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There is no subject or procedure that I could ever stand up and claim to be experienced or an expert in. That said, there are countless subjects and procedures that I am fully experienced and proficient in how not to do. It has taken me years of practise, but I believe that I have finally got it down to a fine art.
The whole process of my buying a property and relocating to Spain was one such fiasco that I will endeavour to tell you about below. Please try and stifle your laughs as you read this and pity my naïve attempts in striving for that ‘Idyllic Spanish lifestyle’ – I’m sure I wasn’t the first, but if I can help somebody not to make the same mistakes that would be good …
I think it was more or less 6 years ago – Mrs Grumpy and I were quite well paid professionals, no kids, average mortgage etc… like many other people in our situation at the time in the UK.
We did work quite long hours, often unsociable and at weekends, and often had quite a long commute to and from work. We worked hard and were well paid, we just didn’t have the time to play hard or see much of each other, and the prospect of this continuing for another 35 years until we retired was pretty depressing, and so we decided to do something about it.
It was probably after a few too many bottles of wine on a rare Sunday afternoon off, tucked up in front of the TV and watching the ‘A place in the sun’ omnibus, that we decided that moving to Spain would solve all of our problems, and that the only concerns our new life would have would be when the freezer ran out of ice for our sangria’s.
True, we couldn’t speak a word of Spanish, and the only time that either of us had set foot on the Spanish mainland was a weekend trip to Madrid the previous year, that neither of us enjoyed, but that wasn’t going to put us off.
Fuelled by the wine, we jumped on the Internet and began searching for property for sale in Spain – no, we didn’t have any one particular area in mind as we didn’t know one end of the country from the other.
We found plenty of old buildings, full of character and in need of some reform – they even came with a decent plot of land and cost around 20’000 Euros (Remember, this was back when the exchange rate was in our favour aswell !). So of course, like many Brits in our situation we budgeted about 20 grand to buy a similar ‘property with potential’ and a further 10 grand to reform it into a enormous country pile with character, a heated outdoor swimming pool and enough room for a pony. We decided, quite optimistically, that our money would go so far that we would be spoilt for choice and really needed to arrange a visit.
By chance, the phone call on the website we were viewing was a portal as opposed to one particular Agent, we left some brief details and they called us back the next day. We explained the type of property and area we were looking for : Character building, a bit of land, not too near the town, 10 minute drive to the coast, not too many toursists, an hour from the airport …etc…
”I know just the place!” he said, and little did we know at that time that he was explaining about half of the country and about two-thirds of the properties for sale in Spain. Before we knew it he had arranged a viewing trip for us to meet up with an Estate Agent in just a few days time.
Needless to say we were exited and apprehensive, optimistic even, but above all completely clueless and unprepared.
Once we eventually managed to find the Estate Agents that had been selected for us (their offices were situated in the back room of an antiques shop), they expressed surprise at our being there at all given that it had been raining. However we introduced ourselves to the Team – one partner the ‘local builder’ and one the Estate Agent. They were confident that they could find us the property that we wanted and then help us to reform it, with all the correct licences etc… which was exactly as we would have hoped.
We were pleasantly surprised by the town itself, even though most of the rural properties that we had asked to be shown were ‘a little more rural than we expected’. We were taken aback by how the properties seemed to be either Townhouses tightly jammed into the narrow streets in the Town Centre, New built Villas on urbanisations, or rural fincas miles from anywhere and we couldn’t really decide which type of property we wanted – ideally a hybrid of all 3.
We opted for the rural finca because we could put our own stamp on the property and have a bit of space around us and set to driving around the area on our search for few days. At the end of our 2 days we had selected a plot about 10kms and 25 mins from the Town, up a mountain and with a (very distant) sea view. We excitedly drove back to their offices and immediately began the negotiation process and began to draw up some very basic plans of the kind of property that we wanted and that was possible.
Maybe then was the time to look into the qualifications of both the Estate Agent and the Builder – maybe asking for references or testimonials, professional accreditations and such like, possibly even checking into whether the company was officially Spanish Registered or not ?
So after not making all the recommended and appropriate checks into our Agent and the Plans or the plot of land itself, we decided to go ahead and pay a deposit on the property – the usual 5%. This sum, we were told, had to paid in cash, and so we trotted off to the local bank and drew out a considerable sum of cash using our visa card (and only later found out what the outrageous charges for doing this were!). We handed the deposit over, received a handwritten receipt and a typed contract, and arranged to return in a couple of weeks to take ownership of the property and sign at the notary, when the balance would be paid. The building work could then commence.
It was after a week that we got a phone call from the Estate Agent advising us not to go ahead with the purchase as the local building laws were about to change and that if we did buy the land we would not be able to build on it. It was good that this piece of useful advice had saved us a fortune, but meant that we would have to return to Spain to reclaim our deposit and start the search all over again.
The following week we did just that and found a similar property – this time a smaller piece of land and in the next town up the road, but with a massive ruin on it that we decided to reform – but again, miles from anywhere.
Again, we entered into a purchase and build contract and at first all seemed to go well.
This is not the ruin mentioned in the text!
When we returned to Spain some weeks later we were actually waiting to sign the purchase contract in the Notary’s office when we were told of an antiquated law – basically, that the details of our purchase would be put in the local town hall to allow any of our neighbours the chance to purchase the plot in order to extend their own land area if they chose. The law stated that any of our neighbours could compulsory purchase the property from the new owner (us) at the price stated on the escritura. The problem that this caused us was that there was a significant amount of money that we had agreed would be ‘Black’, which was not declared on the escritura, and which we stood to lose if this law was invoked. Yes, we fell for the old ‘black money is how all property in Spain changes hands to keep taxes down’ line.
Call it misplaced optimism, but for some reason we decided to chance the sale and fortunately it all went well for us, but we could have managed without the stressful 4 weeks waiting to see if our purchase was challenged.
Our next problem came when we were told that we did not own all of the property as it had been explained to us. There was what I can only describe as an unused goat shed attached to the back of the property that was not listed as being ours on the escritura. It was only a very tiny part of the building as a whole, but it meant that the access road was not exclusively ours, and that our property was not detached, but rather semi-detached.
Nonetheless, we decided to press on with our plans and commence with the reform and build of the property and commissioned a set of architect’s plans. We came back to Spain after a few weeks to view the plans only to be told that our builder was in prison with no date of release given, or in sight. We decided to stick with the current Estate Agent / Builder combo as we had built up a relationship with them and they knew the plans and the property. We didn’t particularly want to begin the process again with somebody else.
It was probably after 12 months that we heard from the Estate Agent that the builder ‘should’ be home in the next few weeks, and so we decided that we had a lot of lost time to make up for, and that we should relocate to Spain to oversee the project ourselves, renting for a couple of weeks, in the original town that we chose, in order to do this.
This we did, but weeks turned into months without any sign of the builder being released. Also – the longer the time we spent in Spain waiting, the more we were eating into our savings and stagnating, and the more we realised that we preferred the original town (where we were now renting) and that our new property was really ‘too isolated’ for what we wanted.
We complicated the issue further as both of us were successful in finding jobs over here (which in itself was amazing, and I’m sure wouldn’t happen today!) – I was by profession a Technical Sales Engineer, and Mrs Grumpy was the owner of a Conference and Event Co-ordinators – neither trades that are particularly in demand in Spain. These jobs were both located close to the town where we had originally intended to live.
We made the decision to put the ruin on the market (the ruin itself had not cost a great deal of money, so we were saving money on the building work that we were no longer going ahead with) and buy a further small property to live in until such a time that we could sell the ruin.
We also hoped that we would have learned from our mistakes, but we were soon to learn that there are many and varied mistakes to be made as far as property is concerned in Spain!
We were lucky in finding a small, rural finca with not too much land, not too far from the town – fully restored and coming in on budget. We made an offer, the offer was accepted and we instructed a Spanish lawyer to act on our behalf for the purchase.
The first problem came in financing the purchase. We had to bring over our sterling from the UK to buy the Finca and as such booked a forward currency trade. I arranged to send the sterling from my Bank in the UK to the currency brokers, but the Bank messed up and the funds were not sent, which meant that I missed the trade and was penalised -loosing an arm and a leg in the process. See Blog “My Currency Exchange Nightmare”.
The day of contract signing brought 2 further problems that could have effected the purchase. In Spain, if the purchase is not completed within a certain time frame it can be declared void with the offending party losing their deposit. Because of the problems with my currency exchange we had pushed the date of completion to the very last day of this agreed ‘window’, so there was no room for any error. The day prior to signing Mrs Grumpy went to our bank to collect the ‘black money’ only to be told that such an amount of cash was not kept on the premises and to call back the following morning. Not a problem, we had anticipated this, hence the 24 hours notice – she handed over the request detailing the sum she wanted – written in Spanish. On returning to the bank the next morning she found that the sum had been misread to the tune of a zero being missed off! – Our appointment at the notary was less than two hours away and the only solution was to drive around our banks’ 5 sister branches to collect the money!
God alone knows how we managed it, but with a carrier bag stuffed full of various banknotes and an envelope stuffed with 4 separate bankers drafts, we sped to our lawyers office, where we parked the car and walked round to the Notary office.
It was only when we were inside the Notary’s waiting room that we found that we didn’t have the envelope!
You can probably appreciate, that with just 30 working minutes to go until the close of our ‘Window’, and without the said cash to make the purchase, to put it mildly we were ‘slightly concerned’.
To our eternal fortune, Spanish honesty and integrity prevailed – somebody found the envelope that we had dropped en route and, guessing that it was for a property purchase, delivered it by hand to the notary’s office (would this have happened in the UK?)
Anybody who has lived in Spain for any time will not be in the least surprised to hear that this was just the beginning of the many, many mistakes that we were to make. Maybe they will laugh that we got away with things ‘so lightly’.
What I do know for sure is that, although stupid, naïve and misinformed, the many, many mistakes that I have made have me much stronger as a person (or should I say ex-pat?) and if somebody can read this blog and avoid making just one of the mistakes, then that’s another pint somebody owes me.
Overall I’m sure that there is a moral to this situation, but for the life in me, I don’t know what it is!
I dare not count up the total number of mistakes that we made in our transition from being a smug ‘DINKY’ professional couple in the UK to (finally) settled expat parents, but I daresay that it runs into double figures. Has anybody else made a right royal cock –up of things aswell ?
This post was taken with permission from MR. GRUMPY’S BLOG at www.tumbit.com
A TV series featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and 3 companions Mario Batali (restaurant owner), Mark Bittman (NY Times) and Claudia Bassols (actress) travelling around Spain in an open top Mercedes. It is a great insight on how they discover the real Spain. It is essentially a gastromony show portraying the fantastic cuisine to be had in Spain, and these guys really love their food! It also covers some of Spains history, art and tradition showing the country in a superb light. They meet and talk to the real Spanish people they meet on the street and in the restaurants they go eat in!
They ask lots of questions, thanks to Claudia who acts as interpreter and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Spanish is very good also. It is a real live series, that takes Spain into the living rooms of those in far away places. Please enjoy each episode here.
Wow, could I tell you some stories about driving in Spain but…
I want to make this short and sweet.
Firstly, here is a scary fact. In the twelve months of 2008, 3,100 people lost their lives in road accidents. I can’t find any later statistics but thankfully I think the trend is downward. The major TV channel TVE 1 in Spain dedicates air time to traffic accidents, especially in summer, over festival periods and long holiday weekends, called ‘puentes’ .
There have been campaigns by the Government to bring to people’s attention to the effects of drink driving and the use of seat belts and the introduction of penalty points for traffic offences in the last few years have tamed some people. But, if there is one thing the Spanish in general don’t have the manaña attitude to, it’s driving. They like speed, to overtake anywhere (the more dangerous the better).
I’m no perfect driver, in fact I think I have picked up a few bad habits since driving here and I know I have seen some really bad driving in the UK and NO LADIES I am not pointing the finger at you BUT here, where I live, there doesn’t seem to be any rules and the police seem to be very good at turning 2 blind eyes. I mean, I have never seen so many people stop where they like, put on their hazard lights and double park! No thought for the danger, the inconvenience for other motorists or the fact that they have just blocked at least 2 parked cars in.
Go to any Supermarket or Centro Commercial and take a look in the car park. I don’t know why they bother painting parking bays as the trend is to abandon your car and take up two spaces rather than park it.
You don’t see it so much now but one of the craziest and most dangerous things I think I saw when I first arrived was the family of 3 and sometimes 4 all on a moped. Father has his helmet on and sod the rest of the family, kids in the middle and Mum holding on at the back for dear life!
I’ll get off my high horse now before I tempt providence and go and have a car accident myself. I must admit, I have already been involved in one but it wasn’t my fault, no one was hurt and my insurance company covered the total cost. Mind you the other driver wasn’t happy as his insurance claim meant his premium would be going up, he therefore started to threaten me but that’s a story for another day…
What should you look out for when driving in Spain?Well apart from the above.
For some insane reason (just my opinion) some people from the UK still want to bring their car over to Spain. I have friends who have done so and say they have no problems driving a right hand drive car here. That said; not one of them doesn’t have a number of dents on their cars.
I considered doing the same because I really loved my car and I lost an awful lot of money when selling it! But having visited Spain a lot before moving here and with my experience of driving a hire car around Jerez when we first found the town, I knew that my pristine car wouldn’t stay that way very long.
If you are considering bringing your right hand drive car from the UK, make it legal in Spain. That becomes one big headache because it involves an awful lot of paperwork if you become a resident (which you will be, if you stay longer than 6 months) Check that your insurance is valid, again a headache and if you become a resident you must put the car on Spanish plates and pay an import tax. This is something a lot of my compatriots either neglect to do or just don’t know they are obliged to do.
If you are going to buy a car in Spain, be careful if it’s a private sale, especially if you don’t yet speak good Spanish. Take a translator and study the documentation and make sure everything is genuine and up to date. As this post is about driving, I’ll do another post on buying a car at another date as this entails a lot of paperwork, which is why a lot of folks buy from a dealer who will do all the paperwork for you!
Other important points are:
In Spain you always need to have with you, your Driving Licence, car purchase documents and car insurance together with a bank receipt that shows that the insurance premium has been paid.
If you are a non EU citizen you must obtain a Spanish Licence. You cannot exchange your home country licence for a Spanish one. You can get advice from the Spanish Consulate in your home Country. Better still, there is a wonderful Reference Book that covers every single aspect of the legalities and motoring in Spain. I have a copy of the first edition and it is now on the third edition.
The authors name is Brian J. Dellar and the book is called ‘Motoring in Spain’.
The link is HERE and I must disclose if you purchase through this Amazon link I stand to make a small commission.
Hey, I’m not trying to force you to buy it but I highly recommend it and you won’t end up paying any more for your purchase but you will help me keep this blog an ad free zone.
And take a look here to see there are worst places in the world to drive than Spain!
Why don’t you come and see for yourself?
Instead of coming to Spain in summer, come at Christmas.
Yeah, I know, Christmas is all about children, family get togethers and sharing with good friends, right!
Okay, I’ve got an idea for you, spend Xmas at home with the family and come out to Spain for the New Year! Make sure you get out here around the 2nd or 3rd of January and stay for a week, at least.
In Spain the traditional day for celebrating is not the 25th of December, although since I have been living here Christmas has become more commercial. To be honest my kids have always been lucky in the respect of getting presents both at Christmas and ‘Los Reyes’. That’s our choice because my eldest spent his first 4 years in England at Christmas and I’m a sucker for seeing the smiles on their faces 🙂
The 3 Kings / Reyes Magos
So, what or who are ‘Los Reyes’?
Los Reyes are the Three Kings. Baltasar, Melchor and Gaspar.
On the night of January 5th, the Three Kings come into each and every home and leave presents for the children, you know just like Father Christmas but they don’t come down the chimney!:
Earlier on in the evening in nearly every city, town and village there will be a procession and a parade of floats where children throw sweets and each of the Kings are sat on an elaborately decorated float, pulled either by tractor, horses or camels. They throw presents and sweets out to the crowds. Children and adults bring plastic bags and some even take umbrellas and hold them upside down to catch the sweets.
After the processions have passed families go to the bars for tapas and a drink, here in Jerez mostly for a Sherry.
In my house, from a very early age the kids were taught, the tradition of cleaning a pair of shoes and leaving them out so the Kings will know what presents belong to whom. This tradition has been passed down the generations of my wife’s family. I also have to clean a pair of shoes and just like the kids if I haven’t been good the Kings will only leave me a lump of coal. It hasn’t happened yet though 🙂
May be because we always leave a glass of something nice for each king!
Going back to Christmas, a couple of things that I really, really enjoy are Zambombas y Pestiños!
What’s a Zambomba? A Zambomba is a Christmas gathering of people who form the shape of a circle, normally its family, neighbours and friends but typically are held in public places and everyone’s invited! It consists of songs and typical flamenco Christmas carols. Its name comes from the instrument called the zambomba, which marks the beat. Zambomba’s are mainly in Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz) where it is said to have originated, but over time they have spread to other Andalusian towns.
They are basically indescribably delicious flaky and delicate pastries covered in honey. Our friend Mari-Jose makes the best in the whole of Jerez in my opinion. My mouths watering and I can’t wait for Christmas to come quick enough. The ingredients are flour, anise seeds or flavouring, white wine (vino fino) and oil. Here’s the recipe but they won’t taste the same!
Last but not least is that unlike most countries I know, the main meal is not served on Christmas day but on the evening
of the 24th. It’s usually a big affair with many courses and a wide variety of different food. Though, normally not turkey the main dishes are preceded by a selection soups, seafood, cheeses, pates and delicious serrano hams.
For the Spanish, food and drink has and always will be close to their hearts. At Christmas time you can eat many delicious specialities to celebrate the festive season. Main dishes vary from province to province and from home to home but Lobster, Roast lamb, Baby Suckling Pig or Cod could all be on the menu.
For dessert there may be trifle or fruit but mostly the Spanish Christmas is not Christmas without Turron, Mazapan, Polvorones or Rosquillos de Vino.
Turron – the essential Christmas sweet in Spain, this is nougat and there are many soft or hard varieties with every table having a selection
Mazapan – marzipan, either plain or shaped
Polvorones – traditionally made at home, these small cakes are made from basic ingredients with a selection of flavours added
Rosquillos de vino– small biscuits flavoured with anise and sometimes wine.
And finally………… To DRINK…
Sherry – Amontillado
Drinks certainly do not take second stage and Spanish red and white wines will be in plentiful supply. Perhaps a sherry and then some Cava (which is similar to Champagne) and then on to the hard stuff, perhaps a nice Brandy. I think you get the idea…
Where everyouspendChristmasthisyear,Iwishyouallavery HAPPY & PEACEFUL oneindeed.
PS. There is also a BIG lottery held on the 22nd of December. Its oficial name is Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad but nearly everyone in Spain know it as ‘EL GORDO’ (the FAT one!).
If you’ve ever spent a holiday in Spain, that’s just crazy, of course youv’e had a holiday somewhere in Spain! It’s probably what started the majority of you guys reading this, the love affair you have with this beautiful Country.
So, lets start again.
How do you spot the tourists in Spain?
Well, an easy way is to pass by the restaurants and see they are the only ones sitting there!
A major way of getting straight into the Spanish life style so your living on the same time lines, is CHANGE YOUR EATING HABITS!
That doesn’t really mean to change what you eat but you will because the food here is different and marvellous. What I mean is, you need to change your body clock and start eating at the same times as the Spanish do. That doesn’t mean you have to eat out everyday, although that is a very Spanish thing to do, just try and get out of your normal lunch, dinner and tea times. That way you will be able to get yourselves into the Spanish way of life and intergrate and do the things the Spanish do and join in with them.
Below is basically how it works here, I’m always being teased by my Spanish friends about having tea at 5.00pm. I don’t know how long ago the British used to do that, probably the Queen is still doing that but as I tell them, I’m really not in that class! Take a look and tell me what you think of the Spanish eating times in the comment box below:
My idea is to provide a few helpful hints to speed up the enjoyment process but I’ll be honest with you, even after 8 years here I still have my breakfast before the kids go to school on a normal working week. Although, un café con leche around 10.00-10.30 is quite acceptable to me.
Spanish eating habits.
The Spanish eating habits take a while to get used to and leave many visitors perplexed. The fact meal times are quite different from the UK and America, and to a certain extent to the dining customs in most parts of Europe.
Breakfast (Desayuno) 10.00 – 11.30. For most this means a cup of coffee and may be toast or a croissant.
Lunch(Comida)14.00 – 16.00. If eating in a restaurant this will be typically a large 3-course meal. This will also be the same for a majority of households in Spain as for most it is the day’s main meal.
Afternoon Snack (Merienda)17.00 – 18.00. This is big for the children in Spain but the adults don’t mind getting in on the action either!
Dinner(Cena) 21.00 – 24.00. This is probably the one meal time that throws everybody out because it’s taken so late!. Most restaurants don’t even open until after eight thirty or nine and tend to stay open until midnight and much later in summer.
FOR MY NEXT POST CONCERNING FOOD. I will discuss the Menu del Dia.