Real Estate

How to buy a house in Spain and the Pitfalls To Avoid

There are quite a few differences from the process here in the UK and it’s therefore wise to read up and be aware of some of the common pitfalls of buying a property in Spain. I try to cover all the basics below, however, make sure to enlist the services of a professional before committing to your dream home.

Logic dictates that before you can buy a property you need to find one that suits your needs…

How to find a property in Spain?

First of all, you’ll need to establish whether you are looking for a sea view apartment, a historic property in a local town or a rural finca set on its own land. Making a list of all your requirements and splitting them out between ‘must have’ and ‘nice to have’ can save you a lot of time and make your search process a lot more efficient.

Next, you need to find properties that meet your requirements list. There are a number of popular portals online that you can use, many of which are available in English to make the search process easier.

Advantages and disadvantages of using an estate agent

Many of the properties you see online will be managed by estate agents. Some will speak English (certainly in more touristic areas) and most are accustomed to dealing with foreign buyers. Whilst estate agents can help provide detailed information about the area or city you’re looking at, approaching them with some caution is advised.

Regulation is relatively low in Spain and – just like in the UK – unscrupulous estate agents do exist. Always remember the agent is paid for by the seller . Don’t ever provide upfront payments and stay away from agents who suggest cutting corners.

Buying a Spanish property

The process of buying a property in Spain is straightforward but is markedly different to the process in the UK. In the sections below you will find an overview of the most important aspects that you need to be aware of when buying a property in Spain.

The buying process

Initially, you will make an offer on the property of your choice, usually through the seller’s estate agent. If the offer is accepted, the next step is for the buyer and seller to sign a preliminary contract (called a contrato privado de compraventa) and the buyer then pays a deposit, typically 10% of the purchase price. Any checks (regulatory, construction surveys, soil tests) you would like to make will have need to have be made before this point. This is especially important if you are considering buying a rural property (terreno no urbanizable) where it is not always clear what was built within regulations and what was constructed illegally. Also, you need to be aware that if you are buying a property that is in ruins, or where some of the outhouses are in ruins, it is not always easy to bring these ruins back to living conditions. The exact regulations depend on the region, but in most a ruin will require to have a partial or completely intact roof in order to get permission to renovate it. In any case, it does not matter what the estate agent promises you, it is imperative you check this with a local architect or directly with the authorised council.

The buyer then arranges a mortgage if required, although they should have already discussed their needs with the mortgage provider. As I am sure you are aware, Spain has gone through a very severe property crisis since 2008 which has resulted in banks making it much more difficult for you to obtain a mortgage.

The next stage is for the contract of sale (escritura de compraventa) to be signed in front of a notary, at which point the full sale price, taxes and other costs are due. If you are not living in Spain at this point, it is advised you give a solicitor access to your bank account through a power of attorney so that he can go to the bank, collect the bank cheque and then head to the notary to sign in your name, pay the seller and pay any taxes due.

Overview of the buying process in Spain

Legal requirements

The seller is officially responsible for any hidden defects in the property, even if they are unknown to them. Though, in practice gaining compensation for such failings can be difficult and costly. If you are unsure about the state of a property, it is best to have a survey carried out by an independent third party either before you pay the deposit or as a condition of paying the entire sum while paying the deposit.

It is your responsibility as the buyer to pay for all the costs and taxes associated with buying a home. If you have decided to use the services of a lawyer, he will be able to advise you of everything you need to be aware of.

The buyer is also responsible for registering the property. The notary may provide this service for a fee, and/or may notify the registry office that the sale has taken place, without completing full registration.

Funding purchase: deposits and mortgages

Following the 2008 credit crisis Spanish banks have been heavily restructured with significant international involvement by the EU and the IMF. As a result of this, banks are approving fewer mortgages and mortgage rates and terms have become less favourable.

One thing to be aware of is that the value the banks place on a property might be very different from the actual market price. Furthermore, for a rural property you will only ever be able to get a mortgage for 50% of the bank’s valuation of the property. It’s therefore absolutely crucial that you go talk to a bank first before putting down a deposit if you are depending on the bank’s money to pay for the purchase.

Fees and charges

Most costs are the responsibility of the buyer in Spain and there will be significant variations in costs from region to region. As a rule, the additional fees and charges paid for by the buyer will be between 10-12%  of the purchase price and include:

  • Property transfer tax 5–10 percent (existing properties);
  • VAT (or IVA) at 10 percent (new properties only);
  • Notary costs, title deed tax and land registration fee 1–2.5 percent;
  • Legal fees 1–2 percent (including VAT).

The estate agent’s fees are usually paid by the seller, but it is good to verify this at the start with your agent. For your information, estate agent’s typically charge the seller about 5-7% of the final sale price.

Choosing a reliable lawyer

Several times in this post I have recommended for you to call on the services of specialised lawyer. But I’m sure you’re all thinking; ‘that’s all well and good, but where do I find one?’ For a start, you will want to make sure that your future lawyer is registered with the local bar association (Colegio de Abogados). This doesn’t guarantee competence of course, but at least ensures you are dealing with an official lawyer. A good place to start is a list of English speaking lawyers, divided by region that can be found on the GOV.UK website.

How to pay for your house in Spain?

The final step; how to pay for your house in Spain. Firstly, you will need to open a bank account in Spain. There are several banks who provide a bank account specifically aimed at expats, where you can open an account with just your passport and your N.I.E.

Now you probably have a bank account in the UK with your budget in pound sterling and will need to transfer this money to your Spanish bank account in euro. Calling your UK bank asking them to transfer the money would certainly be one way to go about it, but this will often lead to inflated rates and potentially carry extra fees. A foreign exchange company can help solve this problem by offering much more competitive rates whilst at the same time providing you with a quick and hassle free transfer.

There you have it, everything you need to know about buying a house in Spain. Do let us know in the comments if you have any further questions or want to share personal stories about buying a house abroad.

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