Although Spain is still the number one choice for British overseas property buyers - ahead of France - recent reports in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere continue to highlight the many uncertainties surrounding property purchase there, in comparison with France's highlys secure system of property buying and selling.
Headlines such as 'Britons lose millions on the Costa homes that never existed' or 'Nearly 400 Britons lost £43 million in property deal' appear almost daily in the property columns of the daily and Sunday newspapers. Among the most recent scandals has been the failure of some regional Spanish banks to provide the financial guarantees (against deposits paid) which are required under Spanish law 57/1968 designed 'to protect the funds paid by the buyer into a special account and ensure they are used solely for the purpose of building the property'.
Speaking of a recent ruling by a provincial court in Cantabria, Charels Svoboda - head of an action group in Valencia - noted "While this is an improvement, and it does make me hopeful, it is important to remember that half of the Spanish banks are in financial trouble and many of the developers have gone out of business or simply disappeared - so where is the money going to come from to pay them back?"
According to recent figures there are some 683,000 new-build properties in Spain seeking buyers, plus an estimated 700,000 homes for sale by their owners, according to consultancy RR de Acuna. Several Spanish banks, who have repossessed properties from owners unable to keep up repayments, are now trying to offload them at 50% of their original price. The same report notes that out of 60,000 property companies, some 23,600 have gone bust, owing 137 billion euros to the banks.
Could this happen in France? The answer is a resounding No! In the case of off-plan developments, a minimum of 50% of the proposed properties (such as apartments and villas) have to be sold before work can begin. Purchasers then pay a small deposit and a series of stage payments only when building work progresses - foundations, first floor, roof etc - which are verified and authorised by independent lawyers ('notaires') in charge of the transaction. It is rare for a building company, many of whom are large multi-nationals, to run out of funds and for work to cease.
Because of its system of land registry, existing properties and their ownership can be verified by consulting the 'plan cadastre' on-line or at the local Mairie. Part of the duties of the Notaire handling the transaction is to ensure that the property exists and that the owner/vendor has has true title. Any additions or alterations can also be checked to make sure the appropriate planning permission was obtained. Building work undertaken by correcntly registered French artisans will be covered by insurance guarantees of up to 10 years.
Buyers should exercise reasonable care particularly when purchasing new-buildss or off-plan property, either for occupation or investment, and as a minimum personally visit the site of the proposed development and samples of recent properties built by the constructor.
Sources: Sean O'Hare, Daily Telegraph 23 December 2010; Graham Norwood, The Observer, 26 December 2010.