One of the main reasons why so many foreigners come a cropper when they buy a house in Spain is a failure to take adequate legal advice. Extraordinary as it may seem, up to 20% of foreign buyers are still thought to be purchasing a house in Spain without the services of a lawyer – something they would probably never dream of doing in their own country. When you’re dealing with a foreign language, different culture and alien bureaucracy it’s absolutely vital to employ the services of a reputable lawyer who understands the system and will protect your interests throughout the property transaction.
Don’t fall for that old line from certain estate agents who’ll tell you they can handle all the paperwork for you. “We’ve been in this business for years so you don’t need a lawyer, we can give you all the advice you need.” That’s what they might tell you but remember these are the people who are trying to sell you the property so they’re not likely to go to a great deal of trouble on your behalf to uncover any potentials pitfalls relating to your purchase.
The truth of the matter is you don’t actually require the services of an estate agent to buy a house safely in Spain but you definitely do need the services of a good lawyer. Foreigners who have tried to save themselves a few hundred pounds by not hiring a lawyer have suffered dire consequences – many have lost their life savings. There have been numerous well publicised cases of ex-pat buyers finding out (after it was too late) that they’ve “purchased” a property from someone who wasn’t even the legal owner. Others have inherited huge debts with their new “dream home” not having realised that debts stick with the property in Spain not with the individual who incurred them.
Your lawyer will make all the necessary council searches, just as he or she would in any northern European country, to make sure an apartment block or bowling alley isn’t about to be constructed in front of your villa thus blocking out your wonderful sea view.
If you’re buying a house off-plan from a developer your lawyer will build various safety clauses into your purchase agreement to guard against potential problems such as the developer going bust, absconding with your money, failing to complete on time, failing to adhere to the agreed specifications etc.
You can usually find several lawyers who speak fluent English in any of the popular ex-pat areas. It’s best to choose one on personal recommendation so ask the advice of other foreign owners (get chatting to people in pubs and clubs if you haven’t already established friendships in the area where you plan to buy). Expect to pay around one per cent of the purchase price to your lawyer – agree the sum in advance and be clear about exactly what services you can expect for your money.