How to Buy Land Safely In Spain
Get Qualified Spanish Professionals on Your Side.
This is essential. You must have local professionals, who understand the system, asking the right questions on your behalf.
When selecting any professional you need people with the strength of character to protect you from yourself if necessary. This means people who will tell you to stop when you have made a decision that is not in your best interests rather than “yes” people who are just interested in collecting their fee.
Never the agent’s lawyer
Your lawyer needs to be independent. Don’t use one recommended by the estate agent selling you the land. They should speak your language fluently (unless you speak fluent Spanish). They should be able to produce references and be happy for you to check them. If in doubt ask us.
Get it in writing
Make it clear from the start that you expect key communications to be confirmed in writing. Get into the habit of finishing each meeting and telephone conversation with a summary of what you understand to have been said, and then follow up with an email to confirm your understanding and ask for confirmation. Print these emails off so you have a paper trail of who said or agreed what and when.
Ask an architect
Seek the advice of an architect before buying. This is the best way to guarantee that your land use planning information is correct and accurate, both in the short and the long term.
Seek the advice of a Spanish notary (notario) when buying, and to set up the property title after you buy.
Spanish Land Registry – your best guaranteee
Take your property title to the relevant land registry office (Registro de la Propiedad) after the purchase, in order to register it under your name. If you’re unsure, the notary will tell you where it is. This is the best guarantee to avoid future problems.
First Question: How is the Land Zoned for Planning Consent?
There are two broad categories of land in Spain, urbano which broadly speaking is zoned for development and rustico which isn’t.
Now under some circumstances you can develop “rustic” land, and in the case of urbano land you still need to ask the right questions before buying. In both types there are sub categories to understand, as well as regional laws to know about. Local town halls may interpret the law differently and in some, again well publicized, cases contradict the regional authority. You have to get this right. This is why you need qualified local professionals to ask the right questions for you.
The Spanish jargon
Some terms describe the legal status of the land from a planning perspective such as urbano, urbanizable, no urbanizable, and protegido and some terms describe the current state of the land such as suelo urbanizado, which will have all its services and infrastructure; suelo en desarrollo and suelo sin desarrollar. These are all explained below.
Urban Land – Suelo Urbano
“Urbano” land is generally within cities or close to towns and villages. It is clearly marked on the local plan which is freely available for inspection by anyone who asks the right department at the local town hall. It is called the Plan General de Ordenación Urbana. Suelo urbano generally would have all the services established however in some cases they may need finishing off which would imply costs and legal fees.
There is also the suelo urbanizable category, which is land which is in the process of being re-zoned so it can be legally developed.
On this land outline planning permission isn’t necessary. You apply for detailed planning permission from the local town hall. Land which is fully urbanizado will have all the services already established such as roads surfacing, pavements, street lighting, main drainage, mains water, mains electricity, and telephone land line. Check this list off and if something hasn’t been installed find out of there is a chance a charge will be imposed on the owners of the plots to install this service.
Check in the town hall
Before buying make sure you get the Town Planning Certificate, cédula urbanística or certificado urbanistico, which specifies the planning zone, use, building space and building type for any plot of land.
Also be sure to check the local building norms for such things as height of buildings, whether you can put in a surrounding wall, the colour of exterior walls, number of balconies and so on.
What percentage can you build?
Check the locally applicable area occupancy rules. The regulations stipulate what percentage of the area you can build on. This will depend on a number of different factors. It maybe be, for example, that you can build on 30% of the plot you are interested in buying. You need to know.
Another regulation is the total construction allowed on the plot which again will vary and you need to know. So you are constrained in how much of the plot you can cover, and you are constrained by the maximum size of building you can erect.
Don’t forget the cellar
Underground construction (i.e. the cellar) will normally not be counted for permitted volume limitations (provided that it is totally under street level), though it will be considered in terms of construction fees. This can still be useful space. Terraces, swimming pools etc are also excluded from the calculations.
For houses which are built on a slope then the basement/ cellar area is counted for permitted volumes at a reduced rate according to the gradient of the slope.
There are rules governing the maximum height which you will also need to know before buying to be certain you can construct what you have in mind. For example the regulations may stipulate a 7 metre height restriction.
Aesthetic restrictions vary. Quite often you will be free to build what you want within reason. In historic centres you can expect regulations to be quite strict.
Rustic Land – Suelo Rustico
All rustic land is governed by the national law and by the land laws of the autonomous regions, even though it belongs to the jurisdiction of a local town hall.
Building on rustic land is rarely simple
Rustic land is, by definition, not buildable. However in specific circumstances building can take place in these areas. For example, if there is a declaration of public interest; or the drafting of a Land Use Planning Instrument, such as the proyecto de actuación en suelo no urbanizable. These circumstances can vary from greatly between municipalities. For example it may be possible in some municipalities to build on 2% of the area a total construction of 4%. So you would need a lot of land to build a substantial house, and there may be other regulations which stipulate that the buildings be used for agricultural purposes. If you are thinking of doing this the regulations needs to be carefully studied.
The regional authority of Andalucia have been tightening the regulations in recent years (for example see New Decree below). In Andalucia to build or renovate on rustic land then you have to demonstrate either that the building you propose is necessary for agricultural use or for rural tourism. A building designed for rural tourism will also require living accommodation for the proprietors.
Some land is more heavily protected than others. To build on heavily protected land you may have to get authority from a number of different bodies, such as environmental protection, national parks, wildlife protection, river and water authorities, road authorities as well as the local town hall and the Junta de Andalucia. All this can take time and needs to be professionally presented to stand a realistic chance of success.
Sometimes even large developments can be approved. We organised planning permission for a large eco-tourism project near Granada with over 50 buildings in the first phase.
Also check carefully what is available in terms of the main services, water, electricity, drainage and so on and take nothing for granted.
Rebuild a Finca / Ruin
It is common practice to re-build old fincas and the norm has always been that you can re-build to the original size. In some cases you may be able to add a small percentage to the area covered and the total construction.
You call that a ruin?
The interpretation of what comprises a ruin in Spain has been tightened up, and these days any old pile of stones no longer qualifies.
Aesthetic restrictions are stricter on rebuilding ruins and have to be in sympathy with the landscape and the original structure.
An Important New Decree Affecting Rustic Land in Andalusia
Decreto 2/2012, de 10 de enero, por el que se regula el régimen de las edificaciones y asentamientos existentes en Suelo No Urbanizable en la Comunidad Autónoma de Andalucía.
A new decree came into force in January 2012 which regulates all structures on rustic land in Andalucia. Anyone who owns or is thinking about buying any structure on rustic land needs to know about it. It is of particular interest to anyone who is considering buying a property to renovation it, extend it, or even simply to live in it.
The purpose of the decree is to clarify what can and can’t be done for each structure so there is less room for interpretation by local municipalities. Everything is covered by the decree from abandoned ruins to newly built rural hotels.
The basic principal is that each municipality has to look into every structure: describe it, establish its history and categorize it. The categories are “demolish” “leave as is” “can be renovated” etc. Actually this is a huge simplification. The process and the rules are quite complex. If you’d like to read the original here’s the link:
Buy Good Title
Title problems are frequent in rural Spain. It is not uncommon for there to be no title deeds, or for them to completely misrepresent what exists physically, or for them to refer to people long since deceased who died intestate and whose possible inheritors have to be searched for. In addition, legitimate claims are not formalized in title deeds. All these issues need to be tidied up before you purchase.
Please Note that in Spain there isn’t a title plan which confers rights and which defines the boundaries of your land. The catastro plan doesn’t confer rights and is often inaccurate. Its not uncommon for people from northern Europe to assume that the catastro plan is a title plan. It isn’t. Its only used to calculate property taxes. The title deeds (escritura) and the land registry (of which the record is the Nota Simple) do not carry title plans. The boundaries of your property are described in these documents only in writing. Its not uncommon for the catastro, the escritura, and the Nota Simple, to all contain different square metre areas. If the area is critical to your decision to buy then instruct your lawyer clearly to define what you are buying and have the documents updated.
Check the registry
Check the owners registry to make sure that the seller is the only owner of the plot you want to buy. It is common in rural settings for land to have been owned by several people.
Again, ask a professional
There is quite simply no substitute for professional advice from qualified professionals in these cases.