Lawyer Raymundo Larraín gives us a few insider tips on buying your dream home in Spain.
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Article copyrighted © 2019. Plagiarism will be criminally prosecuted.
By Raymundo Larraín Nesbitt
Director of Larraín Nesbitt Lawyers
8th of June 2019
1. Location, location, location.
Undeniably a worn out trope, but that doesn’t make it any less true. You are better off buying the smallest house in the best neighbourhood than buying the fanciest house in a less reputed estate. In practical terms, this translates into capital appreciation over the long run as well as making it easy on yourself to sell on. A well-located property enables you to sell it in a few months, as opposed to a poor-chosen location which may leave you waiting for years on end. Seasoned estate agents are your best source of information on the ground when it comes to choosing the ‘right’ address, whether for investment purposes or for bragging rights. Some hallmark names, such as Marbella or Mallorca, are consolidated world-renowned household brands that greatly mitigate exposure to any market downturn, allowing you to buck the trend, as they are always highly sought-after locations.
On buying property in Spain, we advise you procure yourself a south or south-east orientation due to the sun’s angle. This will ensure your property is drenched in sunlight all year round and will significantly contribute to reduce your heating bills (and electrical bills) in winter. Spain’s electricity is not exactly cheap. If you are in a coastal area, a southern orientation may also secure you nice sea views to boot.
3. Affordability vs maintenance
Budgeting carefully is a key element of any successful conveyance procedure. Yes, you may afford to buy a swanky property in a great location, but can you afford its steep maintenance? Much like some high-maintenance partners in real life, some properties’ upkeep are (very) demanding and you better have the deep pockets to keep up in the game. You really do not want to get involved with a property you cannot afford to maintain, as this will be a financial millstone that will drag your finances down and may even lead you to file for bankruptcy. Only buy a property you are absolutely confident you can afford to maintain it over the mid to long run. Do not get carried away with wishful expectations on commanding high rental yields to offset mortgage repayments, as property bills pile up inexorably at the start of every month. If you are relying on rental income to service your mortgage instalments, flat out you shouldn’t buy.
4. Buy-to-let or buy-to-live
This is a fairly important point that is often overlooked by buyers. The characteristics you need to look for are very different depending on whether you are looking at buy-to-let or else with a view to live in. If you are looking at the former, the property must have attained a Licence of First Occupation, it should be smaller, with good communications, within walking distance of all amenities and the sea (on coastal resorts). If you are after the latter, the property should be larger, with nice views, and good schools and hospitals nearby.
5. Ground floor or penthouse?
We had already covered in-depth the pros and cons of each in our blog: ground floor vs penthouse, from a Spanish perspective. Take good note that in Spain both property types are perceived as the opposite from the United Kingdom; which in turn impacts on price, capital appreciation, maintenance and even security.
6. Be familiar with your community bylaws
Before you commit buying a property in a Community of Owners, you should ask for copies of the minutes of the previous General Assemblies, which will highlight any existing issues in your community. It is also of vital importance you fully understand the rules governing your community (i.e. Community of Owners may now outright ban holiday lettings). If you are looking to invest in a buy-to-let and only find out post-sale that your community forbids holiday homes, you have wasted your money. It is also important you fully realize how much money you need to pay every quarter, as some quarterly community fees are exorbitant, especially in exclusive gated communities dotting upmarket coastal areas. Another well-known issue is that some community presidents (which officially hold an unpaid role) perpetuate themselves year after year abetted by their cronies and do in fact make a very tidy living running whole communities at the expense of pocketing fees from fellow owners on fudging the numbers. I tell you – by experience – that no one who has held the role of community president wishes to repeat from one year to the next as it is a very ungrateful task. Be wary of community presidents who hold their position indefinitely and fight tooth and nail to retain power and control. Only on changing administration does the corruption of the former management come into light.
7. Urban vs rural
Unlike in the United Kingdom, rural property in Spain is marred with legal issues. In the region of Andalusia alone, there are over 200,000 illegal properties. Buying a property with issues could see your trapped for years on end without a chance of selling it on. Moreover, on buying an illegal property you take over the liability of any prior planning illegality; the previous owner gets to walk away scot free – with your money. On buying rural, hiring a competent conveyancing lawyer from the outset is a must to help you waddle through the admin minefield. I would advise a reputed surveyor is also instructed, preferably regulated by RICS and working to UK standards. That is not to say that urban property is all good and rosy, far from it. But no doubt urban property offers much less legal risks than its rural counterpart. If you are looking for a quiet rural life to commune with nature, the choice is obvious. If you are more the city type, that easily gets bored watching grass grow and sheep bleat, you may want to look at urban instead.
8. The lawyer
A necessary evil. You would never buy a property in the UK without instructing a solicitor or conveyancer, and yet a surprising number of people choose not to instruct a lawyer or legal representative when buying abroad. If anything, it is even more important to obtain good legal advice when buying overseas as it is highly likely that you will be unfamiliar with many of the key processes. Whilst it is possible to buy a property in some overseas jurisdictions, including Spain, without having to appoint a lawyer, it would be very unwise to do so. Buying a house is one of the biggest investments most people make in their lifetime. So why take the risk by not obtaining proper legal advice?
Choosing a reputable conveyance law firm will be your best line of defence against the stack of odds you will be facing. Make sure your lawyer is truly independent and is not affiliated with your chosen estate agency in any way, you would come to regret this. Having a seasoned lawyer on board is having half the fight already won. Your lawyer will be able to cut through the red tape seamlessly, enabling you a smooth and safe buying procedure. Three expenses on which you should never skimp are: doctors, lawyers and education. You would regret dearly ‘saving’ money on any of the three.
Because peace of mind is priceless.
But enough of platitudes. All that matters is that we are in a buyer’s market.
Do not be rushed into buying a property, you will be spoilt for choice.
If you have qualms over a property, or its area, why don’t you consider renting it for a while? You should ponder such factors as leasing it on or off-peak. You can always sign a rent-to-buy contract. If it is to your liking, then go ahead and buy it; you only live once.
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