Hear how John found his perfect full-time home in Sitges, after initially just looking for a rental property. With a strong catalan influence, Sitges’ “relaxed and vibrant” atmosphere is the perfect area for him and his partner. He shares how to be sure with what you want to buy, being asked the right questions by your agent, and adapting to new lifestyles.
- [1:10] What drew them to Sitges
- [2:15] The transition from visitor to buyer
- [7:41] Adapting to living in Spain full-time
- [9:50] Key things to understand in the buying process
- [11:21] How much they stuck to their budget
- [13:51] His experience of finding contractors
- [16:17] The history and politics of being a Catalunya
- Welcome to the Kyero.com Spanish Property podcast where we interview people who have recently purchased their dream home in Spain.
- They tell us what worked, what didn’t and what they’d do differently next time.
- I’m Beth Davison and today I’m speaking with John, originally from England, He purchased his dream home in Spain in Sitges, in Catalonia.
- John is full of great advice about avoiding the holiday danger of falling in love with somewhere whilst on vacation and not quite understanding how different it will be once you live there. And since he's now happily living in Spain full time, he would know.
- John worked with estate agent EasySitges to find his dream home in Spain.
- Check out the show notes at kyero.com/podcast to find links and resources mentioned in this episode
Body of Transcription
John: We bought an apartment in Sitges for our retirement and to spend all of our time in Scitias, even though we have a property in southwest France, we were swayed to come and stay in this part of Spain.
Beth: Interesting and what was it that drew you to that part of Spain?
John: Well, we heard a lot about Sitges. It's a lively little town and we came to visit last year in March and fell in love with the place. It just seems very relaxed - very vibrant. You can keep yourself to yourself, or you can go out and meet different people. There's lots going on throughout the year: different festivals and different art festivals and music festivals and social gatherings. It just seemed to be a very lively cosmopolitan place that we liked.
It's actually a very attractive little town to live in. A little bit off the beat with lots of windy beautiful streets. The food is excellent. So, we kind of just fell in love with the place. We travelled a lot in our time. So, we travelled a lot of the world and it just seemed to be a really nice place that we fell in love with.
Beth: Amazing, so, how do you take that dream to the next level. If you'd been there as a visitor, how long after that did it take for you to decide you wanted to buy there?
John: There is always the holiday danger of coming to a place and liking it, and falling in love with it, and then you wake up with a harsh reality of the next day thinking, "Was that the right thing to do or not?" So, I think you have to be sure of what you want.
I think one of the things that was great for us was that when we met up with Nicky at EasySitges. She helped to guide us through a whole load of questions that wouldn't normally be asked by your estate agent, like why are you doing this? What are you really looking for? What quality of life are you looking for? How much do you know about the place? What type of... It's not easy to do things in foreign countries without proper guidance and stuff.
So, I think that in the very early stages Nicky was able to help us and to guide us around: really, what are you looking for? Is it an investment? Is it for retirement? If it's for retirement, what sort of thing are you looking for? Are you looking to upsize, downsize? What's important to you? Do you want to be near families and schooling (which isn't the case for us)? Or, do you want to be in City Centre, Town Centre? My partner [has limited] mobility, so it's important for us to be close to the Town Centre and somewhere that would also be central but quiet.
Central so that we can get to the shops, and get to the beach, and just have this as a real central point. I think that Nicky was a bit of a 'golden nugget' when it came to just somebody who has been here for a long time, who knows the internet, not only for the estate agency profession, but also the internet of life in this part of Spain, which is sometimes a bit more different because it has a very strong Catalan influence and there's the Spanish side plus the Catalan side.
Yeah, I think moving to the next stage, as she mentioned, was really about settling in our minds that we wanted to make the right decision. Then came trying to find the type of place that would suit us. In our case, it was very easy and also very difficult because once Nicky got the final brief from us, we only sort of looked at places that matched that brief. We found an absolutely ideal property that we really wanted, we fell in love with, it was just us, only to find that the other agent who was working on the property had, in fact, got a confirmed buyer.
Beth: Oh no, it's always so heartbreaking when things like that happen. But, I sort of believe that everything does work out for the best. So, was the place you eventually found, did it have the same Wow! factor?
John: No, actually the place that we eventually found was the place that we wanted. What happened was, unusually, the owners accepted the offer of this agent's client and it went to the exchange of the deposit and so, as far as we were concerned, Nicky was keeping us posted and just saying, "What will be will be," and we'll see what happens.
OK, we pushed a bit harder and Nicky pushed a bit harder and then, eventually, the person told the owners that he didn't want to proceed anymore.
Beth: Wow, that's great. Probably not great for them, but great for you.
John: Yeah, and then the irony was he then had to negotiate for the deposit back from the people who had accepted his offer. Nicky was very helpful. We were actually living in South Africa and talking with Nicky here. You can imagine it's quite a long ways away to try to organize things when you're not here.
So, to cut a long story short, we actually were able to get the place that we originally wanted. Yeah, so in September last year we came over for holiday and bought the apartment. We've started to do a bit of renovations before we retired in March. We moved here in March and we're probably about three quarters of the way through the renovations, now. It's coming together beautifully.
Beth: Incredible, so are you living there full time now?
John: Living here full time, yeah.
Beth: How have you found it? Has it been a different pace of life? Has it felt very different?
John: I've worked in corporate life for thirty-five years. So, for me, slowing down has been a bit of a challenge. The funny thing is that some of the things that you think just are not going to work, work brilliantly. Then some of the things you think will work very well are sometimes challenges. An example of that might be that you can get lulled into the idea that there's a different concept of time and appointments. Yet, I've found that to be very different. I found that, actually, I try to plan my day taking into account that somebody else is going to be late. In fact, it's quite probable that they are on time, or even ahead of time, and I've had to rearrange my day accordingly.
Beth: Yeah, I think it's always an adjustment to the culture as well, because it is different and the laws are different when it comes to buying property and all of those things. Did you know of any big differences in Spain or have you been experiencing it as you go?
John: We bought a property in France, we built a property in France eighteen years ago. So, we're familiar with the differences of how France compares to, for example, the UK and how that system works. The system is pretty similar here, in many senses, though it has local twists and turns to it.
For anybody wanting to come and buy in Spain, they need somebody to hold their hand and guide them through the process and the admin. We did a lot of research on the internet. I'm a very cautious purchaser anyway, but for anybody that's not as cautious and a little bit more spontaneous, my suggestion, my advice would be no, no. When you begin, get somebody to hold your hand and just make sure that you understand what the financing is. Be sure you understand what insurance is, you understand how the notary works, you understand how the tax works, you understand how the deposit works and all of those things. Because, if you don't, It all adds up very quickly. What you thought was one hundred ends up being one hundred and forty, or one hundred and fifty. That would be a tip, make sure you get somebody sensible that can hold your hand and guide you through that. Then you'll be fine in making your purchase.
The other thing is, I'm somebody who... I always say, "What's the point in living in a foreign country if you're not going to get to know and talk with and interact with a community in those countries?" The only thing that I would say is that if you don't speak Spanish, and if you don't have a good understanding how things work outside of the UK, just be very cautious and don't trust the first person that comes out holding a hand out saying, "I can help you, trust me I can help you."
Beth: Yeah, that's fair.
John: My experience is that anybody who says, "trust me," it means "don't trust me."
Beth: I think it's good to be cautious. I think it's really sensible. You mentioned money and budget, did you manage to stick to your budget, do you mind me asking?
John: When we came here we were thinking, "Do we want to buy an apartment that's got a tourist license, do it up, rent it during the summer period or during the social festivals and stuff here and then commute between here and France?" So, I think once we decided that, actually no, we wanted to live here full time, then I think we were able to think about the changes in the budget.
So, what we initially we had in mind, which was a kind of investment rental, tourist license, changed, actually, whilst we looked around here. We said, "Let's come and live here. Let's invest a little bit more money here and get what we really want and just enjoy life rather than use the capital that we have as a direct investment to earn more money." So, once we decided that we kept within the budget. We haven't kept within the renovation budget, but that's our fault.
Beth: It's so hard, though. Once you start planning and once you see what a space can offer and all of the things that you can do to it, I can totally imagine going over budget.
John: We kind of changed some of the things that we weren't happy about that we found. I think that we did a full structural survey on the apartment and got everything we needed to do. The structural survey was fine and there's nothing wrong with the place, but things like quality of electric cabling in Spain is very different from the quality that you would find in the UK, or Germany, or even in France. So, just as a cautionary measure, not because of anything specifically wrong, but as a cautionary measure we've done quite a bit of rewiring to just reinforce the electrical security and potential element of that. For example, the lights in the decking outside were the incorrect lights for outside, which meant that water got into them and...
Beth: Right, yeah. How have you found finding contractors for this kind of work?
John: Relatively straightforward given the fact that we asked around a bit. Again, Nicky has helped us a lot in there. I think you need to be sure that you can rely on somebody who knows people that can be trusted. There are a lot of people, not just here in Sitges but anywhere in the world, where you arrive in town and it's like, "Oh, fresh meats arrived." And they actually have a feast on it.
I think there is a danger that you can come across a whole lot of sharks. I think guiding you through that and helping you to decide, this person’s a bit cheaper and their quite good, the quality is OK. This person is a bit more expensive, but what you're getting is what you're really paying for. In that sense we've also been very lucky.
We've been a bit streetwise on it. The cheapest is definitely not always the best. In the network of people that we've got we've deliberately asked, for example, and we came across a really good electrician and we've been using some of his trusted contacts. Most of the people that we've been working with are either locals or they're Brits that have been working here for near ten, fifteen years and have established their own companies and have established a really good reputation.
That's another thing to keep in mind, Scitias is like a big small village, everybody gets to know everybody, and word of mouth, as a source of great marketing, can also backfire when products and services go badly wrong. So, people that survive and work well here are the people that genuinely are trustworthy. I just happened to have been very lucky to have been guided in that sense in the first instance.
Beth: You mentioned the identity of Catalan and how it is a little bit different to the rest of Spain. So, my last question is, just your favourite parts really about that part of Spain, does it feel very different to the rest of Spain? Obviously, politically is how we hear about it in our news, but Catalan in general, has it been welcoming?
John: It's interesting to live here because not only the politics but the history is also very interesting. We were talking to a chap shortly after we got here. I actually asked him pretty much the same question, I said, "Look, being a Catalan, what is it about being from Catalan that is different about being Spanish?" After he thumped me, he was actually very interesting because he said, "Because of the history of Spain and because of the way that, particularly, our language and our culture has grown, there are more people that speak Catalan in Spain then there are Welsh speakers in Wales and yet Welsh is considered to be a recognized language in Europe and Catalan is not." He said, "I don't want my children to be only Catalan and not Spanish, but I want everybody to understand that we also want the culture of our area to continue to grow and thrive and our language to grow and thrive. We don't want to be on our own. We just want everybody to understand that Catalans and Spanish people can live perfectly well together."
The majority of people that live in this part of Spain and speak Catalan and speak Spanish, there's no kind of big wall, everybody just gets on with it. Lots of people will speak Spanish and Catalan together. They'll mix the words. As foreigners here it's easy to [see it as a] romantic love language and people live it. I think that you [need to be] sensitive to say that there is no political goings on or difference. I think that maybe it's a result of when people do feel isolated that they may not be as open and as happy and cheerful as perhaps in other parts of Spain.
If you go to Madrid, or you go to the north, people are very, very friendly and warm. Here, I don't know if it's because around Sitges and this part of Spain where there has been so much tourism and there's so much influx of Brits and Dutch and Germans and everyone got used to being different. Maybe that's also part of it. That if Catalan was a remote kind of hillside city that had a ten foot wall around it, then that might be a bit different.
Beth: (Laughter) Yeah.
John: Everybody here is very diverse, very colourful, multi-social, multicultural environment. Probably to keep that national identity or local identity alive, it's actually quite tough, hunh?
Beth: Yeah. I'm glad that you guys are settling in so well there and really enjoying it. I'm going to let you go. I know you've got errands to run. But thank you so much for talking to me today, John. It's been really helpful.
John: Your very welcome, thanks very much indeed.
- Thank you for listening and thanks to John for sharing his experiences and to EasySitges for making this episode possible.
- It's great to hear another account of how estate agents really do go above and beyond for their clients in Spain. And, by being cautious about trusting those who want to help you, John was able to find exactly what he wanted.
- If you like what you heard you can search this agent’s properties and more on Kyero.com
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- Tune in next time when I speak with Colin, originally from Wakefield, he worked with Estate Agent Live Med Coast to find his dream home in Spain
- After years of working hard he and his wife Suzanne decided they were tired of being like ship-in-the-night and set out on a new adventure. Find out how they fell in love with their dream home in just nine seconds and then drove fifteen hundred miles to get there.
- I’m Beth Davison and you’ve been listening to the Kyero.com Spanish property podcast. I’ll see you next time!