British buyers who were left in the lurch after their builder failed to construct the homes they paid for more than five years ago have won a landmark victory in the courts.
The judge in the First Instance Court in Hellín, Albacete, found in favour of 47 members of the Finca Parcs Action Group.
Group coordinator Keith Rule said they were ‘elated’ at the decision. He noted: “It has been a very stressful process and we have endured many years of struggle and effort to defend our rights.”
The court ordered both defendants, the developer Cleyton GES SL and bank Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo (CAM), to return the off-plan deposits totalling almost 1.5 million euros for houses that were never built at the abandoned Las Higuericas, Finca Parcs development close to Agramón, Albacete.
They also have to pay interest and costs, but have leave to appeal the ruling.
The judge declared the 55 sales contracts terminated due to “serious breaches” by the developer, in particular “the long and indefinite delay in delivery of the properties, the failure to obtain the first occupation licences and the lack of bank guarantees for deposits paid by the buyers”.
A spate of stories in the British press suggesting a third of expats are desperate to move home appear to be wide of the mark.
A number of newspapers and an ITN documentary have claimed over the last week that hundreds of thousands are throwing in the towel, tired of mounting financial difficulties.
While bank repossessions are up and some have the feeling of being trapped by an inability to sell homes, it is easy to understand why some may want to jump ship.
What’s more, it is statistically true that last year the number of immigrants leaving Spain outnumbered those arriving for the first time in a decade.
But, according to the National Institute for Statistics, the majority leaving were Latin American and Eastern European.
And many locals are far from convinced that there is such a British exodus.
Aside from celebrated Driving Over Lemons writer Chris Stewart (see article here), in a straw poll of calls made last night to expats on the Costa del Sol, nobody could believe that figure.
“I would be amazed if it is even near 10 per cent,” said Paul O’Connell, who has lived in Mijas for over a decade.
“I am talking to loads of people every day and practically no-one says they are desperate to go.”
Estepona-based Keith Lippingwell confirmed that while some people he knew had gone back, a similar number had moved over.
Estate agent Adam Neale, from Terra Meridiana, meanwhile, insisted that it is ‘absolute rubbish’ and the figure was probably ‘less than five per cent’.
Marketing executive Charles Bamber, based in Torre del Mar, agreed: “It’s a massive exaggeration. The majority of people I know are insisting on making it work and have no intentions of going back.”
The figures are backed up coincidentally by Paul Rodwell, the British Consul in Alicante, who told the Observer earlier this year: “There is no statistical evidence of people returning home. The vast majority of them are enjoying life. People do really pursue the dream and it’s admirable that they have that get up and go.”
Expat Jo Morrison exemplifies the case. Despite falling on hard times after a proposed gym business in Nerja failed when the crisis hit in 2008, she said: “Sometimes we’ve gone without food and I still can’t believe that I don’t have my house or any savings any more,” says the 49-year-old, who now works as a cleaner and rents a one-bedroom house in Frigiliana.
“But Spain is my home now. I’d rather sleep on the beach than go back to the UK.”
With it’s year round sun, lower cost of living and generally healthier lifestyle it comes as no surprise that British expats living in Spain are happier.
This is the finding of research carried out by Lloyds TSB International who asked over 1,000 British citizens in the 10 most popular expat destinations to rate their lives abroad based on factors including quality of life and cost of living.
Of those interviewed 68% said they were happier in their new country than they had been in Britain. Of those living in Spain 75.9% were happier.
What was a surprise though was that people were not necessarily happier in countries with higher quality of life or with better financial prospects. For example in New Zealand the survey showed residents rated their quality of life the highest yet the country ranked bottom for happiness, while in the UAE expats said they were better off but only ranked fourth for happiness.
John Kramer, a British expat who lives in Andalucia, is not surprised by the findings because its “outdoor lifestyle, traditional family values, and positive outlook on life” made it a very comfortable place to live.
Despite Spain’s economic problems, 71.3% of expats living there 80% agreed that the cost of living was lower – a higher percentage than in any other country. However, salaries are also lower in Spain so this is a bit of a red-herring.
Not everyone agreed though. With unemployment at 23% (probably more like 30%) jobs are in short supply and for those who do not speak Spanish finding work can be daunting and stressful. Finding work is hard enough for those that do speak Spanish so those who don’t should learn or they’ll find themselves at the bottom of the pile.
Sarah Drane, who used to live on the Costa del Sol but now runs a marketing company in Majorca, agreed that there are many positives to living in Spain but added that “if any expat says it’s paradise, they’re lying – it’s a front that we feel compelled to project.
“It is undoubtedly true that going to a land of sand and sun, a place of cheap wine and siestas, does put a smile on many a face, but living in Iberia is not without its problems. The bureaucracy is a nightmare, when it rains it pours, the property market is in the mire, and people get into real financial strife when they take their eyes off their ball.”
And my opinion, based on eight years on the coast:
the weather is great
the cost of living is low
salaries are low
the food is great
the banks are awful
not a single Spanish company has ever heard of “customer service” with the banking sector being particularly useless when it comes to dealing with complaints
quite a lot of police and government officials are corrupt – How many Spanish government officials are now doing time? How many more are currently going through the courts?
help is not forthcoming and tied up in a mire of paperwork
the health service is better than the NHS (quicker, more efficient, cheaper)
the road network is better – allowing for smoother traffic flow, less jams and shorter travel times
the winters are cold, wet and miserable (pretty similar to the UK but without the snow and ice)
Spanish drivers are a nightmare (not all of them!) – no idea at roundabouts and seemingly unaware of indicators and their purpose, no use of mirrors, no adherence to traffic laws, speed limits, parking restrictions etc
the property market is dying a slow, painful, public death
more people left Spain than arrived in 2011
So I think it’s generally better here but I still miss the UK. I miss family and friends, a system that works, customer service and career prospects – there aren’t many here – you’ll be lucky to get a permanent contract!
The question I have to ask myself is this – would I rather be poor in Spain or in England?
What happens when your holiday goes wrong? You lose your passport, you fall ill or get arrested, you’re alone in a foreign country which can be frightening but do not fret, help is at hand!
The British Embassy in Spain deals with a wide range of political, commercial, security and economic questions of interest to the UK and Spain and can also offer help to individuals.
The embassy in Malaga can offer help with many issues including:
issuing replacement passports
providing information about transferring funds
providing appropriate help if you have suffered rape or serious assault, are a victim of other crime, or are in hospital
helping people with mental illness
providing details of local lawyers, interpreters and doctors and funeral directors
doing all we properly can to contact you within 24 hours of being told that you have been detained
offering support and help in a range of other cases, such as child abductions, death of relatives overseas, missing people and kidnapping
contacting family or friends for you if you want
making special arrangements in cases of terrorism, civil disturbances or natural disasters.
Under UK law the embassy is able to charge for some services.
They are not, however, a fix-all agency. There are many things they cannot do which include:
getting you out of prison, preventing the local authorities from deporting you after your prison sentence, or interfere in criminal or civil court proceedings
help you enter a country, for example, if you do not have a visa or your passport is not valid, as we cannot interfere in another country’s immigration policy or procedures
give you legal advice, investigate crimes or carry out searches for missing people, although we can give you details of people who may be able to help you in these cases, such as English-speaking lawyers
get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people
pay any bills or give you money (in very exceptional circumstances we may lend you some money from public funds, which you will have to pay back)
make travel arrangements for you, or find you work or accommodation
make business arrangements on your behalf.
Conulate Contact Details
British Consul: Steve Jones
British Vice Consul: Rosslyn Crotty
The Property Investor Show & OPP Live took place in London last week, and was attended by many Spanish property developers and delegates, including Spanish housing secretary Beatriz Corredor who wanted to assure British buyers that they could trust the system and safely buy a Spanish property.
The minister talked about the decree to legalise existing properties and said this, combined with the 4% drop in new-property tax and falling house prices made Spanish property a safe investment.
Following a heated discussion with the minister, MEP Marta Andreasen claimed Spain’s secretary for housing ‘is in denial’ regarding the severity of the problems experienced by expats who have invested in the country.
UKIP’s Marta Andreasen MEP said: “I was quite upset that she refused to accept or mention the fact that were serious problems affecting Brits in Spain.
“She referred to new reforms that had supposedly made Spain a safe country in which to buy, but these reforms neither resolve the past nor the present problems.
“The British are among the highest proportion of foreign property purchasers, but the bad reputation Spain has earned itself has seen the level of interest in Spanish property plummet. This so-called ‘property roadshow’ was to address that with the aim of portraying that everything is fixed and the Brits can start spending their money again. How wrong this is.
“Regional governments pick fights with local governments, mayors and politicans take bribes, then get prosecuted for corruption – it really is difficult for any British person to trust anyone throughout the home buying process.
The Spanish minister made no mention of the thousands of people who had bought in good faith only to find out that their properties were built illegally and are therefore unsellable, as well as being cut off from local water and electricity supplies. Many property owners also face the prospect of their property being demolished, and in some cases the owners may even have to contribute financially to the demolition.
This was the second time this year that the minister had spoken to potential British investors in an attempt to revitalise British investment in Spain.