An Andalucian nightmare

Daphne Gooch tried to sell her Spanish house privately; My biggest mistake
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The Independent Online
Daphne Gooch left Britain in 1952 to spend some time travelling. She took a boat to Australia, arriving with just pounds 12 in her pocket, and spent the next couple of years working her way around the bush with a mobile X-ray unit. Once the excitement had worn off she decided to head for Singapore, where there was a war on.

Initially she worked for a TB clinic, then for Special Branch, and after getting married she lived in Kenya and Berlin. With two children to raise she moved back to Britain, but her wanderlust never left her and in later years she fell in love with Spain....

"One day, in 1987, I heard through word of mouth about a little place on the Costa del Sol that had come up for sale at a very good price. It needed a lot of work - it was a real shell of a place - but it was a project which I relished. I had a lot of friends who were sculptors and artists, and I planned to turn it into the sort of house where I could hold exhibitions.

I got it for a bargain price and spent a considerable amount of time and money doing it up, refurbishing it in traditional Andalucian style and fulfilling my ambition to display the work of my friends to the public.

I really enjoyed the challenge, but by 1991 I had decided to sell it. It wasn't really big enough for me to live in for as much of the year as I would have liked.

It was around that time that I was introduced to an English expatriate who said he would like to rent the place. I let it to him on a short-term contract, and within months he decided he would like to buy it.

He had more than half the money in cash but needed a mortgage for the rest, so he applied to a building society in Gibraltar.

Together we went to see his lawyer, who handled the sale and - in theory - drew up a contract to protect me which stated that if the balance wasn't paid within four months, the property would revert to me.

The buyer seemed a pleasant enough chap at first, but four months later he still hadn't paid up. I got in contact with the lawyer and asked for a copy of the contract, but he demanded pounds 1,500. It took more than two years for the case to come to court, but eventually the judge said that if I returned 40 per cent of this man's deposit the house would revert to me. Naturally I agreed. However, less than a week later he had put in an appeal.

It took almost two years for the case to come to court again. Meanwhile he had moved out and let the house to various other people, so I was bearing all the expenses, the tax, the insurance, the community fees and so on, while he was getting the benefit of the rent.

At last the date of the new court case arrived, and again the judge decided in my favour. But when an official went to the house, the man's sister- in-law produced a five-year rental contract which his lawyer had made out to her.

My lawyer advised against going back to court, because the contract is due to expire later this year and it would have taken longer than that for the case to be heard again. Aside from that, it would have cost even more money in legal fees.

By this time the house had been sub-let again, so when the tenant left last March, I had some friends change all the security locks. But within a matter of weeks the locks were smashed, so presumably the house was occupied again.

I've been through five years of hell, having this hanging over my head. It seems so unfair, because I did everything by the letter of the law.

It is, however, a matter which is alarmingly common. I have since found out that there are tens of thousands of cases like mine. All I can hope for now is that when the rental contract ends, my nightmare will be over and the house will revert to me so that I can try to sell it again.

This time I'll go through a reputable estate agent; I won't be trusting a private sale. And I would certainly think very carefully before buying a home overseas again. It's madness to spend your capital on a property when you can't be there to look after it all the time, particularly when there are so many villas and apartments available at reasonable rents."

Daphne Gooch was talking to Corinne Simcock.

* Last week's interview said Michael Aspel had lost pounds 620,000 on an investment. The correct figure was pounds 20,000.

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