The lure of sun, sea and sand is very strong, but properties near the sea are generally more expensive than those inland, and perhaps just 20 minutes’ drive away from the coast you will find houses or apartments which are much better value and have more outside space. These could be in a small village or town, or on an urbanisation, built to cater for locals and foreigners alike. Seaside complexes or urbanisations carry community charges, as do apartment blocks, so you should look into the terms and costs of these charges carefully before you commit to buying a property.
All along the coast, you will find villas of different styles and sizes. In North East Spain, properties with a sea view are still expensive, despite the fall in property prices. Properties here tend to be second homes, and are used largely during the summer months when people from the big cities such as Barcelona, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and so on, escape to their idyll be the sea. Apartments, which are closed for up to 5 months of the year are aired and thrown open to the wind and the sun most weekends around Easter time, and are fully occupied as summer approaches. These properties are often let out to tourists to help pay the maintenance costs or mortgage.
You should also be aware that owners are now required to apply for a licence to let their property and these are not always approved. Get your lawyer to check with the local town hall about any policies on letting to tourists. In Barcelona, the Generalitat, or city council, is now able to oversee all tourist letting, and is attempting to crackdown on illegal ones following complaints by locals about noisy tourists. They are also limiting lets in certain areas of the city.
If you are retired and moving to Spain, you should think about what facilities you need close to your property - it’s all very well to buy a villa on a cliff with a wonderful view, but it is likely that such a property will have numerous steps and will be some distance from the nearest shop - so you will have to go out by car every time you need something. The same applies to holiday apartments in small coastal bays, where most shops close for the winter months. The larger coastal resorts stay open 12 months of the year.
Not everyone is seeking a beachcomber’s life. Many are attracted to the pretty inland towns and villages, surrounded by vineyards and steeped in history. Again, there are urbanisations in the country areas, but also typical village houses, either of natural stone, or as in Andalucia, painted white. Village properties are cheaper than in the big towns (unless it is a village which particularly attracts tourists such as Mijas (Andalucia) or Pals (Catalunya)), but they are more likely to need some (if not total) renovation, and the running and maintenance costs may be quite high. These properties are nevertheless popular, especially when the village offers a bar or two, shops, chemist, etc. as everything is within walking distance, and life is at a slow pace.
If you come to Spain to work, the chances are you will be located in one of the larger towns or cities. Renting may be the best option here, at least until you have learned about the area, found the school you like for your children, and had time to look around for a property to buy. Rentals are quite expensive in the main centres of Madrid and Barcelona, and in certain districts, prices are beginning to rise again after the economic downturn.
More recently there has been a trend for older expats, with villas or apartments right on the coast in the smaller bays, to sell and move into their nearest town to be closer to the amenities they need, not to mention the bars - no more taxis home! These properties are being bought by younger Brits and Europeans, ready and able to take on a second home away from the stress of their daily lives. In fact, statistics show a definite shift towards properties very close to shops and markets. The recently opened train route from Barcelona to Paris is already positively affecting house and apartment sales within easy reach of Barcelona, Girona and Figueres - the stops on the Spanish side of the French border.
Finally, let’s not forget the mountainous regions of Spain. Skiing and winter sports are widely practised here, as is hiking and bird-watching in the summer months. The mountain ranges of the Pyrenees, the Cordillera Cantabrica, Sistema Central, Sierra Morena, and the Cordillera Subbetica all offer attractive properties, many with a rental income. Homes in the better known and smarter resorts are inevitably more expensive, but there are numerous little towns and villages offering good value for money. If you are thinking of buying something in these areas, we suggest you visit the region both in summer and in winter - that way there won’t be any nasty surprises when the snow falls and roads are blocked.
Spain has a wonderful choice of locations and property types, so you should be able to find the home that’s just right for you and your family. It’s just a question of writing down what you need, how close you want to be to a town or shops, whether you want to drive or not and how much the overheads will be. Happy house hunting!
Before you decide where to start looking, you should put some thoughts together about the kind of location you want to live in and why. Think about the following:
- Do you have an idea of the region of Spain you would prefer to buy in? Costa del Sol, Costa Brava, Mallorca?
- Do you want to live in the countryside? In a village or a city? On the coast?
- Are you looking to be in a tourist development, or a residential area?
- How close can you be to the local amenities, such as bars and shops?
- Are there adequate pharmacy and medical facilities?
- What else needs to be in the area? Schools? A gym?
- Will you need to use public transport?