Buying a property in the UK, as some friends of mine are finding, can be a nightmare.
First big hurdle is getting a mortgage. Gone are the days of 100% loan-to-value deals and lax income stipulations. Shaken to their boots by the credit crunch and its aftermath, banks nowadays are exceedingly loath to lend money, except under the most favorable of circumstances.
Assuming you can get finance, next challenge is to find somewhere to live within your budget. That is not always easy, since the shortage of suitable development space in the UK means there is insufficient construction to create the housing stock needed to meet demand.
After that comes the survey, a standard part of the process in Britain. So many times people think they have found just what they are looking for, only to have a property survey completed and discover it is suffering from rising damp or subsidence. Back to the drawing board.
Having found somewhere you like and can afford, there then comes the tortuous process of completing the sales chain.
Will the people buying your current home be able to complete the deal? Will they have problems with their mortgage arrangements, or be let down by buyers further down their chain? Will the house you want to buy remain available? Can the sellers make the move on to their new property?
There is no certainty in this chain, no pre-purchase contracts that tie people in to their part of the transaction and give some surety it will go through.
Instead, when you think all the ducks are in a row, oftentimes a higher bidder comes in for your target property and “gazumps” you – offering a better deal the seller cannot refuse. Time to start over …
Challenges of Buying Abroad
But if buying a property in your home country is so time-consuming, expensive and stressful – as our friends are experiencing – think what it is like trying to do it in another country.
There you are likely to face unfamiliar market conditions, uncertainty around how to arrange a mortgage or how they are calculated, what legal processes are necessary and the fees you will have to pay. To complicate matters further you may not even speak the language.
My wife and I faced all these challenges when buying our house in Spain.
Being recent migrants to the country meant we had no financial track record in the country, which made obtaining a mortgage difficult.
How banks calculated the mortgages they could offer was different to the process we were familiar with as well. We had to learn a whole new vocabulary just to figure out how things worked.
Once we eventually sorted the finance, taking possession of our house proved a nightmare too. It was a new build, so we watched with excitement as the builders, plumbers and carpenters swarmed over the site, putting it together day-by-day. But then the expected date of completion came … and went. And the due date for our first baby crept ever closer.
Finally, two months late, the house was completed and we could set the contract signing date. My wife, her first contractions starting to ramp up, was forced to waddle to the notary to sign over power of attorney to me, before I whisked her into hospital.
I stayed with her for the birth, and our first day as a family with our newborn baby, before dashing back to the notary’s office on the following morning. There I was guided through a lengthy legal contract, struggling to keep up with the notary’s explanations of the terms and conditions as he ran through them in Spanish. Then we all signed and the property was ours.
It is not an experience I am eager to repeat.
With money tight we tried to keep costs to a minimum, and so handled the various steps ourselves – trawling around the banks to find a mortgage, scouting the real estate agents in search of a property, foregoing a legal representative who could study the contract on our behalf.
Taking the Strain
We survived the process, but with a huge amount of stress. Much better, I now realize, to get an expert who knows the market intimately to take the strain.
So I was intrigued when I was contacted recently by a Spanish-based company called Shortcuts Property Search.
Their service is tailored to make both the searching for a property, and the actual buying process through to the signing of the escritura de compra/venta, as easy as possible. This is especially useful for people who don’t speak Spanish, and/or don’t have the time or money to make various trips to Spain before making up their minds.
Crucially, the service comes at no cost to the client either, as Shortcuts normally finds properties through agents who then pay it part of their commission. In situations where Shortcuts finds a property from a private seller the firm charges a 2% commission.
For the moment, Shortcuts Property Search only operates in Spain. But if you are buying property elsewhere in the world I would advise looking for a company that can provide a similar sort of service.
It will make the purchase process much easier and more enjoyable, saving you the stress and bitter aftertaste that can otherwise result. In the long run it will probably save you cash too, by helping you avoid all those ill-suited places, and instead finding you the best deal for your money.
Paul Allen is a freelance journalist and writer who moved to north-eastern Spain in 2003. He is the author of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The Truth About Moving Abroad And Whether It’s Right For You,” a comprehensive guide for anyone seeking advice on whether or not to move abroad. For more details about the book, and free information and advice on moving and living overseas, visit his website at http://www.expatliving101.com/.