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Getting serious

Once you start to find houses you are interested in you'll need to start to understand the buying processes.

So you've visited a house and now you're interested in buying or making an offer, or at least finding out more details. We've been close to buying two houses, the first of which fell through so we have tried this with several agents now. We haven't looked at buying off-plan. And if you want to consider building youself - Spain Calls Me is the best site about someone's experiences. Also use Eye On Spain for information about expat experiences of houses and properties in general.

Before you get to making an offer, you might need to consider any work needed on the house (for instance you might want to change the kitchen or refresh the bathrooms). The estate agents we've used have all been very helpful in organising for quotes and estimates prior to buying to help us determine what something will really cost.

Estate agents also do more in terms of the purchase process than they do in the UK. They will probably provide the first contract for the initial deposit (this is the contrato de arras) and can provide documents about the house. Do though check these out with your own lawyer - the estate agent is still working for the seller, though they will be helpful to try to facilitate the deal.

When you are buying you will need to look for several documents. Spain and Catalunya have put a lot of resources on-line now so you can do some checking yourself. The first thing to look at is the cadastral record (land registry) and the urban plan - these are fabulous websites with maps that you can examine down to house level. The urban plan says what properties can be built where. It will also give clues as to what types of development are coming. Spain (and Catalunya) in particular have become much more strict about the rules about land. They are also retrospectively delegalising properties or refusing them the proper documentation (see problems with Cedula de Habitilidad on the Ebro Delta). Spain, unfortunately, has a reputation for changing the law and making properties that were once legal illegal. So be very careful if anything is even mildly shady.

The house will have two key records: the cadastral record with describes the house boundaries; and the nota simple which is a simplified version of the title deed (escritura). The nota simple describes exactly what you are buying and what debts and charges are listed against the property. Nota simples can also be found online for a small fee (or your lawyer will charge you for it). For a house from a developer, you will probably find that the house is waiting to be finished and so is not formally registered. This will need to be part of the purchase process and could be a nightmare if you are taking over a part built property as you'll need a sign-off from the architect and a licence for first occupacion that confirms the house was built to specification.

You should check out all these documents before you even get to signing the contrato de arras as the deposit you pay will be forfeit if you pull out and all the legal issues need to go into the contrato de arras first - you can't really negotiate for the escritura unless it's in the contrato de arras.

Do get these checked by a lawyer. It's actually quite common for the Spanish to buy without using a lawyer, but there can be hidden catches. The first house we were looking at had it's garden as an annex 'for private and exclusive use'. It turns out this was because it had been made part of a community and 'private and exclusive use' meant the community would actually own the land (and be able to approve changes, severely limiting opcions for things like adding a pool).

If you are part of a community, find out the community rules as it's quite probable there will be restrictions on what changes you can make to your property.

Finally, if you are buying in Catalunya, houses now must have a Cedula de Habitilidad. This basically means the regional government confirms the house is suitable for living in - both from a technical point of view of having rooms, a kitchen, bathroom etc, but also from a legal status point of view. This is relatively new (it started in 2009) and many lawyers and estate agents don't seem very familiar with it. We hit it because you cannot get a mortgage without this document. It also seems to be difficult for older buildings in rural areas to get this document.

Note that for a new building, particularly for Catalunya, this is different from the Licencia de Primer Occupacion (also known in English as the Licence of First Occupation or LFO). You will need to apply for the CdH after the LFO has been completed. This may affect the timescales you need to build into your contracts. Ensure the developer must deliver the CdH - you won't get a mortgage, or electricity or water without it.

And once you've done the checks and agreed a price, you will then be able to sign the contrato de arras, or in the event of buying new, a compraventa.

 


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