In 2009, we purchased an apartment in a tiny village, forty minutes drive south of Valencia. It is in a working town as they grow as far as the eye can see oranges and other fruit and vegetables.
We chose Spain for the weather and the allurement of its history, plus being in Ireland with my hubby, I had this need in me to be in warmer weather. After looking at many different properties online, we chose a few to go look at and on our honeymoon, popped over from Belfast to Alicante and started our search.
We had made a list of what we wanted out of an area or village. We chose not to live in a place where there was an influx of English speaking tourists and X-pats. I could banter on more about this. However, I won’t, but this came into the top of the list of consideration when we were looking at properties around the country.
Process of buying
When you want to buy in another country, there are a few things to know when you do.
When you find the property that you wish to purchase, it is in your best interest to find out as much as possible with it. Like making sure there are no debts incurred with the property, like a mortgage and that it is not going to be incurred by you when purchasing. Find out if the land you are on is free from other names or businesses. Any planning permission associated with the property. When using Notaries (solicitors), make sure that they are reputable and been in business for some time.
You can fly over, find a place and do all the running around like a headless chook, trying to find people, do searches, and everything that goes with purchasing a residence. You may be a person who thrives doing this and get it done without hassle. But then there are those who find it a maze of complication and dread when they don’t know the laws of the land, area, the community you are purchasing in.
We chose the real estate we were purchasing from as our middleman, as they offered this service, all for a fee to help in the process.
We made appointments to see other properties first up with different agencies driving from Alicante up to Valencia. But it was the second one we saw that we saw the potential and the area we both liked. For a couple of days, we stayed in the area and drove around the to explored, talking to locals that could speak English, finding out the history, getting a feel for the place.
So I made an offer that was a bit cheeky because I knew the place was on the market for a long time. They accepted, and we were stoked. So we sign a semi-contract or contracto privado de compravento, and had to put down about 10% deposit down.
I then had to show proof of where my money came from, so emailed my financial guy in Australia, who sent an official letter. We then had to set up, with the help of the Estate Agent, a bank account. I paid the deposit and had to apply for a Non-resident Número de identidad de extranjero or NIE. The NIE number is for legal or tax activity in Spain. This number will help you set up your electricity, telephone, wifi, anything you need to sign up for in the country. And you need it for everything. But note, the NIE number does not give you the right to work in Spain. You must go through the proper channels to do this.
I was taken to a Notary (Solicitor), and she read the contract in English, which by law must be done. Any foreign property buyer must have a translator there to explain the contract thoroughly, so there are no hidden agendas to the buyer. You can hire a translator to go over the contract with you, but we were lucky, as our Notary had lived in London for many years and explained the contract. She told about the property itself, the other owners involved in the building, the fees incurred for property tax transfer, her costs, and legal searches, deeds, and land registration involved.
When all queries were cleared up, the deal was signed, sealed and dated and then we had to wait for my NIE to come in, searches etc. This was all done in a week, which they kept us updated. We had another sit down with the Notary, in which she went over the details once again so that we were sure what we were buying. Then I had to pay the remanding amount owing and then six weeks later we had an apartment. The cost of the fee for the Agent was at that time, just over five hundred euros, which for me was excellent.
We have an Apartment!
Our village is over several hundred years old, and it is very slow-paced in its everyday living. It is forty minutes drive on fantastic roads to Valencia, thirty minutes to the beaches, ten minutes to the busy city of Xativa, which is full of history and has lovely places to eat. The previous owners were two sixty-year-olds; a one-in-the-grill cockney bus driver and a southern belle from Charlestown, USA. You have never seen such chalk and cheese in a couple but loved each other greatly. Eccentric, touch bossy, little rude towards people, and overbearing. But they could be so charming! We took them with a grain of salt except for the shifting out bit. It took them a week to get out of Dodge even after the six they had, not giving a hoot that we owned the place now. In the deal was that they left all the furniture and utensils. When our charming Southern Belle was showing me what she was leaving, I made a mental note; throw the lot out. It was worth nothing. So if you buy a home already furnished, make a note about what you want and tell them to get rid of the rest. We made the mistake of just taking it, which was more hassle to get rid of then it was worth. They even left us a porta-loo upstairs in the lockable shed, with gifts in it, which we paid two people €50 each to go and dump it in the bin. They were gagging all the way to the bins, and we were sure there was a mushroom cloud rising from the bin areas.
Finally, we owned the property, we were in, and it was exciting. A new adventure and we were biting at the bit to get stuck into it. However, I had my son with me who had to go home as he was going to live with his dad for his high school education. We left Spain in November of 2009 to return to Australia for Christmas.
We returned in March 2010 for the beginning of our Reno. When you renovate in Spain, each council have their own way of doing things. I thought since I owned the apartment, I could renovate, no worries. Silly little Rabbit!
My husband is a carpenter and so we went gun hoe into ripping walls down that did not need beams to hold the roof up etc. Since living across the road from the council, there was a message sent to us to stop work. We actually did not speak the language at the time and had to get one of the five English speaking people in the village to help us. The councilman, when he came in to see the work already done, said in his only English, “Oh My God!”
We had to apply for building permits to renovate and at the end of a long week of negotiations, plus having to get a builder in to say he was going to do the work, which the councilman knew he would not be. I paid two hundred and fifty euros, and away we went… again. I should have found out more about the regulations, but we just were so excited and got stuck in.
The walls came down easy enough as they were just thin brick. But it was getting rid of the debris, which became a problem. The town did not have waste disposal or dump. Only bins for regular home items, which brings me to the rules of the bins in town.
You may not walk through the streets to the bins with bags of rubbish during the day unless at siesta or at night in case it smells.
Bins are emptied every night at 1am and are placed strategically around the village. Our debris was in no way to go into those bins, so we loaded up lots of the plastic bins and put into our Vito van.
A Portuguese fella, nicknamed Porto, who was the town handyman or dogsbody for a lot of the Spanish farmers, was hired to do some work with us, with real pay. He would come for drives and take us to other villages to dump into their dump areas. It sometimes cost us a few coins, once a broom and when it was old furniture, it was snazzled up, and the door was open to our coming and going to one particular dump by a Romanian woman.
Our apartment had one bathroom, kitchen, lounge, dining and four bedrooms. We have made it into three bedrooms, with the fourth, being the smallest, becoming our tool room for the time being. We opened up the dining and lounge areas. We are the only apartment on the building with a ruined pub downstairs. We share the stairwell with the butcher next door, in which the stairs lead to another entrance to his apartment in the next building in which he kept stock and also drying his sausages. We have become great friends with him, and he has been a great backing in some issues with the construction, which I will write about later.
Take the Wool From Over Your Eyes!
We did meet an English fella in the next village who also was looking for work. I swear to god, I wished we never met the man, as he turned out a thief and con artist with a silk tongue. He would turn up when he pleased and charge me a full day with his hanger over. When I never paid him the total amount he would go to my hubby complaining. I’d put my foot down and say no way. Do the hours, and you get paid. In the end, he never came back and left the country.
Some tradespeople also do the “add on” because we were foreign, but our friend Porto would interject when around, and tell them it was not on and so the price went down to a reasonably acceptable price. It helps to have someone on your side when getting quotes, so to save you a lot of money and hassle. Plus, getting them to turn up on the day agreed upon. A big lesson to learn there. Also never pay before the job is done. Not that we got stung, but we heard some stories from Spanish people who had, and the people were still living in the village as bold as brass.
Working in the Heat!
The heat in Spain is similar to Australia, and most of the time it is a dry heat, but other times it can be humid. We had a couple of fans, but leaving the windows open and letting in the breeze was our saviour. Because we lived on a corner, the street to our left was a tunnel for the wind to come down. But some days that wind was as dry as a cracker and hot. So what we would do is work early mornings and late afternoons. We got into the habit of siesta, which is a godsend to me. The heat does drain you, and my husband is Irish, and I don’t think he had ever experienced weather like it until now, as he works in 40+ in construction. So hydration is most essential, plus maybe rethinking of working when it’s not summer! I think by prioritising your work in the heat, you achieve more. It’s also having the materials there for you to use.
At night we would go down to the bars and have a bite to eat if we chose to with a couple of drinks and home again. The World Cup was on when we were there in 2010, and we would book a table outside where the TV was put up for viewing and enjoy the night with other people, who were trying to learn their English and tell us places to go to for materials for the reno, which was a great help.
Our village did not have a Hardware store. So we went to a couple different little ones with tools and cleaning gear, and that helped. But hubby, listening to the Englishman when he was working for us, told us to get the gear in Valencia, forty minutes away at a place he used to do his renovations. But I found Leroy Merlin which is like Bunnings, but a little trendier I think. Their prices are a bit dear, but they had a good variety. Then I found Bricko-Mart which is like Bunnings as well, but cheaper again. They were down in Gandia, which was about thirty minutes away. For timber, that we could not get in the major stores because of low stock, we used a construction merchant in Gandia, but with a lot of things in Spain, places can be there for years on end and then go back and find their doors closed.
WIFI, Internet and Mobile Phones
We purchased a phone in Carrier Four and found that it chewed up quite quickly when texting or doing quick calls. Our village had not got to the stage of putting wifi into bars, and we had to travel to another town to another bar to do this. It was an Australian Bar that had been fitted out with Australian paraphernalia, and yet no one really knew a thing about the country. Had terrific air conditioning and cold icy beer. I tried to get the phone line on and the internet, but the X-Pats I was dealing with only supplied to the southern parts of Spain and not the Valencia Region, which they did good deals with at the time. So I scratched that off the list and bought a dongle. It worked and could top up any time which worked for us.
However, the last time we went back, I could not top-up, and the carrier said that even though I have NIE number, I had to go to the Ministry of Justice to get a particular card to allow me to use the internet because I was not a citizen. I was back at square one after all those years using pay as you go. If you have ever gone to government offices in Spain, they are so frustrating. Nothing is paid by EFTPOS, credit card in the buildings or online if you need to say, pay for a Police Check. It is going to bank, pay your €3,75 for the search, return back and show you deposited into the bank and then they will do something…in their own time. So be aware of their systems.