Guide to renovating a home in Spain

Why Renovate Instead of New Build?

Renovating a property in Spain is a very attractive proposition. There is a limited number of fresh plots available for new build as these are determined by the long term town plans. This makes for an increasing shortage and prices are going up, especially with the return of economic activity and the relative return to prosperity of the economies of northern Europe.

A 1960s /1970s villa that needs renovation or even demolition may be a very attractive proposition. The owners may perceive the value to be low and in fact the land on its own is worth more than the price of the villa.

In the countryside renovating a property is the only realistic opportunity of living there, in a modern energy efficient home, as there’s virtually a moratorium on new build in the countryside, at least in Andalucia.

What Is Possible For Your Building According To The Regulations

“Urban” or “Rustic Land”:
Land in Spain falls into two broad categories: urban and rustic. “Urban” is essentially zoned for development and the broad assumption is that you are allowed to build. With “rustic” land, (rural land) the broad legal assumption is that you cannot build so you have to justify the project according to local and regional regulations.

You may find this article helpful: How to buy land for development safely in Spain.

Can You Extend the Property?
If the building is on urban land then there are fairly clear rules about how many square metres you can build, as a percentage of the total plot area, and the size of the footprint, as a percentage of the surface area. If the existing building is smaller than the amount you are allowed then you can extend it.

There are some rules that are open to interpretation by the local planning officer (called the arquitecto municipal) such as whether the basement counts and how deep the basement has to be buried. So if you are serious about buying then ask an architect to make enquiries with the town hall before you buy.

If your building is on rustic land then you almost certainly will not be able to extend the property. It is also important to compare the square meterage permitted with the square meterage that is there. It may be that a previous owner has extended the property illegally.

How Much of the Existing Building Can You Use From a Structural Point of View?
The extent of a renovation can vary from tidying up and giving it a lick of paint to re-cladding the inside and out or even constructing a new load bearing frame within an old historic structure which allows modern functionality within an old frame.

The amount of the existing building you use will depend on how much of it you want to use, costs and the attitude of the authorities. There may be aesthetic or historic reasons why the local authorities may wish to preserve elements of the building.

You will need a professional opinion about what can be used from an architect who should inspect the property with his head builder. Even then they won’t really know without breaking into the foundations and the structure to see what’s there and that may not be possible before purchase. You will need to make a judgement about how much you need to know before deciding to proceed with the purchase.

What Mains Services Are Available?

A key part of buying land Safely in Spain is to check the availability of electricity, water and sewerage.
This has important implications to the cost and design of the renovation. If they are connected this needs confirming. If they are not connected you need to know if its possible to connect, how much it might cost, and whether alternatives are Most, but not all, urban land will be connected to mains electricity, mains water, and mains sewerage.
There is more here

Going off Grid
For remote country properties it may not be practicable to connect to the mains. Happily these days you can have all the mod cons without being connected to mains electricity, water or sewerage. It requires some thought and careful planning. In fact often these homes are more comfortable to live in because they have to be well designed and well insulated, cheaper to run, and kinder to the environment.

If you want to go completely off grid these are the things you will have to consider:

  • Space heating and cooling
  • Water heating for kitchen and bathroom
  • Heat for cooking
  • Electricity for light, food refrigeration, and other domestic appliances
  • Water for drinking, bathing, flushing, and irrigation
  • Sewage disposal

Eco Vida Homes can provide the systems and techniques that you will need to apply to go off grid such as

  • Solar hot water for kitchen, bathroom, heating, and pool
  • Electricity from photo voltaic panels
  • Diesel generator back up (if desired)
  • Biomass boilers

Other alternative power sources, wind, hydro-electric, air and ground source heat pumps

  • Rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling
  • Off grid sewage disposal systems
How Much You Should Pay for the Building You Want to Renovate

The calculation is simple (but not easy). It’s the value of the completed project, less the total costs of renovation including professional fees, less something for your time and effort. The resulting figure represents the maximum you should pay for the site. It’s called a residual valuation.

Calculating it precisely is only possible if you have a fully researched and fully costed specification. So unless you can go to the trouble of doing this before buying you will be buying your site using estimates as your guidelines.

Read this article How to Assess the Financial Viability of a Project in Spain.

How Much Will It All Cost?

Every renovation project is unique. With new builds we can show you examples of what we have done and what the costs were. With renovations the starting point and the extent of the work varies enormously.

We can give you rough estimates and discuss ideas and alternatives and their cost implications at an early stage. To get these accurate we have to start work and look at the structural integrity of the existing building and discuss with you your plans and materials.

Remember there are many uncertainties relating to the structure of the building itself and it foundations which may not be apparent until work starts or a thorough investigation has been carried out.

Whoever you talk to make sure they give you figures for site preparation and foundations, professional fees, quality of finishes, installations, landscaping / garden / pool, and taxes because sometimes these figures are left out of back-of-the-fag-packet type of estimates and come as a surprise later.

How to Choose Your Architect

Look for someone who speaks English, who has a proven track record and testimonials, the experience dealing with local authorities in Spain, and an intuitive feel for what you are trying to achieve.

How do you find such an person? Simple: contact us and asked to be introduced. (Well what did you expect us to say?)

DIY or Professional Builder

There are plenty of people who successfully self-build in Spain. It’s a big task. You need good technical knowledge and good Spanish language skills will also be useful. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be successful if you have the knowledge and time.

If you decide you need some help you will find plenty of local people, out of work, who will offer to do the job for peanuts. Beware cultural misunderstandings! There is a traditional of self build in Spain, especially in the countryside, and they build to minimum standards. Don’t ask me why but they are happy with rising damp, being freezing in winter, boiling in summer, having no circulation space and so on. They may have very little knowledge of modern construction techniques. They don’t think these things are necessary for them so naturally they think they are doing you a favour by building in that way for you.

Find a professional company with a proven track record, and which understands what you want and why.
Remember that in every case where people have got into difficulty with property matters in Spain it is because they have been badly advised. Our advice, if you want an enjoyable and safe experience renovating property in Spain, is to use reliable professionals, with whom you share a language, and who will understand the kind of assumptions you might mistakenly make, coming from abroad and who will always act with integrity in your best interests.

Quotes or Estimates

Always clarify whether you are being given a fixed price quote for a job which has been defined or whether you are being given an estimate base on the information currently available (which will surprisingly go up when the situation becomes clear). Everything should be preceded by a quote and a contract.

How to Protect the Value of Your Investment

People pay more for an energy efficient building
Two recent studies in Oregon USA have demonstrated that a 30% sold price premium for green certified homes over those without such a certification and homes with a relatively new 3100 watt solar PV system in California can be sold for an average sales price premium of $17,000 more than a normal home.

We have conducted our own market research amongst overseas buyers in Spain that suggests that people are prepared to pay between 20% and 30% more for an energy efficient building.

An energy efficient design needn’t cost any more and it could add substantially to the value of your investment.

EU Directive of 2019
By 2019 all new buildings have to carbon zero according to an EU directive. It’s quite likely that buildings that accord with the new code even before 2019 will have a higher value than those that don’t. Independently of improved comfort, an energy efficient building will be worth more than an energy inefficient building. So anyone interested in protecting the value of their home will be interested in remodelling their home to energy efficiency.

Energy Certificates
As from 1st June 2013 no property transfer by sale or lease will be registered by a notary without a CEE (Certificado de Eficiencia Energetica). This will result in a bar chart banding of the property. The objective is that purchasers will attribute a higher value to a better banded property because of the energy savings associated with it.

In addition there is talk of reduction in the IBI (local rates) for properties in the better bands. So buildings with a good energy efficient rating will pay lower taxes and have lower running costs and this will affect market value.

Build for Comfort

The real beauty of an energy efficiency home is it is incredibly comfortable: warm in winter, cool in summer without burning money or fossil fuels. Good insulation is an important part of this and will protect you equally from the heat as from the cold. It will also provide sound insulation and help make your life calm and peaceful.

Inside Outside Living
We foreigners all came to Spain to enjoy the wonderful weather. The outside space is just as important as the inside space. In fact we recommend you design your home for inside / outside living. Use large shaded terraces that protect your building from over-heating and make great spaces for barbecues and eating outside. Have some terraces always in full sun, others in dappled shade. Create secluded corners with cooling water and lush plants. Create micro climates for different moments and as your mood changes.

Under floor Heating
There is something magical about that warm glow underfoot. Under floor heating comprises a large gently radiating surface which only needs to be a few degrees warmer than the air in the room using water temperatures of between 45-55 degrees C. Radiant heat energy works like sunlight as the heat from the floor warms the occupants directly as well as through the air. That’s a very comfortable feeling. And comfortable conditions can be achieved using much lower water temperatures thus saving energy and money, without drying the air, and with no localised hot spots in the room.

Decide What You Want to Create

Have Fun and Dream: Get Inspired
Have fun with this and dream. You’ll need to be able to articulate what you want to your architect in face to face meetings. How do you want to use the building? How will you live your life in this building? Is the dream watching the sunrise at breakfast; watching the sunset with cocktails on the terrace; or watching your favourite soap (pun intended) in the bath? Your architect needs to know so they can make it a reality.

Questions of Style
It is most likely, with a country property, that the appearance of your building will sit harmoniously in its surroundings. Whilst modern architecture is popular it is mainly restricted to urban land. So for country property think traditional.

If modern architecture is your bag then you can still achieve a contemporary feel while being true to a building’s history and having it sit comfortably in its surroundings. In fact these can be the most stylish buildings of all if done with thought and care.

You may be after an old building with character and charm (a bit like your architect!). With care these features can be preserved, even enhanced and indeed for extensions and new elements character and charm can be created by a good architect.