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Bitterness Street

Today, we bought a house!  

A natural progression, really, once we had decided to stay here in Spain.  Having rented for our first year, we managed to give ourselves time to evaluate the possibilities and logistics of living here long term, and it finally made sense.  We have spent the past few months getting to the stage where we can reduce our overheads here, and the biggest overhead we have is the rent on lovely Casa Magdalena.

It has always been our intention that, if ever we bought, the property would need to earn its keep, so to speak.  In the back of our minds, we would like to open a bed and breakfast or have some sort of self-contained unit to let as a holiday rental - anything, as long as it generated a little bit of income.  Our aim has always been to do the things that we love doing, and if we can earn a living by following that route, then great!  The past couple of months have been difficult, as far as work has been concerned, and we have learned a few valuable lessons.  Work is available here, but if you are not careful you can end up working far too many hours, for little financial reward.  Being a non-Spanish person does allow you to be entrepreneurial and creative, to en extent, and opportunities do arise at the most unexpected moments.

Anyway, back to the house!

We originally found a house in our own little village of Saleres and couldn’t quite believe our luck.  A pretty cottage, with land, great views and a 100 metre cave.  We were the first people to see this particular house, and it was on the market at €100,000.  We made an offer of €90,000 which we would have been happy to have increased to €95,000.  The house needed some work, but it was not a ruin.  The offer was rejected and the agent told us that the owner had decided to increase the asking price.

Although we loved that house, neither of us was prepared to play some game of ‘guess the new price’.  Neither the agent nor we knew what the new price was, and we were not given an opportunity to come up with a better offer, so we washed our hands of that deal.

It has since transpired that an English estate agent based in the valley now has that house on their books at the new asking price of €190,000.  Inflation much….

Much as we love the Lecrin Valley, it has slightly become a victim of its own success, and there are a couple of English-speaking estate agents who do sell property to non-Spanish people, and as a result of successes over the year, the valley commands a premium.  Bargains can still be found, but you need to know where to look, and avoiding the estate agents is key!

So, we decided to widen our search, at the risk of possibly severing ties with the valley.  We knew we wanted to be within a 35/40 minutes driving radius of Granada.  In one direction, there lies the Alpujarras which is also slightly pricey due partly to the success of Chris Stewart’s books.  In the north-east, you tend to find yourself wedged in between the Sierra Nevada and the Sierra de Huetor, which can feel a little claustrophobic.  We tried the area to the west, around the Embalse de Bermejales and the pretty town of Alhama de Granada, and despite frequently trying to contact another non-Spanish estate agent, they never responded to requests for information so we never actually got to see what properties might be for sale.

 

We had driven along the N-432 from Granada to Córdoba on a number of occasions, and had seen the sign to a place called Moclín, so thought we’d take a detour and have a look.  Driving up a country lane, after about 5 kms we rounded a bend and there, in front of us, was a hill topped by a Moorish castle, surrounded by spectacularly jagged rock formations.  The village tumbles down from the castle, and there are almost uninterrupted views of the entire stretch of the Sierra Nevada.  It has been said that, on a clear day, from Moclín castle, you can see The Alhambra Palace.

The village had a lovely feel to it, and we have been back on several visits to view houses, and each time that feeling has not been diluted.  It is a pretty and well-cared for village.  Its elevation allows light to flood its streets, and it doesn’t have that hemmed-in feel that many historic villages can have, where houses sit on top of each other, or interconnect around tight courtyards.

 Moclín castle

Moclín castle

 Moclín village

Moclín village

We had a delightful Spanish estate agent, and if we have learned one thing from this experience it is to think twice about putting all your eggs in English-speaking baskets.  This certainly does not apply to everyone by any stretch, but there are some people who see a good business opportunity from specialising in helping non-Spanish speakers, and there are plenty of people who are wary of Spanish systems and bureaucracy, so place their trust in English-speaking businesses.  Our advice is to exercise caution and don’t always believe that, because someone speaks English, they have your best interests at heart.  There are also instances, of course, where Spanish vendors, sensing that you might be an innocent ‘guiri’ with pot-loads of cash, will take advantage of the opportunity.

Anyway, Miguel, our agent (http://www.granadahouses.es/), was someone we felt we could trust, and he knew what we were looking for.

On Miguel’s website, there was a property listed that had an intriguingly named ‘patio’.  We have always thought of a Spanish patio as being an internal courtyard, but the photographs showed this patch of land that looked nothing like our idea of a patio.  When we arrived to see this, and a couple of other houses, we were told by Miguel that we couldn’t see the house with the patio, as someone was due to pay a deposit that day.

We were to meet Pepe, the holder of the keys to one of the houses we were to see, and of the patio house.  Miguel tried to call Pepe to find out where he was, and we heard a phone ring in the adjacent street: Pepe was on his way.  Pepe, however, who must be all of 85, did take some time to come round the corner, the poor chap.  He then delivered the pleasing news that patio house was back on the market, as the people who were interested only wanted to pay a deposit of €1,000 and then delay completion until they found the rest of the money, with no earthly idea of when that might be.

We could go and view the house, but as we hoped to view it that day, a decision was taken to leave Pepe at the village bar while we went and looked around with Miguel, who is significantly more spritely.

So, we got to see Calle Amargura, in the village of Moclín, and it ticked all our boxes.  The ‘patio’ is a large garden at the end of which sits a rather lovely nave, or stone-built shed which we will be converting into a studio.  The garden has stunning views of the Sierra Nevada and the house itself, a traditional build of lots of little rooms, can be reformed into a more open space without losing any of its integrity as a village property dating from 1850.

Calle Amargura.jpg

The following week, we took our Spanish architects to have a look, and we loved the place just as much on second inspection, and Ana and Jesus, the architects, were equally beguiled.  Within days, they had been in touch with the village ayuntamiento to ask if we could carry out the works we had in mind and the response we received sealed the deal.  The ayuntamiento, as well as saying that there would be no problem with our restoration plans, also stated that they looked forward to having us as new neighbours.

The house was on the market for much less than the properties available in the Lecrin Valley, and we made a reasonable offer which was accepted within a couple of days.

The buying process could not have been more straightforward.  The process has been almost surreal in its simplicity, and we do put that down to using a completely Spanish team and being able to understand at least some of what they say.  We have collated a list of recommended practitioners since being here.  We have met several people who have used Ana and Jesus as architects, and have seen examples of their work.  The lawyer we used was recommended by both the local estate agent and a friend of ours from Saleres who used him for his own conveyancing.

Miguel sent the details to the lawyer who prepared the draft contract.  This was produced in the official Spanish form with an English translation.  We were told what to pay, and when, and as soon as both parties were happy with the draft contract, we paid our deposit and exchanged contracts.  The date for completion, and the visit to the Notary was set for  14th December.  A sum of money was set aside, as there was a question mark over the size of the registered property, and this would be resolved.

Today, we had the formal completion meeting.  All parties meet at the office of the Notary, the Escritura was explained, and a surveyor had been to assess the property to make all the necessary amendments to be lodged with the land registry.

We met the vendors: Antonio (whose brother is Pepe, the keeper of the keys) and his wife Encarnación, and their delightful daughter.  Antonio and Encarnación are now living with their daughter in Illora, a village not too far from Moclín.

The Notary reads aloud the Escritura, and then asks all parties to sign it.  There remains a system where a percentage of the asking price of the property is paid over in cash on completion, and this still has an air of skullduggery about it, as it takes place once the Notary has done his formal part, left the room, and the door is pushed closed while the final deal is done.

The keys to our new home lay on the table.  Antonio held out his hand, took the keys and gave them a kiss before handing them over as they wished us ‘enhorabuena’, or congratulations.  As we left the room, we shook hands with Antonio, Encarnación and their daughter, and our lawyer indicated to me that poor Antonio was shedding tears.  This house that was now ours had been their family home for many years; their daughter had been born there.  This was an emotional side of house purchase in Spain that we had never considered, and it is hard not feel like materialistic interlopers who have invaded the private domain of a Spanish family.  We did our utmost to reassure them that the family would be equally well cared for, and they wished us as many years in the house as they, themselves, had enjoyed,

Money handed over, documents signed, hands shaken and keys pocketed.  We took ownership of our own little corner of Spain.

The title of this post?  Bitterness Street?

Walking up to the house with the architects, Jesus mentioned the name of the street - Calle Amargura.  Andrew asked what it meant, and amargura is ‘bitterness’.  

 The very steep Calle Amargura

The very steep Calle Amargura

Today, as we signed the documents, Andrew mentioned that name of the street to Antonio’s daughter.  “I don’t know”, she said, “but it may come from the steepness of the hill on which the house sits”, and, presumably, the bitterness that people feel as they have to stagger up that hill every day just to get home.  I am sure we will find out the real reason in due course.

Click the images below to see more.

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Christmas Message

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