How to Avoid Investing in Illegal Spanish Property

Three Parts:Buying Land Appropriate to Build OnPurchasing the Land and Beginning ConstructionCompleting the Construction and Registration Process

A number of Britons and Germans found themselves the victims of numerous property scams in Spain. Many of these people invested their life savings into a retirement home only to have the home bulldozed to the ground because it was built illegally and realtors and builders duped the buyers. If you want to purchase property in Spain, consider taking an active role in determining whether the property was legally built with sound construction methods.

Part 1
Buying Land Appropriate to Build On

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    Hire a lawyer. Between the property scandals and the complex process of understanding Spanish property requirements, you should consider hiring an attorney that specializes in Spanish land law (urbanismo).
    • You can choose an attorney from your home country but be sure that they have experience working in Spain.
    • If your attorney is from the UK, check that they are registered with the Law Society in the UK and specialize in International Transactions.
    • If your attorney is based in Spain, ask the attorney to provide their registration number and check that they are registered and practising with the local bar association (Colegio de Abogados).[1]
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    Locate a reputable translator. Unless you are proficient in reading and speaking Spanish, you should locate a reputable translator that can assist you with phone conversations and the translation of documents into your native language.
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    Make your own inquiries about the land. Find out for yourself whether the land your are interested in purchasing is located in an area where building is permitted. You can determine the classification for the plot of land that you are interested in by requesting a Town Planning Certificate (Certificado Urbanistico) from the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento) where the property is located. Examine the certificate for the land’s classification which should be listed as one of the following:
    • Land for development (Suelo Urbano)
    • Green zones (Zonas verdes) where no building at all can take place.
    • Certain rural areas (Suelo Rústico) may allow construction and others, called suelo no urbanizable protegido prohibit construction.[2]
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    Examine closely “rustic” land plots classified as "No Urbanizable." Rustic land plots are land that has not been urbanized. If a rustic land plot is classified as "No Urbanizable," you may be able to build on it if certain requirements are met or you may be completely restricted from building on the land.
    • Under some circumstances, property with a minimum plot size of 10,000m2 may be built upon. However, the rules vary by region.[3]
    • You may be able to build if the property already had a building.
    • You may also be able to build on the property if you plan to make your living from agriculture.[4]
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    Determine any limitations on building. In order to determine whether you can build on rural land, check with the town’s legal authority, the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento) where the land is registered. Have them set forth the specifications, requirements and limitations on building.[5]
    • Ask whether there are encumbrances attached to the plot. For example, it is possible that a path crosses your land which would render the plot out-of-bounds for development.
    • Check the Property Registry as to whether the land you want to buy is free of mortgages or other financial debts.
    • Ask your lawyer to inspect the Town Plan and the partial plan (if you are buying a plot located within an urbanization zone). This should identify any developments planned for the area where your land is located and to ensure that the urbanization is registered and legal.
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    Determine whether it is feasible to have electricity and water at the property. If you are purchasing a rural property, the Town Hall is under no obligation to provide you a connection to water and electricity. Before moving forward on purchasing a property you should:
    • Have a meeting with the architects or the construction technical staff from the Building Department (Departamento o Concejalía de Urbanismo) from the Town Hall.
    • Bring your attorney and a construction specialist to this meeting.
    • Have your experts examine the Town Plan (Plan General de Ordenación Urbana (PGOU)).
    • Ask the staff from the Building Department if there is any future construction planned in the area and whether that construction will have any impact on your land.
    • Determine the expenses of bringing water and electricity to your property and any restrictions you may face in doing so.[6]

Part 2
Purchasing the Land and Beginning Construction

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    Request a Land Registry Extract. Spain set up a website to assist non-Spanish purchasers of real estate to assess Spanish property. The website and extract will provide you with the following information:
    • The status of property ownership and any debts or constraints on the property.
    • The location and description of the land.
    • The classification of the land and buildings.
    • A description of any buildings on the property.
    • How the property was purchased and by whom.
    • Whether the purchase was registered as a public deed.
    • Tax information.
    • Mortgage information, including the name of the bank that holds the mortgage.
    • Any foreclosure proceedings.
    • The information is provided in Spanish and can be translated to English for a fee.[7]
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    Check the Extract information against the seller’s information. Before moving forward with the purchase, check to make sure that:
    • The seller’s information matches the registered owners of the property.
    • The property description in the sales contract matches the information from the Land Registry Extract
    • Make sure that there are no debts or charges, such as a mortgage, on the property.
    • Make sure that there are no legal proceedings initiated against the property.[8]
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    Move forward with the purchase of the property. If you are purchasing rural property as opposed to a house in an urban district, you should take the following steps:
    • If you are purchasing land from a developer who is also going to build the property, check that they are registered with the Spanish Mercantile Registry and that the property is registered to them. You can check this at:
    • If you are purchasing property on the coast, check that your builder has an authorization from the Coast department, which provides that the authorities must restrict building within a certain distance from the coast.
    • If you are purchasing property in urbanized Spain, check the Partial Plan (Plan Parcial). This is the plan of building plots, which must be approved by the urbanism department (town planning department) of the Town Hall where the plots are recorded. This plan shows you whether the urbanization is legal and that there are no other developments planned nearby that could affect your new property.
    • If you are purchasing second-hand or resale property, make sure the property is free of charges, that there is mortgage or that the payments are up to date and that here are no other restrictions on use, or court orders for seizure.
    • Obtain a copy of the Cadastral certificate that sets forth the boundaries of your property.
    • Sign a sales contract before a notary.[9]
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    Retain an architect. It is important that you hire an architect that works in Spain. The architect will take your building concept and make sure that it meets all of the requirements of the Town Hall.
    • The architect will present your building plans to your Town Hall in the Building Department (“Departamento de Urbanismo” or “Concejalía de Urbanismo”).
    • You must also seek a building permit when you submit your architectural plans and pay a municipal tax.
    • The Town Hall will study your plans and if it meets with all of the regulations you will be issued a building permit.[10]
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    Find a reliable builder. Once your buildings plans are approved you need to locate a reputable builder who will follow the plans of the architect.
    • Check if the builder is registered with the Spanish Mercantile Registry located at:
    • Check that the builder has insurance covering damage to the property.[11]
    • Purchase Spanish Ten Years Insurance (or “Seguro Decenal”). This insurance states that the builder or developer and architect must guarantee that the construction will be secure at least for ten years.[12]
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    Draft a building contract. The building contract is very important and you should have your attorney draft the contract. This contract should include:
    • The full name and CIF number of the builder.
    • A guarantee that the construction was made from the plans and building description (memoria de calidades) provided by the architect.
    • Specify any extras such as a pool or garage are included in the price.
    • The start and completion dates as well as penalty clauses for late completion.
    • Payment terms.
    • That the certificates from the architect, electricians and the Town Hall will be given to you by your last payment.
    • An explanation of any taxes.
    • A guarantee that the builder will organize the final steps of the process regarding documentation. This may include application for and collection of the Certificate of Final Works License (Certificado Final de Obras), the Declaration of New Building, the Horizontal Division (Declaración de Obra Nueva o de División Horizontal), and the Certificate of Habitation Licence (Cédula de Habitabilidad).
    • A guarantee from the builder that by your last payment the will have connected the water and the electricity.[13]

Part 3
Completing the Construction and Registration Process

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    Complete property registrations. Once the house is built you must contract the architect and complete a number of other registrations to insure the legality of your new property.
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    Have the architect confirm the completion of the work. Your architect must visit the construction site and inspect that the finished work matches his or her plans and the building license. The architect will then complete a Final Works License (Licencia o Certificado Final de Obra) stating that the work is complete.[14]
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    Get a ew work declaration (declaración de obra nueva). Once the project is complete, you need to go to a Spanish notary and have him or her prepare the new property deeds. You must bring your Certificate of Habitation Licence (Cédula de Habitabilidad) to complete the transaction. The notary will register your land in the Land Registry so long as you present the following documents:
    • The building project from your architect.
    • The building permit.
    • The final works license.
    • New Building Declaration.[15]
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    Perform an in-depth inspection of your new property before moving in. When inspecting your property, make sure that the building meets the specification and that any minor defects (such as faulty light switches or missing door handles) are identified.
    • Communicate faults to your builder or agent who is then obliged to carry out the repair work.
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    Obtain a certificate of occupancy. Once all of the paperwork is complete and you have registered your deeds, be sure that you obtain a certificate of occupancy from the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento). This is an administrative document that permits you to inhabit your new dwelling.


  • Before buying, speak to others who have bought properties in the area on web forums and chat rooms if not in person.
  • Experts advise that you should visit a property 5 times before buying, preferably at different times of the day and during different seasons during the year
  • Always consult a good lawyer who speaks your language before signing a contract or turning over any money.
  • Spanish law provides a time limit of 2 years to claim for construction defects from the date on which the defect was apparent and known to the proprietor, provided that the defect arose during the guarantee period described above. However, check your contract for any clause that changes this provision.


  • Be wary of any authority that grants you licenses but does not want you to have the paperwork reviewed by an attorney.
  • There are potentially thousands of houses in Spain that were illegally constructed. While the Spanish government is trying to safeguard against unscrupulous real estate practices, you should be aware of the potential for fraud.

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Categories: Real Estate