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Find a ruin and help with the transformation

Iznájar in AndaluciaRussell Bamford wanted an Andalucia country property but had no clear idea of exactly where. Although not necessarily looking for a renovation project he was prepared to do any work that was needed but at the outset I had warned him that it was very unlikely that we would find a ‘ready to move into’ property within his budget.  So he already knew  the most likely scenario was that shortlisted properties were going to be dilapidated at best and possibly no more than a pile of stones.  Imagination essential! Click on the map to enlarge it.


  • A small detached property with some land or a ruin to renovate
  • A swimming pool or space for one
  • A rural location, not isolated and close to a town or village
  • Preferably no more than one hour from Málaga airport
  • Budget up to €350,000, to include the cost of any building


  • Andalucía is a very big place, occupying 87,000 square kms, and Russell did not know it well enough to have any opinion about where he wanted to buy, apart from not being on one of the coasts.
  • It is a rare rural property that comes with 100% correct paperwork and finding one that is either good or able to be corrected in never easy.
  • There are hundreds, and possibly thousands, of wrecks and ruins all over Andalucía and it easy to find inexpensive properties miles down a track, on the wrong side of a mountain and facing north, with no chance of water or electricity any time soon.  The tricky bit is finding well-located Andalucia country property with good access and close to a pleasant village.


In this case, the first thing was to establish possible locations. Although Russell wanted to get moving on the purchase there was no urgent deadline so we were able to have a face-to-face meeting to discuss the brief in detail. There were three possible areas within an hour of Málaga airport but one, inland from Marbella, was already too expensive for Russell’s budget, while another, in the Sierras to the east of Málaga and south of Granada, gets very cold in winter and although Russell had mentioned that he liked the idea of being close enough to Granada to ski he wanted the best winter climate possible. So at my suggestion it was decided to focus initially on the area between the provincial town of Antequera and the village of Iznájar.

As I suspected my initial enquiries showed that it was very unlikely that an already renovated house was a possibility within the budget. This meant that, depending on the amount of work needed, I could only look at properties priced to a maximum of 200,000 €, the balance would be needed for building work and associated costs. During March I located a few possibilities and Russell came to have a look, as much to check out the suitability of the area and the type of property available rather than actually make a purchase. The result was that the chosen location passed with flying colours and I was instructed to keep searching, with one new requirement added to the original list. There are some spectacular views in this area and Russell wanted one.

I had noticed a ruin near one of the properties that Russell saw on his first visit but it had been abandoned for so many years no one could remember who owned it. I asked my local ‘’corredores’ (impossible to find rural property without one) to keep their ears and eyes open and eventually we found out that it had been inherited by two brothers who had left the area 25 years previously to find work and never returned, a very common story in rural Andalucía. We made contact through relatives in the village, the result was that they were happy to sell it, quite surprised to find out it had any value. As Russell knew approximately where it was all I had to do was send him some images. He decided it was not necessary to visit again so he bought it, sight unseen, for 80,000 € and the property was purchased in September 2005. He was now the proud owner of 2,240 square metres of Andalucía on which there was a 125 square metre wreck, no electricity or water connected.

Buyers can get a real advantage in using the services of a property buying agent when we track down properties that aren’t actually on the market – this one was never listed with any of the local estate agents and Russell had bought it before they even got to hear about it.


There is always a great deal of work for The Property Finders to do when a client buys this type of property and a renovation project is usually going to be a series of hurdles to overcome. The majority of rural properties in Spain have less than perfect Title Deeds and this one was no exception; only the land appeared in the Catastral and Land Registries, no one had ever got around to registering the fact that a house had been built sometime in the past, not even when Title passed, through inheritance, to the sellers.

So after appointing an English-speaking lawyer, Francisco Molina González in Antequera, we asked the Town Hall architect to visit the property, firstly to confirm boundaries but most importantly to define the footprint of the original construction and the square metres. The law states that the rebuilding or renovation of an existing property must follow the original footprint and be the same size, although most Town Halls will allow some flexibility if asked nicely. What they don’t like is people blatantly flouting the regulations and going ahead regardless. In this case, the land area proved to be accurate and the architect was very amenable, stretching his tape measure to include any pile of stones that might have once been part of the house so we finished up with enough square metres for a three bedroom, two bathroom house. Worth mentioning that any costs resulting from this type of procedure should be paid by the seller, not the buyer, and must be carried out before any deposit is paid or the contract signed.

In October, on my recommendation, an English-speaking architect, Domingo Cárdenas-Mata from Seville, met Russell to start the planning process and once draft plans were available three building companies were invited to tender. Domingo had multiple meetings with the planners at the Town Hall as we wanted to do everything correctly. Strictly speaking, we were going to have to wait quite some time for approval of the project as the recently revised regional planning regulations, although approved at local level, were still waiting for the rubber stamp from Seville. However, as Russell’s project complied with what would be on the statute books when ratification came through, we were given verbal permission to start, with a retrospective planning consent guaranteed; the building licence was issued and work commenced in June 2006. We could have started earlier if we had compromised on the builder, but to get the best in the area, Francisco Moscoso, it was decided to wait until he was free – the market was in overdrive at this time and even the not-so-good builders were booked solid; however, in my experience it is always worth waiting for the best.

Meanwhile, we had been taking care of electricity. One factor that made this property such a good buy was that when I made my initial enquiries it turned out that just one more person was required to force provision of supply. In this part of rural Andalucía if a minimum of twenty people in an area agree the necessary financial contribution, in this case a very reasonable 2,000 €, then the electricity company has to supply. With very good timing Russell was that twentieth person so that was sorted.

Russell’s property is in a very elevated location relative to Iznájar’s water deposits and there are no plans to provide municipal water anytime soon. Indeed, there are many people in this area who have been bringing in water by lorry for years, having bought ruins on plots with no water. However, we knew at the outset that Russell’s nearest neighbour, a local Spanish olive farmer, had sunk a well that provided water at phenomenal pressure, another reason that this was such a little gem. Well diggers were contracted and water was found, at the first attempt, at 70 metres but as protection again future droughts drilling continued to 170 metres. Another problem ticked off the list.


Iznájar in the heart of olive country. The dam is the third largest body of water in SpainSome changes were made during construction so that by using the natural slope of the land a lower ground floor was incorporated, giving an additional bedroom and bathroom. There were the inevitable unforeseeable hiccups along the way but nothing insurmountable. One of the worst was the fallout from the Marbella Town Hall corruption and planning scandal that broke in April 2007, resulting in the scrapping of the planning regulations that were awaiting ratification and all Town Halls in Andalucía were ordered to go back to the drawing board and resubmit, incorporating even tighter controls. Ratification has been very slow in coming but September 2008 brought the news that the property will soon have its promised retrospective planning consent.

The house has turned into a four bedroom, three bathroom house, with a galleried open-plan living area. There is a swimming pool and wonderful views towards the Sierra Nevada. The project came in more or less on budget but Russell did choose to upgrade some items during construction.  And best of all, while many renovation projects finish in disaster, drastic overruns in time and money, Russell says that he would happily repeat the experience, so we must be doing something right.

This lovely house is available to rent and if you would like to know more please contact The Property Finders and we will put you in touch. We are also happy to recommend any of the professional services mentioned above.

If you would like The Property Finders to locate your property in Andalucía please contact us on +44 (0)800 622 6745 or fill in the form below and we will get right back to you.

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