Steve Sheen and his wife Pauline contacted me in June 2001. They had been looking for months for a second home, which would combine a sea view with perfect privacy (Pauline is a well known British actress). Their children were between 9 and 15 years old so they needed to be within reasonable distance from activities for them. They had been shown a great number of properties by agents and had been ricocheting all over the island from Andratx to Banyalbufar, Valldemossa and Pollensa. A service offering property search Mallorca started to make sense.
- A three or four bedroom villa/finca with pool
- Must be completely private
- Must have sea view
- Flexible timeframe
- Budget up to £750,000 – increased during the search to £1m (€1.55m at the time)
- Geography of the coast: Many people coming to an island dream of a property with a sea view. Mallorca has 554 km (346 miles) of coastline but if you subtract all the inaccessible mountain areas of the NW Tramuntana, the protected areas (beaches, dunes, salt flats, wetlands and marshes), green zones and stretches assigned to the military, there aren’t many areas left in which you find properties. In fact, according to a study by the UGIZC (Unitat de Gestio Integrada de la Zona Costanera) only 21% of the 1,000 metre wide coastal strip has been converted to building land or residential development but only a further 2% of the total has the potential to be urbanised.
- You can guarantee privacy by buying lots of land together with the property but the budget didn’t run to this.
- Outside urban areas, the authorities have been gradually increasing the size of plots needed within the building regulations in order to conserve the environment and control the amount of construction, particularly in coastal areas.
- More recent urbanisations allowed for laying of roads and/or footpaths between frontline properties and the coast. Furthermore, plots within these urbanisations can be as small as 800 sq m so there is very little privacy.
When I first met Steve and Pauline, they showed me a property, which had been their favourite so far, a stone faced finca in the hills between Andratx and Capdella, with a distant sea view. It was completely hidden by trees and very private. However, it had no pool and the access was via a rather perilous, unmade track. I needed to establish the degree of sea view they found acceptable, and then focus on potential areas. The fact that they had viewed properties all over the island was because it’s fiendishly difficult to find privacy and sea view together. The agents were only showing them the few houses on their books within their price range. However, this meant that the locations were often wrong. Banyalbufar is a village in the NW Tramuntana with a spectacular setting but not only is it a tortuous route to get there, it would have been far too isolated for the children. Similarly, Valldemossa is not only inundated with tourists throughout the year, which would have been uncomfortable for Pauline, but there are local weather conditions in some parts where mists often obscure the sea view. I’ve heard more than once from vendors who only find this out after they have bought.
Ruling out Andratx and the southwest as too busy, I decided to concentrate the initial search around the Soller/Puerto Soller area. Only 20 minutes from Palma city, there would be enough activity for the children, with beaches at Cala Deia and Puerto Soller. However, sea view properties are limited – you can discount Sa Figuera to the northwest . The first properties with any decent sea view start around Bens D’Avall, which is 8 minutes southwest from Soller town on the road to Deia. There were a sprinkling of properties on that coast road, but many were very tired fincas requiring a great deal of renovation, and this was out of the question. Asking prices were also well over budget.
At the beginning of April 2002, Steve and Pauline visited the States and stayed in a waterfront villa in Naples, Florida. They decided then that their Mallorca home “must, must have frontline sea views!” and increased the budget to £1m. Incredibly, even for this budget it was not going to be easy to find the right property.
WHAT I SAW
With the revised criteria in mind I set out to find a frontline property with a wow factor sea view. I changed tactics and began to look at the southeast corner of the island. The trip from Palma to Santanyi is 35 minutes. A common problem in looking for “frontline” property is that agent descriptions can often be misleading, so you waste a lot of time travelling to properties which turn out to be second or third line and are actually better described as “unobstructed sea view”. There are all types of sea view too. The best are those which don’t necessarily look straight out to sea, otherwise at night you are looking at a black hole. Far better to have coastline or harbourside in the distance, which turns into a mass of twinkling lights and shapes at dusk. If you analyse the ten calas (coves) comprising what is commonly known as Cala D’Or, 65% of them are taken up with the marina, hotels and apartment complexes. Of those detached houses for sale, the majority sit close to a rocky foreshore where the public can easily saunter past – so no privacy here! My only hope was a little known cove (Calo de Sa Torre) within Porto Petro harbour, reachable only via a road, which doesn’t follow the coast but takes you three km inland first. Although the coast there was still a rocky foreshore with public access, there was far less chance of casual walkers from the port. Here there were two properties for sale in the same road, both south facing and looking out to sea. One of them was hacienda style, built around a central courtyard, so was perfectly private and could be enjoyed in onshore breezes. Asking prices were however, €1.5m – €1.65m.
The next couple of weeks I spent driving the coast road, literally looking at every frontline road, from La Rapita to Cala Pi and starting again at Cap de Regana. A huge chunk of land is under military jurisdiction here, all the way to Punta Llobera. At the same time I was checking all sales sources and finally, in May I struck lucky. This third property had never been openly advertised in Mallorca and I found it via an estate agency based in Cologne whose listings were on a property web portal, only in German which just happens to be my second language. This was a real frontline villa set on a large plot of 1,690 sq metres in a cul-de-sac in Tolleric, 25 minutes out of Palma and only 15 minutes from the airport. Tolleric is a tiny residential area tacked on to the end of a chain of urbanisations running south from Arenal, a well known beach resort. As the beach gives way to cliffs, so the tourist infrastructure disappears and the coastal strip becomes very Spanish, typically commuter belt. There’s an excellent shopping area in Maioris for daily needs. The roadside of this property was fenced in and hidden by bouganvillea and pine trees, whilst the neighbours were screened by double plots either side. The sheer cliffs on this part of the coast drop 25 metres. With an awe-inspiring sea view the villa also had a rare feature – a hidden platform in the rock face with views over the entire Bay of Palma.
When Steve and Pauline flew over, we spent one day together, viewing the two properties in Porto Petro first, more as a price comparison exercise, and after lunch, I introduced them to the third gem. This was the one! Comfortably under budget I managed to negotiate a further €175,000 off the price. The next day I took them to an English speaking lawyer and we arranged power of attorney, allowing for the Sheens’ busy schedule in the event they couldn’t fly over for completion. A great deal of organisation and liaison was necessary before the option contract was signed and as the vendor spoke only German I was on hand at all times. The house was being sold with contents so a detailed inventory needed to be drawn up and translated.
AFTER THE PURCHASE
Pauline said, “Perfect – we wanted to be in a part of Mallorca where it is Spanish, with local restaurants that have a menu del dia. We’re so secluded, as far as kerb appeal goes, our villa hasn’t got any” – but what the house lacks in wow factor from the street, it certainly makes up for behind the gates. Steve decided to change various aspects of the house, creating a children’s den and TV room from the former store, opening part of the wall to fix new sliding windows, adding an enclosed fireplace to the living area, improving the terrace with balustrade and installing pool heating. I was available to coordinate appointments with tradesmen and forwarding quotes as well as arranging handover of keys for guardiennage services. Parts of the lawned areas were also changed with extra plantings so the existing garden company were brought in to arrange this. A little later, I liaised with photographers who flew in to take photos for a colour brochure. I’ve happily remained an “emergency key holder” ever since (and yes, the Sheens did lock themselves out once with no mobiles, no car and no money…!)
This search had been an unusually long one, and the criteria changed halfway through. This sometimes happens as clients reassess their priorities when they see the reality of what is actually out there. We can’t conjure up the ideal property – there is no magic involved here, it’s steady, systematic research, which sometimes takes time – but you do have the reassurance that we’ve covered all the angles before making the important decision to buy. After six years in the villa, Steve and Pauline’s children are now more independent and they have outgrown the villa, which they sold in October 2008. They intend to find another, smaller property as a bolthole.
Following a directive from the Ministry of the Environment in Madrid in November 2007, and under continuing pressure from environmental groups, the coastal authorities have been exercising their powers to enforce regulations pertaining to frontline construction. They are in the process of re-measuring the entire coastline (by the end of 2008 they had covered around 70%) and redefining the coastal zones in the existing coastal law (Ley de Costas) 1988. The report is expected to be finished by the end of 2009.
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