So, you have decided to buy a property in beautiful sunny Spain, have a favourite region in mind, finance arrangements are underway, so it is time to start your property search. Spain has a diverse choice of property types, from small holiday studio apartments to sprawling country “masias” with acres of adjoining land; and every type of dwelling imaginable in between. In this article we will take a look at some of the types of Spanish properties available to buy. With the World Health Organisation saying that the Costa Blanca region of Spain has one of the healthiest climates in the world, it’s no wonder that many people looking to move abroad, choose Spain as their favoured retirement destination. Once seen as a favourite location for European nationals, in the last 10 years, more buyers from faraway places such as South America and North America are choosing the Costa Blanca area of Spain as a popular place to invest overseas.
Traditional Spanish villas have always been very popular with foreign buyers. They usually come with enough land for a pool and as detached housing, offer plenty of privacy and tranquillity.
In resort towns, villas tend to be on the outskirts of the resort or on a purpose-built urbanisation, which means living in a villa will require you to drive. Although you do sometimes see villas in the centre of resorts, you would be paying a premium for this type of property.
If you plan on making Spain your permanent home a villa will likely be very appealing, but it may not be the ideal choice if you are planning to use it only for holidays. This is because owning a villa requires regular maintenance, particularly outside. Because they are larger than the average apartment you will be paying more in yearly municipal taxes, which is also an issue to consider.
In some areas of Spain, there is also a problem with squatters, and it is not a good idea to leave a property on an organisation away from the town centre empty for any length of time unless your villa is part of a gated community.
If your budget will not run to buying a villa, or you do not want to live on the outskirts of town, then the obvious choice is “un apartamento”. You will find hundreds of apartments for sale in town centres, on the beachfront of popular resorts, on golf developments and also on residential urbanisations. The only place you don’t see apartment blocks in Spain is in the countryside, where houses are more standard.
If you are planning on using your new property as a holiday home, an apartment is the perfect choice. You can simply lock the door and walk away, unlike if you have a large villa or other type of detached property outside the town. Maria Gomez, sales director of a local estate agency on the Costa Blanca, says that 4 out of 5 enquiries from overseas buyers tend to be for apartments where the owners can just lock it up and walk away knowing it’s relatively safe and secure.
While not a practical choice for families with several young children and pets, an apartment is probably the best option for elderly people, as they can purchase in the town centre and get around easily without the need to drive.
Many apartment blocks have communal pools and gardens, and sometimes play areas for children. One downside to apartment living is it tends to be noisy compared to living in the much more private setting which a villa or detached property provides. However, you will also find apartments available in very small blocks, where noise is less likely to be a problem.
The Spanish “estudio” is the British equivalent of a bedsit. It usually consists of just one room which serves as both the living and sleeping area. The kitchen may be part of the space or sometimes located in a separate room as is the bathroom. Studio flats usually have very small bathrooms, so are unlikely to feature a full-size bath. Needless to say, a studio flat is not a good option for a family but could be the perfect choice if you live alone, are looking for a low maintenance holiday home, or on a tight budget.
A “piso” is a term probably best translated to the British flat. Piso is used to describe a large apartment. These dwellings are usually popular with large Spanish families and will feature at least three bedrooms, probably more than one bathroom, and a larger living area than the average apartment.
Pisos are often found in older buildings without a lift. Be aware that even if this doesn’t matter to you, it will make the property harder to sell than if it were part of a building with a lift.
Pisos also tend to be built in areas not so popular with tourists where house prices are lower, and therefore this type of dwelling is more accessible for those on a lower end budget. Like with apartments, the downside of living in a block which contains many pisos is the noise issue, particularly as this type of apartment is apt to be home to families with multiple children. However, a piso is a good option if you want to live in Spain permanently, have a large family, and a budget that won’t stretch to a villa.
Semidetached properties are growing in popularity in Spain in recent years. In the past, semidetached properties were typically only found in town or village centres, but these days more are being built in well planned communal settings.
A semidetached home offers more privacy then an apartment without the high cost of buying and maintaining a villa. A modern semidetached home in Spain will usually have two floors, a small private garden, and could also feature communal areas offering a pool and larger garden.
A semidetached home in Spain is a good option if you are planning on using it as a holiday home and would prefer not to buy in an apartment block. Because most semidetached properties are built in a way that offer communal support, the likelihood of your home being burgled or a target for squatters while you’re away is much less likely than in a remote villa.
There are many attractive townhouses or “casas de pueblo” in Spain available in cities, resorts and villages. They tend to be part of a terrace or semidetached, but often don’t feature much of a garden, if any at all. Many of the townhouses you see on the market are older properties which need renovating to bring them up to modern standards.
This type of property was built with small windows and small rooms, so you can expect to spend quite a lot on renovation if you prefer a more contemporary setting. The upside of a townhouse is they are usually in easy walking distance of all amenities and there is little need for a car, which is probably a good thing because most of these properties will not have free parking close by.
Townhouses can be incredibly cheap in some areas, but you do need to take the renovation costs into consideration.
Large country homes in Spain are usually referred to as “masias” or “cortijos”. If you choose to buy a Spanish country property you may find yourself surrounded by olive groves, varieties of fruit trees, plenty of wildlife and acres of land. This type of property offers the ultimate in tranquillity.
Large rural properties could be purchased relatively cheaply until recent years, as Spain’s younger property buyers headed to the cities where they could find profitable work. However, masia prices have gone up in recent years, as prosperous buyers from all over Europe as well as Spain are realising the benefits of rural living.
With regards to what you get when buying a masia, it can still be a bargain compared to what you would pay for a much smaller property in a desirable area of a resort.
Masias are also frequently purchased for commercial use and turned into hotels, restaurants, and bed-and-breakfasts.
A country masia could be the ideal choice if you yearn to be isolated away from the stresses of modern life. However, you should know that managing such a property involves a great deal of work and unless you speak reasonable Spanish to hire help and skilled tradespeople, you could find the task wears you down after a while.
You also need to think about living in rural locations during the winter months, as if there is only one road to the house this could become inaccessible during heavy storms. Other issues to ponder are potential fire risks, and the availability of water, electricity and Internet.
If you do decide to purchase this type of property, make sure you use the services of a competent lawyer because in some areas there could be a problem with the seller not registered with the land registry.
Cave houses or “casas cueva” are not present all over Spain, but in parts of Andalucía, you can find this type of traditional dwelling. Living in a cave is not everyone’s cup of tea but modern troglodytes often say they would never go back to apartment dwelling after their life underground.
Cave houses were excavated in many cases centuries ago. The builders would dig into the side of a mountain or hillside, and the inner parts of the house could be several metres underground. Because of this, cave homes are extremely well insulated and the temperature remains constant at around 18 to 21°C. This makes it very economical when it comes to utility bills, as there is no need for air-conditioning, not even during the extremely hot summer months, which is remarkable when you think average Andalucía temperatures reach the mid-30s in July and August.
Cave houses come in all shapes, sizes and conditions. There are no two exactly the same. You can find modern cave houses newly excavated and finished to a very high standard, and you’ll find others that could do with some modernisation – then there’s others that need complete renovation. The rooms in old cave houses would often have been used to house animals, and many feature mangers hand carved into the walls, and possibly even a feeding shoot in the ceiling.
Some cave homes have external front extensions added to the side of the hill where they join the underground section of the property. This helps combat the slight feeling of claustrophobia you may feel in the deepest recess of the home. The houses with front additions look like regular houses, and it’s only when you go inside that you realise you are actually in a cave house.
Cave houses are usually fairly cheap to buy compared to other property types, and also easy to renovate, as well as cheap to live in. There are practically zero maintenance costs, and cave houses tend to be situated in friendly low-crime areas, so when you are not in residence, you don’t have to be concerned about anyone pilfering your roof slates or breaking in through the windows.
The village of Guadix in Andalucia is home to the largest number of cave homes in Europe, with over 2000 underground residences. Locals have inhabited the caves for hundreds of years, and many public buildings are in Guadix caves, including the church along with restaurants and hotels.
Until recent years the cave homes were mostly home to the poor and considered of a lower standard than a modern townhouse or apartment. However, these days cave dwellings are bought by locals to live in or turn into tourist rentals.
Ultimately the type of Spanish housing you decide to buy will depend on your budget, the number of people living with you, and how important accessibility to local amenities is to the family. But whatever type of property you purchase, you will be able to enjoy the fabulous weather, beaches, many outdoor attractions, and relaxing lifestyle that most regions of Spain offer.