Beth catches up with Carrie, who is a year in to a big property renovation project. Located in Ribeira Sacra, Galicia with jaw-dropping views, the idea of buying a place with her husband first entered their minds after trekking the Camino de Santiago. They purchased the farmhouse on a total whim. Hear how they fell in love with Galicia, what’s it like taking on such a project with no experience of renovating, and their exciting plans for the future.
- [2:00] Inspiration behind this project
- [4:01] Researching the properties online
- [6:15] Their house viewing experience
- [9:09] What to do when you have little renovation experience
- [12:25] The history of the property
- [13:17] How much work was needed to renovate
- [14:18] Their budget for this renovation project
- [19:12] Meeting the previous home owner
- [22:20] One year on after getting keys to the property
- Welcome to the Kyero.com Spanish property podcast where we interview people who 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 Carrie, originally from Belfast.
- She purchased her dream home in Spain in Riviera Sacra, in Galicia, after walking a Camino lead to some big life changes.
- I think this might be one of the biggest renovation jobs we've heard about on the podcast so far, and Carrie and her partner David are right at the beginning of this adventure.
- They worked with estate agent Galician Country Homes to find their dream home in Spain.
- Check out the show notes and Kyero.com/podcast to find links and resources mentioned in this episode
Body of Transcription
Carrie: So, my name is Carrie. I currently live in Ireland, just outside Dublin and I am a primary school teacher. So, I’m currently working full time in Ireland and live in Ireland, but my husband and I bought a kind of a rundown farm house in Galicia, in a region called the Riviera Sacra, which translates, I think, the Holy River or Blessed River because then two rivers meet there and run through it. So that’s basically our story so far.
Beth: Amazing, and it is kind of so far because this is such an adventure to embark upon. How did it all begin? Were you always looking for somewhere that you were going to do up and renovate?
Carrie: No, not at all. So, basically, last year in 2018, in May we decided to do the Camino de Santiago, so just the last 100 kilometers of the Portuguese route. So, that went through Galicia, which is northern Spain, or a section of northern Spain. We walked for five days, and had never been to Galicia before and just completely fell in love with it. The country side, it’s so green, it’s actually very like Ireland but warmer and they actually do have Celtic roots too, so there is actually kind of historical ties to Ireland as well. So, in a way we felt like we were at home in another country.
So, we walked that, and along the way we noticed that there were a lot of old houses for sale, with for sale signs. Some were very run down, some were not so run down. We kind of chuckled along the way and thought to ourselves, "Why are they all for sale?" These were through very quiet villages, but still definitely populated, to an extent. So, anyway, we completed our walk, and maybe for anybody listening who has completed the Camino, you come home and it’s almost difficult to settle back into real life because all you’ve been doing is walking for days at a time.
So, we came home and were very much having the kind of holiday blues, and we were reflecting on our photographs and we talked, again, about all the houses for sale. We began to reiterate, at this point, we had never thought about really buying abroad.
We love going on holidays. We love experiencing different cultures, but we’re only in our thirties too, we only got married two years ago. We have our own house here in Ireland so, we’re been paying a mortgage. So, it wasn’t really in the pipeline, let’s say.
So, one day we just decided to do a quick Google on some of the houses, and we came across your site, Kyero. I noticed that a lot of these smaller houses were very, very reasonable and were in these villages in Galicia that we had never heard of. They weren’t along the Camino trail at all. Galicia is quite big. There’s lots of different municipalities, and there’s regions within it. So, we kind of laughed, really, at the price of them. They were the price of a second hand car here in Ireland. You’re talking less than twenty thousand Euros.
Yeah, we kind of talked that it was too good to be true. Again, at this stage we really weren’t in the market to buy anything per se. So, we laughed about it and kind of forgot about it. Then, a few days later, we decided to put in an inquiry form on your website where you just put in your name and your number and so on, and you can find out some more details about the house.
So, there were two that we had looked at. Again, it was almost just for a laugh, really. We didn’t expect anything to come of it at that stage. I have to say the reply was very, very prompt from yourselves, and that led us to a man called Mark Afterton who runs Galicia Country Homes and he was very prompt in his reply as well and sent us further pictures and information about two of the houses.
At this stage it was still late May. We were still probably only two weeks back from the Camino and we were both working full time. I’m a teacher, so I get a little bit more time off than my husband. But, my husband very much just gets off his holidays, and, had run up a lot of his holidays already.
On a whim we decided to go on the June bank holiday to view two of these houses. I asked my father along, because he’s a retired builder, and he would know more than we would. We just headed off one weekend off to Santiago. We flew into Santiago to meet Mark, from Galicia Country Homes, to go and view the particular houses.
So, at this stage, we were wondering what was really going on. It was such a whim, as we said. So, we were going off to meet a man we had never met in a town we had never been and view two houses in a place we’d never been also. We kind of said between the three of us, if anything it’s just a bit of an adventure for the three of us for a weekend.
Beth: It’s great to do that kind of exploration and research. Even if you were thinking, “You know what, this is just a toe in the pool of something maybe we will do in a decade's time.” At what point did it start becoming real for you?
Carrie: I suppose we kind of joked along the way, "Would Mark would even turn up?” He didn’t really know us either, considering the way we have to go on a weekend, the bank holidays, because of my husband's work schedule. It was actually a Sunday when we had to go view the houses.
I know Sunday is sacred in Spain. Not a lot of people work, not a lot of places are open. We kind of wondered to ourselves, “Would he actually turn up?” But he was very decent from emails and phone calls we had gotten. But he did. He was waiting there. He had brought his estate agent along with him, a lady called Maribelle. They were really prompt. They brought us a coffee first. We did all our introductions and, at that stage, it started to feel as if it was real.
So, Mark was very obliging and met us in a town where we could leave our rental car and drove us all the way to the two houses. Now, the two houses were about an hour apart, through Galician countryside, very rural. The roads have no road markings. You’re driving through areas of vineyards, so it's a very famous area for its wine, and he gave us a whistle-stop tour of the Galician countryside.
He’s extremely knowledgeable. He’s engaged in a lot of environmental groups and actions over there. It’s actually been put forward now, for 2021, to become a UNESCO World Heritage site of natural beauty. So, he was like a free tour guide. He brought us around.
We visited the more run down cottage first. I suppose we were taken aback when we got there because it was really only four brick walls. The roof had caved in. There was grass growing inside it. The area itself is beautiful but there was definitely too much work to be done to it.
Beth: Yeah, OK.
Carrie: So, yeah, at that stage we thought, "Maybe it was too good to be true." Now, if you are willing to put a massive amount of work in, it would have been an absolutely lovely ticket. The area itself is beautiful. We could have kept going with the walls that were there. They were solid, but there was definitely a lot of work to be done.
Beth: Do you have renovation experience? Have you done this back in Ireland?
Carrie: No, no, none, we’re kind of keen gardeners, maybe you could say, but definitely never renovations. The most we’ve done is maybe painted the front door of our home.
Beth: Alright, OK, you sound like me. We sound like we have a similar level of DIY. OK, that’s good.
Carrie: Like proactive you could say but definitely not...
Beth: Enthusiastic, you know, you need the enthusiasm which you clearly have, so that’s good.
Carrie: Yeah, so, we headed off to the second house, maybe slightly complacent, but enjoying our tour of Galicia. We drove up this... basically on the edge of a mountain. The views were like something I had never seen before. The only thing I could liken it to was having been to Thailand and Bali. It was a very tropical feel, there is lots of greenery and beautiful rivers running through it. It is a very vast, forested region. It was jaw dropping, to be honest with you. I never knew that places like that really existed in Europe and less than a two hour flight away from Dublin. The flight is so short.
So, we got up to the house. Now the road up to the house had its moments. The roads are very, very narrow and there wasn’t much traffic on them, but anybody on it are locals and they kind of own the roads. The drive up itself was kind of jaw dropping and we were thinking along the way, “Could you actually get yourself up here?” Because I wasn't easy driving in the car. So, anyway, we got out at the house and it was almost, like, love at first sight, I suppose you could say.
It was a split level house. Now we say 'farm house,' but it’s bigger than what you’d probably imagine. It’s split level and on the top level there were three bedrooms: a master bedroom and two guest bedrooms. There was kind of an outside balcony area and then the lower level was actually an old wine cellar, so it’s all stone.
Beth: Oh, wow.
There was a lot of rubble and different things inside it, but we got to go inside. It was quite vast, and you could definitely renovate it, I'd say, and put in five contained apartments with space for probably two bedrooms and a kitchen.
Beth: OK, yeah.
Carrie: At the moment it’s just stone. Then you kind of climb up around the back of the property, and you’re on a slope that’s kind of the backyard. It’s lovely with fruit trees, there’s pear trees and cherry trees.
The plot, itself, is actually quite large. You're owning all the way back up to the road, at the mountain. But, it’s built into bedrock, so, it’s not very accessible for anything unless you're really tenacious, let's say.
Carrie: So, we just stood there and looked out at the view. It was very surreal because it felt like we were on the other side of the world, with the view that was in front of us. We started looking around the property.
It had been lived in, up until about seven or eight years ago, as a summer house for the man that had owned it. So, the past owner had grown up there and it was a family home for generations and then it was left to him, but he lived in the city that was thirty minutes away. He used it as a summer house for years, and then his kids grew up and his grand children, and it’s just kind of fell by the wayside. He definitely tended to it, but it definitely needed work.
Beth: When you say it needed work, was it liveable in that condition and it needed like a lick of paint to make it look nice and homey, or did it need work, structurally? What had to happen before you were able to use it?
Carrie: No, it needed structural work. My Dad had a good look around it and the walls were sound. About 80% of the roof was fine. There was a patch of roof that definitely needed to be repaired, but the walls and the roof were solid. But, there was damp all around the back of the house because it faced onto the bedrock and there wasn’t a proper drainage system there. So, no, it was damp and you wouldn’t really stay in it at that stage. So, we knew that.
Beth: These words to me like ‘drainage’ and ‘damp’ and all of this, this rings alarm bells. I think I find things like this intimidating. Were you intimidated, or were you just excited by this challenge?
Carrie: At that time we were really excited but we didn’t know whether we would go for it or not. I think it was the comfort of having my Dad there who knew about all of this, and he said, “Look, you have to do this, that, and the other, but it’s not a case of having to knock it all down and start again.
Beth: OK, fantastic, and you mentioned budgets, do you mind me asking exactly how much you were looking at for this?
Carrie: When we were looking at this it was about €15,000, all in.
Beth: Wow, OK. Did you have a figure in mind for how much you wanted to spend doing it up?
Carrie: Not at that stage, no, like I said, when we went over we didn’t really know what we would find. So, we just went over totally a blank canvas and hadn’t really thought of the next step at that stage. We were kind of taking it a day at a time and then we would kind of see from there.
So, at that stage we were almost overwhelmed because we didn’t expect it to be so beautiful, the area itself, and for the property to be, actually, somewhat manageable to restore. So, we came away from that day, then, and we had one more day before we went home.
We decided, the next day, to get up ourselves, again, use our rental car and drive all the way back. We were driving from Santiago to the Riviera Sacra, which is about an hour and twenty minutes. We decided to get up very early, get into the rental car. We got the pin from the estate agent and do the drive ourselves, and go back and look at it again the next day.
So, we did that, and we managed the roads. Actually, when you're on the roads yourself, when you're actually on the steep roads they’re not so bad.
Beth: Yeah, it’s just that first time, I think, when you’re on those mountain roads. I know the area that you’re talking about and it is stunning. But I can imagine, yeah, it just takes some practice in a decent hired car.
Carrie: Yeah, exactly. So, we went out and viewed it again, the next day. Well, we couldn’t get in, obviously, we didn’t have the key. But, we went back to the area and had a good look around and we took it all in again. Then [the idea] actually grew, "What would it be like to buy this place? Where can we go from here, eventually, I suppose?" So, we went to view it again and made the long haul back to Santiago, and flew home the next morning. At that stage we actually couldn’t talk about it anymore. We thought, “We’re just going to take a day before we talk about it, go home, take it all in, and then see from there.”
So, we did that, and we came home, and we gave ourselves a few days, and we looked at budgets and so on, and we decided to inquire, again, with Mark and see what kind of advisement he had. There actually was a little bit of advisement he had, and we decided to go for it. We sent over a deposit and had to go back over, in July again, and sign for it. Within a week when we came home, we just felt that we had a tie to the place, and we just had to go for it.
Beth: I think it sounds like a very gut reaction for you guys: the first time you saw it, and then really planning on the logistics and how you drove around, all of that. It feels like it felt very right for you.
Carrie: Yeah, it did. Then we love the idea of hiking and everything like that. It certainly wouldn’t be for everybody. It’s definitely not your holiday home on the beach with your bars and your restaurants. But, for us, we really saw it as an opportunity to have our retreat to go to from the busy working life.
Beth: So the logistics at that point, at that point where you send over the deposit, how long before you had the keys in your hands?
Carrie: Well, the decision was in June, and the soonest we could go over was July because I was back in School and David was here until the end of June, and I had no days left to be off. So we could have possibly gone over earlier only that I had to see the school year out. But then we headed over, I think it was around the seventh of July, so, about a month after we decided that we would go for it we went over.
Mark was great. He had organize appointments with a notary. So, having listened to previous podcasts of yours, I know a lot of people have spoken about how the notary in Spain act so much like a solicitor.
Carrie: But the difficulty was English is definitely not widely spoken in Galicia at all. So, we had to get a notary that spoke some English. So, we actually had to go to a notary quite far away from the house. Mark had located an English speaking notary in a town. So, he had worked out all of that and we went over.
About two days after we landed we went to the town with the notary. And unusually and quite different from Ireland, the owner was there too. So, we got to meet the owner. This was the first time that we got to meet them. He was just the nicest man. He was delighted that somebody was going to take over his family home and put a bit of life back into it. In fact, he even gave us the keys before we even signed. We met him in the waiting room and he just handed the keys to us. It’s such a different process than here in Ireland.
Beth: Yeah, that’s so nice. That kind of builds trust that you’re buying something that's so loved and you’re going to take care of it. I think that’s a really nice way to deal with property.
Carrie: Yeah, and again, we really were taking a chance. We didn’t know and we couldn’t say for sure that these people were genuine, but the plot was definitely genuine because we read a lot; we did a lot of online research. Especially in Galicia, a lot of the plots and the houses are old, down through generations. If family members are living you can’t even... If that property is sold, everybody agrees or it would be left in the family. The family turned over the plot.
Carrie: So we definitely were putting a lot of trust in what was going on around us, with the huge language barrier. At this stage everything is run through Google translate. Hardly anybody [spoke English], apart from Mark, who spoke English because he is English. They worked through everything in Spanish and there definitely `were huge language barriers. So a lot of trust has to be put in. Of course, I think, again, that and he and we could sense that these people were being very genuine.
Carrie: So, we met with the owner and we met with the notary and, again, it's such a different process than Ireland. We were shown the plot on a computer. We were assured that the plot is ours. We had to sign papers to transfer it over, which we did in about ten minutes. We had signed the papers and we had the keys in our hands and it was legalized.
Beth: And what did you feel at that point?
Carrie: I felt overwhelmed but very excited.
Beth: Yeah, I bet.
Carrie: It was like an 'out of body experience.'
Six weeks before that we had never even been in Galicia. We had never experienced the area; we had never been there; we'd never considered buying a house abroad. So, it wasn't like this was something that was coming. It was very much an 'in the moment' type of thing.
Beth: Well, this is what happens when you do a Camino.
Carrie: People told us it would be life changing, and it definitely was.
Beth: Yeah, absolutely, I've done the central route, from the French Pyrenees all the way across the Camino do Saint James. I did that last year, so I completely understand what you mean when you get taken in by the country, entirely.
What an amazing way to finish it. To be, like, yeah, now we're going to have a base here for however long.
What I'd like to do, if you don't mind (I know we're running over, slightly, on time), is to talk about the renovation a little bit more. Have you got time? Otherwise we can schedule in another call.
Carrie: Yes, no no, that's fine.
It's been about a year now since we've had the property. The owner, Alfonso, he was just a Godsend, to be honest, because, again, the language barrier [is a challenge], and it's so intimately rural that there's no such thing as trying to Google anything in the local area. It's just not on the map.
Carrie: So, we did try and find some builders in Ourense, which is the local city. It's about twenty minutes from the house. There are quite a few builders there, but they're much more building on a larger scale. So, we really didn't have any luck with that. But the owner had put us in touch with a builder. Again, we had to be pretty sceptical, but at this stage he had done so much for us that we could trust him. So, he put us in touch with a local man who lived very close to the house. He's a well known local builder, and they actually grew up together as far as I know.
So we met this man, Jose. Kind of from the moment we met him we got a good reaction from him. Even though it's a very small, rural area. He's in shape. He has these kind of builder's arms. He was very professional. Again, this was all through Google translate. So, it's a lengthy process to try and get across, to each other, what we want done.
Beth: Yeah. Of course, with the volume of stuff that you needed done it was very important to make sure that everything was understood. There's a lot of work including structural but also then, presumably, were you doing some sort of interior... were you doing any changes to the interior?
Carrie: Yeah, structurally we changed it. So, since then, while our budget was a huge thing, to be honest we were at home saving and sent the money over to him. So he was very willing to work with our structure, and he wouldn't, I suppose, find money where it wouldn’t be.
So, he was willing to work at our pace, with our budget, as we went along. So at the moment, up until now, he's knocked a few interior walls to make the three bedrooms - the three large ones. We've damp proofed the inner back wall to keep the damp out. We've had to do the tiles up to the ceiling because of the walls that were knocked, and there was a lower ceiling that was blocking the entry that we just thought disrupted the flow of the space. So, we pulled down the entire inner lower ceiling. We didn't really know what that would reveal, up above. Luckily it's all beams, and it's a high roof, and most of the beams are salvageable. So we can actually use that in the future.
Carrie: So now, at this stage now he put in a few extra beams just to make it more solid.
We, moving forward, up until Easter of next year, are planning plastering, building up those walls, fixing the electric and the plumbing. So, by the time we return, in March next year, that should all be done. So, next year it should it should be at the stage where we can get our hands at it, ourselves.
Beth: Amazing, so, you're talking about eighteen months from completion through to when all the renovations will be done?
Carrie: Well, I definitely wouldn't say all. I'd would say that the major work will be done probably by April if not summer of next year. At that stage we're hoping to do a lot of the rest of it ourselves. Now, we haven't touched the wine cellar, below. That will definitely be another project in another few years time, but we don't need that right now.
So, it's definitely going to be a labour of love that we'll be plodding away after the next few years. But I would say that we could definitely stay in it, hopefully, by the end of summer next year.
Beth: Amazing, well, what I'm thinking, if you don't mind, I would love to do a catch up call with you at maybe that time next year and just see how you're settling in; how the renovations have gone; how you're finding Spanish life, and how much your using it as a holiday place. Would you be up for chatting to me then?
Carrie: Oh yeah, definitely, yeah, we'd love to. We kind of feel like we've found a hidden gem. We've had family over to visit us, already, three times, not to stay in the house, of course, but to stay, we’re based just outside the city Ourense which is a half an hour away, which is a fabulous city. It's known for its large thermal baths, so they have thermal springs and thermal baths that were built there by the Romans. So, it's a very kind of unusual city where they have a hot bath attached to the riverside and inside the city walls. So, we're enjoying just exploring the region. For the moment it's given us a whole new area, two hours from home, to explore.
Beth: Amazing, and it sounds like this is just the beginning, this is just the beginning of what is going to be a really interesting adventure. I would love to hear, in real time, how it's panning out.
Carrie: Yeah, great, that would be brilliant. We’ve toyed with the process on Instagram and something like that to kind of document the process, but we've never done anything like that before, so we're not so sure really.
Beth: I think people will be so interested in it. I think it's an amazing thing that you're doing. You're very brave, and it sounds like it's really paying off.
Carrie: Yeah, hopefully now all will go as planned. I suppose there will be a few bumps along the way, but that will add to the excitement and the memories of it all.
Beth: Yeah, totally, well, amazing, OK. I will catch up to you, let's say, next summer and we'll see how it's all going.
Carrie: Brilliant. Thanks a million.
Beth: Thank you so much for chatting to me. Have a lovely rest of your summer holidays I suppose. When are you back to school?
Carrie: I'm back to school next Monday. So, I can't complain. I've had a very adventurous summer.
Beth: You have! You've achieved a lot. Well, enjoy the end of your holidays. Thanks so much for chatting to me.
Carrie: Great, thanks a million, good bye.
Beth: Alright, bye.
- Thank you for listening and thanks to Carrie for sharing her experiences, and to Galician Country Homes for making this episode possible.
- I love that Carrie describes Galicia as like Ireland, but warmer, and what a huge project to embark on. I'm so excited to catch up with them next summer to find out how it has all gone. I'll definitely let you know as soon as that episode is ready.
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- Tune in next time when I speak with Iian, form Southport, who worked with estate agent Target Properties Spain to find his dream home in Spain.
- Iian was hoping to find the picture perfect holiday lifestyle for him and his family with swimming pools and beaches seen on the fronts of postcards. Do you think he succeeded? Find out in our next episode.
- I’m Beth Davison and you’ve been listening to the Kyero.com Spanish property podcast. I’ll chat to you next time!