In this area of Spain, property inspection trips that are paid for by an estate agent or property developer are pretty rare, but they do exist. On the coast they are more common.
If you can do so, avoid them and go under your own steam. You can pretty well guarantee that sales techniques will be used and many people have ended up signing on the dotted line after a sangria soaked lunch and then lived to regret it. What's more, you will ultimately end up paying for your inspection trip through higher commission rates when you come to purchase.
On a paid inspection trip you will not be given time to talk to the "natives", the Brits etc., that have lived in the area for some months or more and know the real reputation of the estate agents etc. that you are dealing with. You will be shown what they, the agents, want you to see. Spain is not paradise and it does have it's downside and rogues too! How are you going to find out about these if you are closeted in a car or coach, forever being given the "speel"?
Take the trouble of planning and making your own travel and accommodation arrangements. This way you are free to see a number of estate agents, and if you donīt like them or what they have to offer you can break away and start anew with someone else. Also, importantly you can plan some free time to visit the local attractions so that even if you do not buy a property you will have had something of a holiday. By all means book your accommodation through an estate agent, they often know the best types in the area, just so long as you have your own transport and are free to come and go as you please.
If you are on a paid inspection trip you will only get to meet the people the estate agent or developer wants you to meet. You might be wined and dined but are you getting to hear the real nitty-gritty from their previous customers or others who know what is really going on?
When you organise your own trip and you find something you like you can spend time talking to the Brits who are already in the area. Any estate agent or property developer worth his salt will positively encourage you to talk to people who have bought from him on previous occasions. If that is not the case, then beware. Go to the local pubs and cafes and talk to the Brits, etc. in there. In this part of Spain there are so few around they stand out like sore thumbs. So if you see one walking around the village or town you are interested in, talk to them, chances are they live in the area and have the info you are seeking. A few words with someone with local knowledge are worth hundreds from the guy or gal who is trying to sell you something.
Do I have to use an estate agent?
The short answer is NO but there are a number of advantages if you do.
On the coast it is a lot easier to find houses and apartments for sale without using an estate agent, as just about everybody speaks English. Many people don't like using agents because they think they are too expensive or have had a bad experience in the past. All you need do is find an area you like and drive or walk round taking note of the "Se Vende", signs and telephone numbers and then ring them up. If you like the property and price find a lawyer or abogado to act for you and away you go.
When in inland Spain it is more difficult, unless you speak the lingo, as most of the people selling property are non-English speaking Spanish nationals. Also properties are much more spread out so it could take quite a bit of work to find what you are looking for. If you see a "Se Vende" sign, you could make a note of the telephone number then try knocking on the door, even if you can't communicate properly chances are you will be welcomed and shown round. If you like what you see get someone who speaks Spanish, it could be your lawyer, to ring up and start talking details on your behalf.
There are a number of problems with this approach, the first is that if the Spanish owner thinks a Brit is interested in his property then the price may go up (this can happen with estate agents too!). The only way around this is to find a Spanish friend or agent to make the initial price enquiries on your behalf. The second problem is that finding your own properties can take so much time that you negate the possible savings that you expect to get by avoiding an estate agent or property developer. Finally, not all properties that are up for sale, especially through estate agents, have a "Se Vende" sign. This is because if one agent puts up a sign, the agent down the road knocks on the sellers door, says he can sell it at a higher price and so on. This is also why locations are not put on web-sites.
Planning your trip
- Give yourself time not only to view properties but to explore the area as well. On average, if you are using an agent, you can spend two days looking at properties. If you are doing this bit on your own you need at least double the amount of time. When you buy you need a few more hours setting up bank accounts etc. Even after all that time you have still not had a chance to explore the area. So, you need to spend a minimum of four days, preferably a week in the area of your choice. If you can, stay in a cave home, just for the experience and have a holiday so that even if you are unable to find the property you want this time around you will have had a holiday in a truly beautiful area of Spain.
- You will need to hire a car. It is possible to get here by bus or taxi but sightseeing is impossible without a car. The roads in this area are excellent and very quiet so driving here is a real pleasure, even if you are a bit nervous about driving on the "wrong" side of the road.
Preparing for your visit
IMPORTANT, buy a good map of the area before you leave the UK. The hire car companies do not provide decent maps and you cannot buy them in Arrivals at the airport. You can probably purchase them at service stations but most people, once they get going don't want to stop. The roads in southern Spain are superb but the signposting isn't quite so good, so a map can save you hours on your journey here and is essential if you go sightseeing.
Buy or borrow a digital or video camera and bring a notebook. Once you have spent a day viewing properties it can become very confusing, the features of one home merging into another. Taking photos and notes as you go around not only help you when you are here but are a great reminder when you are back home.
Fortunately Galera and the surrounding towns and villages are virtually free of property and personal crime. However the same cannot be said for the coastal areas, airports and the service stations on the major roads. Remember you are highly visible as foreigners to potential thieves, even if you have a Spanish hire car. To minimise the risk of theft and its effects while travelling do the following.
- Before leaving the UK take out adequate travel insurance and make sure you know how you can cancel your credit cards, if stolen. Make a note of your credit card numbers and a photocopy of your passport and keep separately from your cards etc. Do not, if possible, write down the pin numbers for your cards, if you have to, make sure the number is disguised and keep separately from the cards.
- Do not carry large sums of cash, take travellers cheques, use your credit cards or use your bank cards to withdraw cash from bank machines (in Spain or France) as necessary.
- Do not carry all your cards, cash and passports in one bag, if this bag gets stolen you are in for difficulties.
- Do not leave handbags, bumbags etc. unattended or somewhere where the bag could be taken while your attention is diverted. We naturally put our handbags on top of the luggage on airport baggage trolleys or leave then on seats in cars where they are highly visible.
- You are most vulnerable in airport queues or while filling up with petrol in service stations. If a stranger comes up to you asking innocent questions, such as directions, he could be diverting your attention while his accomplice takes your bag. Secure your belongings before attending to his requests.
All the above are sensible precautions that you would probably take while travelling in the UK. Try not to let the excitement of a new venture make you careless.