August 24, 2016 No Comments

Rural, Resort Or Urban? In Spain There Is a Huge Difference

So you have decided Spain is definitely the country of choice, you have a solid plan in place to earn a living, or you receive a fixed sum such as a retirement pension every month and you have decided on the region where you want to move.

The Next Question Is Therefore a Big One – Rural, Resort Or Urban?

Even if you are sure about your choice regarding the town or resort where you want to live; before packing a few belongings and catching the first plane out for a property inspection trip, there are some factors you should consider that may not have previously been on your importance list.

Consider this:

In 2004, the Spanish property market was booming and prices steadily rising. An estimated 191,000 people relocated to Spain from the UK that year – but 105,000 British expats also returned to Britain the same year after failing to create an enjoyable life in their adopted country.

There are many reasons why a person may be unhappy after relocating abroad, and the best way to avoid falling victim to the same fate is to avoid one of the main cited pitfalls returning expats describe. Many return from Spain due to the inaccessibility – or in other words the sheer impracticality of their chosen location.

When moving to Spain, you need to choose the absolute best location to meet your practical needs on a day-to-day basis. Your new home needs to be well located for the families’ basic needs – children need to be able to travel to school easily, teens need to be in an area where they can hang out with their friends, and even the liveliest of adults need some peace and quiet at times – something that is not easy to find for several months on the trot if you are smack bang in the hub of a frenetic Spanish tourist resort.

You also need to be within easy travelling distance of a doctor, a chemist, and a small local shop or supermarket where you can buy necessities. You should have the peace of mind that emergency services would be able to find you easily if you are in the unfortunate position to have to call them. If you do not plan on driving when you live in Spain, you will additionally need easy access to one of the larger and better stocked supermarkets for your main grocery shop.

On top of this, you also need to consider the accessibility of your chosen location for friends and family from the UK to visit you. Even if you are locating because you want to be far away from them, you may be surprised that you actually miss them when you don’t see them on a daily basis! While Spain is only a few hours flight from the UK and hardly on the other side of the world, you will find it is important that you can travel easily between Spain and the UK once you make the transition.

The touristic resorts are usually served well by airport transfer companies, at least during the spring to autumn. This is a great help, because having to take a taxi due to late or early flight times, or because there is no public transport service to your town can become prohibitively expensive. Before deciding which town you should settle in, it is worth remembering inaccessibility and homesickness are two of the common reasons returning expats allude to when returning to the UK.

Assuming you have taken the aforementioned points into consideration and have an area that will suit you in mind, it is time to decide if you will buy a property in the centre of a town or opt for something a little more toward the outskirts, or rural.

Rural properties

Deciding where the house should be in their desired area isn’t something many people give a lot of thought to. These days around 90% of would-be expats start their property search online, and once they have found a property or several properties that interest them, they get in touch with the relevant estate agency or agencies, and book a flight to make an inspection trip.

This is not the optimal way to go about finding your ideal permanent home – it is too easy to become attached emotionally to a home because it has all the features you desire without considering the area.

You need to go about the process backwards – choosing the property should actually be one of the last steps in the process. It is of utmost importance you get to know the dynamics of an area before you buy.

Estate agents are contracted by the seller – their job is to sell you a property. Therefore an agent might “forget” to tell you some details about the surrounding neighbourhood, or more likely there will be issues they are not aware of having never lived in the house themselves. I know a British couple with three children (who were aged between 9 and 13 when they arrived in Spain) that bought an idyllic converted hillside farmhouse located about 15 minutes inland from the resort of Sitges near Barcelona. They thought it would be a wonderful location to bring up the children – and soo after moving in they rescued two large shelter dogs.

All was fine until any time it rained. Rain in Spain is not nearly as frequent as in the UK, but when it rains, it can REALLY RAIN HARD. The dirt track leading to their farmhouse would become completely inaccessible, and transform into a murky mud bath that rendered the families’ vehicles immobile, and left even moped riders stuck knee deep in mud if they tried to leave the property.

This caused occasional problems with the children attendance at school, and every day necessities had to be well stocked; in the event there was a downpour that could lead to the family being home-bound for up to 4 days until the mud dried out sufficiently for them to once again drive into town.

The stretch of track affected was too long for them to fix themselves and needless to say, the town hall dismissed their assistance plea with zero sympathy.

Furthermore, the mother, who worked from home, found herself continually interrupting her work to drive the children into town to meet with their friends or pursue out-of-school activities. That was on top of the four times a day school run – the local Spanish school broke for lunch at one and the children had to return for two hours at three.

Not surprisingly, all these hassles led to them deciding there was no option but to move. This was in 2010 when the bottom had completely fallen out of the property market, and if they had been lucky rough to find a buyer (which they weren’t) they would have received far less than they paid for the property two years previously.

Fortunately at this time, the cost to rent was also in free fall, and the family were able to find an affordable house with a small garden on the local bus route and within walking distance of most amenities in Sitges. The farmhouse was finally sold in 2014 for 160,000 euros – more than 92,000€ less than the price they paid. An expensive lesson, to be sure – and one that could have been at least partially avoided had they done a little research, talked to people who knew the area, and more importantly visited the property in winter during the less desirable weather conditions.

Apart from the often common issue there may only be a single dirt track to access the property, when looking at rural properties you need to consider if the house is connected to grid electricity and has a clean water supply. Having lived off-grid myself during a seven-year period I was amazed to find that a new neighbour after moving into a nearby property had no idea there was no mains electricity. I asked him how he intended to power his house and he looked at me as if I had was a sandwich short of a picnic. I informed him the reason a light came on when he pressed the switch was due to a small solar panel on the roof supplying a single battery, but currently he had no means to power his large fridge freezer, run a washing machine, install internet, watch TV or use any other of the numerous appliances we take for granted when living with mains electricity.

While living off-grid has many advantages including no monthly bills and you still have power during what can be frequent and prolonged power cuts in Spain (the prolonged part is rare, but it happens), it also has many downsides, and this sort of lifestyle is not desirable for most people who like to enjoy home comforts at their convenience!

The agent he purchased the property from hadn’t deemed the matter important enough to share the fact that the urbanisation was not connected to the mains – or indeed that the area had been declared a green zone just two years before and any sort of building work including building a small outhouse or putting up a garden shed was strictly prohibited. Although he was a local man, Carlos had simply assumed the house was connected to all utilities – don’t make this mistake!

Rural areas may also be the focus of future town hall or government plans to improve on or alter the infrastructure, so when buying a property you must be sure to find out (or ask a solicitor to do it on your behalf) if there are any development plans in the pipeline that may affect your chosen area. The last thing you need is to discover your back garden will be home to a new section of “autopista” in two years’ time.

Although one cannot say you live in a rural area your neighbours are going to be bonkers, experience tells me you are likely to find some oddballs in rural locations. Animal hoarders, squatters and recluses who do not welcome newcomers invading their peace and quiet and are all more than just a remote possibility when it comes to your new neighbours in very rural areas. And when I talk of very rural areas, I am speaking of locations just 15 minutes drive from the nearest resort town – they do not have to be miles from anywhere to be considered rural in Spain!

In rural locations, you are also likely to find a high percentage of homes are owned by Spanish people from the cities who use them for a tranquil holiday home. Therefore if you inspect a rural property in August you will possibly find the area fairly well populated, but this is very unlikely to be the case for 48 weeks of the year. You really have to think if you want to be on the side of a hill or mountain, with your nearest full-time neighbour located a kilometre away, also at the end of a difficult to access dirt track.

For women in particular this can be a lonely and somewhat worrying experience – especially if her partner or family have to travel to the UK or elsewhere for any length of time.

If you do decide to go rural, having at least basic knowledge of the language is a must. In an emergency you will have to call the emergency services yourself and explain your location and situation, as it is extremely likely there will be a neighbour on hand to help. Furthermore, even if there was, you would first have to explain the problem to your neighbour, and chances are high that your neighbours will not be from the UK or any other English-speaking country.

The positive side of moving to a rural area is the cost of property. In just about all provinces in Spain properties some kilometres from the sea are way lower in price than those in the resorts or cities. However, this is the case because of the reasons already discussed; you really do have to weigh up the pros and cons very carefully before purchasing a rural property.

The ideal situation would be to rent a house cheaply in the area to find out just what it is like living in rural Spain before you go ahead and buy.  However this is not always an option in remote areas, so be sure you do your homework, deal with a trusted agent, and speak to as many people as possible already living in the area before you put down a deposit.

Resort Properties

It is probably accurate to say the majority of people who decide to make the move and relocate to Spain do so after having a wonderful holiday in one of the many fabulous Spanish holiday resorts across the country.

Sitting under the stars, drinking sangria, listening to the soft lap of the Mediterranean Sea is enough to convince even the most stubborn Anglophile that a life in Spain might not be so bad after all; even if only for part of the year.

However many Brits have found out living in a resort Spanish town versus being on a two-week vacation is a quite different experience.

Resort towns usually have the fantastic advantage that everything you need for your day-to-day living is in walking distance. Within just a few minutes you can be on the beach, or stroll around the narrow streets of the old quarters shopping, or people watch from the shade of a terrace umbrella or tree in the church square.

Resorts are usually very well connected to the nearest airport, with companies offering airport transfers at cheap prices. Combined with low cost airfare offers available for most months of the year, living in a resort is very accessible for UK travel, and if you find you’re missing your friends or family back in the UK it is not such a big deal to get there or invite them over.

Most resorts have a huge choice of restaurants and bars, with proprietors of all nationalities providing entertainment and food to suit all tastes. Resorts usually also offer plenty of options when it comes to hairdressers, beauty salons, private dentists and medical centres, along with plenty of corner shops, pharmacies, tobacconists, and of course the inevitable rows of shops overflowing with beach gear and T-shirts aimed at tourists.

Lively and vibrant, living in a resort gives you great opportunities to socialise and meet new people – both visitors and those in permanent residence. You can also enjoy a holiday atmosphere for several months of the year rather than the short two weeks you would have to make do with as a tourist.

Certain jobs such as bar work or cleaning accommodation are not too difficult to find in resort towns once you put yourself out there and get to know people, although they should be considered a supplement to another income rather than your main income source.

It might sound like resort living is perfect, and in many ways it is, but there are downsides too. So now lets look at look at some of the cons of living in a resort town.

Summer months can be extremely busy in the liveliest resorts such as Lloret de Mar, Benidorm, Ibiza, and Marbella. This results in traffic problems, noise at night, large queues in both small shops and the major supermarkets, and experiencing a little peace and quiet can be quite difficult.

Even going to the beach to relax is a rowdy experience during the summer months when you are likely to find yourself surrounded by both adults and kids indulging in ballgames, large groups of young people playing loud music and sometimes drinking, not to mention the challenge of even finding a spot to lay your towel on an extremely crowded beach such as Benidorm’s Levante beach.

One way to avoid this is to buy a home on the outskirts of the resort, in a back street without night life or live on one of the town’s “urabnisations”. Just about every Spanish resort includes a number of urbanisations which are purpose-built estates where you will usually find detached properties, many of them with private pools, as well as a bar or two, and a local shop for small purchases. Although you may not be within walking distance of the beach, urbanisations are usually located around 5 km from the coastline so reaching the beach is no big deal. However, a reminder when you drive from your urbanisation in the summertime you are likely to get stuck in traffic, and the usual five minute drive will take you 15 to 20 minutes. But that is something you have to expect if you choose to live in or near a popular tourist spot.

This can be overcome by using a bicycle or moped for transport, and you will soon realise why mopeds are so popular in resorts after spending your first summer as a permanent resident in a tourist area!

If you speak to all year-round residents who live in tourist resorts in Spain, many of them will agree they would love to go on holiday themselves in July and August to a remote location to escape the influx of tourists.

Conversely, resort living also has its downside during the quiet low seasonal months. Many businesses will shut in the winter months, only from Easter time until the end of October. Walking around a town is mainly shuttered up can be quite dreary and boring, as well as inconvenient, as you may find you have to drive to a larger town for certain items.

If you feel you could cope with the noise and sometimes unwelcome party atmosphere day in, day out for 6 to 10 weeks every year, combined with the quiet life of living in a resort for eight weeks out of the year, resort living will probably be perfect for you. Being able to walk everywhere and having the beach so close to hand makes for a very comfortable and healthy lifestyle for the best part of the year.

Urban Living

Spain has some fabulous cities. The two major cities are Madrid and Barcelona, although there are several other options where you might choose to your new home such as Saragossa, Valencia, Salamanca or Alicante.

The great thing about urban living if you choose Valencia, Barcelona or Alicante, is not only do you get the benefits of living in a vibrant city, you also have the city beach very close by, and various resort towns within easy access.

Although like in the UK accommodation costs more in a city, you will find you have many more job opportunities in your locality than if you chose an urban or rural property.
City living also has the advantage that unlike resort or rural life, there is always plenty going on 12 months of the year. In the larger cities in Spain with expat communities you will find plenty of meet ups, classes and other activities you can enjoy with others who speak your language.

The downside of moving to a city in Spain for most people thinking about relocating from the UK is they want to experience a very different lifestyle. Living in a city involves similar scenarios as they maybe trying to escape from, such as relying public transport to get around, and if you are of working age, the dreaded commute, the somewhat less-friendly attitude of city dwellers compared to that you find in smaller communities, and the cost of living tends to be almost on par with the UK.

As you can see, choosing between a rural, city, or resort property involves a lot of consideration. It is something you need to discuss with your partner and the rest of the family as the ideal location will depend a lot on what each person plans to do with their time once they arrive in Spain.

Summary

If like many would-be expats, you have your sights set on a town like Javea, Sitges, or Marbella, basically you have three choices – a resort or rural property, or to live on the outskirts of the resort. However, if you plan on moving to Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia, Malaga, Alicante, etc, you can essentially opt for rural, urban, outskirt or resort life. So do your research, and choose wisely!


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