Building your dream home in Spain without having a nightmare

LAST UPDATED: 13 May, 2014 @ 10:59
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Building your dream home in Spain without having a nightmare

HAVING reviewed what to think about when buying land and developing a building project in Spain, let’s look at how you can transform your plans into a reality, with the help of some leading industry professionals.

Builders? Tell me about ’em. It seems like everybody who’s ever seen one in the street has a horror story about the time they had work done. The only professional most people look (down) upon with equal loathing are estate agents. Ahem. But, if you make good choices and hire good people, building your own home doesn’t have to turn into a bad dream.

The ‘traditional’ route is for your chosen architect to recommend three, or more, reliable builders to do the job. They should put the project out to tender, get quotes, and check them carefully on your behalf. You and your architect should also revise, with a fine-tooth comb, the quality of materials in each, as these can vary widely.

When choosing a builder, common sense prevails: ask to visit recent projects and talk to previous clients. Then, select the best, in consultation with your architect, before leaving he or she, your technical architect, and your builder to get on with the build. If you make changes as things progress, costs may fluctuate but, with luck, you should end up with a finished house, on budget and on schedule.

Another option that particularly appeals to overseas clients is the ‘turnkey’ project, says Diego Suárez of Sotogrande’s Ark Arquitectos: “First, we work with the client on the design and finishings. Then, we quote a fixed price, including all the work and costs to do the job. The price is the same at the start and the end, and the client always knows exactly what it is going to cost.”

If a problem arises, Diego notes, Spanish law holds everyone involved in a build partially liable for claims, meaning it can take time and money to resolve. Turnkey builds let the client pursue a single defendant, who is responsible for the entire process. For many, that guarantee is worth any additional costs this may incur.

Also based in Sotogrande are Renson Management, a bespoke project-management firm with six decades’ international experience. They recently completed an €11 million villa, with a bespoke, glass-wall, infinity pool. Chris Warren, one of the partners, explains, “We are team leaders, serving as the client’s representative and holding their hand every step of the way, to make sure they get what they want.”

Renson put out tenders to up to six contractors, check proposals item by item, verify the schedule of works, and – as preparation is 90% of success – ensure everything goes according to their extremely detailed plan. They coordinate and supervise every aspect of the programme, budget, and materials, to deliver on time, to cost, and to the standards their demanding clients require.

“We’re here to provide peace of mind,” Chris adds, “even if the client changes theirs.”

As professionals offering value-added services, Diego and Chris need to provide something extra to stay in business, especially in these trying times, but both agree “the cheapest option is not always the best.”

In the decade I’ve run Terra Meridiana, I’ve acted for clients who are away for much of the year, helped more than one building project happen, and renovated our own home in Estepona’s old town. So, I’ve seen more than my fair share of good, and not-so-good, builders.

The one piece of advice I always share was given to me by my father: “you can have it cheap, fast, or good,” he said. “Pick two…”

25 COMMENTS

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  1. What a fool you are Caccy, let me explain – intense cold and intense heat both require a house to be built with good to excellent insulation, this simply does’nt happen in Spain and it shows how little you actually know about sound building techniques – you can name drop all you like, it just shows you trying to big yourself up with b/s – you must try harder.

  2. Stuart,

    Please don’t show your ignorance in building. If you posses to know about building by the comment you made could you tell me when and why a 50 cm slump would be required and what density of concrete mix would be needed to back fill a un-required foundation trench and where would you use lightweight concrete and what it consists of.

    I could throw countless building examples if you wish. So keep to the subject of building in Spain which is acceptable for the Spanish climate and not for the rest of Europe/Scandinavia.

  3. Spanish build quality is generally attrocious, and across all aspects of the design. Buildings with no damp courses, buildings with no proper drainage, no cavity walls, poor glazing and fixings, poor electrical and plumbing work, no heating or insufficient heating, poor foundations and landslip problems. The list goes on and on. This sort of poor workmanship can be found in houses costing 100K right up to 1000K and beyond. The winter can be very cold in inland Spain, and it can rain incessantly for months too, with truly massive downpours that have led to loss of life on many occasions. I have rented and viewed many dozens of such houses.

    If you want to purchase a modern house, make sure it at least was designed by an architect. In fact, make sure your house is built for Northern European standards, as Stuart correctly states. At least then you know it has some chance against the Spanish elements.

  4. @Fred,

    All the points you have mentioned also occurs in the U.K and don’t really wish to pick on each point, take too long. Bad constructions in all countries and was one of the reasons the NHBC was introduced on new properties in the U.K.

    Cavity walls and insulation’s were for a reason as you well know was to keep the heat in and not out.

    Places today in Spain are concrete designed and places in the U.K which have concrete flooring also have damp proofing membrane laid. But older houses in the U.K never had any damp proofing hence the introduction of chemical injection damp proofing. Everywhere you look today in the U.K double glazing are being installed even in the older properties, different climate conditions. All these things can be achieved in Spain but it requires a good architect and a good builder and lets face none of the average British builders could carry out work and finish like you see in Spain and have not yet seen in the U.K houses of the kind of design one see’s in Spain. Most in the U.K are known as square boxes. No point in discussing each building points as mentioned, waste of time really.

    One has this thing about Spain and invariably by unhappy people living here possibly caught in a selling trap, so the only recourse really is to continue Spain bashing until they may finally move away. Won’t even go into other countries, France, crap building.

    Sometimes up early (mornings) due to time zone difference around the world via Skype contact, family and friends in the U.S.A and Australia and time really means nothing to me. Retired.

  5. Caccia, the issue is that in Spain these problems are pretty much the norm. Older properties have all the same issues, of course. No idea what you mean about Spain bashing, these are just facts that anyone in Spain, indeed all of Europe, knows.

  6. caccia,

    Up until the 1930s no houses anywhere in Europe had a DPC.

    As to your comment about Spanish v UK builders – absolutely hilarious I almost spilt my coffee all over the keyboard.

    Cavity walls were created not to keep heat in but dampness out, no other country in Europe uses cavity walls. You stupidly keep on about ‘different climates – heat is heat and cold is cold and rain is rain – still don’t get it – I’m not surprised.

  7. Stuart,

    I have been in the building game most of my working life so please don’t lecture on things you don’t really know. Basically you are correct regarding dampness but we were discussing insulation and the reason for insulation in cavity walls and roofs was to hold back any heat loss. Climate conditions plays a large part in house design in any country whether it be for heat, cold or rain and I have yet to see wooden floor with fitted carpets in Spain.

  8. @Fred,

    Things have also moved on in Spain regarding building.

    Insulation’s and cavity walls are being used here also d/g unit’s and central heating. Expanding foam to roofs prior to roof tiling had a three tier purpose. One, insulation against rain penetration. 2. To absorb the heat of the sun through roof tiles, and 3 to reflect any heat loss. There are lost of things different to U.K building, ie water storage tanks in roofs and loss of space in roofs via a trap door. Nothing worse as to when the water supply is suddenly cut off without warning due to some road works being carried out. But one could go on and on regarding the differences to the way they build over here, nothing wrong really, and lots of things missing in both countries ie; in Spain and the U.K which are found in other countries. For example, how many garage’s do you know that only serve distilled water instead of petrol at the pumps, no cash involved, ya just put ya credit card into the appropriate slot. How about a bidet built into a toilet seat which can be found in Japan.

    Problem also is costs. I had found over past years when I was building people in the U.K were perhaps stringent and were inclined to keep costs down and if one mentioned extra advantages in certain things that were not included on plan they invariably would say “Well I’ll think about it”.

    One example was to use the flat roof of an extension as a kind of a veranda with hardened asbestolux floor tiling and ironwork surrounding the upper portion of the extension. A few people would accept the idea especially if the access became available from the main bedroom where the large exterior window was converted into d/g french windows. (similar to here). Another idea was to install flood lighting overlooking the garden area. At the time these were all basically new idea’s which some are now pretty common. This was at a time when 500 watt spot lights were only available to use for this purpose. Naturally this all added to the cost of the build.

    There were many other building idea’s I had thought of and were accepted by clients and architect’s that I had done work for.

    One of my last builds was a surgery for two doctors with the inner skin wall being 150 mm thick Thermolite blocks. The whole works, including a computer room where their old surgery was closed in the morning and new surgery open that evening. This contract also including a penalty clause which was never needed. Can easily direct via Google Earth.

    By the way Stuart, this is not B/S it’s a fact.

  9. All sounds very interesting Caccia but please don’t tell us that the build-quality of houses here in Spain is approaching that of Northern Europe – that’s just nonsense.

    There are good quality builds in Spain, you just have to find one! The house I’m renting currently is German architect-designed and boy can you tell the difference. A few months back I found some files down in the store-room and they were perfectly indexed and written files (500+ pages) about every aspect of the build, even showing the land purchase from day one and all the licenses etc. I could even locate the wiring and pipework as every detail is recorded. Try and find that for most Spanish builds lol.

  10. @Fred,

    Regarding the spot lights I had mentioned earlier. In my younger day’s I bred and raced pigeons and sometimes if I arrived home late and pigeons were let loose for their evening flight they would disappear returning back more or less as light was fading in which case I would turn on the spot lights giving them the sight of the loft for landing etc.

    I know it’s off subject but it was also an indication of the use of spot lights. Surprising the amount of clients that thanked me saying it was so useful going down to the shed or green house and collecting washing from the line instead of using a torch, which today is regarded as a normal thing to do.

  11. @Fred,

    It’s ridicules comparing note to note. English builders and structures are the best in the world, now does that make you happy. Don’t keep going on and on and no doubt you will come back with another comment as usual. Lets see.

  12. Stuart,

    You wrote on MAY 15TH, 2014 7:38 PM
    “What a fool you are Caccy, let me explain – intense cold and intense heat both require a house to be built with good to excellent insulation”.

    I think you will find that the answers given by me clearly rectified you misconceptions and it was you that brought up the subject of heat, cold, rain etc.

    Please read my following replies to you and others regarding your poor knowledge on properties.

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