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Here We Go Again

The property media loves a good horror story about demolitions in Spain.

There are as many as 10,000 are thought illegal properties in the Axarquía region alone.

The property media loves a good horror story about demolitions in Spain.  They quote sobbing Brits explaining how they have lost their dream home and their life savings.  As a result, their retirement dreams are in ruins.  Demolitions in Spain articles go down well in the UK because they paint Spain as a hellhole of corruption with Spaniards out to get honest Brits to part with their money.  Examples like the demolition of two houses, both British owned, with two more pending demolition, all located in Almería province.

This is the region where a 2008 demolition  left a British couple living in garage.  That was because the building licence was for a garage and 100% legal. It was the rest of the house that was the problem.

Almería province, together with the Axarquía region east of Málaga, are the areas where most illegal properties in Andalucía are located.  As many as 10,000 are thought to be illegal in the Axarquía region alone.

Now, I do have sympathy for those caught up in demolitions in Spain.  However, my sympathy is tempered by the fact they only have themselves to blame.  If they had done their due diligence, asked the right questions and made necessary enquiries at the outset this would never have happened.  I know that throughout Spain town hall corruption has been endemic.  Indeed, one of the important things I do when advising clients about locations is to tell them which to avoid.  Which mayors and town planners are in prison or under investigation. Furthermore, I also know it is extremely easy in Spain to get the information about a property’s status even before you bother with a viewing.  Why doesn’t everyone do it?

So, if you don’t want this to happen to you here’s what you do:


Step 1

Get an independent lawyer.  Just about everyone buying in Spain is introduced to a lawyer by the real estate agent, developer or builder once they have found a property.  Don’t do it.  A much better idea is to contact two or three lawyers in the general area where you are thinking of buying and speak to them in advance.  See who you get on best with and how good their language skills are.  The last thing you want is a lawyer acting for you who is not completely fluent in your language.  A couple whose house was demolished  has been quoted in the press saying: “our solicitor, who wasn’t even a lawyer…..”

I don’t even know what that means. Why not make a simple check at the College of Lawyers in Almería?  Every lawyer in Spain is registered in the province where they practice. They are either a lawyer or they are not.

Step 2

Look at the nota simple.  This document gives all relevant information about a property.  It details any debts, charges and encumbrances against it, such as a mortgage or arrears on taxes.  In addition, it also highlights any court judgements pending.  In the case of the house above it has been reported that it already had a demolition order against it when this couple bought it in 2005.  Tthis would have been noted in the nota simple.  So why did they buy it? 

However, even if you haven’t already appointed a lawyer when you start viewing properties there is no reason why you can’t get the nota simple yourself.  Firstly, it only costs €9.02 to apply online at  Secondly, the law states that real estate agents must have an up-to-date nota simple on file before they offer a property for sale.  Ask to see it. Finally, you can go to the Property Registry and ask for one.  If you have already appointed a lawyer then tell him which properties you intend viewing a get them checked out in advance.  If The Property Finders had been acting for this couple they would never have seen the property that is now causing them so much grief.  There’s a reason we check the nota simple before recommending a property for short listing and viewing.

Step 3

Make enquiries at the town hall, particularly if the property is in the countryside.  The publicized demolitions have all involved new-build properties in rural areas.  In all cases there was building licence for the property but these were illegal.  Spain is no different from other countries in protecting rural areas.  In the UK these are called green-field sites and in Spain it’s zona verde, literally ‘green zone’.  If the people whose houses are now being demolished had gone to the local town hall and asked to see a plan of the municipality and its zoning they would have clearly seen that, in spite of a building licence, the property was in an area where residential building was prohibited.  Therefore, they could have deduced that the licence was illegal and they wouldn’t have bought.

The general rule is that only agricultural buildings, such as barns, sheds and garages for machinery are allowed in the countryside.  Residential housing is not.  Many people, including British buyers, have tried to get round this by getting permission for an agricultural building and then changing it into a house during construction.  This is the reason that the couple whose house was demolished in 2008 have been living in the garage ever since.  The authorities only knocked down the illegal part, the house. They did not demolish what did have permission, the garage and outbuilding. 

Ask questions, be sceptical

If they had inspected what the licence was for then they would have realised they did not have permission for a dwelling and they wouldn’t haven’t built one.  And I have a feeling that most buyers who now have problems did know what they were doing.  However, they assumed they would get away with it because ‘everyone else was doing the same’.  Why?  If a Spaniard had built something illegal at the bottom of their garden I am certain they would have been first in the queue to demand its demolition.

So, by following these 3 simple steps a buyer can avoid all  the problems that lead to demolitions in Spain.  If you don’t feel up to the task then consider using a property finding service.  The Property Finders can help you locate 100% legal properties in Spain in AndalucíaBarcelonaValencia and the Costa BlancaMallorca and the Canary Islands. As well as doing all the leg-work involved in tracking down suitable properties we do the due diligence and make all the right enquiries at the outset so the buyer can be 100% certain of a safe and problem-free purchase.  

About the author

Barbara Wood

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