Beware of buying abroad

Pat near the road

What do you do when you wake up one morning to find workmen measuring up what you thought was your land, in order to implement a new road that you know nothing about? Not any old road but, as you slowly discover, a major highway traversing through the local rural landscape linking up the cities of Cádiz and Barcelona. And when you bought the land with your property, you had absolutely no word from the sellers and solicitors that this was on
the cards. Even though the land that you thought was had been expropriated by the
Ministerio de Fomento, Transportes y Medio Ambiente some 11 years ago.

This is what happened to one unwitting housebuyer who has since experienced distress and devastation as a result of not being aware of the pitfalls of buying property in Spain. PatriciaMiddleton bought what she thought was her Spanish dream home in 2005. Like many others, the high costs of living and bad weather in the UK propelled her to buy a rustic casita with 6,000 square metres of land in an inland part of the Valencia province.

She chose a major overseas property agent that specialises in inspection tours for UK residents to assist her in her purchase. After a cheap whirlwind tour of Spanish properties,
she finally found the object of her desire in the Vall d’Albaida, a rural haven dominated by orange and olive groves near the major towns of Ontinyent and Xàtiva.

From England, the sale was negotiated until it was time to come to Spain to sign the escritura. Pat remembers that, before signing, she expressly asked the solicitors and the vendors –who were also English and returning to the UK– if there were plans to build on the property, being aware of the many horrendous Valencian and grab stories. She was assured that, no, there were no plans. She trusted that the solicitors had done a search, which they had. The road was not mentioned in her deeds despite being present on the vendors’ when they bought the property two years earlier.

Relieved, but what she also didn’t realise was that her solicitors were also acting on the behalf of vendors - until it was too late.

“Everything had been organised by the property specialists; the setting up of my Spanish bank account, my NIE number, my mortgage and my solicitors,”explains Pat. “What I thought was time-saving expert guidance from a well-respected organisation turned out to be the beginning of a nightmare.”

Rural peace shattered

For 10 months Pat lived quite happily in her new home surrounded by land peppered with olive, cherry, walnut and almond trees. Then, without warning, in September last year, it became evident that things were not right. Surveyors started walking across her picturesque
olive grove sticking poles with flags on a large section. Her Spanish not being that fluent, she asked what was going on, but the full realisation hit home when her English neighbours informed her that a new road was being built, part of the major trunk road, the N-340. The plans had been on the cards for some years, long before she signed the escritura.It meant she had paid for land she thought was hers, but which had been sold by a previous owner.

The next thing that happened was the sudden appearance of diggers that not only caused devastation of 2,000 square meters of her olive grove, but which also ripped a huge chunk of her vista of peach groves and countryside, affecting neighbours all across the polígono

When she visited the ayuntamiento she was told to attend a meeting where she would receive some compensation, which worke out at a payment of a paltry 1.50 euros a square metre for
an extra expropriation of the original land. Not that she has received any of this due to her solicitor’s lack of cooperation in the matter. Her response to her dilemma was “I am sorry to inform you that the land you see from your property is not included on your deeds as being within the piece of land that you bought. The construction of the road is legal and there is nothing you can do about it.” They signed the letter, “Have a nice weekend!”

They had promised to assist her in getting compensation,but have adopted the age-old avoidance practice of not answering the phone and not responding to emails.

Pat then went to her local land registry office to discover the full extent of what wasn’t her land, which is still unresolved as the Ministry wants to expropriate more and can legally do sowhether she wants them to or not. More residents find out first-hand about thepitfalls of buying property in Spain Meanwhile, as she tried to piece together what was happening, she was powerless to stop the onslaught of diggers and workmen who tore up the olive grove
ust feet from her house where big mounds of earth have stood piled up since September. The work has come to an apparent standstill since December leaving her surrounded by mud and dirt, and the foundations for a road which

is approximately 200 metres wide. The access to her house via a little lane has turned into a rough mud-track. When it rains vehicles cannot cross it as it turns into a quagmire. When it is sunny, the dust pervades everywhere, seeping into her house where everything has to be cleaned at least three times a day. The whole area that has been excavated now splits her land in two and resembles a barren landscape reminiscent of a sci-fi film.

Workmanlike behaviour?

Pat's neighbour, Ian, is also unhappy at the devastation. Even though his land was unaffected, the consequences have altered the quality of his home. At the front of his house, 50 trees,
which provided a shelter from the elements, have been ripped down by unscrupulous workmen who have taken away hundreds of mature olive trees, stones and topsoil, all of which fetch them a good price on the open market. It is hard for residents to know whether the removal of any trees has been necessary, especially as the workmen are evasive about the truth. It is also hard to differentiate whether the subsequent hordes of people that maraud the area are genuine workmen or not, as workmen do not wear hard hats or a uniform. A series of petty
thefts and vandalism have occurred as now the way is open to all, including the noisy gathering of Sunday quad-bike riders, pleased at their new ‘motocross circuit’.

Ian was told initially by workmen that on the site near his house, which stands about 500 metres up an incline from Pat’s, they were laying out water mains. They also told him that none of the trees near his property would be cut. Now his home is also open to the elements of the scorching summer sun and searing cold winds in winter. Dust also pervades his life on a daily basis.

Pat is understandably angry at how she has been deceived. What made the situation worse was that her daughter’s much-loved pet dog, who had died earlier in the year and buried
in the grounds, was almost dug up by the diggers and was just exhumed for a decent reburial in the nick of time, which added to her distress.

The road forward

Despite this, Pat still loves the property.“I still have enough land enjoy, although the new road has severed what was the most picturesque and established piece of land.”

She did try to rent it out and sell it, without success, but has fallen in love with it again despite the road.

“Maybe once the road is finished, things will be better. It may add value to the property by improving infrastructure of the area. It’s just a question now of when it will be finished. It could be like this for months or years.”

She is seeking further legal advice to seek some sort of redress, and has approached the
ayuntamiento for a detailed programme of works so she knows what to expect and when to expect it now that the excavation has ceased. The actual building and tarmacking of a new road will mean a makeshift site with diggers, workmen, noise, and a possible disruption of access to the property.

Pat says " Obviously if I knew that a whacking great road was going to be built I wouldn’t have bought it. In hindsight I would have done things differently and I would advise anyone buying a property in Spain to be aware that they should do their own searches. I quietly curse the solilicitor who was representing both parties. I would also advise against going on an inspection tour. If you are in the UK and want to buy a house abroad, come over on your own for at least a month and do your own house-hunting. Do your homework and get a reputable
solicitor.”

Ian, meanwhile would like the local Spanish town halls to treat residents, particularly

foreigners, with more respect. He says, “We are in the European Union, where there are laws against this sort of thing, but at every level the Valencian regional law goes against it. We as Europeans, who reside in Spain, invest in the country and help the community to have more facilities and services by being on the padrón and therefore we have a right to be informed
about what goes on in our neighbourhood.”



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