How to Buy Property Safely In Spain – really who can I trust?

There is so much bad press about buying property in Spain: illegal builds, the coastal law, corrupt planning officials, fraud, a cumbersome system that in practical terms offers no redress for people who have bought in good faith, that the question arises “how do you buy property safely in Spain?” and really “who can I trust?”

Who can I trust in Spain?
Who can I trust in Spain?

Look at the illustration. Can you decide who to trust based on facial features? Comments welcome.

If you’re from northern Europe you may well say “well all I need is an independent lawyer.” In practice your lawyer needs to be more than just independent. By the way that means independent of the estate agent who’s selling the property or the developer who’s building it and even the bank who’s financing it.

In addition to being independent you need to find a lawyer that has a professional conscience. If the reader will permit me a bold statement in an area which has been much debated the lawyers must take much of the responsibility for the illegal builds i.e. where buildings have been declared illegal and in some cases demolished because they had only local planning consents and not the necessary regional consent. The lawyers attitude was in many cases “well they didn’t ask so I didn’t say anything” which is, quite frankly, reprehensible.

I also understand that lawyers in Spain often do not carry professional indemnity insurance and that in practical terms they are not held to account by the professional governing body. Lawyers are not disciplined or struck off for misbehavior and letters of complaint go unanswered.

So it’s understandable that the foreigner in particular should ask “really then who can I trust?”

What anyone buying is Spain should be able to reasonably expect is a team of professionals, lawyers, architects, surveyors, estate agents, with a professional conscience. They definitely exist. How do you find them?

Look for membership of accredited bodies such as the RICS and probe their validity. Is there a complaints procedure, do members get struck off, can anyone join providing they pay an annual membership?

Ask for testimonials and ask to speak to satisfied customers. Testimonials are not part of business culture in Spain. It’s not common to ask for them from satisfied clients or give them or offer them. Personally I do ask for them and I explain that I know it’s not a usual request but that it’s a perfectly reasonable one as we don’t know each other and I am not local. Although resistance is almost universal people’s reaction will inform me about how open and transparent they are. I spoke to a lawyer recently who said that she couldn’t ask this of her clients without compromising the unwritten protocol that exists between lawyer and client but she was able to point to some personal relationships with some eminent people which I was able to check up on and which did the job.

In my opinion you need to look for people who are open and transparent about who they are and what they do and then, and again if the reader will forgive me an indulgent suggestion, use your intuition to make a judgment.

By and large we can instinctively tell whether someone can be trusted or not.

Author: John Wolfendale
Bio: John is a founder of Eco Vida and is passionate about bringing modern design and construction practices to Spain. He believes a home which is warm in winter and cool in summer is largely a matter of design and selective use of materials. He is British and a Chartered Surveyor with 18 years experience living and working in Spain.

John Wolfendale Chartered Surveyor
John Wolofendale