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Case Study

No need for a car

By the time our clients contacted us they already owned two apartments on the Costa del Sol. But this time their purchase was to be more than a holiday apartment – now they wanted a home for winter, in the best possible climate.  However,  neither of the previous purchases had been a spectacular success and they knew they had not yet found the location that really worked for them so they opted to use a property finder to make sure they got it absolutely right this time.  The Property Finders cover the whole of Andalucía, including the entire length of the Costa del Sol so there was a lot of ground to cover.

the brief

  • Apartment or townhouse
  • At least 2 and preferably 3 bedrooms
  • Good condition, preferably without any work needed
  • Terrace or patio that must be sunny in winter
  • Low fixed outgoings, such as community fees
  • No more than 45 minutes west of Málaga airport, close to bus stop or train station
  • Walking distance to everything; beach, shops, supermarket
  • Underground parking for a car and motorbike

The challenges

The most challenging item in the brief was getting the right property in a location where a car was not necessary. Although our clients would bring a car and a rather powerful motorbike to Spain for the winter they wanted to live without needing to use either on a daily basis.  There had to be a good supermarket and a wide choice of bars and restaurants a stroll away.  As most of Spain's coast is ribbon development a car is really an essential unless you are in a town centre location. 

The search area was between Estepona in the west and La Cala in the east

There were several options that would give a town centre location right on the coast; Torremolinos, Fuengirola, Marbella and Estepona and I also thought that La Cala de Mijas, a beachside village between Fuengirola and Marbella, might work. 

I discarded Estepona as too close to where they already owned apartments and winter temperatures fall west of the town as the coast becomes more easterly facing. I thought both Torremolinos and Fuengirola were too big and busy for them. The search took place just as the green shoots of recovery were visible following the collapse of prices after the global meltdown a few years earlier.

When prices were at their peak Marbella would have been way beyond their budget but how things had changed and they would now have a chance a Golden Mile property in either Marbella or San Pedro de Alcántara. And while a property in these locations would take them to the top of their budget I knew they were making a lifestyle purchase for a long-term hold.

Marbella is at the heart of a micro-climate zone, very imprtant for winter warmth. The key to being warm in winter in this part of Spain is a terrace with full sun between 10am and 4pm. Get that right and there will be few days when you won’t be able to have morning coffee and a leisurely lunch outside. However, most town centre properties either have a very small terrace, and many don’t have anything. Alternatively, you have to choose between morning or afternoon sun, it is rare to get both. In San Pedro the choice was between town and beach and within a short time I had located a townhouse with lots of terraces and a garden and a ground floor apartment with good terraces and facing south, both on the beachside. In the town itself I located two penthouses, both privately for sale and with wonderful terraces but I rejected one because there were empty building lots in front and it was right opposite a school, which means noise and traffic. However, the other was very interesting, a duplex just off the church square, well within in budget and with keen seller so this was shortlisted for viewing, along with the beachside townhouse and apartment.

Marbella was always going to be a challenge with the most likely choice between older, high rise buildings in the town centre or in a newer building on the outskirts of town and a very long walk from the centre. In the historic centre of town, ‘el casco antiguo’, prices are high, many streets are quite noisy as they are lined with bars, restaurants and most houses do not have outside space at all, apart from perhaps a tiny Juliet balcony which is no good for sitting on. However, the clients were already familiar with the location and very keen to know what might be available so I put my walking shoes on and with my map I spent a morning walking every street in the Old Town. Three hours later and a bit foot-sore I had checked out every street, every alley, ticking them off as I went and I found eight properties for sale. I made appointments to view them all and that’s when reality clicked in – seven of the eight really weren’t worth a second look; either they faced the wrong way or there was a lot of updating to do. A couple claimed to have a terrace but not one that was going to see a glimmer of sun in winter, others were too small or in one of the noisier streets. But that left one that really was special and so adding it to those I had located in San Pedro I had the beginnings of an interesting shortlist. It was time to arrange viewings.

Marbella's Old Town ia a maze of flower-filled streets. Our clients' house is just around the corner.

Our clients didn’t know San Pedro de Alcántara at all so the first task was to give them a feel for the town with a stroll around, down side streets into more local areas as well as the main streets. I can’t see the point of looking at property without having a basic understanding of the surroundings.  However, that is what a lot of people do and all too often fall in love with a property without finding out first if where it is will work for them. And this is even more important when the property will be a real second home for several months at a time; it has to be a place where you feel comfortable. However, it quickly became clear that our clients didn’t feel that way about San Pedro and although they took a serious look at the penthouse in the town and liked it as a property, the location wasn't for them.

So off to Marbella to see just one house in the Old Town. Located in one of the prettiest streets, just wide enough for two people to walk side by side, so quiet but a couple of minute’s walk to the nearest supermarket and the fish market, and only a few metres to any number of tapas bars, restaurants and shops, this was a renovated three bedroom house, with two bathrooms and a guest cloakroom, a large sitting room with a fireplace and a fully fitted kitchen. From both the sitting room and the kitchen there was access to a walled patio and the icing on the cake was a 25m2 roof terrace with all day sun, winter and summer.  The original asking price was well over-budget but in any negotiation timing is everything. We were bidding just as the Eurozone crisis was reaching yet another peak of hysteria and cash and the promise of a quick completion were powerful persuaders.

It is never easy looking for a property in a small area where there is never going to be much available at any one time but the result in this case was exceptional.  Here’s how they see it:

We had quite a good knowledge of the Costa del Sol already and had spent a lot of time there but, strangely enough, this is what made us wish to engage a professional to find our property as we were aware of just how overwhelming and difficult the task can be to source the right property at the right price in that market. We were also familiar with The Property Finders as we had read various articles and interviews with Barbara in newspapers and magazines through the years and always thought she spoke a lot of sense.

We have absolutely no doubt we would never have managed to get such a perfect solution to our needs by ourselves, quite apart from the value we achieved. From the very beginning through to the handing over of the keys the whole process was managed by Barbara and was extremely easy, with very few demands on our time. A hidden bonus for us was the network of professionals and suppliers, all tried and tested, that Barbara introduced to us for the various tasks we needed doing. If you want a job done well, and done quickly, hire a professional.

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