Is buying property in Spain different to in the UK or USA?

You have probably bought property in your home country so it is natural to assume that things are the same in Spain, they’re not.  Property buying is different in Spain compared to either UK or USA.  Here we will look at both the process and the potential pitfalls, forewarned is forearmed right!

I will chat you through everything.

Finding Property

It is very common for people to list their property with multiple agents.  The prices may vary too.  Agents also often share properties with other agents, both in a marketing sense and they can arrange viewings on other agents listed properties.  So if you find an agent that you like and trust, work with them as your primary or only agent.

There are many good property portals which list many properties from agents and direct with owners.  These include:

A Place in the Sun
Think Spain

If you prefer to get a list of properties which match your budget, are good value and reflect your tastes you might like to use a property finder.  Our offer for property finding can be found here

Securing the Property

Once you find a property that you love you need to make an offer and pay a deposit.   Offers are typically made at 10% below the asking price unless you are in an area with highly sought after property.  Offers are always a compromise, so bear in mind your initial offer may not get accepted.  For older properties or those that have been on the market a long time you can try a lower offer.

Once the seller has accepted your offer it is commonplace to pay a reserve deposit and sign a contract.  In most cases this deposit is non refundable so ask many questions first and be as certain as you can that this is the one for you.  Can you do paperwork checks first?  Yes you can but you risk someone else buying it before you.  Weigh up these risks and decide which is more important to you.


Do I need a lawyer to buy property in Spain

In theory no but in practice Yes.  You don’t have to use a lawyer for your purchase, a Spanish person probably wouldn’t but they know the process and the language.  I have seen many horror stories from people buying property without a lawyer and then finding out that the property has a huge debt secured on it, the land they thought was included isn’t and all sorts of other eventualities.  Remember an estate agent sells properties, they are not there to check and double check things are right for you, the buyer.

Expect to pay €1-2,000 for a lawyer.  They should check the paperwork, the contracts and advise you on what to do should things not go to plan.



Usually the estate agent will prepare the next, more formal contract after the reserve one.  This is the start of the formal purchase.  At this point you will be asked to pay a further deposit so that you have paid a total of 10% of the purchase price.  All parties must sign and all pages must be initialled.  Ensure that you know what you are signing before you do.

The formal paperwork checking now starts if it hasn’t already been done.  Dates will be set for completion/key handover and agreement made on what is being left at the property.




A purchase can be completed from reserve to key handover in 2 weeks, if all parties work together.  A more common timescale is 3 months but ask for it to suit your plans, there is no hard and fast rule.


There are a number of different layers of paperwork in addition to the purchase contract.  Each property should have:

1. An Escritura – which includes all buildings and the land.   Similar to deeds

2. Show up on the Cadastral and have a reference number.   This is the boundaries

3. Be registered with Land Registry.  Some older properties aren’t but can usually be registered.  This guarantees ownership and is also where formal debt would be registered.  So mortgages and any loans raised with the property as security

4. Licence of First Occupation or Certificate of Antiquity.   These confirm that the property is built to a decent standard and in accordance with local planning law.

5. AFO or DAFO  these are regularisation documents and certainly not appropropriate to all properties.  In many areas properties were built all over the place, on tiny plots, not connected to mains services or not in accordance with planning.  In the UK we have a saying that brown envelopes would have changed hands back in the day..  The AFO regularises an illegal property.

Purchase Contracts

Purchase contracts have a large amount of flexibility.  If you want to get the keys to renovate and only pay 50% now and the remainder in 6 months that could be done.  So think creatively, how could you change the cashflow or timeline to better suit you?  Remember to think about the implications for the seller too.  It must work for them too.



Culture and Attitude


In the UK and USA the lawyer acting for the buyer, possibly the estate agent too will have a duty of care to you.  They will be obligated to find out all possible problems and defects.  For instance neighbour disputes or plans to run a pipeline through nearby land.  Not so in Spain.  The attitude is more, lets get this job done, not necessarily to do it in the best possible way for you.

You can improve things by asking questions, especially of the lawyer.  In my experience it is rare for a lawyer to lie in writing, so if in any doubt get the lawyer to write it down.  You could email the question and the answer as you understand it and ask them to confirm, then you have your proof.  Spanish culture is direct so don’t be afraid of offending someone by asking a question.  This applies to English agents and lawyers as much to Spanish ones.


I will cover the money side, including how to transfer money, getting a bank account in Spain and mortgages in another article.


Got questions?  Please do use our contact form or email me on or WhatsApp +34 744 609630

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