From UK via Netherlands and Germany to Albuñuelas, Granada.
Proximity to the Mediterranean; the landscape, culture and cuisine; long summers, not too cold winters; low cost of living compared to northern Europe; the Spanish people.
The views, mountains, lake, trees, sky. Easy access to a wonderful, lively, historic city (Granada), easy access to the coast and the mountains; the romance of the place, the long Moorish history still in evidence; the friendly, helpful villagers.
Having decided that Andalucia was worth considering as a retirement destination, we made a number of trips over several months exploring the province and looking at properties finally settling on Albuñuelas as being a pleasant village in easy reach of Granada city, the coast and the mountains. After a false start on one property, we bought the house where we currently live.
We started the process of restoration while still living in the Netherlands. We began with an architect who proved incompetent and was fired and then we moved to Albunuelas permanently. We were introduced to excellent architects with whom we drew up plans that we could not afford at the time. We decided to do some basic work ourselves, glazing widows, installing bathrooms, updating the kitchen. When finances allowed, we recalled the architects to complete the major restoration.
Dealing with a different legal system and customs of house purchase was a learning process, but we had the advantage of having lived in countries other than our native country for many years.
Pains and main advice
We were fortunate in not encountering any major difficulties, and generally in the quality of the Spanish people with whom we worked, architects, lawyers and builders. Some of our expatriate friends have been less fortunate.
- Take your time. There is a lot of property available to buy and rental is cheap.
- When it comes to choosing location, lawyer, architect, builder, etc., talk to other expats who have been through the process. Their experiences, good and bad, can be invaluable.
- Do not let emotion get in the way of rational decisions. That finca on the hillside might be the paradise that you dreamt of, but you will be getting your electricity from a generator, your water from a well and your last minute groceries from an hour’s drive away.
- Find a good, honest lawyer. Do not trust anyone who suggests paying for your property partly in cash and without bothering the tax authorities; this can be very expensive should you ever want to sell.
- Understand that negotiation with Spanish sellers is a fluid process. The seller can raise the asking price at any point, and will if your interest is clearly high.
- If you need finance for the project, do not fail to consider the possible effects of interest rate changes and currency fluctuations. Do not forget that, apart from the costs of the property and the build / renovations, there are a variety of incremental taxes, licences, health and safety charges, disposal costs that must also be taken into account.
- Find an architect who is willing to listen to you and to incorporate your wishes when they are feasible, and to tell you when they are not.
- Being on the spot, i.e. more or less living close to the project, is a lot more effective than trying to manage everything from abroad. The Spanish respond best in face to face discussions. If your only contact is through e-mail, you will tend to get less priority.
- It is the architects responsibility to provide a detailed bill of works, materials and accurate cost estimate based on your wishes . It is your responsibility to understand it and bring it down to your own budget and expectations, and your expectations down to your budget. Look very closely at what is included, especially with regard to finishing, e.g. tiling, painting, kitchen installation, etc.
- Project management to the architect means management of the process of obtaining planning permission, approval of the college of architects etc.. It does not cover project management of the build, though your architect might offer this under a separate heading and cost.
- Project management of the build is essential if you hope to complete the project more or less on time and within budget. It is not something that you should attempt to handle yourself unless you are both properly qualified and fluent in the Spanish language, legal system, building regulations and practices.
- In renovating an old property there is the potential for surprises, not always pleasant ones. The architect will anticipate these as far as possible but be prepared for some extra expense.
- Your choice of builder is obviously critical. You have bought a village house, you want to get on with your neighbours, so you go for a local builder. They are usually very competent and familiar with local materials and construction. They might not be so familiar with working to a budget or working under the direction of an architect or project manager. This can cause major problems for your schedule and budget. Alternatively, you meet an amiable fellow national on the beach who claims to be a builder. You can talk to him in your own language, so you hand over a pile of cash. You wouldn’t dream of doing this at home, but sun and sea have an effect. If you are unlucky, that’s the last you will see of him and your money. If you are even more unlucky, what he does to your house will cost you even more to rectify. Spanish builders are highly skilled, hardworking and know the local structures and materials. Your architect can tell you with whom they have worked well in the past.
- Payments for the architects fees and costs and for the build and materials are usually staged. The architects fees will, for example, be divided into four equal payments across the period of the project. The builder might also want to work in this way with the final payment adjusted to cover the actual cost. This can lead to an unpleasant surprise when the final bill is delivered. Insist on each payment for the build being the actual cost of work and materials for that period. In this way, you can see if costs are getting out of control and the final bill might even be a pleasant surprise. A good builder will also allow you to retain a percentage of the cost to be paid a year after completion. This provides a guarantee in case of defects.
- Architect and builder can be very flexible with regard to modifying your plans as the build progresses but, obviously, this can have an impact on the cost and schedule. On the other hand, both can come up with excellent ideas for improvement, often with little impact and sometimes even saving time and money.
- Meeting a pair of outstanding and sympathetic architects.
- Through them, obtaining the services of an excellent main contractor and his team of craftsmen.
- Having remarkably tolerant neighbours who put up with six months of noise, dust and disruption.
We would spend more time living in different places in Spain, renting accommodation, before deciding on where to settle permanently. We are happy where we are but we have since discovered other places that we could have considered.
I would suggest that you use a version of your flowchart ‘Outline Plan of Work’ with approximate time indications, e.g. for College of Architect approval and building licences, and fixed costs to cover the 4.5 section. If your website skills are up to it, or the site is being produced professionally, the terms could be explained within the flowchart, e.g. pass the cursor over College of Architects or quantity surveyor and up pops a window with Spanish name, explanation, functions and responsibilities.