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Here We Go Again

"If they had done their due diligence, asked the right questions and made all necessary enquiries at the outset this would never have happened. "

Here we go again. The British media has more horror stories about demolition of dream homes in Spain, quoting sobbing Brits telling how they have lost their life savings and had their retirement years ruined.  This topic goes down well because it paints Spain as a hellhole of corruption with all Spaniards out to get honest Brits to part with their money. It has raised its head again because of the recent demolition of two houses, both owned by British couples, with two more pending demolition in Almería province.  This is the same a region where a demolition in 2008 left a British couple living in garage, other British couples still waiting for the bulldozers to arrive and, together with the Axarquía region in the east of Málaga province, is the area where most illegal properties in Andalucía are located.  In fact, in the Axarquía region alone it is estimated there are between 10,000 and 20,000 illegal properties.   

Now, while I do have sympathy for those involved and I am sure the stress is making them ill, it is tempered by the fact that they only have themselves to blame.  If they had done their due diligence, asked the right questions and made all necessary enquiries at the outset this would never have happened.  For while I know that in many Spain town halls corruption has been endemic, and indeed one of the important things I do when advising clients about locations is make sure they know which to avoid, which mayors and town planners are in prison or under investigation, I also know that it is extremely easy in Spain to get the information about a property’s status even before you bother with a viewing.  Why doesn’t everyone do it?

So, if you don’t want this to happen to you, here’s what you do…..

Step 1:

Get an independent lawyer. Just about everyone buying in Spain is introduced to a lawyer by the real estate agent, developer or builder once they have found a property.  Don’t do it.  A much better idea is to contact two or three lawyers in the general area where you are thinking of buying and speak to them in advance.  See who you get on best with and how good their language skills are; the last thing you want is to have a lawyer acting for you who is not completely fluent in your language, whichever that is.  The couple whose house was demolished this week have been quoted in the press saying: “our solicitor, who wasn’t even a lawyer…..” I don’t even know what that means and what was wrong with making a simple check at the College of Lawyers in Almería? Every lawyer in Spain is registered in the province where they practice and they are either a lawyer or they are not.

Step 2:

Look at the nota simple.  This document gives all relevant information about a property and details any debts, charges and encumbrances against it, such as a mortgage or arrears on taxes, and also any court judgements pending.  In one case it has been reported that the property  already had a demolition order against it when it was bought and this would have been noted in the nota simple.  So why did they buy it?  And even if you haven’t already appointed a lawyer when you start viewing properties there is no reason why you can’t get sight of the nota simple yourself. You can apply online at the Property Registry . In fact, the law now states that real estate agents or sellers must be in possession of an up-to-date nota simple before they offer a property for sale so ask to see it.  If they don’t have it don’t view until they do have it.  Finally, you can go to the Property Registry and ask for one.  If you have already appointed a lawyer then tell them which properties you intend viewing and get them checked out in advance.  If The Property Finders had been acting for any of these buyers they would never have seen the property that is now causing them so much grief as we check the nota simple before recommending a property for short listing and viewing.

Step 3:

Make enquiries at the town hall, particularly if the property is in the countryside.  The publicised demolitions have all involved new-build properties in rural areas. In all cases there was building licence for a property but these were illegal. Spain is no different from other countries in protecting rural areas; in the UK these are called green-field sites and in Spain it’s zona verde, literally ‘green zone’.  If the people whose houses are now being demolished had gone to the local town hall and asked to see a plan of the municipality and its zoning they would have clearly seen that, in spite of having a building licence, the property was in an area where residential building was prohibited.  Therefore, they could have deduced that the licence was illegal and they wouldn’t have bought.  

The general rule is that only agricultural buildings, such as barns, sheds and garages for machinery are allowed in the countryside, residential housing is not.  Many people, including British buyers, have tried to get round this by getting permission for an agricultural building and then changing it into a house during construction.  This is the reason that the couple whose house was demolished in 2008 have been living in the garage ever since. The authorities only knocked down the illegal part, the house, and left what did have permission, the garage and outbuilding.  If they had inspected what the licence was for then they would have realised they did not have permission for a dwelling and they wouldn’t haven’t built one.  And I can’t help feeling that most buyers who now have problems did know what they were doing, but they assumed they would get away with it. Why? If a Spaniard had built something illegal at the bottom of their garden I am certain they would have been first in the queue to demand its demolition.

So, by following these 3 simple steps a buyer in Spain can avoid all problems.  If you don’t feel up to the task then consider using a property finding service.  As well as doing all the leg-work involved in tracking down suitable properties they do the due diligence and make all the right enquiries at the outset so the buyer can be 100% certain of a safe and problem-free purchase.

Take a look at just a few of the properties we have located for clients of The Property Finders in our Case Studies section.

About the author

Barbara Wood

Barbara founded The Property Finders in 2003. More than two decades of experience and her in-depth knowledge of the Spanish property market help buyers get the knowledge they need to find the right property for them.

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