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PROPERTY

The best tips for buying a property in Spain without an estate agent (and avoiding scams)

If you are thinking about buying a property privately in Spain, without going through an estate agent, then here are our top tips for things to consider before you sign or hand over any money.

Buying a property in Spain without an agent
Stock photo: Gabriel Rubio/AFP

There are several reasons as to why someone might want to purchase a property privately, instead of through an estate agent in Spain, but the main reason is cost. You can save between two and five percent on the total purchase price of the property by going private.

However, this option does have more risks involved and could see you have legal more difficulties with the purchase. For those who decide that a private purchase is the way to go, here are some top tips on what you need to remember to help the process go more smoothly. 

Hire a lawyer

It is not necessary to hire a lawyer in Spain when buying a property. The only legal person you really need is the notary when you’re signing the deeds, however, it’s still advisable to get one, especially if you’re buying privately. This is probably the most important tip on our list. Estate agents know the legal processes of house buying and can advise you on what documents you’ll need, but if you don’t have one, then you will still need someone to advise and look over all the legal documents for you. It’s important to have someone on your side during the process.

Check there is no outstanding debt on the property

It’s important to check that there is no outstanding debt on the property before you purchase it, otherwise, you could be landed with it when you take over. This is one of the things that your lawyer can help with. “Before the formalisation of the purchase of a home, as long as you have a legitimate interest, we can obtain information in a legal way about the charges, debts and fiscal conditions that a property has, through the request for a Registration Certification or a simple registry note,” explains Gerard Aguilar, from the department of document management and director of taxation at Tecnotramit.

Get to know the person you’re buying from

We all know there are estate agents who will just tell you what you want to hear and don’t build up a good rapport with their clients, however, the estate agents that you’ll likely buy from are the ones who you trust and the ones who you have gotten to know. Without this relationship with an estate agent, it’s a good idea to build up a rapport with the owner instead. Get to really know them and ask them questions about the property, the local area and the neighbours. All this can help you establish a good relationship with them and get to know how trustworthy they are.

Make sure to get a survey done

In many countries, such as the UK for example, it is very common to get a survey done on a property before you continue with the purchase. In Spain, this is not too common, but if you’re buying privately, without help from an estate agent, then it’s a good idea to consider it. Although estate agents are not trained in architecture, they still know what to look for in the structure of a property because they see so many. Without an estate agent advising you on what work may or may not need to be done, it might be a good idea to get a surveyor, just so you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s important to not just take the seller’s word for it that the property is structurally sound.

Buying a property in Spain without an agent. Image: Naomi Hébert / Unsplash

Don’t forget to sign a Private Purchase Contract

Although it’s not mandatory, it’s normal to sign a Private Purchase Contract (Contrato Privado de Compraventa) with the vendor before you sign the deeds. This is not entered into the registry, but is valid by law. Upon signing the contract you will usually pay the vendor 10 percent of the total sales price as a deposit.  If you then pull out of the contract, you will lose this money, but if the vendor pulls out, they must pay you back double. Typically, the estate agent will help organise the private purchase contract, however without one, you and the vendor need to make sure you organise it between yourselves.

Give yourself enough time to secure a mortgage loan

If you need to get a mortgage to purchase the property, you need to give yourself enough time for it to come through. Lawyer Raymundo Larraín Nesbitt told Spanish Property Insight that he recommends at least 45 to 60 days. Typically, when you’re signing the private purchase contract, you and the vendor will come to an agreement on the date that the title deeds of the property will be signed before the notary and you will exchange. If you fail to secure a mortgage loan before the date agreed upon, it could result in you losing your 10 percent deposit as mentioned above.

READ ALSO: Property in Spain: Why mortgages are now cheaper than ever

Make sure the vendor has all the necessary documents

Many documents such as the floor plan of the property, the details of the community fees, the cédula de habitabilidad certificate and the last IBI tax receipts will be collated by an estate agent and shown to you upon interest in the property. But if there is no estate agent, it will be up to the owner to gather all this information and show you. It shouldn’t be difficult as these are all things that the owner should have anyway, it’s just a question of remembering to give them all to you.

Ensure you get a detailed inventory

If buying without an estate agent (or even with one), sometimes things can become a little unclear as to what is included in the property, particularly if it’s not written down on any documents that the estate agent may typically provide. It’s really important to get a detailed inventory from the seller as to what they will be leaving in the property. You may be expecting that the place won’t be furnished when you get the keys, but you may be surprised to find items like the light fittings, plug sockets and the oven gone too. Ensure that the seller writes down exactly what they will be leaving in the house and that you both sign it so that everything is clear.

Never agree that a seller can stay in the property post-completion

This one is particularly important, even if it’s just for a couple of days, so they can pack up their things. “This can create massive legal problems for a buyer, which will require a full eviction procedure,” warns Nesbitt.

A beachside house in Gerra, near Torrelavega in northern Spain. Photo: CESAR MANSO/AFP

What scams do I have to be aware of?

According to pisos.com, some of the most common cases of fraud relating to buying and selling property in Spain occur when the person claiming to be the owner is actually not.

The easiest way to verify that the seller and the owner are the same person is by requesting proof of this from Spain’s Land Registry (Registro de la Propiedad).

Another scam to look out for is the double sale: when fraudsters try to sell a property to a third party when it has already been sold by private purchase contract to another person. Look out for concealment of charges and debt on the property by asking for all the relevant documentation including the last IBI receipt.

You can also request a letter from the president of your community (´la comunida´) confirming that all the fees have been settled by the owner.

There’s also fraudulent contracts to keep an eye out for, when the scammer produces a fake contract that the buyer signs and subsequently gives a deposit to the alleged seller, who then disappears with the money.

The ideal here would be for your lawyer to take a look at the documentation and make sure that all the paperwork is legal.

Lastly, some sellers might try and give you a discount on the sale price in exchange for paying part of the price in cash.

This will reduce their capital gains tax. However, when it comes to your turn to sell the property, because the property was registered at a lower price, that would require you to pay a much higher capital gains tax as the property value has seemingly increased a lot.

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PROPERTY

Okupas: What’s the law on squatting in Spain?

In recent years the Spanish squatting movement ‘Okupa’ has been on the rise. But with new legalisation aimed to remove squatters faster, what exactly is the law on squatting in Spain?

Okupas: What's the law on squatting in Spain?

Squatting has long been a controversial issue in Spain.

Some point to the more than 3 million empty properties across Spain and the cost-of-living crisis as reasons to be more understanding when people can’t pay the rent.

Yet Spain’s ‘okupa’ movement is much more than that, with organisations intent on exploiting legal loopholes, or individuals who own their own properties which they rent out to others whilst they occupy ones that don’t belong to them.

Unfortunately, Spain’s evictions drama, which largely stems from people who can no longer pay their mortgages, has become mixed up with the country’s squatting problem.

Critics say the Spanish law abandons property owners and that there are too many legal obstacles which hinder squatters’ speedy eviction.

In the ten years from 2001 to 2011, the number of empty homes in Spain increased by 336,943 (an increase of 10.8 percent) to stand at 3.4 million according to the latest data available from the INE’s Population and Housing Census.

But as the number of empty houses increases, so has illegal squatting.

It’s hard to be certain about how many properties exactly are currently occupied in Spain, as squatting is a clandestine act and there isn’t a record of how many properties have been reclaimed by owners. According to interior ministry data, more than 10,000 homes have been illegally occupied every year since 2015. In 2021, it reached a record 17,274 cases.

Some studies point to a slight decrease in the first half of 2022, others to continuingly high figures. What’s clear is that squatting is an ongoing problem in Spain, with an average 49 reported cases a day.

Okupas can be found across Spain but the regions that tend to have the most are Catalonia far ahead, followed by Madrid, Andalusia, the Valencia region and the Canary Islands.

READ ALSO: Squatting in Spain: Which regions have the worst ‘okupa’ problems?

The law

The occupation of someone else’s property does constitute a crime in Spain, as established in article 245 of Spain’s Penal Code: “Whoever occupies, without due authorisation, a property, dwelling or building belonging to someone else and which does not constitute their residence, or remains in the property against the will of the owner, will be punished with up to three to six months of prison”.

However, sentences in Spain under two years usually don’t result in actual prison time, which doesn’t act as a dissuasion for okupas.

Spanish law also differentiates between usurpación (misappropriation) from allanamiento de morada (breaking and entering), the determining factor for the judge being whether the property is inhabited or not in terms of taking action against the okupas.

Fortunately, second homes are still considered a morada (dwelling) in Spain, as long as they are furnished and have all the basic services such as water and electricity. Therefore, they receive the same protection as first homes.

And yet, the devil is in the details.

If the okupación is reported within 48 hours and it is the first home of the owner, police officers may evict the squatters without the need for a court order. However, if more than 48 hours have passed and it’s a second home, things get more complicated.

The first 48 hours of ‘okupación’ are crucial to determine whether a proprietor will need a court order to return to their property. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)

Squatters are often familiar with the law and use the principle of inviolability of the home to plead their case. By changing the locks they legally enforce this, as not even the owner can enter without a court order.

The squatters have the upper hand in this sense; if the true owners break in, the okupas can sue them, and if the proprietors don’t pay the bills, they’ll go on a defaulters’ list. They’ll use other tricks such as having goods ordered to the address to prove that it’s their morada (dwelling) and having minors at the property to strengthen their legal protection.

In the meantime, all the owners can technically do is open legal proceedings against the squatters by placing a complaint (civil or penal) and proving that the property is indeed theirs and the squatters aren’t unfairly treated tenants or similar.

If you hadn’t guessed already, having your home occupied by squatters in Spain can work out to be a legal nightmare that lasts months, dare we say longer.

The Local Spain has written in detail about how homeowners in Spain can prevent this from happening to them.

Europe’s worst?

Experts say that Spanish property owners are among some of the worst protected in Europe.

According to Arantxa Goenaga, partner and lawyer at Círculo Legal Barcelona, “if we compare with the rest of the European Union, the situation in Spain is worse and much more unfavourable for the owner, not only because the judicial procedures are slower but also because greater protection measures are adopted for vulnerable citizens without any measure that favours the owners.”

Homeowners and legal experts alike have complained about the complicated legal structures surrounding squatting and evictions. Often, this means squatters are allowed to stay for months – even years – while the legal process is underway.

Fortunately for homeowners, the Spanish government is trying to do something about this.

2022 changes to the law

On October 5th, the governing party PSOE received plaudits for making changes to the Code 544 of the Law of Criminal Procedure to speed up evictions of squatters within a maximum period of 48 hours.

However, the new speedy evictions relate only to “trespassing or usurpation of real estate” and not those pre-existing tenants who simply stop paying rent and refuse to leave the property.

This second method, of simply refusing to pay rent and staying, is the most common method of squatting in Spain, accounting for around 70 of all cases, according to the lobby group La Plataforma de Afectados Ocupación.

This means that though the government’s measure is a positive step for homeowners, it does little to tackle the majority of squatting cases in Spain. It may speed up some evictions, but will likely do little to speed up or resolve the lengthy ongoing legal battles many property owners find themselves in.

Squatters in Spain often use the principle of inviolability of the home to increase their legal protection. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

What should I do if squatters move into my home?

The first 48 hours are crucial if your home or second home is illegally occupied.

If you can prove that squatters moved into your property within this two-day period, you can take the matter to the police and they can evict the okupas without a warrant.

If 48 hours have elapsed and the squatters have changed the lock, you will require a warrant and that’s when the legal ordeal begins.

You will have to file a request for eviction (demanda civil de deshaucio) and the judge will set a time and a date for you and the squatters to appear in court. Crucially, many okupas refuse to identify themselves or attend proceedings, which effectively stalls the process.

If any of the occupants are minors or vulnerable people, the judge is more likely to side with the squatters.

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