A guide to residential building and other surveys in Spain, prepared with kind help from Campbell Ferguson, F.R.I.C.S. Chartered Surveyor, and founder of surveyspain.com
Why get a building survey before you buy a property in Spain?
99% of Spanish property websites and brochures stress all the important matters concerning the acquisition processes, but so very few mention the house, the thing that all the money is being put into and which is to be the answer to all the hopes and dreams of the buyers. Once it’s bought, people are unlikely to spend years thinking of the pleasures that a proper legal process gave them. No, they want to be enjoying their Spanish property, the ‘bricks and mortar’ that they have bought in the sunshine of Spain. To ensure this and avoid a trail of troubles and possible litigation they should know what they are buying.
Buyers may wonder if they need a survey when buying a relatively new Spanish property that should be covered by the 10-year structural warranty insurance. The answer is yes, because if there are faults buyers will be buying into problems and many problems are not structural. Life really is too short to have the stress of pressuring the estate agent, the lawyer, the developer and the insurance company to live up to what buyers imagine is a comprehensive policy that would cover all the repair costs. Nothing compensates for the worry and uncertainty at the beginning; and the hassle of dust, noise and discomfort when the work, eventually, is being carried out. Surprises like this can be avoided by having the building surveyed prior to buying. At least then buyers know what they are taking on. If there are know problems, the buyer has the satisfaction of knowing that. Usually though, there are some matters that need attention and these can be taken into account in the whole ‘dream buying’ experience.
When you buy a newly built property in Spain, in addition to the 10-year structural warranty, developers of new Spanish property are liable for generally everything that goes wrong or defects found in the first year. For the next two years, making three in all, the developer also has a duty to repair matters that affect the quality of living in the property, such as water penetration, bad electrics, etc. Even vendors of older resale properties in Spain are liable to the buyer for at least 6 months, and some authorities state that it can even be for up to 4 years for defects that are hidden at the time of purchase. So caveat emptor doesn’t apply completely. So why is a survey needed when there are insurances that cover ‘eventualities’?
Surveys are a way of avoiding other’s problems. Even the best intentioned developer in Spain is likely to query any claim that is made and insurance companies appear increasingly to survive these days by making the claim process so difficult that some claimants just give up to avoid all the hassle. It’s better for the buyer to know and plan for a problem, either by getting the buying price reduced in compensation or budgeting for the cost when calculating the offer that is to be made.
What to expect from a building survey
As most clients have already viewed the property and have agents’ sales information, surveys tend not to describe the location, building, structure, accommodation, services or facilities in detail, but to concentrate on defects and any other matters of particular relevance. However clients can request the more details as necessary.
Surveys can address the following issues:
In the time available for a survey, it is impractical to measure the land boundaries and calculate the areas. Also this can involve significant effort due to irregular shape, mature plants or steep slopes. Any way, to be accurate it needs to be prepared using appropriate instruments, but this can all be arranged if required.
This is an extract of the title deed for a property as held in the property register in Spain. A very efficient Internet system enables these to be obtained in 24-48 hours as long as the land reference is available. The nota simple provides the registered description, owner and debts recorded against a property in Spain.
Inaccuracy in the description, both in accommodation or floor area, is important and should be rectified by the seller prior to the sale. It can indicate that improvements of the property have been carried out without permission, as all licences have to be shown before the Registrars accept changes.
Inaccuracy may also mean that a mortgage valuer for a Spanish lender or insurer could have to value on a reduced basis, as they are obliged by law to use the lesser of the actual area or that recorded in the title. Outbuildings such as garages, stores and even swimming pools should be recorded.
Conventionally, the overall (construido) area is the one used for the nota simple and is therefore usually the one quoted in most sales details. Occasionally the internal (util) area is also quoted, but that is different from what could be described as the ‘carpet’ floor area of a house. A survey will normally provide comment on the constructed areas quoted. More detailed room dimensions and plans can be provided if requested.
As a general rule measurements given in surveys of Spanish properties are based on the metric system. Where requested, they can be converted to the imperial system (acres, feet and inches) All measurements must be re-confirmed on site.
Damp readings are made with an electronic meter. Experience also enables a surveyor to know the signs of likely problems. However, during long dry periods it is often impossible to identify faults that will become problems when the rain starts again.
Climate and Building
Generally speaking, throughout Spanish areas such as the Costa del Sol, but especially in higher mountain areas, there is a need to remember that whilst the three to four summer months are dry, the remainder of the year has a ‘normal’ climate of occasional rain and wind and sometimes even frost and snow. Unfortunately, many architects and owners appear to ignore this, thus leading to ventilation, water penetration and draught problems with many Spanish properties.
A large part of the value of a house is due to its neighbourhood and outlook. These issues are included in the report.
Road access and parking
The access road to a Spanish property can also significantly influence its value. If it is not the responsibility of the local Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), neighbours will probably have to agree and share the costs of maintenance and/or improvement. If there is no immediately adjacent parking area, the carrying of heavy shopping or the like to and from the house will be inconvenient, with removals being especially difficult. Similarly, vehicle security may be a concern.
A survey will identify if there is a public water supply and also if there are significant water storage tanks, which can be essential if there are water restrictions due to pipe failure or drought. It is also noted if there is an irrigation system in place in the garden.
Identify if the house in Spain is connected to the public sewerage system or whether it has a community or private septic tank. If connected to a septic tank, it will restrict the use of certain chemical cleaners and inorganic debris should be removed every 5 to 10 years, which may involve a cost.
Machinery and Equipment
A modern Spanish house contains many items for machinery from heating and air conditioning systems to digital intruder alarms and kitchen equipment. Whilst every effort is made to check their functioning, a survey cannot check all items nor guarantee that any work effectively. The survey alone should not be relied upon with regard to such items. Arrangements can be made for any items to be checked by appropriately experienced technicians.
It is not possible to confirm whether there is efficient ‘draw’ or that the fires function effectively in all weather conditions. However note will be taken of whether the fireplaces have been used and whether there is evidence of smoke ‘leaking’ from the fire and chimney into the living space.
Many properties in Spain have concrete pitched roofs, covered by fired clay roof tiles. These tiles protect the lower impermeable surfaces from contact, sun and water damage. The water gullies created between the tiles have to be kept clear of debris to stop water backing up or being drawn over them by osmosis and thus percolating through the roof structure and into the house. As the roof tiles get older, they become more delicate and care has to be taken not to cause more damage than one is trying to prevent. It is also uncommon for guttering and down-pipes to be fitted. This can cause dampness in the lower walls. If down-pipes are installed it is best that they be connected to an underground drainage system rather than being left to spill the water collected onto pathways which can again cause water to collect and damp problems.
Surveys include an Internet search for items relevant to the Spanish property being surveyed. Due to practical time restrictions, it is not possible to use every search engine or study all reference discovered, sometimes being many thousands. Therefore, comments must be looked upon as a headline guide rather than detailed research.
All dwelling houses in Spain require completion of work licences and separate first occupation permissions. These are less important for older building, but even in these cases it may be that significant changes of use or additions have been carried out without permission. It is the property owner at the time that is liable for reinstatement if the authorities should discover the works within the prescriptive period, normally 5 years. Your lawyer should insist upon receiving copies of all documents that are available.
Opinion of Value
Where possible, a survey will give an opinion of value in comparison to other Spanish properties in the general area and/or of similar character. If the property is exceptional or without close comparison, it can be valued on the basis of land and building costs.
In forming an opinion of value, and in the absence of detailed information to the contrary, the following assumptions are made:
- Vacant possession with no leases.
- No unusual restrictions of use or rights for use of all or part by others.
- No debts attached to the house.
- Full permissions for all structures.</(LI>
- No planning proposals that will directly or indirectly affect enjoyment of the property.
Liability after sale
A private homeowner in Spain can be responsible for hidden defects for a period of at least 6 months after the date of their selling a property.
New built properties are subject to four continuing liability timetables.
- First 15 days – The ‘snagging’ period, where defects are noted and the builder has to repair within 28 days. Major alterations or omissions from the agreed specification can result in the buyer being able to withdraw from the contract and receive refund and compensation.
- First year – the builder is generally liable for all defects reported within this time.
- Next two years – the builder is still responsible for repairing major defects that affect proper enjoyment of the property, such as defective roofs, ill-fitting doors and windows, etc.
- First 10 years – the builder is obliged by law to take out seguro decenal, which is a 10-year insurance policy that guarantees the costs of reinstatement in the event of failure of the structure of the building.
- Inspection Timetable – As the timetables are strict, buyers are strongly advised to note the appropriate anniversaries applicable to these responsibilities and have their building inspected a short while before the end date. That way, any defects found can be registered with the builder before their liability period ceases.
IBI (local rates equivalent)
A copy of the lastest receipt is requested to check that the description is residential. Ideally one should see the last five years receipts as prior IBI debts attach to the property not the occupier, and thus liability will fall on the owner at the time of the charge being pressed, rather than the owner when the debt was incurred. This is not the case with telephone, electricity or water debts, as they remain personal to the account holder when the ownership changes.
Community of Owners
By law, all urban properties in Spain have to be part of a neighbourhood community of owners for the administration of common areas. The direction of the community is by elected owners, with the day-to-day administration normally being by a contracted private firm. You will be obliged to join and contribute financially to the community administration. As the community has powers to charge the owners substantial sums and to change the character of the development, it is very much in the interests of owners to participate in meetings.
Practical limitations of inspection
- Roof – Not on roof or in roof spaces unless open and easily accessible.
- Under Floor – Not under floor unless open and easily accessible.
- Electrical system – Most lighting and socket circuits will be tersted, and a record made of significant shortages or defects found. However, a detailed test of the circuits or supply is not carried out. This can be done if items of concern are found, or if requested by a client.
- Plumbing – Checks will be done on most taps and heat, pressure and drainage from the receptacle will be noted. Checks are done on most w.c., baths, showers, basins and sinks to ensure that they appear to empty without trouble. However, there are no checks on purity or pressure testing. This can be done if items of concern are found, or if requested by a client.
Caveats and Cautions
All reports will be subject to the following conditions:
- Reports are prepared specifically for the party to whom it is addressed and no liability can be accepted to any third party.
- It may not be reproduced in any form without written approval of the author and surveyor.
- No detailed test of the services, installations or equipment is carried out and thus it cannot be guarantee that they are functioning and/or free from defect.
- The surveyor will only have seen the documents listed above relating to the property and therefore the report must not be taken as confirmation that the property described is within the legal title or owners/occupiers are or are not responsible for any particular matter. In particular, unless otherwise indicated, it is assumed that all extensions, etc., have all the appropriate permissions and licences and are recorded on the escritura along with an accurate description and floor area, as it existed at the date of our inspection.
- The survey will not research any government planning or other such matters that might affect the property other than any already mentioned. As no specific enquiries are made the report cannot confirm that the property is unaffected by such issues.
- The report involoves a brief valuation inspection only and cannot comment on internal, inaccessible or hidden construction details or defects in the property or its surroundings. Any absence of comment on a particular part of the property must not be assumed to mean that part of the property is without defect.
- A report cannot advise on the existence of contamination, asbestos or other deleterious material within the buildings or on the site. Similarly, no checks are done for any environmental matter within the building or its surrounds that may have an unacceptable effect upon the property or its occupiers.
Who do you get a building survey in Spain from
You can get a building survey from an architect but your best bet is a chartered surveyor if you want a professional trained to do building surveys.
Who or what is a chartered surveyor, and how can one help you in Spain?
Chartered surveyors are trained professionals who cover all aspects of property: from conserving and restoring historic buildings; residential and commercial; industrial and retail to planning home extensions, homebuyer surveys and valuations, dilapidations, boundary disputes, energy efficiency and party walls. Chartered surveyors, and their professional organisation The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), are dedicated to promoting excellence and safeguarding public interest in all property related matters.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is based in London and has about 120,000 members worldwide, the vast majority, of course, living and working in the UK. However there are also a number of English-speaking chartered surveyors working in Spain and there is no Spanish equivalent.
All Chartered Surveyors have to follow strict rules of ethical conduct, which are enforced by the RICS. Chartered surveyors have to have professional indemnity insurance so that if they make a mistake that costs the client money, there is a fund there to recompense the client.
Chartered Surveyors cover a wide range of specialisations – QS, land, mining and even specialists in undersea surveys. Most people come across either Quantity Surveyors (a QS) – who focus on the construction process with services such as cost control and project management; OR general practice surveyors who tend to be more involved with existing buildings and their defects or the finance, the market value, created by the building, its land and location. When requesting a survey for a property purchase in Spain clients will deal with a general practice surveyor.
Other types of surveys available to homeowners and buyers in Spain
There are a number of types of home and building surveys that people can request and need for particular situations. Here we list the main ones.
A mortgage survey is carried out on behalf of a bank or other mortgage lender. These surveys, though paid for by the borrower, really have the lender as the client and are merely to ensure that the lender’s money is safe. A mortgage survey in Spain, unless it is carried out on behalf of a UK or Gibraltarian bank, has to be carried out by a valuer (tasador) acting on behalf of one of the registered Spanish appraisal companies (sociedades de tasación) approved by the Bank of Spain. These companies have to place a substantial ‘bond’ with the central Bank, which serves as a kind of indemnity fund so that lenders can be compensated in case of gross error by the tasadores. This central control can lead to the appraisal companies being used to influence the market; recently, for instance, appraisal companies were instructed to undervalue in an attempt to reduce mortgage lending and slow the rise in values. So valuations may not actually reflect the market price of Spanish property for deliberate reasons.
Spanish mortgage valuations also tend to be more of a ‘box ticking’ exercise rather than the more subjective building survey by a Chartered Surveyor. Nevertheless these reports are impressive as far as they go. When asked to provide a mortgage valuation as well as a building survey, a chartered surveyor will work in conjunction with tasadores and incorporate their reports into the survey, thus satisfying the requirements of the Spanish law. However a chartered surveyor may also provide an explanation of the tasadores report and a comprehensive defects report that is of more direct use to the buyer.
A snagging survey focus on identifying and correcting problems with newly built Spanish properties immediately after delivery. In Spain, property buyers have 15 days after signing the deeds for a new property to report differences between what they thought they were buying ‘off plan’ and what they find when they receive the keys. If discovered later, it can be more difficult to get things replaced. Especially if the final signing is being carried out by someone else with the power of attorney, its always best to have the property inspected in detail by an independent professional and faults and omissions formally recorded.
A building survey in Spain is the most useful kind for property buyers, where the surveyor takes on the role of the buyer and inspects and reports on all those matters that might not have a major influence on the mortgage value, but undoubtedly could affect the buyer’s equity and quality of enjoyment of the house.
A structural survey is only really carried out to investigate the cause of a problem found and can involve, for example, breaking into the structure or foundations to test their construction
A valuation survey is often combined with a building survey. A market valuation of any asset is best described as more of an art than a science. There is no hard a fast rule for valuing properties. No, it’s a matter of gathering as much evidence, knowledge and information of what’s happening in an area and its economy, the influences on people and places. This is extremely difficult in Spain in relation to finding reliable comparative evidence of what price properties have actually sold at – the full money paid. So many envelopes passing around the notary’s table and that’s not counting those at the unknown meeting in the neighbouring bar before! Sometimes even the escritura descriptions can be a ‘work of art’, with the sizes and accommodation bearing no relation to what is actually on the land. Yes, one can create appraisals, work out all the details of a property and apply equations and statistics, but at the end of the day the valuer has to look at the result on his computer screen and ask, “is that a realistic value?” That’s why it’s always stated as an Opinion of Value. Nobody can say exactly down to the last centimo what a potential buyer will pay for a property after negotiation.
That’s perhaps where one can criticise the appraisal companies in Spain, as they DO have to apply rigid formulas for valuing a property, its neighbourhood and location. Whatever comes out of the machine at the end is the stated value. They are obliged to operate this way by detailed laws and regulations which, whilst ensuring standardisation as all properties are treated in the same way, remove the subjective element, the ‘art’, and can result in figures far from market reality. Nevertheless their reports are very useful and thorough in considering the facts of a property.
By Campbell Ferguson, F.R.I.C.S.
In doing our work in Spain, what horrors have we found? Well water – cold and damp – is probably the biggest problem. I have to put in my reports that ‘generally, throughout Costa del Sol, but especially in higher mountain areas, there is a need to remember that whilst the three to four summer months are dry, the remainder of the year has a ‘normal’ climate of occasional rain and wind.
Unfortunately, many architects and owners appear to ignore this, thus leading to ventilation, water penetration and draught problems. Especially so with older properties where I think that the attitude has been to put up with some damp discolouration in the winter and huddle round the small table with the basin of coals underneath getting ‘corn-beef’ legs, then redecorate as things dry out in the spring and summer and do the same again next year. With there being so little wood in the construction, rot is not a major problem. Build like that in the UK and dry rot would be galloping through a building like a cancer within a few years.
We have found some spectacular failures. One in Axarquia always comes to mind and I have put the clients in contact with a UK TV company that is preparing programmes on people who have come out and found problems and how they have solved them. Hopefully, a happy ever after story. However, in this case I doubt it. I was called out to check a gap that had appeared between a swimming pool and the house. What I found was that the retaining wall, of huge Casares stones, had just been plonked down on the ground without foundation or internal screen or drainage. The wall was moving and the earth that it was to be supporting was just washing through it with every rain. The house wasn’t affected, yet! I was introduced to a neighbour lower down the hillside who, before he had even been able to move into the new house, had noticed major cracking. Over the next few months all the soil under the front of the house had washed away and the entire concrete base had cracked, effectively starting to tear the house in half. Further up the hill, seen from the urbanisation road that had already slid away once, one could look under a house’s foundation as the garden retaining wall had slid down the hillside taking all the support with it. The only house that wasn’t affected was the one on the flat land at the foot of the hill – but it was in line to receive some of the stuff coming down from above!
A spectacular error by the architect or whoever designed the foundations. More was to come though. In asking about the titles and copies of licences the client said that the developer had promised them, but that “the Ayuntamiento was in touch with Sevilla!” Can it be that there is no permission for the urbanisation to be built at all? I asked what had happened with their lawyer – had they not helped? Well they had recently changed their lawyer as, at a meeting with the developer complaining about matters, they had understood enough to realise that the developer had said to the client’s lawyer that if they didn’t shut up and stop complaining they wouldn’t pass them any more clients. So the lawyer promptly stopped. And the clients have paid 95% of the price. How that can all be sorted out I don’t know, but they now have new lawyers, arquitectos técnicos and engineers preparing reports on their behalf. The friendly selling agent is not often seen in the area now!
And just in case you don’t believe it is possible, here are some pictures to illustrate how bad structural problems can get.