It is strongly recommended that you choose an independent lawyer who is specialised in Spanish land law (urbanismo). Independent means that they work on your behalf only and are not also looking after the interests of the agent or developer. The Spanish property conveyancing system is different to the UK system so you should ensure that those involved in the transaction are qualified and experienced in Spain.
Exercise extreme caution if an estate agent, promoter or lawyer urges you to cut corners to save money or time.
A Spanish notary public will be involved in preparing the contract of sale and issuing the public deeds. As the purchaser, you have the right to choose which notary you use. The notary is a public servant who has a duty to provide you with free and impartial legal advice on all aspects of the contract before you sign. It is a good idea to seek advice from the notary early on. When a date is set for signing the contract, you have three days beforehand to visit the notary and ask any questions you may have about any aspect of the contract.
If you choose to work with a British estate agent, promoter or lawyer, check that they are qualified, reliable and have experience operating in Spain. Check that they are registered with the Law Society in the UK and specialise in International Transactions. If your lawyer is based in Spain, ask for their registration number and check that they are registered and practising with the local bar association (Colegio de Abogados).
You should also check that your lawyer has professional indemnity insurance and not sign any papers or hand over any money until you have taken independent legal advice. Although the British Embassy cannot recommend a lawyer, we do have lists of local English-speaking lawyers and qualified translators available on our website
Many Spanish citizens use a ‘Gestor’ to carry out bureaucracy on their behalf. You should note that only a Gestor Administrativo with the GA kite mark is professionally qualified and certified to process paperwork directly with the Spanish administration. More information can be found on their services.
Should you become involved in a property dispute, but do not have sufficient means to meet the costs of a court case, you can apply for legal aid. More information is available on the European E-Justice Portal. Applications for those resident in Spain should be directed to the local bar association.
Please bear in mind that if you do become involved in a property dispute, you may need to seek a new lawyer with specific expertise in the field of litigation you wish to pursue, e.g. specialist civil lawyers for compensation claims against private parties such as agents, developers or banks, and specialist public body litigants (contencioso administrativo) for claims against local, regional or state authorities.
If you do not have a good understanding of Spanish, make sure that you get all contracts and relevant documentation translated by an independent translator.
Do your homework: you should analyse and compare a range of different products and services offered by different lending companies. If you have any doubts about the terms and conditions, ask the lender to clarify. You should also check that the lender is listed as authorised to operate in Spain.
Look for the mortgage which is most appropriate for your capabilities and needs. There are a range of mortgages on offer and you should pay special attention to the interest rate and repayment period, fees for setting up the mortgage as well as early repayment and cancellation fees.
If you cannot keep up the mortgage repayments, the Spanish bank could repossess your property in Spain. If the value of the property is less than the total debt outstanding (you are in negative equity), the bank may pursue your UK assets to recover the mortgage shortfall using a European Enforcement Order.
Make sure you fully understand the mortgage agreement you sign. If you have any doubts check with the branch during the 10 working-day period after the binding offer has been provided. If for any reason you cannot keep up the mortgage repayments, you should speak to your bank immediately (before defaulting on repayments) to discuss the options available.
Further information on mortgages in Spain is available from the Spanish Mortgage Association.
The Spanish tax authority is called the Agencia Tributaria. It provides some information on its website in English.
Complaints against the legal system
If you believe your lawyer has been negligent and has not met their obligations, you should complain in the first instance to the provincial bar association. If the response is unsatisfactory, you can take your complaint to the regional and then national bar associations. Complaints should be in writing and in Spanish. A full list of the bar associations around Spain can be found on the website of the General Council of Spanish Lawyers.
If you have a complaint about the way a court has handled your case, you can present a complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary.
If you have a complaint against a notary or gestor administrativo, this should be directed to the professional council of which they are a member.
Please see our separate guide on Residency requirements in Spain.
Before you complete your property purchase you should make sure that:
- you have seen the Land Registry extract (nota simple), available from the Colegio de Registradores (translations into English for an additional fee), and checked the following details
- the property and land for sale match the details registered and the sellers are the registered owner(s)
- there are no debts or charges, such as a mortgage, on the property
- there are no legal proceedings initiated against the property for contravention of land planning law
- you have checked that planning permissions are in order and the property is a legal build. This is particularly relevant when buying off-plan or direct from a developer. The town hall can inform you whether the building has all licences and permissions and provide details of the type of land. If the property is built on rural land or land that is not classified for construction, additional confirmation should be sought from the regional government as to whether they have authorised the construction
- if you are buying an off-plan property, confirm that the property has been certified as finished by a registered architect and registered as a new build in the property register. The registration should also provide details of the developer’s insurance against structural and other defects in the construction. In the case of a private build (the previous owner built their own house and decided to sell before ten years had lapsed) you will need to request these details separately
- you have checked the latest town plan to see whether or not the plot you wish to buy has any building restrictions, is in a green zone or includes a public pathway or similar. This can be viewed at to the town planning (urbanismo) department of the local town hall
- you have carried out a property survey. Whilst this is not obligatory, it is wise to get a chartered surveyor to check the property
- You know the cadastral value of the property and how much purchase tax will be due. Be aware that tax is charged on the council’s valuation of the property as opposed to the amount of the sale. You can check this at the regional government’s online tax agency site using the cadastal reference number
Make sure you have seen the following documents:
- a paid-up receipt for the previous owner’s annual property tax (IBI). It is also wise to get a certificate from the town hall proving that there are no unpaid rates from previous years
- the Catastral certificate giving the exact boundaries and square metres of your land. The Cadastral record will be linked to the Land Register record by a cadastral reference which will be included in both. You should ensure that the property and land description contained in both records matches
- the licence of first occupancy or habitation certificate issued by the town hall. You will need this document to connect to electricity and water companies. Developers cannot force you to complete without this licence.
- receipt to prove all utility bills have been paid by the previous owner
- if applicable, a certificate signed by the President of the Community of Property Owners stating that there are no outstanding debts. You should be aware that if you later find that there are such debts outstanding, as the new owner, you assume the debts for the current and previous year (two years in total)
- as from 1st June 2013, all homes for sale or to let in Spain are required by law to have an energy efficiency certificate. If you are considering buying a property, the seller is obliged to show you this certificate
On completion, the public deed should reflect an accurate description of the property. It is advisable that you register the property in your name with the Land Registry as soon as possible to ensure full protection of your rights. The notary can even send advance notification to the Land Registry electronically once the public deed is signed.
Buying property in certain areas
If you are considering purchasing a coastal property you should contact the Coastal Demarcation office in your region to get a certificate to certify that the property is not affected by the 1988 Coastal Law. Bear in mind that while it is possible to view the coastal boundaries of the public maritime areas online on the Environment Ministry’s website, this may not provide sufficiently accurate information on which to base a property purchase.
Exercise extreme caution if the Land Registry record shows that the property you wish to buy is built on rural land. In normal circumstances this type of land is reserved for agricultural use and you would need to undertake additional checks with the municipal and regional authorities to ensure that full planning permission has been obtained for residential use.