Things to bear in mind when buying rural or country property in Spain.
High prices and overcrowding on the Spanish coasts have driven Spanish property buyers inland, whilst EU-funded improvements in infrastructure have made rural areas more viable as destinations.
Numerous TV programmes in markets like the UK painting a picture of rural bliss on the cheap have also played their part in stimulating demand for country property for sale in Spain, but at the same time ignoring many of the issues that can so easily sour the experience. Whilst a rural Spanish property is a good option for some, for others it is a misguided fantasy of bucolic happiness that goes badly wrong.
Owning rural Spanish property is very different from owning in a purpose-built urbanisation on one of the Costas. Rural life, even just a few kilometres inland, has a rhythm all of its own, that has not yet caught up with the modern world. If you make the effort to join in and embrace the Spanish rural way of life, you can experience a quality of life that is virtually extinct in Britain and other northern European countries. But if you don’t, you’ll likely be lonely and frustrated.
But foreign buyers need to be especially realistic about their reasons for buying rural Spanish property and decidedly cautious about how they buy.
Spanish property title deeds in rural Spain
Title deeds, or the lack of them, are another big problem in rural areas. One buyer’s agent with many years of experience in rural Andalusia I talked to told me , “after more than a decade in the business I have yet to see a correct set of rural title deeds”.
In the worst case title deeds don’t even exist, which is a no-go area for foreign buyers. “In rural Spain there are many legitimate claims to property that have never been formalised in notarised title deeds. Whilst it is possible to buy these properties foreign buyers would be biting off more than they could chew. Just walk away if there aren’t any deeds”.
More common, though, are title deeds that don’t correspond to the amount of land being offered for sale, or that don’t reflect the size or existence of a dwelling. It’s usually possible to resolve these problems satisfactorily before buying, but once you have bought, the problems become yours, and vendors will have no incentive to help you resolve them. You need to identify title deed problems in good time – something many British buyers fail to do – and build the solution into the negotiations with the vendor. The golden rule when buying in rural areas is never buy until the title deeds are correct.
Building permission and renovations in rural Spain
There are still relatively few renovated rural properties on the market outside of Catalonia and the Balearics, though this will change in future. For the time being, though, most rural properties will need substantial work to be made habitable.
The problem here is that many buyers overestimate the building permission they will get, and underestimate the costs of refurbishments (often on the advice of estate agents on both counts). The days when you could pick up an old Spanish country property to restore for next to nothing are long gone, and beware of anyone who tells you otherwise. Furthermore, restorations in the Spanish countryside are not cheap, and should only be undertaken with your eyes wide open and with the help of a trusted, local project manager or builder.
Building and planning permission in many of Spain’s rural areas is much stricter than it was, and harder to get than you might think. It’s likely you will only get permission to refurbish an existing, registered dwelling rather than increase the footprint or build new. Given that most Spanish country properties will need new plumbing, wiring, flooring, damp proofing, plastering and painting, not to mention new kitchens and bathrooms, be realistic about your budget and get some quotes on the work from reliable local builders before you commit to anything. When carrying out refurbishments make a real effort to find a reliable builder as cowboy builders are an endless source of problems – get recommendations from people you trust. Note that many estate agents in rural Spain recommend builders who pay them a kickback, which drives up the renovation budget.
Other rural Spanish property issues
If you are looking for rural tranquillity and birdsong then it helps to buy a property with an existing connection to the electricity grid. If not you will might go mad listening to the sound of your generator, assuming green energy sources can’t provide for your needs. Arranging for a connection to the grid can be a crushing experience in time and money.
Access to water is another critical issue. Few rural properties in Spain are connected to the mains, though this is not usually a problem as one can easily get by with a good deep well in all but the driest parts of the country. However it is essential to look into the water situation before buying, as trying to live in a rural property without water will send you round the bend.
Another crucial issue to bear in mind when buying a country property in rural Spain is how you will fit in with the local community. This question is especially important if you plan to relocate to the Spanish countryside on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. A few wise and experienced words from Rita Fryer of The Property Finders will help illustrate the importance of this issue:
“An important issue I would like to bring people’s attention to is the astonishing attitude that many have when they buy inland. The first wave bought inland because it was cheaper but still expected to find the same tolerance to all day pubs and sloppy flip-flop attire that one finds on the coast. The norm on the coast causes a lot of offence to the more conservative country people. The inhabitants of these little villages resent the appearance of the English cafe offering afternoon tea where no one speaks a word of Spanish. It makes them feel foreign in their own land and they, quite naturally, turn their backs on this type of newcomer. The Brits who buy in rural Spain must understand that their easiest path to happiness and acceptance is to embrace the local traditions themselves. You can find hundreds and hundreds of happily integrated Brits all over Spain and the key is involvement in their community. This is such an important point that it should not be overlooked.” Rita Fryer of The Property Finders.
Mortgage problems with rural properties, rights of way, hunting rights, land-grab concerns (in Valencia) and septic tanks are some of the other issues that need to be considered in detail before you buy. You might find your rural idyll in Spain but only if you buy for the right reasons, from the right professionals and with all due caution. Otherwise there is a reasonable chance that you will end up another distraught British buyer sobbing in a hotel lobby in rural Spain. They are not hard to find.
Buying rural land in Spain: Planning and development risks