Getting a good bargain when buying a new home is a big ask. Indeed, whether it is for purchase or rent, it calls for investing time and some reflection, including calls, visits and re-visits. To this we have to add a number of decisions that must be taken
That's why, when you visit the one that may finally turn out to be your definitive home, it could be love at first site and it's easy to get carried away by the first impression and not pay attention to details.
That is why I have put together this list below so that at least you can review these essential points to make a good decision and not be carried away only by the "love at first site syndrome".
1. Orientation and its importance.
The orientation of a building is not as important as you may think. It is the relationship between its layout and its orientation what matters. All newly-landed Brits here in Spain will gravitate towards a south facing living area with lots of sun, natural light etc. But you and I know that with the exception of, say, three months a year: December, January and perhaps February or November. It is better to live in a north-facing area, not to mention those months of July- August when temperatures reach 40º and beyond. Those who want direct sun can always find a sunny spot to get burned. I am obviously talking about a property located on the east coast of Spain, clearly for house in the north of Spain, the opposite rules apply.
In a house with the living room and day living area facing north, you may need to heat those areas up to two months more than in a south facing home, and with the same characteristics, since it is colder. This can mean a saving of 25% on the heating bill.
The east/west orientation is also relevant, since the former will have more light in the morning and the latter in the afternoon. The best thing is to have a floor plan of the house to know in which direction each room is oriented.
2. Noise, insulation.
The sound insulation in newly-built properties in Spain has no comparison with the standards that applied to properties built before 2007. However, the environment where the house is situated will have an impact on the noise heard inside regardless of how well the joinery is insulated. The activity of the area and its proximity to roads with traffic, neighbours etc. will have a greater impact, for one simple reason, in Spain we tend to have windows and doers open because of the weather, so the quality of the joinery will not have any impact on stopping noise if they are open. Therefore, it is recommended to assess the noise level with both the open and closed windows. And, if possible, visit the house at different times of the day.
3. Thermal Insulation.
This is similar to point 2 above. There is no comparison between the thermal insulation in newly-built properties in Spain today and the standards applied in properties built before 2007. New regulations coming into force in 2020 for houses will mean that 0 Kw will be permitted to heat or cool the house. No none-renewable energy will be used in properties built from 2020 onwards and those properties built around 2017 onwards will require very little energy. However, old properties are different and an energy certificate must be obtained before you buy the property.
To maintain a proper temperature inside, it is essential that the house is well insulated. Doors and windows are the weakest link here, so a good look at the joinery to verify that they are in good condition is a must.
An EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) must be obtained - incidentally in Spanish they are called “Certificado de Eficiencia Energética” (CEE) - Energy Efficiency Certificate.
It should always be published and access to it is your right. They can only be issued by certified competent technical experts: architects and building engineers. The certificate also indicates the level of thermal insulation and energy consumption of each home or building.
4. Electrical system
I always recommend having a survey done before you make the biggest investment of your life.
Reviewing the electricity is one of those requisites that an architect or building engineer can help you with. It is easy to get an idea of it by inspecting the electrical panel: A new home has at least five different independent circuits with their corresponding automatic switches and a main general cut-off switch. If you have fewer than that, it is better to review it. Switches and plugs can give another clue. Some are very old, which indicates that there has not been a recent renovation. In addition, it is important to check that there are enough sockets (power outlets).
5. The plumbing system
As I mentioned in my last article, I strongly recommend that you have an architect conduct a survey before you make a very large investment. However, if you opt to skip this and decide to do it yourself, do check all taps in the house.
In fact, it would be ideal to check all of the taps and make sure that the water, both hot and cold, has enough pressure to avoid unpleasant surprises later on.
It is also advisable to examine the drainage system. Check that rainwater guttering is not covered with dirt or even worse, blocked. In Mediterranean coastal areas there is a weather phenomenon known as the “Gota Fría” (or DANA, to use the technical term) which involves sudden downpours and flash floods. If you don't know what it is, I suggest you Google it and you will be surprised. It is important to check whether there is a water meter installed outside the house as well as the electricity meter. It is worth leaving a water tap running and a few lights on and check that both meters are ticking over.
6. Air conditioning and heating.
An efficient air conditioning system will save a lot on bills. In addition, being able to obtain an adequate temperature is essential in a home. If the house has a heating system, the first thing is to know is what type of fuel it uses (gas, electric, with a boiler and water radiators, etc.). Please that electricity bills are very expensive in Spain, so to use it without having solar panels to heat your home is a mistake that will cost you a fortune in the long run. Gas is cheaper even if you have to use old gas cylinders.
Air conditioning is a must on the coast in the summer months, so if the house doesn’t have it, you should allow for the expense of installing a good system. If it does, check that the HVAC system is in good condition. What energy rating does it have? If the rating is not an “A” at least, do consider a change of system.
The type of materials with which the house is built will clearly have an impact on the aesthetics. Again, here if it is a newly-built home, it is likely that it will meet insulation and energy efficiency standards, but bear in mind that it is not the same to have a marble floor finish in a home on the coast as having it in the north of Spain. The influence of those materials on the feel of the place and the effect that these material will have on you will be noticeable. Wooden floors and ceilings are warmer, while materials such as tiles or stone are more likely to give you the feeling of cool rooms. It is important to take this into account, especially in spaces such as living rooms, where we spend many hours a day.
8. The importance of the exterior of the building
If your house or flat is part of a building or a residential complex, we can obtain a lot of information from the façade or the exterior of the building regarding its maintenance or lack of it. The same goes for common areas such as the staircase or the lobby. If a residential building does not have a lift, it is a good idea to ask if they are planning to install one, because it may mean having to fork out a future payment. If it is a house with outdoor spaces, also check that everything is in good order: walls, gardens, security and the car park or garage, among others.
9. The neighbourhood and its importance
No one should ever neglect the neighbourhood before making a purchase. This applies especially to day-to-day requirements. Although this depends on different priorities, the main thing is to have a parking area, supermarkets, proximity to bus and commuter train stops and medical services, etc. It is equally important to pay attention to safety and especially noise by checking in different seasons. An extremely peaceful area in winter can turn into hell in mid-summer!!!
10. Other items
Every house or building sold in Spain must have an EPC (Energy Certificate) clearly stating its energy rating.
Also, if your apartment or house is part of a building make sure you check the IEE (Building Assessment Report) and the ITE (Technical Building Inspection, necessary for buildings over 50 years old). Failure to comply can lead to very strict penalties and even fines for the community of owners, and that means you! So, it is very important to find out whether a building needs an inspection before making a purchase.