I resisted writing about any kind of “how to” until all the paperwork for our house in Spain was finalized, and the keys were in our hands. Once we crossed those thresholds there was painting to do, drips and drops to stop, and a wall that required stripping back until we reached solid concrete and stone. There was an aircon/heater that needed to be installed sooner instead of later. Then there were all of the things that make a house a home. Our settling in process has always been a whirlwind!
Now that we are mostly settled, and another to do list is ready for our next visit, there is time to reflect. This is to say the rental car has been returned, and our laundry has been done. I don’t think there is anything we’ll be lugging up the hill in the next 48 hours. So, how do you buy a dream?
1. Create Wishlists…
Having the decision makers in your family go off to their own corners to put their wishlist on a piece of paper is essential. If you don’t write wishes down the chances of them coming true are diminished. Donna likes to illustrate her wishlists with photos torn from magazines. I just type out a list. We are both pretty specific.
After our lists are written we compare notes. A view of a body of water, two bathrooms, the ability to walk to restaurants, stores, and bars were items of immediate agreement. Agreeing on the number of stairs we could live with, apartment or townhouse, and what constituted easy access to public transportation were areas we agreed to have open negotiations on. “Location! Location! Location!” That was always going to be a part of the process.
2. Go Online…
We tracked real estate markets in several countries and cities for at least two years. We looked at market analysis of Spanish real estate that was written with the British ex-pat in mind. We joined three ex-pat community Facebook pages. House Hunters International was binge watched just to get a sense of various locations. We cast a wide net and began pulling it in.
In terms of helpfulness, House Hunters is basically a wash. Watching a couple pretend to buy the house they already bought is 99% entertainment. Prices are reflective of the scriptwriters’ fantasies. “A dog trainer, and a professional blogger are looking for their $1,500,000 waterfront dream home, but might be willing to stretch the budget.”
Ex-pat Facebook pages on the other hand are a goldmine. Asking any question can be a little like opening Pandora’s box. People aren’t shy about sharing their experiences. If you are a member of the group, you can pm other members once the moderator inevitably shuts a discussion down. Using community Facebook pages to find the top three real estate agencies, lawyers, electricians, plumbers, and general contractors was extremely fruitful. Looking back I’d say the feedback we received on these pages was biased, but pretty darn accurate.
3. Boots on the Ground…
How long a person should live somewhere before buying a house is open to debate. I believe it depends upon your overall process. Doing your research and trusting your gut works for us. Everything else felt like procrastination.
After we narrowed our search to coastal Spain we took a road trip. We hit every beach town between Alicante and Malaga. It was a giant neighborhood review. Locations that looked great in photos were not always so inviting in person. Some inviting locations were just too far off the beaten path. Our list got a workout.
Our list eventually lead us to Oliva, Spain. We didn’t get there on our road trip. A month long return trip was planned. That trip included seeing 18 properties in the space of a week. After two weeks of 14,000 step days we had a good feel for Oliva, and its real estate market.
4. The Real Estate Agent..,
In Spain the real estate agent represents the seller. As a buyer you pay them no commissions. The agent can only show you houses their agency has listed. The cute house next door to the one your agent showed you might not be one they can show. Seeing it will require finding someone from another agency.
While the real estate agent doesn’t represent you that doesn’t mean an ethical agent can’t be very forthcoming about the properties they are showing. That’s where our Facebook research came in handy. Our agent came highly recommended. She knew the market. She knew the condition of the properties she was showing. She knew highly recommended craftspeople, and how much it cost to repair things. Her reputation had been made by the support she provided after the sale was made. That last piece is critical.
5. The Attorney…
Since the real estate agency doesn’t represent you in Spain the broker’s role is fulfilled by an attorney. A person could try to file all of the paperwork by themselves. It’s written in Spanish legalese. Checking for previous titles, leins against the property, certificates of occupancy, writing and filing your Spanish will, and setting up your bank, water, and electric accounts, and dealing with bureaucrats is something best left to an attorney.
Again, the Facebook community was quick to share their stories, good and bad. One local attorney was recommended over and over again. She was a good find and our process was incredibly smooth. Her 1,500 euro fee was well worth it. All that and she ends all of her email correspondence with “Besos!”
In general buying a house in Spain will cost you another 13 to 15% in taxes and fees. Word on the street is that fees can be higher if you don’t have an attorney representing you. That was a discussion the Facebook moderator cut short. Similar observations were sprinkled throughout the site. At any rate there are Notaries to be paid, purchase taxes of 10%, national tax number application fees, filing fees, the expense of your Spanish will, and attorney fees. To be on the safe side we added 16% tothe purchase price. It’s never a bad feeling when you wind up with a little extra in your pocket.
8. Work Crews…
No matter how well a house is inspected there will be surprises after the ink has dried. The first house Donna and I bought together had a river running through the basement. Our house in Oliva has been relatively surprise free. Finding an honest and reliable worker who is willing to give you solid advice on how to fix things yourself, or give you a bid for their own work is indispensable. The real estate agent who provided support after our deal closed, and The Oliva Tattler helped us find that worker.
I got up early and banked the fire. Then I made a cup of coffee. Outside crowds of Spanish children and their parents made their way up the street to the school. I looked around at all the work Donna and I accomplished. A slow smile spread across my face. “We have a home in Spain!” I checked the copies of the lists I keep on my phone! There were at least seven items I could cross off.
Making wish lists works!!!