Buying property in Spain is a big deal. It’s a big financial commitment, which includes the disagreeable experience of watching taxes and transaction costs take a big bite out of your capital. As an owner you will spend a lot of time, and a fair bit of money looking after your property in Spain, though you may also get some income from it. And when you come to sell, you will discover it’s much easier to buy then sell, whilst taxes and transaction costs will take another bite out of your capital when you do find a buyer. So why bother?
You bother because you expect it to be a rewarding enterprise on the balance sheet of your life. Sure there will be some costs and time commitment but on balance you expect your life will be richer in all sorts of ways for having bought a home in Spain. Otherwise why would you do it?
I’ll let you in on a secret. Many people live to rue the day they ever bought a property in Spain. All sorts of things can make the dream turn sour. Some people have been financially stung by bad investments, often mislead by crooks or cowboys. Some have fallen foul of the dysfunctional Spanish planning system, whilst others have simply been unrealistic about their finances, goals, and expectations. In most cases they could have spared themselves a great deal of trouble by spending more time and effort at the very start on thinking about the why and how of buying property in Spain.
For many people buying a home in Spain turns out, on balance, to be a rewarding affair. Some just get lucky, but most create their luck with good research and planning. This guide is intended to help you be one of the lucky ones.
Getting the purchase right means buying the right property for the right reasons and in the right way. It means approaching your purchase in a structured and organised fashion whilst understanding the purchase process in Spain. It means understanding the risks involved in making one of the biggest investments of your life in a foreign country whilst dealing with people who don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart. Most of all it means being well informed at all times, as information is power and the more you know the harder you are to take advantage of. This guide is designed to arm you with the know-how you need to achieve this and buy safely in Spain.
It follows that the purpose of this guide is not to ‘sell the dream’ but to point out the risks and realities of pursuing the dream. This inevitably means focusing on the problems, risks, costs, and other negative issues that may make you wonder whether buying a property in Spain is such a good idea after all. That is certainly a question you should ask yourself, as for some people the answer will be ‘no’ and it is better to find this out before going any further. However, for the majority of people who dream of owning a property in Spain and who can afford it, there is no good reason why they shouldn’t, and this guide is not intended to shoot down any realistic dreams. So don’t let this guide dampen your enthusiasm if your expectations are realistic, and you go into the process with your eyes wide open.
Why buy property in Spain? Defining your needs
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 for property for sale in Spain 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 coastal 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.
Drawing up a clear brief to guide your search
Having thought hard about your requirements, done some research into the market, and worked out your budget range, you can now draw up a written brief that describes the characteristics of the property you want to buy. Obviously your brief has to be realistic in terms of your financial resources. It’s no good preparing a brief that describes a property you can’t afford to buy or maintain.
Drawing up a written brief has several advantages. The act of writing down a brief helps you clarify your thoughts and articulate your priorities. It also provides you with a useful document on which to base your search and communicate your requirements to estate agents and other professionals. Many people complain of wasting time with agents who show them clearly inappropriate properties. Sometimes this is done intentionally by estate agents who use unattractive properties to make the properties they want to sell look more appealing (this is known in the trade as showing the client ‘put offs’). More common, though, are estate agents who simply ignore the client’s requirements and focus instead on what they want to sell. A written brief makes this more difficult for agents to do. And of course even good agents will find it a challenge to help you without a clear idea of what it is you are looking for. A written brief helps them to understand your requirements, assess how realistic they are and provide you with useful feedback from the start. Despite the advantages of preparing a written brief it seems that only a minority of people actually do so.
Though it helps enormously to have a written brief before you start contacting estate agents one has to assume that this brief will not be set in stone. Searching for property in Spain is a learning process and you will probably find it necessary to update your brief in the light of experience. Your brief will evolve to adapt to the reality of the market and the process of updating your brief helps you to manage your search.
The following template covers most of the issues you will need to describe in a written brief.
|Your budget for the property alone, not including conveyancing costs and taxes.
|Apartment, semi-detached, townhouse, villa, rural cottage, finca.
|Architectural style preferences
|Modern, rustic, classical, traditional Spanish
|Status & Condition
|Off plan, Under construction, Just built, extent of reforms that you will consider
|Number & size
|Number & size
|Size of property
|Built area and plot in m2
|Interiors, Kitchens, bathrooms
|open plan, modern, cosy, rustic, basic, elegant, preferred colours, no preference
|Garden & Pool
|Size, communal / private, importance
|Garage (number of cars), carport, on street
|Rural, Golf, Sea
|Broadband connection, security on doors and windows, security and fire alarms
|City, town, village, rural, quiet residential, urbanisation, middle of lively area
|Proximity to restaurants and shops
|Proximity to the beach
|Drive time to an international airport
|Spanish, international, mainly your nationality, secluded, open to interaction
|Required date of availability
|Immediate occupancy, longer.
|Main purpose of property
|Summer holidays, off season holidays, short regular breaks, 6 months per year, mainly to rent, primary home, etc.
|Just you and partner, kids, family & friends, rental
|What, if any, rental performance is required
When giving a written brief to estate agents it helps to provide pictures of properties that appeal to you. Magazines are a good source of inspiration and ideas when looking for example pictures. Cut out pictures of the properties that serve as a guide to what you have in mind and attach them to your brief.
With a clear brief in hand you can now contact estate agents or developers with a view to arranging property visits. However, before doing this we need to look at another series of tasks that need to be put in hand at this stage and before you have found a property you want to buy. These tasks revolve around getting ready to buy property in Spain.
Doing the research
It’s a good idea to do thorough research before buying a property in Spain, and then go about the purchase in an organised way. Rushing into a purchase, or acting on an impulse, can lead to problems and regrets, and the costs are high. Here we look at sensible way to approach the challenge of buying a property in Spain.
When one considers how expensive property is, it’s a mystery how little research many people do before they make one of the biggest investments of their life. Background research before buying is time well spent, and those that make the effort to do this will significantly increase their chances of a successful purchase. People who buy in a hurry without doing enough research are more likely to overpay and walk into the usual pitfalls with their eyes shut.
It is a good idea to start your research as early as possible and certainly before you visit Spain to view properties. Your research should continue throughout the time you are looking to buy, though the focus will change from general background research to investigating specific issues as you proceed along the road to buying.
Background research is not a challenge that can be solved like a mathematical equation. There is no correct answer to prove. All you can do is try to get as clear an ideas as possible of the issues you face so that you can take the best decisions. Nobody would deny that information empowers people to make rational decisions, whilst taking decisions in the dark is a risky business.
Broadly speaking your objectives in the process of background research are as follows:
- To clarify the areas you wish to focus on.
- To get a feel for the property market in the areas that interest you.
- To identify the specific types of property best suited to your needs and budget.
- To get a reasonable idea of what life is like in those areas (especially during the periods when you plan to use the property).
- To identify any major risk factors when buying in Spain in general and in those areas in particular.
- To identify individuals and companies that you might consider dealing with during your purchase.
- To help prepare a clear, written brief.
The methods you can use to achieve these objectives should include a blend of the following – all of them if possible.
Visiting Spain under your own steam
In the course of doing your research there is no substitute for visiting Spain under your own steam, and spending time in the areas you are considering. Once again this might seem like a statement of the obvious but once again it is surprising how few people do this.
Holidays are one way to get a feel for an area but they are not ideal and should not be used as the only basis for your research. Holidays tend to present too many distractions and may give you a distorted impression of the area, especially if you are planning to buy a permanent or semi-permanent home. Therefore you should set aside time for a dedicated visit with the specific intention of learning about the local property market and community. In this day and age of low cost travel the cost and effort of doing this is a small price to pay when you consider the size of the investment you are going to make.
The ideal way to research is to rent in the area for a few months before buying. If everyone were to do this there would be far fewer problems and regrets than is the case. However this is often not practical, especially for people who are still working, in which case a week long ‘intelligence gathering’ visit is much better than no visit at all.
The purpose of the visit is to gather as much information as possible on property and life in the area (at different times of the year). You visit under your own steam so that you are completely free to decide what you look at and whom you talk to. If a company is paying for or subsidising your visit you won’t have this freedom and will probably only see and hear what they want you to hear. During your visit you should drive around visiting as many urbanisations, developments and residential areas as possible. Don’t be shy about talking to expats – they are easy to spot and are usually more than happy to talk to people considering buying in the area. Talk to rental companies in the area if rental potential is an important requirements of yours; they know their business and are more likely to tell you the truth about the rental market than estate agents trying to make a sale. By all means look in estate agents’ windows and visit properties to get first hand experience of what is on the market. However if you are just researching never lose sight of the purpose of your visit and try to avoid rushing into a purchase in a bout of over-enthusiasm. If you did it wouldn’t be the first time it has happened.
The internet is a fantastic tool for doing background research. So much so that one wonders how on earth people managed before the internet existed. With a few clicks you can find information on any part of Spain and the property market in most areas. As well as looking for information on properties for sale you should try to identify if there are any common problems affecting an area. This can be done by using well chosen search terms with combinations of words that might flush out the problems, and by looking beyond the first couple of pages of search results. Online forums are also a useful source of information that often reveal common problems, and allow you to make contact with other buyers, owners and residents in different areas. Expat community websites for different areas and the online versions of regional Spanish newspapers in English are another rich sources of information that you should look into.
Spanish property magazines
There are magazines dedicated to life and property in Spain, for example A Place In The Sun. They offer a wealth of information on many different aspects of living and buying in Spain and you should read at least one of them in the course of doing background research. All of them can be subscribed to and most of them are also available at newsstands around the UK.
In recent years hardly a day goes by without some or other article on buying property or living in Spain appearing in the national and regional press (check out Spanish Property Insight in the international press). Though many of these articles have tended to focus on the ‘dream’ of owning property in Spain they can also be a useful source of information on the problems that people encounter. The Home section of The Sunday Times is a particularly good source of information on property and life in Spain, and the overseas property section of the Times Online website (www.timesonline.co.uk) is certainly worth a visit.
Every year you will find overseas property exhibitions held around Europe and further afield. Many of them are organised by independent exhibition companies and bring together many different exhibitors, often from various countries. In the UK these types of shows are normally staged in one of the big regional exhibition centres like the NEC in Birmingham or Olympia in Earls Court, London. At the website you can find the details of all the big exhibitions around the UK. However, estate agents and developers from Spain are also now organising their own private exhibitions on a much smaller scale. These private exhibitions will be held over a weekend in a local hotel and will promoted in the local press. In this case there is only one exhibitor, though estate agents often invite a selection of developers to accompany them.
In the course of background research it is worth visiting exhibitions as they allow you to get a feel for the types of companies and individuals selling property in Spain, as well collecting information on properties and regions. However, be aware that most companies will try and sign you up on the spot for a visit if you talk to them, and they can be surprisingly persuasive. Many of the ‘inspection visits’ on offer are free or heavily subsidised and seem like a cheap and easy way to research the property market in an area. But bear in mind that these visits have been carefully designed to close sales rather than inform people of their options. Inspection trips are not a good way to research the market, and should only be considered once you are confident about the type of property you want to buy, the area you want to buy in, and the company you want to buy from. So when visiting overseas property exhibitions whilst you are doing background research don’t allow yourself to be persuaded into a visit that you are not ready for.
There are lots of books for sale that explain how to buy property in Spain. Some focus on the process of buying property in Spain, whilst others have a wider remit and cover other issues such as travel, moving in and living in Spain. You may wish to read several books to get information on a wider range of subjects related to moving to Spain.
It is important that you do your background research in the right frame of mind. You are trying to build up a picture that will help you take the right decision when the time comes. Consider setting yourself a time-frame for carrying it out but don’t rush it. Start a file in which you keep all your notes and findings and try to be organised about the way your proceed. And avoid all contact with pushy salesmen in this period as, despite the fact that we all know their game, they have remarkable powers of persuasion and their input is not helpful in this period, if ever.
Once you feel that you have gone far enough in achieving the objectives set out at the beginning of this section you can move onto selecting property companies and arranging to visit properties with a view to buying.
Location and surroundings
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 in a specific area. 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 the number who intend to buy on a residential development / gated community, including golf developments is shrinking. 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.
Types of property
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?’.
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 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.