Buying a cheap property for renovation in Spain can be an adventure and a rewarding way to get the home of your dreams. However, if you’re not careful, it can also turn into a nightmare of varying proportions. Thankfully, with some forethought and going in with your eyes open, you should be able to make it a generally enjoyable and fulfilling experience.
Why renovate a cheap Spanish property?
There’s a variety of reasons for choosing to renovate a property when making the move to Spain.
It’s potentially an environmentally friendlier option, and not just for the most obvious reason, there’s another more surprising long term factor to consider too. We’ll look into that shortly, but there’s probably a more important factor for most people.
Renovating is usually usually a lower cost option.
Buying a building in need of restoration is almost always going to be cheaper than buying a house that’s ready to move into. In most cases it should also be cheaper than building a new property. It should certainly be an easier and less complicated project than embarking on a new build.
Beyond cost though, perhaps more importantly when renovating a a building you get the option to stamp your own mark upon it. Rather than having to adapt yourself to someone else’s idea of the perfect home, you enjoy much more flexibility to mold the home that you want.
You may choose a property for renovation that doesn’t require major work, but conversely you also have the option to make much more extensive changes. You can completely change the layout of an old building or repurpose existing rooms to produce the living spaces best suited to your family.
A wider choice of locations
One of the attractions of living in Spain is the wide choice of locations you can choose to live in. It’s a large country that isn’t too densely populated overall. Of course there are parts of the country, particularly the Mediterranean coasts, that have been heavily built upon, but inland you can find many attractive and lightly populated areas.
Just because these locations exist though, doesn’t mean you can necessarily live there. In recent decades, the various autonomous regions have been tightening up just where residential building can be undertaken. This can mean that places where building used to be permitted are now out of bounds to new building work.
As a result this can make it very attractive to look for a cheap property to renovate in Spain, because it may be the only way possible to get a home in some locations.
There are important pitfalls to be aware of when taking this route, which we’ll run through in a little while.
The green reason
It seems obvious that renovating is going to be a greener and more environmentally friendly than a new build. The amount of energy and materials new construction requires is always going to make it a less attractive option for the planet if other options exist.
However, more surprisingly, over the long term there is an argument that renovating a cheap Spanish property may be a more environmentally choice compared to buying a more recent second hand property.
In recent decades, Spain has seen a surge in new development across the country, though the costas have been at the heart of much of this. As a result, the quality of construction hasn’t always been the biggest concern for developers.
In fact, even elsewhere, building techniques have often changed considerably compared to traditional methods. With new buildings now, the favored method for keeping them cool in summer is air conditioning. It’s effective, but expensive, both financially and environmentally.
It wasn’t an option in years gone by and instead houses were built to stay cooler during the heat of Spanish summers. By choosing a property for renovation, you can benefit in the long term from a building that naturally keeps itself cool.
Additionally, the thick walls usually employed in old buildings can also help to retain heat during the cooler winters, so less heating is required too.
A property for renovation will usually have more character
Many cheap properties in Spain will be relatively modern and soulless boxes built for a quick profit.
When you choose a property for renovation, you will often find you are choosing a home that has much more character. Our featured property is a good example of how you will get features no modern home will ever offer.
There will be features and idiosyncrasies that you can incorporate into a modern home that enhance your future living space.
You may also choose to incorporate construction techniques that weren’t applied originally. For example, while damp courses are expected in UK housing, they’re rarely found in Spanish houses. When restoring an old property, it’s much easier to choose to have a damp proof course injected as you’re already going to be undertaking a lot of work.
The pitfalls of buying a cheap property to renovate in Spain
If you’ve ever undertaken a restoration or new build, you almost certainly know the most common pitfall. Cost overruns.
It seems that almost every restoration project ends up costing more than anticipated at the outset. You could just assume that that won’t be the case for you. However, a better approach is to build in a contingency when planning what the work will cost.
Exactly how much you should allow varies by opinion, but this article suggests 5-10% is a wise figure.
A related issue to this is choosing a cheap property for renovation that’s bigger than you need because of the low cost. That will increase both the renovation and ongoing costs. If you find that your cost estimates were low to start with, the overruns are going to be larger on a larger property.
The problems of communication
To an extent, communicating with a builder can seem difficult even when you both speak English, as builder talk can seem like its own dialect.
When you don’t both speak the same language, communication can become a much larger challenge. Particularly if you have a builder with strong ideas of their own, which may not be quite aligned with your vision.
We’ll consider some tips for finding a builder a little later, but first it’s also worth noting that it is important to listen to your builder’s opinions. You may have a very specific vision of how you want something done, but if your builder has different views, it isn’t necessarily because they’re being awkward.
They’ve got experience of living and building in Spain. They’ll be aware of some common mistakes that you will want to avoid that could reduce your quality of life on an ongoing basis. You don’t want to choose your property for renovation and then find you have to do some jobs twice because of poor decisions the first time.
The importance of paperwork
No matter where you find your cheap property for renovation, having the correct paperwork is essential. This can be particularly problematic with rural properties.
In some cases, modern documentation may not exist at all or what does exist is quite different to what exists. Borders may have changed over the years or buildings may have disappeared or been added without the deeds or escritura being updated to reflect the changes.
We saw before that restoring an old building may be the only way to get a home in some locations, but the paperwork is absolutely key in these cases.
You’ll also need to confirm that it can be used as a full time residence, but if it’s all in place, renovating an old building could be the key to your home in a location that would otherwise be unattainable.
However, there’s one more pitfall that could yet bite you. Rural properties may not be connected to services such as electricity and water. Even if such services are close by, the cost to extend them to connect to a property can be surprisingly high.
It may be that it’s wiser to look at alternative solutions. Solar power is quite commonly used in Spain, though perhaps more commonly for rural homes that aren’t permanent residences. For a full time home, it’s usually advisable to have a back up generator.
Water can often be provided by digging a well and using a pump to fill a water deposit, though location may affect the feasibility of this approach. In some regions, water delivery services may be available if wells aren’t a good option.
For phone and internet, mobile connections may be possible, though these are often weak in rural locations. A satellite connection or WIMAX, if available, may be better options to choose from.
Of course all these considerations will affect the cost of your work and we’ve got some more costs you need to know about before we finish.
How to select your builder
First though, let’s consider some tips for making a good choice when choosing a builder. This is every bit as important as choosing the right property for renovation, especially if you don’t speak Spanish proficiently.
One obvious tip may be to select a builder who speaks English, but the further inland you go, the less likely that’s going to be an option.
If you live somewhere with other ex-pats, their recommendations will be invaluable. Even if there aren’t other ex-pats, word of mouth recommendations from neighbors are still the first thing you should seek.
Even smallish villages will often have several builders to choose from, so there are a couple of things to consider when choosing. Obviously the standard of their work is important and they should all be able to show you work they’ve undertaken. Ideally try to see the work in person rather than just photos.
If you can’t speak Spanish to ask home owners for their feedback, if they’re prepared to let a builder show off their work, chances are they were happy enough with the builder.
Perhaps as important as their work is a builder’s ability to communicate if you’re sharing the same fluent language. Some people are natural communicators and understand how to get a message across. Spending a little time with the possible builders should quickly reveal who you’ll find it easiest to work with.
Some costs to be aware of
When you first look at your property for renovation, some costs are going to be more obvious than others. A missing roof or wall scream out that they’re gong to cost you, but there are other things to be aware of.
You will need a license to cover your work and these come in two flavors. One for minor works and one for major works. These are paid for at the end of the job and is normally calculated at a rate of 4-6% of the cost of the job.
Whether it’s a minor or major job also has cost implications. For minor work, your builder should be able to manage the whole job for you. For major works, you’ll need to pay for architects to oversee the planning and work. You can read more about that in this article on building in Spain.
Some builders may help you keep the license costs down by allowing part payments in cash. Obviously that’s not legal and it may also reduce the amount you can offset against future capital gains tax when selling. So make sure you retain a full record of the costs incurred during your renovation project.
There’s clearly many things to consider when restoring an old Spanish house, but don’t let that put you off.
As long as you go in with your eyes open and wisely choose your property for renovation, it will be a hugely rewarding experience. You can find yourself truly living in the home of your dreams.
The type of property that very few people ever have the privilege of owning and that you’re still passionate about years later.