Time to grab a Spanish bargain – but be careful
Desperate to lure foreign buyers back to its property market, Spain's government has cleaned up the buying process. Chiara Cavaglieri and Julian Knight report
Sunday 21 August 2011
With an economy in turmoil and a reputation tarnished by tales of dodgy developers and legal nightmares for expats trying to buy their dream home, the Spanish property market has been something of a disaster zone for the past couple of years.
Yet some say now is the perfect time to snap up a bargain, with the country's banks trying to offload repossessions and new rules being introduced by the government to improve Spain's image and tempt back British buyers.
"We are in the middle of a big PR push by the Spanish government to get the Brits back," said Richard Way, editor of A Place in the Sun magazine. "We already have heavy discounts – depending on the area and the financial position of the developer – now the government is trying to sort out some of the legal and ownership problems which have given the country's property industry such a bad press."
In an attempt to persuade Brits that they will not fall foul of some of the country's numerous property scandals, measures are now in place to make the system more transparent. First and foremost, expat buyers can go to their local town hall to request a translated land registry certificate.
"The new initiative to enable local town halls to issue land registry certificates is a welcome move in the right direction, as long as any local delegated authority, such as this, is not overturned at a later date by central government," said Louise Reynolds, of agent Property Venture.
These certificates, known as nota simples, cost €29 (£25) plus VAT, and include the seller's details, a property description and any charges and embargoes against it. These can be obtained online from the Colegio de Registradores, land registry, buyingahouse.registradores.org).
Other improvements introduced by the Spanish government mean that properties deemed to be fuera de ordenación – not built to current building regulations – can be registered on the land registry as long as they are at least four years old, in order to protect owners who, in many cases, bought in good faith. For anyone buying off-plan, information about any legal proceedings brought against the property, which could result in fines or demolition, must be incorporated into the land registry. Town halls are obliged to provide registrars with this information and will be held financially accountable for any losses incurred by those buying in good faith.
In a bid to support off-plan buyers, it is no longer possible for a new home to be registered on the land registry unless it has the license of first occupation, a construction license and a technical certificate stating that the building corresponds to the plans for which the license was granted.
"Making the local authorities accountable is also a shrewd move to help address potential corruption that has been an issue for some town halls on the costas in the past," said Ms Reynolds.
All good news, but these measures will do little to comfort existing homeowners struggling in Spain, many of whom sunk their cash into new developments, which were later declared illegal by local authorities. These homeowners now face the threat of demolition because their property was built on restricted land, or because developers seeking a fast buck built and sold properties without planning consent. Other horror stories are told of couples spending their life savings on the deeds to land with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of debt signed over to it, or off-plan buyers who ended up with a home that fell well short of what was promised, or even nothing at all because their developer went under.
These tales, coupled with Spain's economic plight, are enough to put many buyers off. Yet the truth is that property prices have gone down considerably in the country. Properties in coastal areas, where most holiday homes are found, fell by 9.5 per cent in the year to July 2011, according to valuations from Spanish appraisal company Tinsa. Across the board, prices fell by an average 6.4 per cent.
In general, getting a mortgage in Europe has become increasingly hard, with many banks closing the door to foreign buyers. However, in Spain, the banks have so many properties to shift that there are some good deals to be found for buyers getting their mortgage and new home from one lender. Several agents are now working closely with Spanish banks to offload some of these homes to Brits and other foreign buyers.
The estate agent Connells (connells.co.uk), for example, is working with Spanish bank Caja Mediterráneo, PropertyRepossessionsSpain.com has links to bank Cajamurcia, and Spanish agency Básico Homes (basicohomes.co.uk) now has a UK arm headed up by Robert Evans. According to Mr Evans, in the costas, where most construction took place, buyers can find many well-built developments being sold by banks at attractive prices combined with a mortgage.
"Spanish banks have a lot of property to sell and are really the only option for someone trying to buy a home in Spain with a mortgage. The truth is that it is difficult to obtain a mortgage unless the bank is selling the property," he said.
"Mortgages are available but with the banks holding so many properties they are basically looking to provide home loans on what they have to sell, so those foreign buyers looking to rely on mortgage finance who are not buying a repossession from a bank can struggle," he added.
However, some experts argue that many of the best deals are available for properties that overseas buyers should steer clear of – homes at the lower end of the market likely to be located on over-built, or unfinished developments. "Because a property has a low price tag doesn't mean it's a bargain. Be prepared that with Spanish property you are looking at a long-term investment, maybe 10 years or more before you see capital appreciation," Mr Way said.
For anyone brave enough, the onus is still on the buyer to do their research, carry out due diligence before signing anything and ensuring the property is free of debt and other liabilities. From the start, it's important to hire an independent Spanish lawyer not affiliated or recommended by an estate agent or developer.
"When buying in Spain, it is important to speak to a local attorney who will help handle the agreement, conveyance and possible migration. There are local taxes and fees that the attorney can explain. It can also be helpful to speak to a tax adviser who can find tax incentives to residing in Spain," said Christian de Meillac from agent Knight Frank International.
Robert Evans, Basico Homes
The Spanish government has taken this matter very seriously and is working hard to bring some measure of order to those who have lost out buying from developers that have been less than diligent. But it remains a sad reality that many British buyers purchased from British-based or run agencies whose prime motive for sending buyers to a particular developer were very high sales commissions.
Independent Partners: Get fee-free expert mortgage advice and find the right mortgage deal for you.
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
iJobs Money & Business
£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...
£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...
Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...
Day In a Page
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village