Estate agents in Spain

Buying property through an agency

The vast majority of property sales are handled by estate agents, particularly those where non-resident foreign buyers are involved. It’s common for foreigners in many countries, particularly the UK and Germany, to use an agent in their own country who works in co-operation with Spanish agents and developers.

Many Spanish agents also advertise abroad, particularly in the publications, in expatriate magazines and newspapers in Spain, and many also have extensive websites, some of which include virtual tours of property. Most Spanish agents have staff who speak English and other foreign languages, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t speak Spanish. If you want to find an agent in a particular town or area, you can look under Inmobiliarias in the local yellow pages.

Most agents offer subsidiary and ‘after-sales’ services and will help you obtain legal advice and arrange insurance, utilities, interior decorators and builders; they may also offer a management and letting service on behalf of non-resident owners. Note, however, that agents may receive commissions for referrals and you may therefore not receive independent advice.

Qualifications

Spanish estate agents aren’t regulated by law (one of the reasons why there are so many problems with dishonest agents) and anyone can set up a business selling property. There are, however, many agents who are professionally qualified and licensed, and you should choose an agent who’s a member of a professional association such as the Agente de Propiedad Inmobiliaria (API) or Gestor Intermediario en Promociones de Edificiones (GIPE), members of which have professional indemnity insurance, although it may be minimal.

Ask to see an agent’s registration number and have someone check it if you aren’t convinced that it’s genuine. You may also be afforded extra protection if the agent is a member of an international organisation, such as the European Federation of Estate Agents. There are many unlicensed, amateur ‘cowboy’ agents operating in Spain (particularly in resort areas), who should be avoided. Among the many scams practised by unlicensed agents is increasing the price of a house above that agreed with the owner and pocketing the difference.

Fees

There are no government controls on agents’ fees in Spain, where an agent’s commission (usually between 5 and 10 per cent) is included in the sale price and therefore effectively paid by the buyer. Commission charged on new properties is usually 10 per cent and on rural properties it can be as high as 35 per cent! Commission charged by agents varies and properties may be advertised at different prices in different agencies.

In some areas, many agents belong to a multiple listing service (MLS) whereby agents advertise the same properties and the selling agent splits the fee with the original listing agent (commission in this case is between 7 and 10 per cent). Foreign agents located abroad often work with Spanish agents and share the standard commission, so buyers usually pay no more by using them. However, check in advance whether this is the case and how much you’re required to pay.

The same property is often on the books of different estate agents at different prices, reflecting different commissions, so shop around. When buying, also check whether you must pay commission or any extras in addition to the sale price (apart from the normal fees and taxes associated with buying a property).

Estate agent’s fees should be paid on completion only and never before you sign the title deeds.

Viewing

If possible, you should decide where you want to live, what sort of property you want and your budget before visiting Spain. Obtain details of as many properties as possible in your chosen area and price range, and make a shortlist of those you wish to view. Usually the details provided by estate agents are sparse and few agents provide detailed descriptions of properties. Often there’s no photograph and even when there is, it usually doesn’t do a property justice.

Note that there are no national property listings in Spain, where agents jealously guard their list of properties, although many work with overseas agents in areas that are popular with foreign buyers and there are property networks in some areas used by several agents. Spanish agents who advertise in foreign journals or who work closely with overseas agents usually provide coloured photographs and a full description, particularly for the more expensive properties. The best agents provide an abundance of information. Agents vary enormously in their efficiency, enthusiasm and professionalism.

If an agent shows little interest in finding out exactly what you want, you should look elsewhere. If you’re using a foreign agent, confirm (and reconfirm) that a particular property is still for sale and the price, before travelling to Spain to view it. Many estate agents have websites, so you can check what’s on offer from the comfort of your home, although sites won’t show all properties for sale or the latest properties on their books and some websites require prior registration.

A Spanish agent may ask you to sign a document ( nota de encargo) before showing you any properties, which is simply to protect his commission should you obtain details from another source or try to do a deal with the owner behind his back. You’re usually shown properties personally by agents and won’t be given the keys (especially to furnished properties) or be expected to deal with tenants or vendors directly. You should always make an appointment to see properties, as agents don’t usually like people just turning up.

If you make an appointment, you should call and cancel it if you cannot keep it. If you’re on holiday it’s okay to drop in unannounced to have a look at what’s on offer, but don’t expect an agent to show you properties without an appointment. If you view properties during a holiday, it’s better to do so at the start of it so that you can return later to inspect any you particularly like a second or third time. Agents don’t usually work during lunch hours and most are closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays.

You should try to view as many properties as possible during the time available, but allow sufficient time to view each property thoroughly, to travel between properties and for breaks for sustenance (it’s mandatory to have a good lunch in Spain). Although it’s important to see sufficient properties to form an accurate opinion of price and quality, don’t see too many properties in one day (four to six is usually a manageable number), as it’s easy to become confused over the merits of each property. If you’re shown properties that don’t meet your specifications, tell the agent immediately.

You can also help an agent narrow the field by telling him exactly what’s wrong with the properties you reject. It’s advisable to make notes of the good and bad features and take lots of photographs of the properties you like, so that you’re able to compare them later at your leisure (but keep a record of which photos are of which house!). It’s also advisable to mark each property on a map so that should you wish to return later on your own, you can find them without getting lost. The more a property appeals to you, the more you should look for faults and negative points – if you still like it after stressing the negative points, it must have special appeal.

Viewing Trips

Most agents and developers arrange viewing trips with inexpensive accommodation for prospective buyers and usually refund the cost if you buy a property. By all means take advantage of inspection flight offers, but don’t allow yourself to be pressured into buying on a viewing trip. Inspection trips inevitably only look at a limited number or certain type of property (off-plan property is a particular favourite) and in order to show the area in its best light, agents will endeavour to take you via the most attractive routes and wine and dine you at the best places.

Bear in mind that there’s always more to an area than what you see on an inspection trip. Always allow yourself sufficient time to view and compare properties offered by a number of agents and developers. A long weekend isn’t sufficient time to have a good look around, unless you already know exactly what you want to buy and where, or are coming to view just one or two properties.

Some agents advertise ‘free’ inspection flights, which you must then pay for if you don’t buy anything. Check the small print and conditions of inspection flights as well as the reputation of the estate agents offering them before you sign up. Reputable estate agents will probably vet you and see how serious you are about buying before accepting you on an inspection trip, which are expensive to lay on.

Agents’ Legal Advice

Never allow yourself to be pressurised into a purchase and always take independent expert legal advice. Some agents pressurise clients into signing contracts and paying deposits quickly, alleging there are queues of other clients waiting to buy the property (which may be true!). Some agents even claim legal advice is unnecessary or provide it themselves, which is illegal and unethical. Your chances of solving any problems are greater if you take independent legal advice from a registered lawyer (all those registered have professional indemnity insurance).

Avoid using the estate agent’s lawyer who will inevitably defend the estate agent’s interests over yours. Some lawyers used by agents receive commission when the property is sold and so do their utmost to make sure you buy the property. Choose an independent lawyer who’s only paid by you to defend your interests.

There are a large number of complaints concerning fraud and malpractice against estate agents in Spain, particularly from foreign buyers, and there’s little consumer protection. There are, however, many reputable estate agents who provide an excellent service.

This article is an extract from Buying a home in Spain. Click here to get a copy now.

Further reading

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