A Realistic Approach

Chris Garwood offers his analysis of the market in his specialist area of Moraira in the Costa Blanca, and offers some advice on the difference between Spanish and British homes.

Three months on from my last report and we have moved on from the shorts 'n' t-shirt theme of November in Moraira at 25C. We have recently enjoyed our one week annual holiday, skiing in Andorra, a brisk six-hour drive from Moraira. Adjusting to the local property mind-set at the end of a hard week's skiing is no easy feat.

The property market in and around Moraira is entering into a rather difficult stage of its recovery. Local prices have clearly bounced off the bottom of the 2008/9 lows and, while the majority of the so-called distressed sales have been absorbed, there remain many excellent buying opportunities. The difficulty now is the emerging mismatch of expectations between aspiring buyers and sellers.

There seems to be no shortage of deluded souls who think they can buy in Costa Blanca north, at Costa Blanca south prices. Sadly this is unrealistic. Virtually every day we get hopeful enquiries from UK folk (and many other northern Europeans) seeking detached three-bedroom, two-bathroom villas with private pool, garage, sea view and walk to town and/or beach, for around €100,000 - 150,000. One would be very hard pressed to find this in Torrevieja, let alone in Moraira or Javea. A budget of at least double this would be more appropriate. I wonder just what kind of property €150,000 would buy in the UK.

Adding to this conundrum we now have local property sellers catching a whiff of solid recovery in the local market and thinking they can push for more ambitious prices. A key role of our local estate agency arm - SELECT Villas of Moraira -is to manage and guide the expectations of buyers and the sometimes over-optimistic aspirations of local sellers. At this stage of the market recovery, it is a major task for us to engender realistic and reasonable valuations and expectations to both sides of the property sale/purchase equation, without offending either party.

Many older properties, especially those built during the '70s, '80s and early '90s were built to supply the burgeoning demand for cheap holiday homes and were, therefore, often designed with very much smaller rooms than we are used to. In those years UK buyers were easily deceived as we were used to judging size in imperial terms on a room by room basis. Villa designs were quoted in metres squared and applied to the overall build size. Buyers only had basic floor plans, which are fine for an indication of layout, but many people found that they had bought miniature versions of the homes they had imagined. More recently, build size and proportion have grown steadily to match general EU rules, standards and expectations - as has the quality of build and specifications. I you're planning to visit Spain with a view to buying a property, measure and note down the size of all room measurements ( in feet and metres) of your UK  home and be sure to bring this, together with a tape measure, with you on your viewing visit. When looking at new or empty (unfurnished) properties, or drawings of off-plan proposals, you will be in a good position to compare room space and better judge proportions of room areas.

I would advise you to resist making judgments on Spanish properties on the basis of UK lifestyle and conventions. You should bear in mind that for eight or nine months of the year in Mediterranean Spain, our routine lifestyle is al fresco and the layout and proportion of our homes - in terms of inside space compared to outside - reflect this. This is often used to explain the reduced internal living space, and to a degree this is justifiable, but can sometimes be used to the extreme.

Many UK-based property buyers visiting Spain expect kitchen sizes to match those of the UK too, but most villas here have an outdoor summer kitchen or barbecue complex of varying size, complexity and extravagance, which duplicates the internal kitchen facilities. These are very much the favoured catering base for much of the year, and so the internal kitchen can afford to be smaller.

Spanish homes do not have attics or accessible loft space. They frequently have an area of underbuild - especially when built on a sloping hillside plot. This is an area beneath the lower or main level of accommodation accessed through a conventional door, often with ventilation and light provided by windows. Depending on the layout of the home and the contours of the land, this extra accommodation can amount to anything from a shed-sized store for garden furniture etc, to a series of full height rooms which are totally above ground, forming an independent guest apartment.

In the absence of an underbuild, I suggest adding an extra bedroom to your criteria for use specifically as storage. This will be particularly sensible if you plan to let out the property, as the extra room could be secured to store personal items, purely for you own use.

Many buyers specify a garage, but the reality is you probably don't need one. Private driveway parking is a good idea, and car port will provide shade from the heat but there is as much need to protect it from frost on an icy morning - I can't recall and incidence of either in nine years.

Back in our office in Moraira, we are missing the snowy views, but so grateful to be back in temperatures around 20C - not too bad for early February.

Author:  Chris Garwood – Partner, Estate Agents Moraira, Select Villas of Moraira