Along with the type and physical state of the property you also have to consider the location and surroundings that will suit you.
Though you cannot be expected to visit every region in Spain before buying it is important to do some research before focusing your search on property for sale in a specific area like Barcelona or Sotogrande. You may have an overriding reason such as family to choose one area, but the point to take on board is that you do have a bigger choice than most people realise, and different regions suit different needs. Choosing the right region for you will go a long way to ensuring your purchase is a success.
In the past a majority of foreign buyers opted for properties on coastal housing developments. However tastes are changing and now only 35 to 40% of buyers intend to buy property in Spain on a residential development / gated community, including golf developments. In reality a majority will always end up buying on residential developments due to the choice, convenience, security, and community they offer. Nonetheless the buying intentions of foreigners in Spain are less homogeneous than the used to be, and the market is evolving to meet new types of demand. Approximately 50% of buyers now plan to buy in a rural or village environment, whilst 5% to 10% plan to buy in one of Spain’s cities. Though it was always possible to buy property in the countryside or the cities it is now much easier to do than before.
Urbanisations / housing developments
In English the term ‘housing development’ doesn’t have the nicest ring to it. However in Spain, where they are known locally as urbanisations (urbanización), housing developments are popular with both affluent Spanish and overseas buyers, and are home to the vast majority of the country’s detached new properties. The variety of urbanisations is increasing as the market evolves, with more urbanisations targeted at specific niches and offering a wider choice of semidetached properties and apartments. Anyone who wishes to buy off-plan or newly built property is likely to end up buying on an urbanisation.
There are different types of urbanisations, ranging from simple estates with basic infrastructure (roads, street lighting, utility delivery and sewage), to luxury gated developments with an impressive range of services and facilities that often include a golf course. Common to all estates are municipal regulations that determine the estate’s infrastructure, distribution and build-density. Urbanisations also have a community of owners, to which all owners belong and contribute financially, that is responsible for managing the services and zones that all owners benefit from. The community of owners is explained in more depth in a later chapter.
Developers of some urbanisations only install the basic infrastructure and then sell off plots to individuals who wish to build their own properties. At the other extreme are the developers who provide, or even insist on providing, a full building service. Generally speaking Spain’s golf developments, which are also urbanisations, provide the most complete service, including in many cases property management.
Urbanisations are a relatively recent format that has proved popular with Spain’s increasingly affluent middle classes. They have mushroomed around cities like Madrid and Barcelona, creating dormitory suburbs in a country where they hardly existed just a few decades ago. Urbanisations have also spread rapidly along Spain’s coastline, and in the space of fifty years the coast has gone from being some of Spain’s cheapest and pristine land into one long semi-urban strip characterised by relatively high prices.
British buyers have always focused on the coastal urbanisations due to the attractions of the beach, sea views and the climate. Many developers of coastal urbanisations have also targeted British buyers, in some cases so successfully that ghettos have been created consisting almost entirely of British and Irish owners. German and Scandinavian ghettos also exist, though mixed developments are also common. When visiting an urbanisation it is usually easy to get a feel for it’s community profile, and the developer’s sales material and staff also provide obvious clues.
Urbanisations that appeal to foreign buyers are now starting to emerge further inland, often within 45 minutes drive time of the coast. Inland urbanisations tend to be cheaper than their counterparts on the coast, and also benefit from the more tranquil environment of the countryside compared to the bustle of the coast. Inland developments that target niches such as retirees are emerging and this trend of inland urbanisations that appeal to specific buyer segments is set to continue.
Urbanisations do offer a convenient solution for foreign buyers and so will always have the lion’s share of the market. However people looking for permanent or semi-permanent homes rather than holiday homes should realise that many urbanisations on the coast effectively close down from October to May and only come alive during the crush of the summer peak season. As Christopher Hunt from Marlow in Buckinghamshire who bought on the North Costa Blanca says, “It was a real shock for me to experience what actually happens in these urbanisations during the yearly cycle. For most of the year there is actually no one there. No neighbours, closed shops, closed restaurants, hardly anything exists apart from that magical, over-the-top two months of the year during July and August when the place is swamped with noisy Spanish and other EU nationalities with their families.” You need to visit urbanisations out of season to identify which of them sustain life throughout the year. The urbanisation you buy on should be chosen to fit with the way you plan to use the property.
Urban or rural
Housing developments offer a suburban living environment. Most of them are on the built-up coasts or clustered around cities and towns, but few of them have ‘high street’ amenities on site, with the exception of the macro-developments. If you want to be surrounded by a full range of amenities you should consider one of Spain’s towns or cities, as increasing numbers of British buyers are doing.
People who prefer city life to suburban or rural living will find themselves spoilt for choice in Spain. Barcelona, Madrid, Palma de Mallorca, Valencia, Alicante, Malaga, Seville, Cadiz, Santiago de Compostela, Ibiza, and Granada are just some of Spain’s cities that are attracting British buyers looking for a vibrant urban setting for a new life in the sun. Smaller towns such as Antequera in Andalusia or Zafra in Extremadura are also emerging as destinations for buyers.
Even greater numbers of British buyers have started house hunting in Spain’s rural interior. Given the need for access to an international airport and the better climate in coastal regions this trend is still limited to a couple of hundred kilometres inland from the coast. As discussed above in the section on country properties, rural living will not suit everyone, and people have a tendency to take poor decisions based on romantic dreams of the rural idyll rather than first hand experience of the reality. You need to be honest with yourself, do the hard thinking necessary for careful consideration rather than lazy wishful thinking, and best of all rent for six months in a rural area before buying. This is not so important when it comes to second homes, but on the other hand rural properties make for complicated second homes.
For people considering buying rural property in the Valencian region a word needs to be said about what has come to be known as the ‘land grab’ law of the Valencian region. This law, known in Spain as the Ley Reguladora de la Actividad Urbanística (LRAU) was introduced in the Valencian region to facilitate the process of urban development in areas that have always been zoned for development. The original law was poorly drafted in key respects that gave promoters an unfair advantage that allowed them to develop land against the wishes of local property owners, in some cases forcing owners to contribute to the development costs. The Government of the Valencian Region has passed a revised law that will make it easier for local property owners to block development proposals that affect their properties, and present their own proposals. The original law, though undoubtedly poorly drafted, has been largely exaggerated and misreported in the British press. Even so you should always consult your lawyer on this issue when buying in what appear to be rural areas of the Valencian region.
On the coast
There are a few points to bear in mind if your heart is set on the coast.
As a general rule the closer to the coast you go the higher the prices. Sea views are much sought after and command a premium, as do properties that are walking distance from the beach.
However life on the Spanish coasts can challenge one’s patience in July and August, when the whole world seems to descend upon the thin sliver of the beach. Roads can turn into one long traffic jam, beaches get packed and getting a table in a restaurant becomes a Herculean task. If, like most of the Spanish, you are a beach-fanatic, then easy access to the beach will be non-negotiable. However in many ways owning property near the coast with access to gardens and a pool is a compromise that offers plenty of other ways to enjoy the climate and surroundings without always having to fight your way to the beach. If easy access to the beach is not one of your key requirements then you should think twice about paying the premium for being close to the beach.
One last point about buying close to the beach. There is a zoning law in Spain known as the ley de costas (coastal law) that limits residential building to within 1 kilometre of the beach. Some properties have been built in contravention of this law, which brings their legal status into question. This affects very few properties but it is always worth checking with your lawyer when buying beachfront properties.