There are a number of different ways to find property for sale in Spain - you can browse the Internet, look for private sales in newspaper and magazines, register with various estate agents or simply jump on a plane and scout around in your chosen area. However you choose to go about it, the strong advice from foreign buyers who have gone before you is to avoid taking up the tempting offer of a free flight, all-expenses-paid inspection trip.
Inspection visits are a favourite marketing tool used by developers and agents who are often tied to a particular housing development. This means you only get to see a certain type of property in a certain area. The chances are you'll be accompanied by a very persuasive "minder" who will ensure that you have absolutely no chance of breaking out on your own to check out other properties on the market.
The sales techniques on these inspection tours can be extremely high pressure and you're unlikely to get a fair and unbiased picture of the pros and cons of buying into the Spanish property market. Heady with the free sangria provided at the welcome reception and high on euphoria at the idea of ending your long weekend as a Spanish home owner, you may find yourself signing on the dotted line without taking enough time to think through all your options.
Some companies offering inspection visits provide free flights, accommodation, meals and transport. Others offer substantial discounts while some promise to refund your air fare if you end up buying a property from them. Whatever the particular offer is, beware! There are much better and safer ways to find your dream home. There are so many cheap charter flights to Spain these days, especially from the UK, and you can fight dirt cheap hotel accommodation out of season. So resist the temptation of tying yourself to a particular agent or developer for the sake of a couple of hundred pounds.
It's far better to make your own travel and accommodation arrangements and make contact with as many different agents as you can to get a broad picture of the range of properties and prices available in your preferred area. You can find Spanish agents and developers on the web and make appointments with them in advance of your visit. If you're dealing with an agent in your own country, make sure you keep your options open and contact other agencies on your arrival in Spain.
If you have the time and energy you can save yourself some hefty agents' fees by looking out for private sales. Drive around the area where you're thinking of buying and you're bound to see some "se vende" (for sale signs) on the walls and gates of villas and apartments - this is especially common in the popular ex-pat areas. Scan the classified ads in the local English language newspapers and scour the notice boards in bars, clubs and supermarkets as these are all places where you're likely to find owners' advertising their properties.
There's no harm in by-passing the estate agents - as long as you use a good lawyer and don't sign anything until he or she has checked that everything is in order.