In this episode, we chat with John from London who, with his wife, bought an apartment in Barcelona, Spain to escape the cold, rainy weather and pollution in London. Listen in to hear about his experiences with his agent, Urbane Barcelona, how much the warm weather and clean air has helped his health, and what he loves most about the city.
- How John’s agent guided him and his wife to their ideal vacation home [4:25]
- On the nuances of acquiring electric service in Spain [6:27]
- How John benefitted from paying a fee to receive legal guidance from his agent [7:38]
- How John would do the process differently if he were to do it again [12:22]
- John’s advice for other buyers of Spanish property [13:06]
- How living in Barcelona has helped to relieve John’s asthma [14:07]
- John’s thoughts on the recent ISIS attacks and political issues in Catalonia [15:11]
- What John loves the most about Barcelona [17:35]
Welcome to the Kyero.com Spanish Property podcast where we interview real people who recently purchased a home in Spain.
They tell us what worked, what didn’t and what they’d do differently next time.
I’m Beth Davison and today I’m speaking with John, originally from London, who purchased an apartment in Barcelona.
Just wait until you hear about how much of a difference the city sunshine has made to John’s health, along with some useful tips about Spanish electricity meters, which I had no idea about.
John worked with estate agent Urbane Barcelona to find his dream home in Spain.
Check out the show notes at kyero.com/podcast to find links and resources mentioned in this episode
Body of Interview:
Beth: Would you mind just introducing yourself and telling me what you do, and the type of property you’ve bought.
John: Right, basically I'm a seventy year old retired accountant who is slightly asthmatic and who was looking for somewhere in the sunshine to make sure that when the weather got appalling in the UK, I had somewhere to go that was warm and comfortable and pleasant.
I was with Price Waterhouse, as it then was, most of thirty-two years, and we have a very nice house in the country and a flat in the centre of London.
London air pollution gets somewhat alarming at times, whereas the country is very nice. It gets rather cold in the winter, and indeed it's about minus five this weekend, coming, I gather. So, we were looking for somewhere in the sunshine and wanted something that would be capable of looking after itself when we're not there - sometimes known as a lock-up-and-go.
We're beyond the stage now, myself and my partner, where we need a swimming pool and to be miles out of town. We were looking for something in a civilised town or city where there were restaurants within walking distance, and where there was a good cultural background as well.
Beth: Great! Where did you end up?
John: Well, we started looking, in fact, in Southern Spain, Marbella, and that sort of area, and all along that coast. We didn't like it at all. So what we, instead, did was to think carefully about what mattered to us most and, for us, what mattered was being able to get there easily – i.e. good air links.
We wanted a civilised city which is used to a degree of international atmosphere. We wanted somewhere where the food was good. We wanted somewhere where people do occasionally speak some English, because our Spanish isn't brilliant, yet, and we chose Barcelona.
We looked at the city and we know that, since we decided to go there, there'd been some notoriety, which we can, by all means, speak about but we’re not terribly worried about. Barcelona is a very international city. It's of a size which is accessible, and pleasant, and you can walk across most of the city centre very easily.
It's cosmopolitan. It’s got culture. It’s got very good food. It's close to the sea. We've got grandchildren, so getting to the beach is quite useful for them. So, we decided Barcelona was probably the sort of place we wanted to go to.
John: So we went down there two or three times, met an agent that we liked immensely, and we eventually found, in the older part of Barcelona (near the gothic quarter but not actually in the gothic quarter), a first floor flat, piano nobile, with high ceilings, and three bedrooms. It was a newly converted old building where they were converting the whole building.
That matters because what you don't want is to convert your own flat and then still be living in a building that is falling down.
Beth: Yeah, of course.
John: So it was a rebuild job, which caused some complications in that you're paying money out to a developer and you're not sure whether they're going to finish the job, but they did, and they did it well.
So we have a first floor flat in a very pleasant area of Barcelona that's coming up in the world, which is surrounded by pleasant small shops and good restaurants.
Beth: Incredible! Well it sounds like it's been a really great, positive experience for you. How did it all first start? Did you go onto kyero.com, and how did that whole part of the process start initially?
John: We went onto a number of the websites to sort of see what sort of things were available in Barcelona, and found something that we thought we would like, and went down to see it with the agent that actually had this particular property on its books, and then when we saw it we didn't like it, but the particular agent was extremely good.
When we explained what we were looking for, despite saying that we needed X, Y, and Z - actually, we said that we probably wanted a top floor flat, they interpreted that sensibly and said, “Well, do you really need a top floor flat?”
Anyway, they started to show us different things all over Barcelona, and by watching our reactions, they noted what we were really were interested in, and eventually showed us something that we immediately said, “Well, this is it, we like this. It's got a very nice feel to it, it's in a nice area, we like the area, and yes, I think we're going to do this.”
Beth: Great, and how long has it been since you closed on the property? How long has it been now?
John: We first went down to Barcelona, I think, in May of last year. We then went down again at the end of June / beginning of July, and then we signed up during August. We went back in November for the second payment to the developer to see that progress was being made.
The developer was supposed to pass the property across to us at the end of February but, in fact it was in the middle of April before they completed, which didn't particularly surprise us. I mean, developers are notorious for being slightly longer than they expect.
Beth: Yeah of course, and it's a big undertaking.
John: But it wasn’t out of the way, and a couple months delay, but it was vaguely irritating at the time. The major difficulty, in fact, was not the developer. In the end, the major difficulty was getting the electricity switched on.
There are some quaint Spanish customs to deal with in getting the electricity meter, which basically means you've got to prove title in the property before you can get issued a meter. That's a legal process which takes quite a long time because you've got to register your title with the registrar of land in Spain. Until that's done, you can be the legal owner, still, for weeks in advance of that, but until your title is registered on the Spanish registry, you can't get an electricity meter.
Beth: Interesting. So, that's something I would know nothing about. Did you know this going in?
John: No, we didn't. The agent did say that it will take longer than the lawyers are telling you. She was right, and the lawyers, who said it was “a formality,” were wrong. So, that is a pitfall that you couldn’t be aware of. Obviously, it only applies, really... or more applies to a new property. With an existing property, I guess, the electricity is probably left switched on, and it's probably easier, but a new property is much more difficult.
Beth: So, how did you get around these kinds of hurdles? What kind of things made it easier for you?
John: The agent was outstandingly good. The really interesting thing about the agent was that they not only introduced us to the property, but also then said (for a small sum) they would handle the transition, and hold our hands during the legal processes, and the process of taking over the property.
That was money totally well spent because, you know, you're dealing sometimes with a foreign language, you've got different law, you've got different customs, you've got different issues that are going to emerge, which you don't even know about and anticipate, because it's completely different to your home experience.
The agent held our hands throughout that. Indeed this particular agent, now, offers a service of managing properties once you have bought, as well. So, we've continued with this particular agent who now manages the property for us, and makes sure that it's looked after, and makes sure the cleaners go in, and that sort of thing.
Beth: Yeah, fantastic, because how often are you visiting?
John: We don't really have a plan yet. We're experimenting to see what works and what doesn't. We're going down, in fact, tomorrow with some friends because the Christmas markets start in Barcelona, and we just thought that might be quite fun.
Beth: Oh yeah, that'll be great!
John: The story is that New Year is quite exciting in Barcelona, so we're going down in New Year. I was down about three weeks ago, at the beginning of November, with another friend and we had lunch at an outside restaurant, on the beach, every day, in early November, and it was twenty-two degrees.
John: So we're just experimenting and learning when we want to go, and how we go, and how we use it. We don't know yet, to be quite honest. A lot depends on how bad November and February are in England, I think.
Beth: Well yeah, absolutely, fair enough. So when you went in to first talk with your agent, did you have a budget in mind?
John: We did, but, actually, in the end we spent a lot less than we expected. We had a budget in mind; we weren't sure what we could get for that. We looked on the internet to see what was available at that sort of price range.
Beth: Do you mind me asking what it was?
John: We thought we would go up to about seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds sterling.
John: In the end we spent five hundred thousand Euros. So, that was considerably less. Obviously, the exchange rate moved around a lot. We originally thought that we would simply be cash purchase because of the problems with the developer. Actually, in the end, because of the volatility in the currency we eventually decided to take a small mortgage out on the place, so that we've got some exposure to the Euro and that hedges the investment.
So in effect, we've paid three hundred thousand pounds sterling, and the balance is a relatively long term mortgage, which was totally easy to arrange. It was arranged through the lawyers. They arranged it all. We went to see the local Spanish bank, Sabadell, and we got a mortgage terribly easily. Actually, we got a mortgage that we wouldn't get in the UK. It's a twenty year mortgage, which is almost unheard of in the UK.
Beth: So you mentioned the difficulties of the language barriers, and the different taxes, and the different legality in Spain. Then, on top of that, you've got mortgages which are different there. Where did you do your research for all of this kind of stuff? Or was it the agent who provided you with all the information you needed?
John: We didn't do any major research online or anything. The agents were totally helpful. They introduced us to lawyers who are English speaking, and very good. The lawyers, then, introduced us to a bank manager, who spoke good English.
It was really just a question of being patient and trying to make sure you understood because even if you are dealing with somebody who does speak English, as you know, translation is not a science, it's an art. It was perfectly possible to misunderstand even though somebody was speaking in really very good English, and certainly much better than my Spanish. So, one just has to keep one’s wits about you. It's perfectly possible to misunderstand very easily, despite the fact that you're both trying to use English.
Beth: Yeah, of course. I bet.
John: The lawyers are very good as well. There are good lawyers in Barcelona, partly because it's a big international business centre as well. The legal profession is pretty well developed. Whereas, I've had the experience in France, and that was much more of a nightmare, frankly. Dealing with the legal profession in France is a nightmare.
Beth: Well that's interesting. Why so?
John: Well, it's a highly protected profession in France. Most of the firms are very small. Most of the legal processes are still Napoleonic. It's just... it's awful, absolutely awful, and it's incredibly expensive.
Beth: Interesting, I never knew that. Okay.
Now if you were going to do it all again, my next question is, would you do anything differently?
John: I'd have to say we wouldn't. We've been terribly pleased about the way everything has gone, and we've had minor obstacles along the way: not understanding what... getting the electricity meter installed ‘very quickly’ actually meant... because in Spain, “very quickly” doesn't mean very quickly.
But no, there's nothing that we've done that we would do differently, and we're terribly pleased with what we bought. It's a very nice flat and we're settling into it well. We've finished it locally and enjoying it immensely.
Beth: Great, and if you were going to give advice to family and friends who are going to be doing the same thing as you... You've already given some great tidbits of advice, but what do you think would be at the top of that list?
John: Find an agent that you trust. Use your intuition as to who is reliable, and who is trustworthy and who is not. Don't be too high bound on what you think you want because when you go with a clear idea of what you think you want, you then ignore what actually may be better for you than you think you want.
I mean we went thinking that we wanted a top floor flat, and then when we realised that, mostly, in Barcelona, if you've got a top floor flat, what you've got a view of is other people’s washing because, by and large, washing is on the top floor, which is communal; and then realised that being low down was actually much more interesting and pleasanter and, as one gets older, possibly even better though there is a lift in this particular place we’re in.
So, keep an open mind about what you think you need and want because it can vary depending on what's around and what's available. You may find something you didn't expect to like, that you like much more than something that you thought you would like.
Beth: Yeah, fantastic.
You mentioned your health and asthma, have you found that it's better over there?
John: It is better. I know that Barcelona can have some days of pollution as well, but because of the sea, and because of the sunshine – the sunshine stops my asthma immediately, and the sea air is also very good for it, so no, we're finding the atmosphere is very good. In London, particularly in summer, it has been awful.
Beth: Absolutely, I'm a fellow asthmatic that used to live in London, so I fully sympathise.
John: I mean I quite wonder how the London environment can get away with it is beyond me, but anyhow.
Barcelona is, we found, very good. Even if, on a day that has heavy clouds and there are some problems, you can easily drive up into the hills which are close behind or further down the coast and get away from it. The train service down the coast of Catalonia is very good.
We're experimenting and learning how to live there and it's a great city there – a very, very nice city.
Beth: Yeah, no, it's fantastic.
My parents actually have a place in Catalonia as well, I just love it, but it has been on the news a lot lately. You mentioned that early on. Has that fazed you at all?
John: No. Well, with the Isis attack, frankly, any city in the world is capable of being attacked, isn’t it, by Isis? We sought to take the view towards the fact that it's been done means it's sort of exempt for the future and the places that haven't been done are the ones that you should worry about.
I was working in London when the IRA was bombing us and it was a matter of honour that you ignore it and get on with your life. You can't worry about it all the time. So that hasn't fazed us in the slightest. It was distressing and depressing, and one feels for the people involved, but that hasn't put us off at all, it's part of city living.
The recent election issues are interesting. One talks to the people in Barcelona and only forty per cent of the population of Barcelona speaks Catalan. The general view is that, when this next election occurs, that the probability is that the people who want to remain in Spain will win.
The government obviously mishandled the situation from Madrid and went in too heavy handed and should have just allowed them to have their election and say, “Well, it's irreverent because it was illegal.”
Beth: It is a fascinating culture. They have such a kind of independence, Catalan in general, I always find it really fascinating.
Do you enjoy that part of the culture and that part or the kind of politics?
John: Yes, because it's individual, isn’t it? It is, as you say, a cultural thing and it is different. Their food is different, they're beginning, because of the climate change, to become great viticulturists, and they're producing some fantastic wines that weren’t even heard of five or ten years ago.
So, that's really interesting, and the fact that the background is different. When you start, and explore the history, that's really fascinating. So that was part of the choice, really, is the culture is strong, and we didn't want to sit in a concrete jungle.
Beth: Yeah, absolutely.
My last question is, what do you love most about the city that you've bought in?
John: I suppose the thing that comes immediately to mind is (this is going to sound like a musical) the street where we live. It's a very narrow street with trees going along the side, and it sort of reminds you of what Paris was like fifty years ago, and it's got a lot of very small shops.
So where we are, there are no chains of retailers. There are small local shops. There are local bakeries. There are local cheese shops. There are local shoe shops. There’s a Chinese hardware shop.
So, there’s the street, itself, which is small and slightly romantic. There are the shops which are delightful and it's like going back thirty, forty years. I hope that survives the gentrification that, to a certain extent, is going on.
There’s the food, which is very different, and absolutely wonderful, because they experiment. There's a lot of fusion cooking going on with some influences from the Islamic culture, and some small influence from France, but it's mainly Spanish derivative, and Mediterranean derivative.
Incidentally, one of the reasons we left France is we got “pig sick” of French cooking. It may be true that if you go to a Michelin star restaurant, in Paris, you get very good food, but in the smaller towns in France, you get dreadful food.
Beth: Right, OK.
John: The markets in France can be wonderful but they're even better in Spain where the climate is even warmer. Cooking in France is appalling. It's stuck in a “fifty years ago” tradition. You can't get a decent salad, and you can't get decent vegetables.
The cooking in Barcelona is wonderful. The produce in the markets is wonderful. There's great fish. There are great fruits and vegetables. There is great cheese. There is fantastic wine and fantastic bread. I mean, what more do you want?
Beth: Sounds like that is everything one would need.
Well listen, that is great! Thank you so much for chatting to me today.
Thank you for listening and thanks to John for sharing his experiences and to Urbane Barcelona for their help to make this episode possible
I particularly liked how much John benefited from the viewings as he completely changed his mind about the top floor apartment, and, of course, the good news that some sunshine has really helped his asthma.
You can search this agent’s properties and more on Kyero.com
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Tune in next week when I speak with Jill and Ray from Stalybridge in Cheshire.
They purchased a 3 bedroom Townhouse at La Fuente Commercial Centre, Alicante, and they say that bravery is key. I can’t wait to tell you all about how their experience has lead to a whole host of new international friends.
I’m Beth Davison and you’ve been listening to the Kyero.com Spanish property podcast. I’ll see you next week!