Estate agents in rural Spain
Perhaps the biggest problem for British buyers lies in finding a remotely competent rural estate agent to deal with. Spaniards generally buy rural property through word of mouth or local dealers called corredores who typically charge 1% of the agreed price to each party. British buyers, on the other hand, usually run the gauntlet of dealing with the new breed of British estate agents that have sprung up in Spain’s emerging rural destinations.
British buyers using British estate agents in Spain’s rural areas is normally a case of the blind leading the blind. Many agents are recent arrivals that have drifted into selling property for lack of professional alternatives, often once their B&B plans have flopped. Ill-informed and with derisory Spanish that prevents them from understanding even the simplest legal documents they set about selling rural Spanish property to naïve British buyers. The fact that their clients know marginally less than they do is their greatest asset, and to make matters worse they often charge eye watering commissions of up to 35% on cheaper properties. The widely held belief that Brits don’t rip off other Brits when selling Spanish property is far from accurate.
Here are some the other tricks that foreign – mainly British – estate agents selling rural Spanish property get up to:
- Listing properties online that are not available for sale, or below the vendor’s asking price. This is what I call ‘web bait’ and it is used to lure buyers into making contact and arranging a visit. When the buyer does indeed visit they are told that the vendor has just put the price up or the property has just been sold. Some of these agents will even take a deposit from buyers without any power to sell the property.
- Misleading clients into believing that the rural property they are buying has correct title deeds. As often is not this is due to incompetence. The estate agents can’t understand title deeds in Spanish, so have no way of knowing that land is included with the title, and what dwellings are legal.
- Defrauding buyers into thinking that a property has more land than is the case. Some agents will intentionally deceive clients into thinking that the property is bigger than it is. It is very easy to point to a distant hill and say ‘that is the boundary’ whilst it is much more difficult for buyers to discover where the actual boundary lies. Buyers have to be able to interpret the deeds and cross reference these with the plans held at the catastro (in the town hall) to find out what they are actually buying.
- Misleading clients, intentionally or otherwise, into thinking that new building or refurbishments can be carried out when they can’t. For starters never buy land in rural areas on the assumption that you will be able to build a new property there. This is almost certainly not the case. Unless shown planning permission from the town hall, which your lawyer confirms as genuine, you should assume that all offers of plots for building on are a scam. Tread carefully with refurbishment projects too. It is likely that you will be able to refurbish an existing dwelling (if it is legal or can easily be legalised), but it is unlikely that you will be given permission to increase the dwelling’s footprint. So you will have to work within the built area that already exists. However if you know how to charm the municipal architect and present an attractive plan in the right way, you may be able to increase the footprint by up to 20%, but don’t count on it.
- Making false claims about access to utilities, or the costs of installing access to utilities.
- Massively understating the true cost of refurbishments, and then recommending builders who add 5 to 10% kickback commissions onto the budget.
Buying rural Spanish property is a complex business that requires help from genuine experts if you wish to avoid serious problems. This is not due to any sinister intentions on the part of rural vendors towards foreign buyers. It simply reflects the fact that traditional methods of exchanging rural property in Spain can create a legacy of title deed and boundary problems, and that issues such as refurbishments, mortgages and access to utilities in rural areas can be a nightmare if not dealt with in a knowledgeable and timely way. My advice is only work with British estate agents who can demonstrate at least 10 years of experience in the rural property market, along with an ability to speak fluent Spanish. The ideal solution when buying in rural areas is to use one of the few experienced buyer’s agents that cover some popular parts of rural Spain such as Andalusia, Catalonia and the Balearics.