, pictured above), all along the coast, and increasingly on golf developments there is a wide selection of apartments to choose from in Spain. The apartment has always been the backbone of the Spanish property market – much more so than in the UK – and the only place you won’t find apartments is deep in the countryside.
Apartments don’t make ideal principal homes for families with children and pets, though Spanish families, escaping as many of them do to their second homes at weekends, seem quite comfortable living in apartments. However apartments do make for perfect ‘lock and leave’ holiday properties, being easier and cheaper to manage than detached or semidetached properties. They also suit elderly people looking for a convenient and secure home in a pleasant part of the world. Some apartments have access to communal gardens and pools, which provides access to outdoor spaces that are perfect for enjoying the Spanish climate. Being close to other owners also increases security, but on the downside noise can be a problem as many apartments in Spain have thin dividing walls.
Modern Semidetached (casa adosada)
In the past semidetached properties in Spain were mainly to be found in towns and villages. However in recent times demand has grown amongst both Spaniards and foreigners for modern semidetached properties on new developments, a trend that will continue as people find that semis deliver many of the benefits of villas but at a more reasonable overall cost (both of purchase and maintenance).
Modern semidetached properties in Spain are often built on 2 floors, with a private garden and perhaps room for a small private pool. They offer more varied living spaces than apartments do, but are more manageable than villas. They may also share communal areas such as gardens and a pool with surrounding properties. They can offer a good mix of space, privacy, outside areas and communal facilities, whilst being easier and cheaper to administer than larger, detached properties. Given the communal aspect of semidetached properties they also offer greater security and facilitate access to a residential community.
Despite growing demand, modern semidetached properties are still the least common type of property in Spain. They are not yet a ubiquitous fixture of modern developments, which means there is less of a choice. They tend to be offered on the bigger developments such as those with golf courses, or otherwise in a suburban environment. Having said that buyers will find a reasonable choice of modern semidetached properties in most of Spain’s popular regions.
Village house (casa de pueblo)
Until recently foreigners tended to buy villas and apartments on the coast, or rural properties inland such as country cottages or old farmhouses. However over the past 10 years or a growing number of people have been buying village properties in Spain’s attractive villages or ‘pueblos’.
On the whole village properties are semi-detached townhouses with small private gardens at the back but probably no room for a pool. Such properties are likely to have been built in a bygone era, and in many cases will need substantial reforms to bring them up to modern standards. Kitchens and bathrooms nearly always have to be refurbished, and it is not uncommon to find that these properties have bizarre internal distributions, small dark rooms and small windows. Modern instalments such as central heating or air conditioning are rarely present and parking is quite often a problem too. Having said that there is nearly always a solution to these problems, though the bigger the solution required, the bigger the cost. The attraction of these properties is that they are often in pleasant surroundings, walking distance to many of the things you need, and part of a Spanish rather than expat community. However keep in mind that, as with rural properties, property management companies to help you look after your property may be harder to find in villages in the interior.
Country house / Farmhouse (cortijo / masia / casas rural / finca)
Many people dream of owning a Spanish country property surrounded by citrus trees, olive groves, almond blossom and rural tranquillity. And recently more and more people seem to be doing something about it, forsaking the crush, bustle and high prices of the costas and buying up cortijos inland.
For the best part of the last 50 years rural properties have been going for a song. Changes in Spanish society meant that the young and able headed for the cities whilst the country was left to a dwindling number of rural workers and the old. Times change and now both affluent Spaniards returning from the cities and foreign buyers from all over Europe are looking for Spanish country properties. As is to be expected prices have risen as a consequence. Country properties are still cheaper than coastal properties, and in some areas, for instance Teruel and Extremadura, rural properties are still cheap by any standards. However looking to the future we can expect demand for country properties to rise whilst the supply will remain limited by building regulations in rural areas.
Country properties make for idyllic primary residencies if you can cope with the isolation and the realities of rural living. This is a big if that needs to be considered carefully before committing to buy in the Spanish countryside. A good number of people have found that dreams of sitting out on a sunlit veranda enjoying sublime country views aren’t enough to compensate for the day-in-day-out drudgery of rural life with nothing much to do. Managing a rural property in a foreign environment with language barriers can also wear down all but the most indomitable. Rural properties in Spain may be perfect for you but it very much depends upon the life you expect to lead, the social life you will need and your character. Perhaps more than for any other type of property, serious research and soul searching needs to be done before proceeding to buy a country property. And on the whole country properties make for high-maintenance holiday homes that can prove complicated to manage from abroad.
There are many types of country properties to choose from and the choice varies substantially from region to region. For instance there are grand country mansions in Catalonia (Masias), beautiful farmhouses in the Balearics, and quaint cottages and the end of a dusty tracks in Andalusia and Extremadura. Many of them will need refurbishment, which can be a challenge in a foreign rural environment. And when buying country property one has to pay special attention to issues such as utilities, septic tanks, water rights, hunting rights, rights of way, forest fire risks and boundaries. Title deeds can also be a problem in some rural areas where properties have traditionally changed hands without any reference to the land registry.