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Who’s To Blame For The Delays In A Spanish Property Purchase

“I want a cushy job like yours.” How many times have we heard that?

Our clients, buyers like you, see us swanning around stunning properties, enjoying coffee stops in spectacular locations and sometimes even lunches in the sun. All part of our day to day work as we help clients find the ideal place for their Spanish property purchase.

Or so they, and maybe you,  think.

This is what we want you to see. We want you to see the best of what Spain has to offer. Our role, as a property finder,  is to ensure you enjoy your property search. It is our responsibility to ensure you do not endure unnecessary stressful situations.

Spanish Property Purchase coffee stop location in Mijas Costa, Malaga January 2015

Spanish Property Purchase coffee stop location in Mijas Costa, Malaga January 2015

We do our job well. Our clients, you, do not always see what goes on behind the scenes.

Sometimes it does not run smoothly. Particularly in certain parts of Spain, it seems.

Graham, who has many years of experience in the property market, and (am I allowed to say it?) a pretty low tolerance threshold, as a result, would like to share some of his “behind the scenes of the day in the life if a property finder” with you.

So, brace yourself for a wee rant. This is what often goes on behind the scenes …

Here I am sitting in a bank inevitably waiting for the guy who is supposed to be here to turn up from his break. I was told ten minutes and so far I have been here for 25. This is, unfortunately, the norm in Spain.  (For purposes of the rest of this post, he came in just after that sentence, so only 26 minutes)

I spend a lot of time waiting around in Spain when dealing with banks, notaries, registries, anything official, wanting to buy a lightbulb in a shop etc… You get the idea. At the moment I am not quite literally incandescent with anger and frustration (I say not quite because I think, barring spontaneous combustion in the style of a Spinal Tap drummer, that to be literally incandescent is nigh on impossible, however if it were possible that would be me, Mr Incandescent Rage.)

Note from Lisa: Either this is a bigger problem in Valencia than Malaga or Graham has less patience … I’ll leave you to decide 😉

Note From Graham: Graham has less patience!

So today’s post is about the “waiting” experienced and sometimes endured,  when buying a property in Spain. What can hold up the process and what can you do about it apart from keep banging your forehead against the metaphorical wall of “computer says no”?

There are various factors involved in the purchase of a property but for purposes of brevity let’s assume they can be labelled as follows:

  • The Owner of the Property
  • The Useless Agent
  • The Laid Back, Almost Comatose, Notary
  • The Hugely Inefficient Registrar
  • The Deflective Gestor
  • The Know It All Lawyer
  • And You, the Lovely Buyer, Our Client

So, how can your purchase be held up?

The Owner of the Property.

The owner has a very critical role as they need to agree to sell the property at an agreed price, to have vacated the property on the agreed completion date and present, at the agreed time, at the office of the Laid Back Almost Comatose Notary. Normally owners are the least of my worries as a buyer’s agent. I negotiate with them, come to an agreement on price and time period for a purchase and they just have to get out, turn up at the notary to collect money and hand over keys.

Easy right?

Well, when they may ask for money in B (Black money), or a few days to move out after the signing or seven different payments to various family members and more. At these moments, they are not quite as easy as I would like. However, normally the way the owner holds things up is by not delivering paperwork to the “know it all lawyer”, employing a second “know it all lawyer” themselves who then tries to justify his fee (effectively for doing nothing) by putting his oar in where it isn’t wanted or not agreeing in the notary to what they have previously agreed to on the contract.

Owners can hold things up but generally they just want their money and to get out so they aren’t the biggest problem.

The Useless Agent

Agents come in many shapes, sizes, styles and IQ’s. However most of the IQ’s of the “Me Too” agents (Those new to the market) who are starting to proliferate again after the cull of the “Great Spanish Property Crisis” hover around the “might be just into double figures” mark. Without experience they do what one tried to do to us a couple of weeks ago and say the bank won’t be turning up to cancel the mortgage of the current owner on the day of the signing because the owner doesn’t really want to do that yet.

Obviously we are going to let our client buy a house with a mortgage left on it and pay the full amount of the purchase to the owner aren’t we?

What do you mean I missed a “not” out of that sentence? We used the lesser known “He who cares less wins the negotiation” tactic and got not only that sorted, but also four other little problems created by our friendly local newbie agent.

Of course, I am assuming that he is a useless agent here. There is also the possibility that the owner was being immensely stupid not understanding the term “free title” on a purchase, but I am willing to bet that it was all the fault of the newbie.

Now not all agents are useless, of course. There are many excellent ones. We choose to work with them and try to avoid having to work with the others. However, sometimes it is impossible.

The Laid Back Almost Comatose Notary.

Notaries had it easy for so long. So many properties were being sold and getting into the notary business in Spain was effectively very hard, a “job for the boys” club with exams and lots of them. First let’s just recap, a notary is a government appointed official to make sure that the sale and purchase of property and many other things are conducted correctly and above the law (So that plan worked out ok then) however the notarial business took a hit in 2007 when the crisis hit.

Generally notaries made so much money that they just carried on as normal, they just weren’t as busy as before. However, they did become much lazier, as a result. Suddenly they were not rushing from office to office in their business, reading property deeds at 3 million miles an hour, now they were twiddling their thumbs and wishing for the good times to return or maybe not because many of them love twiddling.

The job of a notary is to make sure everything is right and proper and usually they organize the registrar and Gestor too. The problem comes when each of these actors starts palming off responsibilities to the others. The current case we have here is rather  fun ( he said in an extremely masochistic and painful way) what do you do when a notary wants a response from a registrar about whether they are going to register a perfectly normal operation and the registrar won’t answer? You start shouting at people but, of course, that gets you nowhere at all.

All it takes is for somebody from the notary’s office to visit somebody at the registrar’s office and basically sort the situation out. However many times it is impossible to do this as they are “so busy”. So they do everything by phone or mail and it never works because it gets put to the bottom of the  pile.

The problem is that Notaries are so comatose that mostly they don’t care. They have become minor celebrities in their local coffee shop waiting for the call from their underworked employees to come and sign a piece of paper or two and actually they quite like it that way, who wouldn’t?

The Hugely Inefficient Registrar

Registrars again are government appointments and they are there to make sure the property registry is correct and only things that should be registered get registered. Guess what? Again it hasn’t worked out quite right and the discrepancies between the property registry and the Catastro are legendary and many.

Registrars work with paperwork and paperwork tends to get lost at the bottom of piles of other paperwork and your urgent piece of paper only gets to the top of that pile if an “enchufado” ie somebody who knows the registrar, hasn’t been into their office for a few days and laid their own paperwork on the top of the pile.

I remember when we were promised a paperless office by programmes like Tomorrow’s World. Liars!! That would be purgatory for the average employee of the Hugely Inefficient Registrars’ offices. They have a comfort blanket of disorganized reams of paper surrounding their desks as defence against disturbance so they can browse “Feisbuk” in peace without taking any notice of mad English relocation agents’ worries.

The Deflective Gestor

The Deflective Gestor does the legwork for the Hugely Inefficient Registrar and the Laid Back Almost Comatose Notary. They take paperwork from one place to another and make sure it is filled in correctly and in the right place at the right time. As you can imagine, as it usually takes around three to four months for your fully correct deeds to arrive back at the Notary’s office after your signing, there is ample time for the Deflective Gestor to give excuses and blame the Notary and Registrar.

Nevertheless, in my experience the Gestor can also blame computers which of course always say no, time pressure, workload pressure and the gravitational pull of Mercury for their tardiness and lack of urgency. This is just one of those things you will need to get used to.

The Know it All Lawyer

You can never tell a know it all lawyer anything. You can check and double check they have done something and they say I have already done it until you find they haven’t. You can tell them what to look out for in a property because you have seen it and they haven’t and they still miss out the huge discrepancy between the size stated on the property registry and what you have reported back to them.

Of course as their name suggests they know if all and they talk to people from a pedestal trying to undermine everything that others say. Even when you are right the know it all lawyer will suggest you are an idiot and want to approach the issue in another way. Avoid at all costs as an agent and make sure you have a reliable and thorough lawyer who acts less as a know it all.

My Lovely Buyer, the Client

I am not going to be at all scathing about clients because they are my bread and butter and there are not too many ways in which they can hold up the process. However there are some things that can make the owner nervous and potentially scupper a deal. The deposit can be late in being sent, the deposit might not be sent at all until a mortgage approval is made, the flights may not be at the right price to come over and sign and they may not have given a power of attorney to their chosen lawyer so a delay in signing happens. They may be waiting for the right time to send money according to the exchange rates being the best for them and they may trust their bank or chosen fx company to actually do what they said and transfer the money at the right time. They may have problems opening a bank account, they may be delayed getting the NIE number…. Actually there are any number of ways my client can delay the process….

It’s our job to coordinate all of these disparate threads so what we do is as follows…

The Lovely Client knows what they need to do from A-Z because it is our job to guide them through the process and advise about what to do.

We avoid the problems of the know it all lawyers by suggesting trusted lawyers who know our method of working and who also know if they let us down we will drop them like a stone. Potentially being dropped by our company concentrates the mind as they receive a lot of clients.

We avoid the Almost Comatose Notary issue by using more dynamic known notaries who respond to our demands mostly. Every now and again we are forced to use another one but we try our best to force the issue with them. By doing this we do our best to have a great Gestor as opposed to a Deflective one working for us too although we cannot do anything about the registrar as that just depends on which office of the property registry we have to work with.

We avoid recalcitrant owners or at least play the “Who cares less” tactic with them and if they are employing a particularly useless agent then we talk directly with the owner however much the agent hates us for doing it. Our remit is to make the purchase as smooth as possible for our delightful client not work around what an owner or agent wants us to do.

In fact we do all of this almost while walking in our sleep and why do we do it? Because in the end it actually saves us time, preserves our sanity and gets the job done better for our client meaning everyone is happy. Juggling so many balls in the air is a delicate job but when trying to avoid the delays in Spain then it is a necessary evil. It also makes work fun believe it or not because sorting out problems is what we do best. Why don’t you try us out?


So, there you have it. Graham’s got it off his chest and out into the open 😉

Now, when do you want to come swanning around some stunning properties and drinking coffee in the sun with us?

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Valencia's Patacona Beach in January

Valencia’s Patacona Beach in January

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