Mike and Brenda Warternberg contacted me at the end of 2010, hoping to make their permanent move from Cape Town by the end of 2011. This move had long been planned; they already owned two apartments on the coast near Marbella, bought off-plan several years ago, and they had taken time to check out the locations they thought would suit them best as a permanent home. But they were very busy running an international textile company www.lagoonatextiles.co.za with limited time available for viewing trips to Spain in the year ahead and their previous buying experiences had left them with a somewhat jaundiced view of the property market in Spain. So for such an important purchase, to find the house they wanted to live in for the next twenty years they decided it made sense to use a property finding service this time.
- A detached house with a minimum of two double bedroom suite, plus a guest suite and an office
- Not on the coast but no more than a 40 minute drive from Marbella
- Quiet location, no road noise, neighbours not too near but not isolated
- Top quality finish but prepared to do a renovation project at the right price
- Secure, fenced gardens with flat areas and safe for pets, no precipices
- Budget: €400,000 – €600,000
With the brief agreed by the end of February I knew I had about twelve weeks to develop an initial short list of properties before Mike and Brenda arrived in Spain for a two month stay, during which time they hope to find that special property. Helpfully, they had sent me photographs of their house and gardens in Cape Town which looked so Andalucían that I thought the best solution would be to put the whole package on a trailer and haul it! However, with a clear image of what they like I thought the search would be relatively uncomplicated with several areas in the hills not too far from Marbella likely to throw up a range of properties in the budget but, as with every search, nothing is ever quite as straightforward as it seems.
I identified the hills behind the Marbella coast between Casares to the the west and Alhaurín el Grande to the east as the initial search zone, going no further than 25kms inland so any property would be less than a 40 minute drive to Marbella. In the time available before Mike and Brenda’s arrival in May I reviewed and reported on twelve properties. Of those twelve, one lovely cortijo was just a tad too close to the abattoir in Coín for comfort and four others did not come up to scratch in the quality department. Over two very busy days in early June we visited the other seven, the result of which was that most of the area I had targeted could be ruled out.
Firstly, they felt it was too far inland, in part because their Spanish is limited but also the distance; it was only by viewing properties in the Coín and Alhaurín locations that they realised that even 20kms away from the coast does feel very different. In reality they wanted a little less country and a bit more coast than they had appreciated. Secondly, while some of the Andalucían countryside is lush, green and well-maintained, some parts, particularly in areas of smallholdings and farms, is scrubby and scruffy and too often the access to what may be a really nice property is an eyesore with all kinds of rubbish dumped at the side of the road. But from the viewings near Casares and in the hills behind Estepona it was very clear that a certain kind of environment would be the ideal; hilly and heavily wooded, part of an existing urbanization rather than a one-off country property, maintained lanes rather than rough tracks and around ten minutes from the coast as a maximum. So we agreed that I should dig deeper in the area near Casares village and in the Los Reales area behind Estepona and I viewed a further seven properties of which Mike and Brenda visited three but none felt right.
By now, one month of the two month visit had gone but I felt I knew what the real problem was and it was all about that fundamental property issue – location. Several of the properties would have been of real interest if only they had been somewhere else and that somewhere else was a place called El Madroñal, one of the best urbanizations, a real prime location 7kms inland from San Pedro on the Ronda road. This is where they really wanted to be but it is many years since I have seen a good house in El Madroñal go under €1 million, with the average being closer to €2 million even at today’s reduced prices and I was working with a budget with a €600,000 maximum. It wasn’t looking good but they did now accept that if that was where they wanted they would have to up the budget.
There were three houses on the market in El Madroñal under €1 million, all priced at €995,000. They had already seen one of them a year previously and rejected it because of road noise; some houses in El Madroñal do have this problem and often it is impossible to tell until you are actually inside. We viewed the other two; one was way too small while the other was interesting enough to make a second visit but ultimately the layout just didn’t work so it looked like another dead end. Then out of the blue a house that had been on the market for €1.4 million originally and was still at €1.2 million when I started the search was offered to me at €850,000, although it did need updating and extending.
With only two weeks of their visit remaining we went to see it. We knew that someone had already made two visits and was sufficiently interested to have gone back with a builder. The important thing in this type of situation is to control it by being first with an offer on the table, leaving the other party having to go better. Within a few hours of the viewing Mike and Brenda decided to make the first move and pending a second look the following day we made a low offer at €700,000, eventually agreeing a deal at €730,000 a few days later. For a house on a plot of 6,000m2, south facing with sea views, in a mature, wooded garden this is the best purchase made in El Madroñal for a decade. By the time the other interested party had their builder’s estimate and were ready to make an offer we had paid a deposit and contracts were being prepared.
After completion the serious planning stage got underway and the extension and renovation started a year later. It has been a long journey, with the inevitable highs and lows that come with any big project, but the result is nothing short of spectacular. The local firm who made the curtains say it is the best house they have ever seen, and they’ve seen a few. In my view, given that Mike and Brenda bought for a rock-bottom price at the worst of the recession and have done a renovation of the highest quality, not compromising on the smallest detail, this house represents the best deal done by any of my clients in terms of potential capital growth in what is now a market in strong recovery. The house has been renamed La Sorpresa because that’s what it is, a real surprise, traditional Andalucían exterior and ultra-modern interiors. The first two images under the location map in the image strip to the right show the original house, the bottom three after the transformation. La Sorpresa is available to rent when Mike and Brenda are away and if you’d like to see the end result of all their hard work click here.
If this search proves anything it is that the location comes first; for Mike and Brenda locations other than El Madroñal would have been a compromise. But I think it also shows you need a little bit of luck and be in the right place at the right time. Earlier in the year this house had looked way out of the budget so didn’t even come under consideration but by the time the price had been reduced to within striking distance they were on the spot and ready to go.
That’s my version of events. Here’s what Mike and Brenda have to say:
“For us the experience of buying property in Andalucia and having Barbara as a wonderful mentor by our sides could not have been more pleasurable. We were so impressed by the attention to detail she provided in her report on every house that we looked at. She had done thorough up-front research and sent us lots of photographs of every property that might be of interest. We were amazed at how many houses she was able to show us that met our requirements and all within the original budget price she had been given.
She also made sure to inform us of any negative factors that might influence our decision, such as early setting of the sun particularly in winter for properties in the lea of mountains, possible noise from motor-cross activities on Sunday mornings, and when we finally found a home that we would have loved, Barbara noticed a very hard to see builder’s yard in the valley below that just wasn’t the ideal property to have as neighbours.
Finally we were extremely lucky to find just the right house in El Madroñal which is what we had wished for but never considered it as a reality. Barbara was right on the spot and with her excellent negotiating skills we were able to secure an offer at well below the asking price making it affordable for us. We now have the added pleasure of working with Barbara’s friend and Architect who is going to turn this home into our dream home.
From our point of view and our recent experience this is the only way we would ever recommend to anybody to purchase a property.”
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