Couple's villa demolished: duped by developer


John and Jan Brooks from Taunton in Somerset saw their dream home in Spain demolished this week, after an eight year battle to be allowed to stay. They had been fooled into spending £170,000 on the villa by a Spanish developer who had no permission to build the property.

It shows how risky buying abroad can be.
The couple had bought the three-bedroom property in Andalucia in 2005. They had planed to live there for three months of the year, but according to the Daily Mail, less than a year after moving in, Spanish police arrived and told them the property was illegal. The electricity and water were cut off, and they were forced to move out.

The Telegraph reported that they spent the next eight years fighting a demolition notice. They brought a class action lawsuit with other property owners against the developer, and the mayor who supplied water and electricity to the property. However, they lost and the property was demolished on Monday. All that remains is the swimming pool.

The Western Morning News reported that the developer had not got permission to build on restricted land. He was ordered to stop building, but ignored demands and sold the property to unsuspecting Brits. The courts have jailed him for five months (and jailed the mayor for 23 months). Both men were ordered to compensate the buyers - but both have been declared bankrupt, leaving little prospect of getting their money back.

The Telegraph reported that the problems with the property were known by the estate agent and the solicitor who handled the sale.

Protect yourself

It shows that there are risks involved when you buy abroad. You don't know the area, the law, or the process, so you need to take precautions to make sure you're not ripped off.

There are five steps which are essential:

1. Get your own independent lawyer. It is their job to protect your interests. You should consider an English property lawyer who specialises in your chosen country, deals in property purchases there regularly and speaks the language fluently.

2. Make sure they do their research. The lawyer should dig into the planning consent and licences, the property title and ownership. You should also ensure you get an independent valuation - in the same way you would commission a survey in the UK.

3. Crunch the numbers and make sure you factor in the currency exchange rate and any possible movements. You may well be able to secure a fixed exchange rate in advance on the lump sum so you are not too exposed to currency movements. You also need to think about costs that are specific to the country itself, such as taxes and fees.

4. If you are getting a mortgage, look for a reputable and approved mortgage broker in the UK who specialises in overseas mortgages. Make sure you understand exactly what you are getting into.

5. Use professional agents and developers. You'll need to look into the companies themselves before you start looking at properties. Do your research on the firm, check its track record, ask for client testimonials (and speak to them personally). Also ask for details of the service they are providing in writing.
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