This is really important if you aren’t a fluent Spanish speaker, as they will be able to guide you through the details of the transaction, so that you fully understand the contract and supporting documentation.
It is incredibly important to make sure you don’t confuse a solicitor, employed by you alone to protect your interests, with a notary. While Spanish notaries are legally trained and mandatory for any property transaction in Spain, they are employed by the government and so officially do not act for either the buyer or vendor. The role of a notary is to oversee and rubber-stamp the paperwork in a property transaction, check all necessary taxes are paid and register the property with the Spanish Land Registry. Your independent solicitor will ensure your contract and property are exactly how you - their client - want them, and that you are protected from any charges left over from the previous owner(s), such as mortgage costs, estate or municipal taxes, and any other claims.
Your estate agent will probably offer to introduce you to an English-speaking lawyer but you would be better advised to find one who is completely independent. This may not sound easy, but most large towns will have lawyers who speak the language, and a trip to the town hall should help you find them. The British Embassy has a list of accredited English-speaking solicitors and online websites can help here too, or you can call our Resource Centre for advice! You should always check their credentials, and if you find a lawyer doesn’t speak very good English, look for another as it is vital you understand everything that goes into the sales contract (escritura).
Ask about the fees at the outset so you know exactly how much you will be paying for legal services, and make sure you are aware of the total costs for the sale - including sales tax, Notary’s fees, property registry fees, and your lawyer’s fees, as well as other miscellaneous expenses. Estate agents often underestimate costs to encourage sales.
Having your own independent lawyer is really important when buying a home in Spain. He or she will check that the vendor is in fact the legal owner, that there are no outstanding debts on the property, if there is an existing mortgage and if it is transferable to you, whether the property complies with local building regulations and if any major construction is due in the area. Often Spanish houses are owned by more than one person, for example beneficiaries of a Will (such as brothers and sisters). You will therefore need to negotiate with them all and this is best done through lawyers.
If you are buying a property on an urbanisation or in an apartment block, there will undoubtedly be communal areas. A lawyer will check the minutes of the community’s last AGM to see if the charges are being met by the property owners - if not, you may find the costs increasing to compensate for non-payment. A lawyer will also be able to tell you about annual expenses, such as service charges, property tax (IBI), non-residents’ income tax and utilities. He will also check that the utilities are actually connected to the property; when I bought an apartment, the gas company had removed the gas meter as the previous owner had not paid bills for months. I had to pay to get it installed again.
It is true that using your own lawyer will increase your costs, but it could also save you a small fortune in the long run. When buying a property, it is sensible to make a Spanish Will and your lawyer can also help you with this. Inheritance laws are different in Spain from the UK, and he can explain the implications and draw up the Will. You will, however, need to go to a notary to sign it.
Your lawyer should be able to give you further advice after the sale has gone through - for example if you plan to open a business or become self-employed in Spain, if in the future you wish to change your Will, or if you need advice on residency or work permits.
Honestly, using a lawyer for property purchase is essential - just make sure he or she speaks good English and can explain things to you - don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure of something!
For complete peace of mind when buying a property in Spain, it is advisable to employ the services of an independent solicitor/legal firm, who can also advise on ownership and inheritance issues. To be contacted by a recommended Anglo-Spanish law firm, call the OGC Resources Team on 020 7898 0549.