Do you want to ‘live in Marbella’? – We can help!

If you are reading this blog, you probably already know about our new venture, ‘www.liveinmarbella.com’ and have a rough idea what we are doing (although many of our friends have asked us why we have now turned into ‘real estate agents’ – that is not, most definitely, the case!).

I thought, therefore, that it might explain things better if I told you our own experiences of buying property in a country that we don’t (or didn’t) actually live in, so here, very briefly, is our Spanish story!

After a short visit to Spain when I was a teenager (a completely different experience which I won’t even go into here!) I came back again in the summer of, I think, year 2000. I was having a tough time at work and my good friend Irena invited me to her holiday home just outside Marbella for a few days’ recovery. I had a vision of high-rise apartments, crowded beaches, and ‘lager louts’, but it couldn’t have been more different.

Lemons dropping from the trees!

Her house was (is) gorgeous – out in the mountains, beautifully interior-designed (by her), with a little pool that has lemons dropping from the trees around it as you swim and goat herds wandering in the lanes outside. It was love at first sight, and when Irena tried to persuade me to look at one of the other houses nearby and consider buying something myself, I found it hard to resist (although the idea of returning home and being asked by Jan ‘what did you buy’ and him expecting to hear ‘another handbag’ but instead would hear ‘a house’ was enough of a deterrent!).

I went back to Prague, but then persuaded Jan to return to Spain with me, first to stay in Irena’s house and see for himself, and then later to stay in the house around the corner that was for sale. And he, too, became hooked. To cut a long story short, after our second visit we put in an offer, had it accepted, took ourselves off to a bank to agree a mortgage and so on (we couldn’t really afford it at that time but we figured we would find a way) and then went back to Prague, excited that we would soon have our own ‘place in the sun’. Whilst the bank did its paperwork, Jan found a lawyer through his own network, and I toed and froed with the owner in order to agree what would be left behind, when we would complete, etc. All very easy.

Until, that is, the valuation came in from the bank for a third of the asking price. And on that basis, they wouldn’t lend us the money. Should we find another bank (how? We would have to go there again). Try to negotiate with the present owners (well, we did that, and they refused to budge – in fact they turned quite nasty about the fact that we had ‘messed them about and had a free holiday staying in their house (which they had originally offered in order to entice us to buy…) and paying nothing (even though we had offered and they had refused)). Or give up? We gave up.

However, we kept thinking about Marbella, and a few months later we decided to head back again, but this time to look nearer to the main town rather than up in the mountains. Our new ‘best friend’, Jan’s lawyer, who had already made quite a lot of money out of us on our aborted sale, recommended an agent, so off we went again. This time, we treated ourselves to a week in the best hotel in the area, Puente Romano, and we soon settled into our holiday – except that it wasn’t really a holiday. Andrew, our agent, was determined to find us something, so every afternoon we met him to visit a range of different properties within our budget – all hideous, since the nearer to the real Marbella you get, the more expensive the properties become. A week went by, and off we went back to Prague – not much of a holiday, a lot of money spent, and no further along our hunt for a property.

The most gorgeous Pueblo

Just a couple of weeks later, we got a call from Andrew – ‘can you come back? I’ve found your property’. Call us mad, but off we went again (note that at that time you couldn’t even fly direct from Prague to Malaga (you can now!) and that trip required us to go via Paris and took about 10 hours door-to-door). We met him at the hotel the morning after our arrival and he drove us to the entrance of the most gorgeous pueblo imaginable, and then walked us through a stunning Roman-style pool area, before pulling up in front of a house. ‘This is it’, he said. ‘It’s a bit over-budget’ (only about Euro 100,000 :)) but it ticks all the boxes! And he was right. Two days later, we flew back to Prague again (another ten hours door-to-door), clutching our signed ‘Reservation Contract’ (which was, in fact, written on a piece of toilet paper in a restaurant around the corner from the house) and excited to start the whole process again.

Short-lived. With only a few weeks to go before completion, and many, many emails flying about between the seller, our lawyer, the bank and so on, (and legal fees mounting up again), our seller called me to say that ‘it is with great regret that I have decided not to go ahead with the sale of this property’. Unbelievable. But not unsurmountable. Our lawyer, finally coming to life after a few weeks of what you might call ‘laid-back’ legal advice, told us that Spanish law didn’t allow a seller to pull out at this stage (despite the contract being written on toilet paper) and he somehow persuaded the seller that he had to go ahead and complete. And sure enough, a few weeks later we became the owners of our very own place in the sun.

Lovely properties are not always easy to find…

Since then, we have bought and sold various houses and apartments, both for ourselves and for friends. And what is very clear is that it is very difficult to buy a property in a country that you don’t actually live in. It is not just the language (although Spain, and Marbella in particular is a bit easier than some, in that most people in banks, law firms, etc do speak English) but there is also the difficulty in dealing with agents who all, of course, want to sell you a property, even when it is nothing like what you wanted (or what it says on the particulars). Do you really want to to and fro endlessly, spending most of your time going to see properties that are completely unsuitable, when the sun is shining and you have spent a fortune on a hotel – we certainly didn’t enjoy it! Or visit one of the thousands of different lawyers to see if you can trust them (I don’t joke), if they will do the job properly (there have been many stories of people buying properties in Spain that have been built illegally), if they have your own interests at heart? And then how will it work with completion, or having a survey, or planning furnishings or building works if you are not there? All of these nightmares can be enough to put you off even trying.

And that, really, is how we came to the idea of our ‘LiveinMarbella’ project. Just like most people, we had this idea of popping down to Marbella (it could just as easily be Croatia or Cyprus, or wherever) and we really had no idea how difficult it would be. But now we know. So if you are thinking to look for your own place in the sun – don’t be put off! It is worth the effort, and in this forthcoming series of blogs, I plan to show you why!