By the time Marcus and Gabby Dawson contacted me in 2012 they had already bought two properties 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, somewhere to spend longer periods of time in the best possible climate. But 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 The Property Finders to make sure they got it absolutely right this time.
- 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
- Move in by October 2012
- Budget up to €300,000
With the brief agreed in early March 2012 I was comfortable that the timeframe was achievable. The most challenging item in the brief was getting the right property in a location where a car was not necessary. Although both Marcus & Gabby drive and they told me they intended bringing a car to Spain for the winter, plus a rather powerful motorbike, they really wanted to live without having to use the car on a daily basis. They wanted to walk to a good supermarket and have a wide choice of bars and restaurants a stroll away. The problem is that most property on the coast is ribbon development running either side of the main road and unless you are right next to a shopping centre, which is not a very appealing prospect, a car is really an essential.
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 being the furthest from the airport and also too close to where they already owned and I thought they could do better than either Torremolinos or Fuengirola. I firmly believe that a buyer coming into a distressed market should only look, if the budget allows, at the prime locations, particularly if they would have been priced out of that market when prices were at their peak. The fact is that even at the height of the boom their budget would have bought a property in all the secondary locations but they wouldn’t have had a hope in the two locations that I had in mind for them: Marbella and 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 and I could not imagine a scenario where they would not be looking a substantial capital growth when they finally came to sell.
The key to being warm in winter in this part of Spain is a terrace with full sun between 10 and 4o’clock. Get that right and there will be few days when you won’t be able to have morning coffee and a leisurely lunch outside but most town centre properties either have a very small terrace, and many don’t have anything, or 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 – while it is possible to buy under €300,000 in the town those properties are likely to be in older, high rise buildings which equals not very well built, poorly insulated and noisy and needing on-going maintenance or in a newer building it means being 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 so it was time to arrange viewings.
Marcus and Gabby didn’t know San Pedro 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 but 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 Marcus and Gabby 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 they just knew they didn’t want to live there.
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. There was nothing not to like, except the price. Originally on the market at €585,000 it had been reduced to €385,000 by the time we saw it but that was still some way from the €300,000 budget I was working with. However, in any negotiation timing is everything and we were bidding just as the Eurozone crisis was reaching yet another peak of hysteria and although the seller was adamant on multiple occasions that €330,000 was his absolute bottom we squeezed him down to €310,000. Cash and a quick completion are powerful persuaders.
So we made the October deadline with ease and Marcus and Gabby are now busy putting their personal stamp on this lovely house. The main task for the first winter is to improve access to the roof terrace; the existing spiral staircase is the narrowest I’ve ever seen and Domingo Cardenas is the architect liaising with Marbella Town Hall to ensure that this is done in line with their regulations.
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 and I know that Marcus and Gabby are going to love living there. 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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