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.
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 prone to flooding, storms and subsidence, and it’s advisable to check an old property after a heavy rainfall, when any leaks should come to light. If you find or suspect any 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, which are found in many areas.
Get help from a builder
A Spaniard 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 (inspección) on a property, particularly a property built in the last 10 or 20 years. Nevertheless, many homes built in the ’60s and ’70s are sub-standard and were built with inferior materials, and even relatively new buildings can have serious faults.
It’s important to check who the developer or builder was, as a major company with a good reputation is unlikely to have cut corners. A property over ten years old is no longer covered by a builder’s warranty. Warranties are transferable if a property is sold during the warranty period. When buying a resale property, the vendor is obliged to pay to put right any defects that come to light during the six months following the sale, although you may have difficulty enforcing your rights.
If you’re buying a detached villa, farmhouse or village house, especially one built on the side of a hill, it’s always advisable to have a survey carried out. Common problems 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 facades, subsidence, and cracked internal and external walls. Some of these problems are even evident in developments less than five years old. Generally, if you would have a survey done on a similar property in your home country, then you should have one done in Spain.
Getting a survey of the property
You could ask the vendor to have a survey done at his expense, which, provided 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 (e.g. British) surveyor practising in Spain, who will write a report in English. However, a Spanish surveyor (arquitecto técnico) may have a more intimate knowledge of local properties and building methods. If you employ a foreign surveyor, you must ensure that he’s experienced in the idiosyncrasies of Spanish properties and that he has professional indemnity insurance covering Spain (which means you can happily sue him if he does a bad job!).
Always discuss with the surveyor exactly what is included, and most importantly, what is excluded (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. filter system or heating.
A structural survey is usually only necessary if the building is old or suspected of being unsound. 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 allow you to accompany them and provide a video film of their findings in addition to a written report. For a property costing up to €400,000 a valuation costs around €400, a homebuyer’s survey and valuation €500, and a structural survey from €750, which is a relatively small price to pay for the peace of mind it affords.
Before buying a home on its own plot of land, you should walk the boundaries and look for any 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 advisable 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 must hire a surveyor to measure the land and draw up a new cadastral plan (plan catastral).
You should also have your lawyer check the local municipal plans (plan parcial) to find out what the land can be used for and whether there are any existing rights of way (derechos de paso). Rural land may be registered at the provincial ‘rural fiscal property register’ (catastro rural) and can also be registered in the general property register (registro de la propiedad).
Be very careful when buying a rural plot, particularly in Andalusia, where a regional government law severely restricts construction, or you may find that you aren’t permitted to build on it. Always take professional legal advice first.
Below is a list of items you should check when inspecting a property. However, this is no substitute for an inspection or survey by a professional, or for legal checks by a lawyer.
- Check for cracks and damp patches on walls.
- Check in particular for water ingress through a flat roof and check that the roof has a waterproof membrane.
- On older properties, check that the walls are vertical and not bulging.
- Check that all the roof tiles are in place and that there’s no sagging. Plants growing on a roof are an indication that it isn’t well maintained. Note that gutters and drainpipes aren’t common in Spanish properties.
Furniture & Fittings
- Check what is included in the sale.
- Check that any appliances included in the sale are in good working order.
- Check whether the garden will need extensive maintenance, and if so, how much a gardener will cost (if you cannot do it yourself). If you aren’t prepared to pay for a gardener, check what it will cost to turn the garden into a low-maintenance one.
- On rural land, find out whether the trees require maintenance, e.g. olive and fruit trees, and investigate what you can do with the crops after the harvest. If land is classed as agricultural (regadío), check its water rights and whether they’re sufficient for your needs.
- Check for damp patches throughout a property, including inside cupboards and wardrobes.
- Check for cracks and damp patches on walls.
- Check that the floor is level and that the tiles are in good condition.
- Check the condition of doors and windows and whether they close properly.
- Check the woodwork for rot and signs of wood-boring insects, such as woodworm and termites (termites are difficult to detect unless damage is extensive).
- Check the orientation of the property and how much sun it receives, particularly in winter when north-facing properties are cold, damp and dark.
- Check that there’s sufficient parking spaces for your family’s needs – note that street parking is in short supply in most towns and cities.
- Check whether there’s the possibility of buying or renting a garage or parking space within a building or complex nearby.
This is particularly important for rural plots.
- In the case of a new or fairly new property, check that the correct building permission was applied for and granted. It isn’t unknown for more buildings to be constructed on a plot than permission has been granted for!
- Identify the boundaries of the plot. This may require the services of a land surveyor (topógrafo) on unfenced rural properties.
- Check that there are no disputes over boundaries and ensure that any additions on your plot don’t encroach on neighbouring plots or vice versa.
- Check the rights of way over the plot. In rural areas, find out if your plot forms part of a hunting area.
- Check whether your electricity or water supply is routed via another property and, if so, whether the owner of that property is entitled (or able) to disconnect it or tamper with it. It has been known for owners to cut off a supply to a neighbour if they’re in dispute with him!
- Check for streams and underground springs and whether any neighbours have rights to water on your land.
- If your plot isn’t enclosed, check the local regulations regarding the height and type of boundary permitted.
Check what the building regulations are for adjoining plots. Don’t assume an empty plot is part of a garden or wasteland – it could have planning permission for a large villa or apartment block and potentially ruin your views and privacy.
- Check the reliability of the electricity supply.
- If there’s no electricity supply, find out whether you can connect to the mains supply or whether you can install alternative means (e.g. solar panels). Find out how much this costs.
- Check the water supply. If the property’s water is provided by wells, make sure that there’s sufficient for your needs.
- Find out whether a property has a septic tank (fosa séptica) and have it checked.
Be wary of utilities shared between several plots or properties (e.g. a well or electricity sub-station). These are fine if you get on well with your neighbours, but if you don’t they may cut off your supply.
- Check that there’s sufficient for your needs, particularly if you plan to live permanently in the property.
- If it’s an apartment, enquire whether there’s the possibility of obtaining additional storage space (usually known as a trastero) within the building.
- Check the pool and equipment (especially the pump) is in good working order. Don’t take a vendor’s word that these work, but check them for yourself. The cost of replacing a swimming pool filtration system can run to thousands of euros!
- Look for cracks on the pool structure and the condition of the paving around the pool.
- Enquire how much the pool costs to maintain a year and how much it costs to refill, e.g. if it’s emptied in winter.
- If a property doesn’t have a swimming pool, check that there’s room to build one and that the terrain is suitable.
- Make sure that a property corresponds with the description in the title deeds.
- Check the number of rooms and the area of the property, terraces and the plot.
If there are added rooms (e.g. an extension), terraces, a garage or a swimming pool that aren’t mentioned in the property description, the owner should provide proof that planning permission was obtained. Additions or alterations to a property may require new title deeds for the entire property. If so, enquire whether the current owner will obtain the updated deeds before you buy or pay the costs (at least €1,000) if they’re obtained on completion.
- Check that the water/electricity/gas supplies are functional, particularly the hot water supply and heating system. Don’t take a vendor’s word that these work, but check them for yourself. The cost of replacing faulty central heating can run to tens of thousands of euros!
- Enquire about the annual cost of heating and cooling and ask to see previous bills.
This article is an extract from Buying a home in Spain. Click here to get a copy now.