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"My enquiries revealed a landslide had occurred about twenty years previously, after exceptionally heavy rains. Extensive containment measures were carried out with no further problems until another very wet winter."

How can a property buyer be sure that they have uncovered all the issues affecting a property that aren't obvious during the visits they make before they actually buy?  Even worse, when you are purchasing in another country there may not be an opportunity to see the property more than once, twice if you're lucky, on what is often a very rushed trip.  It's a fact that most overseas purchasers in Spain only see properties in daylight and in good weather and have no chance to dig deep into the history of an area to uncover what might have occurred in the past.  Some countries, such as the UK, New Zealand and some US states, do have disclosure requirements and there have been cases of successful legal action against previous owners for failure to disclose a known issue. There are no such disclosure laws in Spain and anyway, as the case I give below shows, even the existing owner may have bought in ignorance and doesn’t know they have anything to disclose.

I located a property for clients which was everything they wanted. In a prime location, close to the beach and a marina, lovely sea views and fully renovated to a very high standard.  The property itself looked fine, both inside and out, nothing more than a few hairline cracks, all quite normal after major building work but in the communal areas within the urbanisation it was a different matter.  Cracks in the road outside the house, steps to a communal swimming pool collapsing, and crumbling retaining walls were all indicators that the land on which the development was built had moved.  

My enquiries revealed that a landslide had occurred about twenty years previously, after exceptionally heavy rains while the marina was under construction.  Extensive containment measures were carried out and no further problems were reported until another very wet winter.  With clear evidence that the land was on the move again the regional government commissioned an emergency survey which reported poor maintenance, and even failure, of some of the original repairs.  And it was noted that in the intervening years a lot of new properties had been built in the affected area and developers were criticised for poor soil compaction in communal areas, such as road surfaces, pavements, steps and retaining walls, hence the visible damage.  The house I was researching for my clients was one of those built between the two rainy winters and in fact it was the cracks in the street outside that first caught my attention.

In spite of the fact that the house was only a few metres inside the affected area, and a structural survey gave the house a clean bill of health, my clients decided against it and I found them another house close by. The sellers were astonished to learn of the earlier landslide.  They had bought from the original developer, the very person who knew why the problems had occurred, but they were completely unaware of the issue although it was on-going at the time of their purchase. They bought through an estate agent who had been in business in the area for years so knew the history, but they had no one to defend their interests.

Some time later and I am searching for another client across a range of locations, one of which was in this same area.  I'm offered a top quality house which ticked all the boxes and I went to see it to check whether it was in or out of the affected area.  It was inside, but only just, and right on the edge of there being no problem, a matter of a few metres.  Internally, everything looked fine and externally as well, being on much flatter terrain. 

Now if I were an estate agent working for the seller I wouldn’t dream of mentioning the history of the urbanisation. Then there would be a good chance of a sale without the buyer finding out its recent history and I know for a fact that the agent handling the sale of this house will not mention it.  But when a buyer has an agent on their side it is a very different story. I reported back to the client that the house matched their requirements very well but my report also contained full disclosure of what I know about the landslide, with a map to show which developments were affected and details of the remedial work carried out.  My client viewed the house and was able to make an informed decision with full disclosure of the facts. He didn't buy it, didn't think it was worth the risk and I found him a safer option. Using a property finder, a detective who works for you, is protection against unknowns that may come back to bite in the future.

Take a look at some Case Studies to see how The Property Finders go about finding problem-free. properties on your behalf.

About the author

Barbara Wood

Barbara founded The Property Finders in 2003. More than two decades of experience and her in-depth knowledge of the Spanish property market help buyers get the knowledge they need to find the right property for them.

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