It is crucial that your lawyer is independent and is working for you

Very few foreign buyers have solicitors in Spain in their address book when they set out to buy property in Spain. So it should come as no surprise that many of them end up using the solicitors recommended by the estate agents or developers they buy from. My surveys reveal that 63% of foreign buyers end up using the Spanish solicitor recommended to them by their estate agent. Of these 20% report being very dissatisfied with the legal service they receive, compared to just 2% who use a lawyer that they have found themselves.

Another reason why the majority of foreign buyers of Spanish property have ended up using a solicitor recommended by their estate agents is because they tend to buy in such a hurry. People on 2 or 3-day inspection trips are usually unprepared for the buying procedure and end up signing contracts and paying reserve deposits on the last day before rushing to the airport. They simply don’t have time to find a lawyer for themselves, and feel grateful when the estate agent suggests a ‘very good’ solicitor who can help them, indeed who is waiting to receive them at that very moment – what a surprise! However buyers who use these solicitors don’t realise what a minefield they are walking into, and end up hiring the very solicitors they most need protection from. This tendency to buy in a hurry and use the first solicitor to hand was common practice in the boom years of 2000 to 2004, though it is less common now.

The fact of the matter is that using a solicitor recommended by an estate agent or, what is worse, the agent’s in-house solicitor, should be avoided at all costs. Estate agents are highly motivated to close sales that pay juicy commissions and unscrupulous agents recommend solicitors who will facilitate this outcome. Furthermore some estate agents have murky commercial relationships with their recommended solicitors, which creates conflicts of interests. Buyers can be lulled into a false sense of security whilst the recommended solicitors do nothing more than oil the wheels of the transaction on the estate agent’s behalf. The buyer’s need for security of purchase becomes irrelevant in this equation.

Avoid in-house lawyers at all costs

The worst mistake a buyer can make is to use the in-house solicitor of an estate agent or developer. In-house solicitors will of course draw up contracts in the interests of the company and fight its corner if push comes to shove. You are probably better off doing all the legal work yourself with the help of a Spanish-English dictionary than using an in-house solicitor.

More commonly, though, estate agents in Spain recommended solicitors that appear to be completely independent from the estate agent. In many cases the independence will be genuine and the recommended solicitor will look after the buyer’s interests. However in too many cases the solicitors have a dependent business relationship with the estate agents that can undermine the legal service received by the buyer. Even when solicitors have the best intentions, estate agents can use a close relationship to put pressure on them to cut corners. Note that many solicitors have to pay estate agents a part of the fees they receive in return for introducing clients.

When buying something as expensive as property in a foreign country you need a solicitor who you can be certain is working for you and you alone. Because you can never be sure about their relationship, you should always avoid using solicitors recommended by estate agents or developers. And looking for an independent solicitor once a dispute has started is like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. You need your own Spanish solicitor from the very start.