Spanish Property Insight


Spanish Property Insight

Spanish Property Market Analysts

Many people dream of building their own house in Spain, or renovating a property with potential. But if building a house or renovating a property in your own country is a big commitment, imagine how much more of a challenge it is in a foreign country like Spain.

The key to success is knowledge and organisation: You have to know what you are doing and be well organised.

This guide, written with help from Habitan Architects, will help you get your mind around the key issues to understand if you plan to build or refurbish a property in Spain.

Permits or licences required for building or renovating property in Spain

The permits you need are issued by the City Councils (Ayuntamientos). The types of permits and the requirements to obtain them vary depending on the extent of the project but in general they can be group as follows:

– Permits for major construction (obras mayores) for new construction and restoration projects
– Permits for minor construction (obras menores) for renovations

The costs of both of these types of permits are calculated based on the percentage of the final construction fee. Since this license has to be obtain before the project begin, initially, the client will have to pay for the license calculated based on the estimated fee, then once the project is completed, the client then will have to pay for the difference based on the actual costs of the project.

The request for the permit (solicitud de licencia ) require a cost and so does the permit itself. The work permit for major work should cost between 3 and 3,5% of the initial referential budget. The cost for a work permit for minor construction is lower and very often free in the case there is no modification in the interior distribution. Once granted the city council allows a year time frame to begin construction and between six months to two years to finish depending on the scale of the construction. Any license can be prolonged with an addition cost.

Other types of licenses and permits:

The habitability certificate (La cédula de habitabilidad)

Once the work is completed, it is necessary to obtain the certificate for habitability. This it is a certificate that issue by the autonomous communities (comunidades autónomas) of Spain and that certifies the construction fulfills the regulations of habitability in Spain. The cost is insignificant in view of the other expenses. It should be requested for and pay by the client.

The license of first occupation (La licencia de primera ocupación)

After the completion of the work, the City Council (Ayuntamiento) must ensure that the construction corresponds with the original project to which it has given license to. To attain this, the City Council will arrange a visit with the client and will verify various aspects of the work. When approved, the license of initial occupation will allow for requests of services for utilities such as electricity, water and gas. Its cost is insignificant in view of the other expenses.

Land classification and planning zones

All land in Spain belongs to one of the following planning zones

1. Suelo Rustico – Rural Land or Plots

Rural land, also called ‘suelo no urbanizable’, is governed by the national land law (Ley de Suelo), and by the land laws of the autonomous regions.

Some rural land is protected (suelo no urbanizable protegido), and can’t be built on, whilst some can be built on if certain conditions are met, for example a minimum plot size of 10,000m2. The regulations governing building on rural land vary from region to region.

Over the years, tens of thousands of properties have been illegally built on rural land, causing problems for owners and the authorities alike. Be sure you understand what can and can’t be built on rural land before you make any commitments to buy. The zoning of rural land can be checked at the town planning department of the town hall.

2. Suelo Urbano – Urban Land or Plots

These are urbanised, serviced plots on housing projects with access roads, water, electricity. These housing projects are known as urbanisations (urbanizaciones) in Spain

Certificado Urbanistico – Town Planning Certificate

You can get a town planning certificate for any plot in Spain from the town hall where the property is located. This is a certificate signed by the town planning authorities confirming the plot’s planning zone, use, building space, and building type. Always ask for one of these certificates before buying land to build in Spain.

The professionals involved and their responsibilities

Obviously it depends on the extent of work and/or on the type of renovation. For a renovation of an apartment, for example, an architect (arquitecto) that could take care of the entire project, from the construction to the interior, is not the same than an interior designer (interiorista) that focuses more of its work towards furnishing and decoration. From both end of the spectrum, an architect can supervise a project, sometimes required by law, and can also confer to the sensitivity and needs of the client.

New Construction (Obra nueva):

The participation of a professional architect (arquitectos superiors) in a new construction is required by the Spanish laws. Only qualified architects could be the authors of these projects and supervisors of the construction work.

These professional architects must have an accredited degree (titulo homologado) from Spain and that are members of the local Association of Architects (Colegio de Arquitectos) of their corresponding communities. This it is the organization that represents the architects and you can always find a listing of the associated architects through them. Legally the architects have as much the right of the intellectual property of the project as its civil responsibility.

It is also required by law a supervisor of the construction work; he or she must have a degree of a technical architect (arquitecto técnico). The Association of Technical Architects (Colegio de Arquitectos Técnicos) of each community is the organization that represents these technical architects, although often the architect can recommend a trusted technical architect in the area.

Restoration (Rehabilitación)

According to the Spanish law, only professional architects can perform modification in structures, façades and interior partitions. Hence, they are the only ones that could restore existing buildings.

The architects are the authors of the projects and supervisors of the work. In this case, depending of the size of the project, a technical architect may or may not be required.

Renovation (Reformas):

If it is a simple renovation in which the interior distribution of the house will not be modified, an architect can manage the work as much as a technical architect or an interior designer. Unlike professional architects or technical architects, interior designers are not required by law to have a specific degree to perform these services and they are not responsible of the works, nor are they group in any official organization. If, however, the interior distribution changes, the presence of an architect is then compulsory.

What are the fees and charges?

In any of these cases, the fees of the responsible technicians are unrestricted although usually they follow the standards established by their corresponding professional associations and are bound to the budget of the project. For these reasons the fees and charges listed below are only approximation.

Professional Architects (Aquitectos Superiores):

The fees (honorarios) of the architects are calculated based on the architect’s estimated construction fees. This estimate (presupuesto) is calculated according to certified standards, approved by the Association of Architects, based on project size, type, and location. Please keep in mind that this estimate is always significantly lower compare to the realistic costs of the project. The estimate is simply to serve as a basis for the calculation of the architectural fees, NOT the actual project cost. The architectural fees are derived from the percentage of this estimate and an agreement of the fees and fees schedule must be reach between the client and the architect before the work begins. Regardless of the final costs of the project, the architectural fees remain the same as contracted. Usually, the percentage is proportion to the size of the project, thus, larger projects have a lower percentage while the smaller scale projects have a higher percentage.

The percentages suggested by the Association of Architects are:

New Construction: 15.5% if the size of the project is less than 50m2, 12% if more than 200m2.
Restoration: 18.5% if the size of the project is less than 50m2, 16% if more than 200m2.
Renovation: 19% if the size of the project is less than 50m2, 16.5% if more than 200m2.

Technical Architects (Arquitecto Técnicos)

In residential project, the technical architect normally participates only in the supervision phase during the construction of the project. There fees are also based on the estimated construction fees. Typically they are about 30% of the architectural fees.

Interior Designers (Interioristas):

As mentioned earlier, there aren’t any official organizations that represent interior designers nor any set or standard fees or charges established.

What is their scope of services, and their obligations and responsibilities?

Professional Architects (Aquitectos Superiores):

As mentioned earlier, these are the authors and are responsible of the project. They are obligated to have a professional insurance (seguro professional) that covers certain mishaps or deficiency of the project.

Technical Architects (Arquitecto Técnicos)

They are responsible of the supervision during construction alongside with the professional architect. They are also obligated to have a professional insurance and have the civil responsibility of the construction of the work but not the project.

Interior Designers (Interioristas):

They do not have any legal responsibilities for the construction nor the project.

Information and documentation required

To proceed with a new build or refurb in Spain, a certain amount of information and documentation is required.

What is required depends on the type of project.

New Construction

1. A geotechnical study (estudio geotécnico del terreno) that will determine the type of soil, its composition and its resistance. This information is necessary to decide on the type foundation use for the project.

2. The city planning and zoning regulation for the parcel (información urbanística de la finca) in question that will allow the architect to know the parameters of future construction. The information should include the following; the number of floors permitted to construct, square meters, constructed area per floor, the alignment or distances between the lot and your neighbours etc.

3. A topographical survey of the property (levantamiento topográfico de la finca) that specifies the exact boundaries of the site.

Extension or Renovation

1. Survey of the existing building and site (un levantamiento de planos de estado actual), which includes plans, sections, photos etc.

2. If possible, supplementary information on the state of the existing construction (el estado de la edificación). For example, a study of the condition of the structure (or any other questionable infrastructure) if there is any doubt in that area.

Where can you find for this information, and what are the estimated costs?

Geotechnical study (Estudio geotécnico): Normally the studies are done by geologists who contract excavating machines in-situ to take samples and test them in the laboratories. The cost depends on the type of soil and the number of samples. For a single-family house of 200m2, an estimated cost should be around 1700 – 2000€. The study should be contracted and paid by the client although the architect can recommend professionals in this field.

City Planning Information (Información urbanística): This information is, by law, open to the public, free of charge and is provided for upon request by the City Council (Ayuntamiento) of each district. Depending on the municipalities, it might be possible to obtain it online.

Topographical survey (Levantamiento Topográfico): Normally they are done by surveyors or engineers who measure precisely the lot, the distances and the level changes. The survey must be contracted and paid by the client although the architect can recommend professionals in this field. The estimated cost is around 1€ per square meter.

Surveying of the existing building: Depending on the level of difficulty, the surveying work can be done by the architect (if it is something as simple as measuring the floor plan) or a surveyor or engineer (if it is more complicated and requires the use of specialized tools for the measurement). If the subject is a house to be reformed, it is more common for an architect to do the surveying work and the cost will be added as part of the services provided. The architect usually will charge this by the hour and the price is approximately 100€ an hour with a minimum of 4 hours. For a floor plan of 100m2, the price is usually around 400€.

If the building at hand is an old dwelling (una masía Antigua) that is difficult to measure accurately, the best thing is to contract a professional surveyor (un topógrafo) that is equipped with better measuring instruments. In this case, the price can cost around 4€ a square meter.

What is the expected time frame (los plazos) for obtaining this information?

All these preliminary works require time. It is recommended to request various estimates from different companies/professionals so that you have a better idea of the cost and can choose depending on your budget and requirements. After choosing and contracting the appropriate technicians, it takes about a month in the case of new construction and around fifteen days in the case of renovation to get results from these studies.

Types of building projects

Unless you are just repainting and decorating you are likely to need a licence from the town hall to build or refurbish a property in Spain.

According to Spanish planning regulations, residential construction or refurbishments fall into 3 basic categories:

1. New Construction (Obra nueva): Completely new construction on vacant sites or built sites that will be demolished.

2. Extensive Renovation or Addition (Rehabilitación o ampliación): Renovation of a home that modifies the volume of the building, its surroundings or its structure.

3. Renovation (Reforma): Renovation of a home that only affects the interior distribution or the finishing.


Each of these project types need different documentation and involve different professionals. As a result, the costs for these projects can varied considerably.

The prices listed further on are estimates based on an average quality of construction and finishing. Any particularity in the construction or varied situation is not reflected in these estimates. In addition, these estimates do not include taxes (IVA / IRPF).

Getting the job done

To get the job done, roles, responsibilities, budgets and payment terms need to be clear.

So the first question to answer is ‘who is responsible for the execution of building work?’

According to the law in Spain, the professionals in charge of the work (la obra) are the architect (arquitecto superior) and the technical architect (arquitecto técnico), if there is one. They are also responsible for the security measures required during the construction, in other words, it is part of their duties to apply any relevant regulations in the safety and security of the environment of the construction.

Building budgets and relations with the contractor

Once the architect has been selected and the project has been defined, you are advised to get several cost estimates from various contractors for price comparison. The architect should advise the client in this regard, but the final decision should come from the client . Once the contractor has been chosen and the appropriate permits have been obtained, the construction can begin.

The architect should visit the construction site periodically, especially when there are doubts or problems occur. The client is free to visit and observe the construction as often as desired, but the architect is the one who deals with the contractor and whom the instructions should be taken from. The client should always deal through the architect.

The structure of payments


The architects are paid in completion of each phase of the design and construction. Depending on the complexity of the project, the process can be categorized with the suggested percentage of payment as follow:

1. Schematic Design (Anteproyecto) 10%
2. Design and Development (Proyecto Básico)30%
3. Construction Documents (Proyecto Ejecutivo)30%
4. Construction (Obras)15%
5. Completion (Finalización de Obras)15%

These percentages are negotiable, and should be agreed upon by the client and the architect before starting the project.


The contractor charges via monthly certifications, in other words, every month the contractor issues a certificate in which he presents and assesses all the work that has been carried out during that period, also stating the payment deadline. Before payment is made, however, the architect should review this certification and give his consent to the client.

Insurance (Seguros) and the Office of Technical Control (OCT – Oficina Control Técnico)

During construction of the project, the client is obligated to ensure that the contractor has an effective insurance to cover faults to third parties or work damages. In addition, the client should request that the contractor stipulates that all the construction workers are registered under social security (seguridad social) and if this is not the case the project should be put on hold until everyone is covered. All the technicians and architects who take part in the work are required to have a professional insurance. Once the project is finished, it is highly recommended (and obligatory for the solicitation of a mortgage) to contract a home insurance.

In the case of a housing complex, the Spanish law requires that the client to contract a 10-year insurance for each housing unit. This insurance covers any fault or defect in the construction for ten years. To obtain this insurance the project must be approved by the Office of Technical Control (OCT) during the construction as well as the completion of it.

In the case that the client is the promoter and as well the occupant of the building, this last step is not necessary but in the case that he wants to sell this house within a ten years term, the future buyer could request that the seller cover the cost for this insurance. The approximated cost of this insurance is 1% of the referential estimate.

Useful building terms in English and Spanish

Accredited degree Titulo homologado
Association of Architects Colegio de Arquitectos
Association of Technical Architects Colegio de Arquitectos Técnicos
Autonomous communities Comunidades autónomas
City Councils Ayuntamiento
Completion of the project Finalización de Obras
Construction Obras
Construction Documents Proyecto Ejecutivo
Design and Development Proyecto Básico
Estimated construction fees Presupuesto de referencia
Execution or Construction Phase of the project La obra
Fees Honorarios
Geotechnical study Estudio geotécnico del terreno
Habitability certificate La cédula de habitabilidad
Housing Vivienda
License of initial occupation Licencia de primera ocupación
Local Taxes  IVA / IRPF
Major construction such as new construction or restoration projects Obras mayores
Minor construction for renovations Obras menores
New Construction Obra nueva
Office of Technical Control OCT – Oficina Control Técnico
Old dwelling Una masía Antigua
Permits Licencia
Professional architect Arquitectos superiors
Professional surveyor Topógrafo
Regulation of city planning and zoning of the parcel Información urbanística de la finca
Renovation Reforma
Renovation or Addition Rehabilitación o ampliación
Request for the permit Solicitud de licencia
Restoration Rehabilitación
Schematic Design Anteproyecto
Square meter Metro cuadrado
State of the existing construction El estado de la edificación
Survey of the existing building and site Un levantamiento de planos de estado actua
Technical architect Arquitecto técnico
Time frame Los plazos
Topographical survey of the property Levantamiento topográfico de la finca