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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 …
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.
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