With over one million British citizens currently registered as living in Spain, the country is by far the most popular destination for expats to make their permanent residence. Long popular with retirees thanks to the warm climate and laid-back Spanish lifestyle compared to the UK, the country is also a popular choice for second homes, be they beachside apartments or inland villas. In recent years the local economy has been turbulent, especially in the property markets, meaning that while there are many bargains to be found, it is essential to be aware of specific key pointers when considering purchasing land or property in Spain.
While the Spanish property laws differ from those in Britain, these are not necessarily a considerable obstacle. Care and time are taken before making any decisions – especially before signing any contracts or handing over any money. With so many British residents, there is a long-established sub-economy of British – or at least English fluent Spanish lawyers – who specialise in handling property transactions across the country. Also the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors are at hand in the country to offer independent and non-biased advice regarding the property being vended, but are fluent in the local planning laws and can provide valuable assistance.
Whether working with a British or Spanish lawyer, do not think they will be offended if you request to see proof of their qualifications and expertise in property laws, it is common sense and good practice to do so. Ensure that they have full indemnity insurance, and if they suggest trying to cut corners or request transaction funds or fee payments in advance, then seriously consider changing lawyer.
The lawyer should have the expertise to conduct all local equivalents to land charges and planning searches to the same standard that we would expect in the UK. If there are any doubts about what they are trying to report back with, you can hire many fluent translators for an hour or two to attend meetings so nothing is ‘lost in translation’.
Once a suitable property and lawyer have been found, it is essential to take the time to independently verify the Land Registry details of the property (Colegio de Registradores). Ensure that the property being bought matches the records held, that the owners are indeed the vendors, that there are no debts attached to the Spanish property, all planning permissions are in order and if there are any restrictions on further developments or extensions. Conveniently, for a fee this information is available directly translated into English from their office.
In Spain, for up to two years prior, property taxes are attached to the premises owner rather than the individual who necessarily was resident at the time, so make sure all civil taxes are up to date with the local authorities. The local authorities will also need to issue a certificate in order to connect all utilities in the new owners’ name, and verify that there are no outstanding debts on the property.
It can seem daunting to buy a property in Spain or any foreign country. Still, the reality is that apart from a few administrative details, the basic principles are precisely as they should be when buying a property in the UK. Those who exercise tact and caution will find the whole process much more straightforward and far less stressful than those who do not. It is, after all, a major financial decision and a significant lifetime event – so take the time to research and never be tempted to cut any corners.