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Property Buyers Guide: Buying a property in Spain

Buying a property in Spain can and should be a very straight forward affair. However in so many cases it turns into a complicated headache just because buyers aren't really aware of what they are getting into.

With a little bit of up-front thinking and research before you start you can significantly reduce the risks of stressful problems later on.

Keep your cool, never lose contact with your common sense and stick to the basics that we discuss below. But please bear in mind that we are not giving you fiscal or legal advice in any way and we assume no responsibility for how you use this information. For fiscal and legal advice you should always consult a lawyer.

Clarifying your needs makes your property search easier and reduces the chance of you buying a property that doesn't suit you.

Thinking of buying a property? The questions you need to ask yourself

Will the property be a holiday home for just a few weeks of the year or will it be your main residence?

A holiday home means you probably will not be there for large parts of the year. Therefore you will need a property that doesn't require a great deal of attention on a regular basis. The last thing you want is for your holiday home to become a burden that interferes with your life. Apartments or villas on urbanisations (urbanizaciones in Spanish) are the best option in this respect as security and maintenance tend to be easier for these types of properties. Perhaps look for something with good rental potential to earn income and avoid leaving the property empty most of the year.
A more permanent home requires greater thought. You plan to spend large parts of the year living there, so you need to be somewhere that offers you the best quality of life. This means considering the local infrastructure and facilities, community, security, accessibility, and so on.

What do the family need?

Generally speaking, if you have young or teenage kids, your life will be a lot easier if you a buy property that allows them to have fun without you having to drive them everywhere. Residential estates that attract families are ideal, as both parents and kids are happy.

Is investment a primary or secondary concern?

Many people have bought Spanish property in recent years primarily as an investment, both in terms of rental income and capital gains. If you are buying as an investment then you have to focus on the type of property with the greatest potential in these terms. A good property agent will be able to advise you on the factors that drive property investment returns, along with the tools to help you analyse them. If you are buying primarily as property for living in and enjoying, then you will find you have a wider choice of properties.

How much effort do you want to put into maintaining the property?

Essentially it is just the end of the beginning when you complete the purchase. Property in Spain, as anywhere, doesn't look after itself, and maintaining property in a foreign country can be more of a challenge than at home. Depending upon what you buy, you may find yourself having to deal with local government, local builders, cleaners, plumbers, gardeners, and what have you, and all in Spanish.

What sort of maintenance budget do you have?

You need to be clear about the maintenance costs that different properties involve, and budget for them before you purchase. Otherwise you may find yourself owning a property that is too expensive for you to maintain. A good agent will give you a guide to the maintenance costs of different properties. For more detail on the sorts of costs you will face see the 'Owning a property' section of this guide.

What sized property do you need?

Be realistic about the size of property you need. Don't buy a property on the assumption that extended family will always be staying, as you may end up with something too big for you. Focus on your own requirements.

What kind of property do you need?

Different kinds of property (for example new build/resale, villa/apartment, on- estate/off-estate) suit different needs, and it is important that you are aware of their relative merits before deciding what to buy. This is one of the most important questions that you need to answer.

Which regions best suit your needs?

Whereabouts in Spain to buy is another important question. You may have personal reasons for choosing one region, such as family or friends located there. However bear in mind that each coastal region of Spain has a different set of advantages and disadvantages, and it helps to know which one best suits your needs. The vast majority of real estate agents are locally focused which means they know very little about the other regions of Spain, and will be determined to sell you a property in their area. If you have no strong personal reasons for choosing one area, then it is in your interests to know about the merits of all areas. You may be surprised to find that some of the lesser known areas are the most attractive. The only way to find out is to visit and research the area.

How important is accessibility?

Convenient access will be important to you if you wish to travel regularly. As an expatriate you will probably find that you need good access, both for you and for the convenience of family and friends who may wish to visit. Good access means a choice of international airports that can be reached within an hour or two by car. It could also mean proximity to a TGV/fast train terminal.

What is really important to you in terms of surroundings?

Some properties offer rural charm whilst others offer urban glamour. Being in the centre of town or right on the beach front will have advantages and disadvantages, as will being out in the countryside. What to choose depends on the qualities you value the most at this time in your life. You also need to think about the infrastructure you would like to have around you, such as hospitals, schools, shopping, leisure activities, and so on. A good agent should be able to advise you on all these issues.

What kind of community would you like to be living in?

Some people may prefer the solitude that comes with a house in the woods far from anywhere. Others may like the idea of a vibrant international community that you find on many of the best residential estates. Think about what you would like from a social life if you are going to spend a lot of time in Spain.

What will you need from the property in 5 years time? In 10 years?

Never forget how quickly the years pass by. If you are buying a property for the long term then bear in mind how it will suit your needs as they change over time. As always a good agent should be able to advise you on this matter

© Mark Stucklin of Spanish Property Insight – Everything you need to know about Spanish property