Obviously this will depend on whether it’s an old house in need of complete restoration, a property that has been partly or totally modernised, or a modern home. One of the problems with a property that has been restored is that you don’t know how well the job has been done, particularly if the owner did it himself. If work has been carried out by local builders, you should ask to see the bills.
Some simple checks you can do yourself include testing the electrical system, plumbing, mains water, hot water boiler and central heating. Don’t take someone’s word that these are functional, but check them for yourself. If a property doesn’t have electricity or mains water, check the nearest connection point and the cost of extending the service to the property, as it can be very expensive in remote rural areas. If a property has a well or septic tank, you should also have them tested. If there isn’t a septic tank and no mains drainage in the area, check that the plot has sufficient room for a bulldozer access to dig the hole for the cesspit or septic tank.
An old property may show visible signs of damage and decay, such as bulging or cracked walls, rising damp, missing roof slates (you can check with binoculars) and rotten woodwork. Some areas are liable to flooding, storms and subsidence, and you should check an old property after a heavy rainfall, when any leaks should come to light. If you find or suspect problems, you should have a property checked by a builder or have a full structural survey carried out by a surveyor. You may also wish to have a property checked for termites and other infestations.
A local buyer wouldn’t make an offer on an old property before at least having it checked by a builder, who will also be able to tell you whether the price is too high, given any work that needs to be done. However, it’s unusual to have a survey on a property in Greece, particularly a property built in the last 10 or 20 years. Nevertheless, it isn’t unusual to find serious faults with homes built in the ’60s and ’70s, many of which were built with inferior materials, and even relatively new buildings can have problems.
It’s important to check who the developer or builder was, as a major company with a good reputation is unlikely to cut corners.
If you’re buying a detached villa, farmhouse or village house, especially one built on the side of a hill, it’s always wise to have a survey carried out. Common problems in old buildings include rusting water pipes and leaky plumbing, inadequate sewage disposal, poor wiring, humidity and rising damp (no damp course), uneven flooring or no concrete base, collapsing façades, subsidence, and cracked internal and external walls. Some of these problems are even evident in developments less than five or ten years old. Generally, if you would have a survey done if you were buying a similar property in your home country, you should have one done in Greece.
You could ask the vendor to have a survey done at his expense, which, provided that it gives the property a clean bill of health, will help him sell it even if you decide not to buy. You can make a satisfactory survey a condition of a contract, although this isn’t usual and a vendor may refuse or insist that you carry out a survey at your expense before signing the contract.
If a vendor refuses to allow you to do a survey before signing a contract, you should look elsewhere.
Some foreign lenders require a survey before approving a loan, although this usually consists of a perfunctory valuation to ensure that a property is worth the purchase price. You can employ a foreign surveyor in some areas, although you must ensure that he is experienced in the idiosyncrasies of local properties and that he has professional indemnity insurance covering Greece (which means you can happily sue him if he does a bad job!). Professional surveyors who speak English work in most towns and large islands.
Always discuss with the surveyor exactly what will be included and, most importantly, what will be omitted from the survey (you may need to pay extra to include certain checks and tests). A full structural survey should include: the condition of all buildings, particularly the foundations, roofs, walls and woodwork; plumbing, electricity and heating systems; and anything else you want inspected such as a swimming pool and its equipment, e.g. the filter system or heating.
A survey can be limited to a few items or even a single system only, such as the wiring or plumbing in an old house. You should receive a written report on the structural condition of a property, including anything that could become a problem in the future. Some surveyors will allow you to accompany them and provide a video film of their findings in addition to a written report.
Before buying a home on its own plot of land, you should walk the boundaries and check fences, driveways, roads, and the overhanging eaves of buildings that might be encroaching upon the property. If you’re uncertain about the boundaries, you should have the land surveyed, which is sensible in any case when buying a property with a large plot of land. When buying a rural property, you may be able to negotiate the amount of land you want included in the purchase. If a property is part of a larger plot of land owned by the vendor or the boundaries must be redrawn, you will need to engage a surveyor to measure the land and draw up a new plan.
You should also have a lawyer check the local municipal plans to find out what the land can be used for and whether there are any existing rights of way or animal grazing rights. If the land has trees, find out whom they belong to (there may be several owners). You can offer to buy the trees (although the owners may not sell) or continue to allow the owner(s) access to the land to prune and tend the trees. If you want to fell any trees permission is required and it may not be granted. Be wary of buying land in or near forested areas – forest fires in Greece strike every summer (fires in 2000 devastated large areas of the Peloponnese and a fifth of the island of Samos).
When considering buying land next to the sea, ensure that you will be allowed to build before you commit yourself to the purchase – permits are extremely difficult to obtain for plots next to the sea. If you’re buying a property within 500m of the shoreline, you should be aware that different building regulations apply, which in many cases have strict specifications including roof shape, number of windows, etc. Finally you should double check that the plot is large enough to build on – many expatriates buy rural plots that are too small to build on.