If you're thinking of buying property in Spain be aware that the whole process can be fraught with pitfalls, but that's only if you fail to take a few sensible precautions. All too often foreign buyers plunge headlong into signing on the dotted line without giving enough consideration to the fine print and a host of factors that need to be taken into account when purchasing property in a country where the language, customs and bureaucracy are all unfamiliar.
Bizarrely, many foreigners are still buying Spanish properties without the benefit of legal advice - even though they would probably never consider being so foolhardy in their own country. The lure of all that sunshine, cheap wine and easy living just seems to go to the heads of otherwise fairly level-headed individuals.
Couples will quite happily sign an initial purchase agreement after a weekend inspection visit financed, or part-funded, by a developer or estate agent. It's only later that they realise they were subjected to unacceptably high pressure (even aggressive) sales pitches, that the property they've committed themselves to is wholly inappropriate and that the location is entirely unsuitable for their needs.
Remember that an estate agent or developer has one ultimate goal: to secure that all-important sale. Generally speaking these are not people who are going to take the time and trouble to establish your particular needs and circumstances and warn you of any potential problems you may face when buying into the project they happen to be promoting.
Agents aren't normally the kind of people to warn you about the floods, fires and earthquake damage that your chosen area is particularly prone to. You think we're being unnecessarily alarmist? No, these are all problems that can and do occur on a regular basis in certain parts of Spain and to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
You might sign your initial purchase agreement in September after an idyllic two-week summer holiday in a beautiful villa a few doors done from the one you're buying. But what you might not realise is that the development you're buying into becomes a ghost town after October with hardly anyone in residence and that most shops and restaurants close down for the winter. The pool and sea are too cold to swim in for six months of the year and your new villa is like an icebox with its tiled floors, lack of carpeting and no central heating!
Fools also rush into a minefield of legal problems in Spain. Many foreigners have bought properties only to find the vendor is not the true owner, the property comes with hefty debts on it or an apartment block is about to be constructed nearby totally blocking out your much prized sea view. These things can and DO happen on a regular basis.
Buyers who go for "off-plan" properties (i.e. buying into a development before it has actually been built) have encountered all sorts of disasters. Sometimes developers go bust before the project is completed, sometimes the completion date is long over-due and the original specifications are not adhered to - you might even find the developer has already mortgaged the property before you even secured your option to buy!
If all this is enough to make you abandon your plans to buy property in Spain, think again. There are a couple of simple steps you can take to guard against most problems that arise for foreign buyers. The most important thing is to hire a good, reputable lawyer who speaks your language and who specialises in the Spanish property market. He or she will protect you against all the potential legal problems that can arise. The second thing is to visit your chosen area several times, at different times of the year, before you commit to buying and if at all possible rent a property for at least a few weeks before you make your final decision.