House Hunter: 'We don't want to waste our budget on trips to see more unsuitable Spanish properties'

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The Independent Online

Lynne & Steven Roberts write: "We are in our late fifties and want to make a move to Spain, having taken early retirement.

THE PROBLEM

Lynne & Steven Roberts write: "We are in our late fifties and want to make a move to Spain, having taken early retirement. But we do not know the country well and have no strong opinions about where to settle, although we do not want a developed coastal area.

"We sold our home last summer and moved into a friend's house and assumed that it would be a breeze to find a suitable property, for which we had a budget of around £112,000, or €160,000. We hoped to find a country property with a minimum of three bedrooms and, if there was the possibility of having a separate apartment or cottage for rental, so much the better.

"We do not want isolation, but peace and quiet in about an acre of land, and no more than one hour from Malaga airport. We did a lot of research online and saw lots of properties that seemed to fit the requirements, and last December we made a week-long trip to view properties offered by a British estate agent on its website. We were given to understand that we would be shown as many as 15 properties so we were stunned to be told on arrival that only three were available! No explanation for the sudden disappearance of the others was given. All the properties were unsuitable, either being very isolated or, in one case, adjacent to a cement factory, so we went back to the UK very dejected.

"We know that prices are rising in Spain and particularly so in rural areas. We do not want to make any more pointless trips to view unsuitable properties as this could waste possibly thousands of pounds of our fixed budget."

THE ADVICE

"Lynne and Steven told me they wanted to move within eight weeks. Their furniture was in storage and living with two dogs and a parrot in temporary accommodation was far from ideal; they had been working towards this move for some time.

"I was concerned that price rises in rural Andalucía would lock them out of the market -- it is tough to find good properties around £100,000, and this market will disappear by the end of 2004. Many properties need refurbishment and they really did not want to wait.

"I promised to find a suitable property within a month but they were sceptical given their earlier experience. This is not the first time I have heard similar reports from clients who see a property on a website but then find it is sold. Others complain that information is vague and sometimes misleading.

"The Property Finders charge a registration fee of €900 (£640), plus 2.5 per cent (€4,500 or £3,200 minimum) of the purchase price. Lynne and Steven realised that they would soon spend this if they had to make more trips to see properties next to cement factories.

"As they wanted to be within an hour of Malaga airport, the budget ruled out many areas but I was confident that possibilities would be found in the area of the lake at Iznájar. I always warn clients that they are not going to see many properties; a good short list is usually four to six properties, but it can sometimes be only one or two.

"I found several possibilities but, best of all, I found that a house I had short-listed for previous clients but which had sold before they could see it was back on the market. This was the best small country house I'd seen in a long time.

"Lynne and Steven were in a good position: they had a banker's draft, and we negotiated a lower price than before, because of the speed with which they could complete. The title deed was not correct but, as long as changes are made before completion, it is quite safe to proceed. In fact, Lynne and Steven achieved what I promised: they registered with me on 5 January and moved into property number three on 4 March!"

Barbara Wood is a buying agent for The Property Finders, which operates exclusively in Catalonia, Andalucia and Madrid: 01908 218753; www.thepropertyfinders.com

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Village house near Lake Iznájar.

Price: €102,150 (£73,000).

Agent's details: Double-fronted village house with original cobbled floor in entrance. Sound condition, two rooms downstairs and potential for two bedrooms and bathroom upstairs but could be four bedrooms, two bathrooms, sitting room, kitchen/ breakfast room by incorporating existing outside rooms into the house. There is a large garden with plenty of room for a pool.

Property two: Partly renovated house..

Price: €173,000 (£123,500).

Agent's details: Partly renovated but immediately habitable house with 600sq metres of land and views over surrounding olive groves and hills. There is good access, mains electricity and a well. The house has potential to be three or four bedrooms, three bathrooms, kitchen/ breakfast room, two reception rooms. There is a separate building that could be a studio or guest apartment.

Property three: 50-year-old farmhouse.

Price: €144,000 (£103,000).

Agent's details: This charming farmhouse is set in around 3,000 square metres of land with olive groves. It is around 10 minutes from the lake and there is excellent access. The house has mains electricity and its own well. It is in a sound, habitable condition but it needs updating throughout. There is potential for four bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, kitchen, plus guest cottages for letting with own entrance.

THE VERDICT

"We are absolutely in shock having bought and moved into property three! Given our bad experience in December we were disillusioned as we could see our much-hoped-for new life disappearing in front of our very eyes. Our problem has been that we did not know where to get reliable and impartial information, but The Property Finders was our best chance of moving ahead and achieving our dream home in rural Andalucia and it worked!

"Barbara's in-depth knowledge of the entire area and also of the Spanish buying process gave us the confidence to buy within two days of arriving in Spain and there is no doubt that it makes a real difference to have someone who is looking out for your interests rather than trying to sell you something."

If you would like House Hunter's help, write to House Hunter, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail with full details: househunter@independent.co.uk

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