FOR many overseas buyers, purchasing a property in a development in Spain also means joining a community of owners for the first time. Here are some ideas of what you should consider and check before sharing your, and everyone else’s, backyard.
“You need community spirit to form a community,” believes Stephen Hills, a retired interior designer and the president of Torre Bermeja in Estepona. An owner in the urbanisation from day one, Stephen has held the post for 12 years, aided by an administrator, who handles the books and back office, a manager, and 18 full-time employees.
It’s all about forming a virtuous circle, for Stephen, in which everyone contributes and gets more back in return. He arrives at the office, which is open from 9.30 -16.30 every day. While he is not paid as president, as per community rules, he does earn a salary for his day-to-day “CEO” role.
Torre Bermeja is one of the Costa del Sol’s best-run luxury complexes, with nary a blade of grass out of place. Comprising 109 apartments and penthouses, Stephen has created a community that not only keeps the place looking good, but also ensures community fees are spent wisely and owners’ investments are protected.
Stephen reveals how it all works: “We run it like a company, have built a team everybody is happy with, and I treat it like a job,” he says. “Our latest AGM took 45 minutes. Everybody is in the loop and there is constant dialogue, so there are no shocks and no upsets. At the end of the day, you can only try your best and hope all the owners are pleased with your efforts. It’s certainly worked so far.
“We have established Torre Bermeja at the forefront of luxury developments on the coast; there isn’t anywhere that matches it,” Stephen feels, insisting he cannot imagine living anywhere else. Having served as president for over a decade, he clearly gets a buzz from what has been achieved: “After all, there’s only so much tennis and golf you can play,” he smiles.
According to Adolfo Martos Gross, a partner in Costa del Sol law firm Gam Abogados, prospective purchasers, or their lawyers, must appreciate buying a property in a community not only confers rights, but also obligations. Owners enjoy communal space and amenities, but also have to pay their fair share of the costs of running the community, in proportion to their coefficient of total ownership.
Costs include regular monthly fees, approved at the AGM once a budget has been proposed, and possible additional charges, if unforeseen expenditure is required. Rare communities, like Torre Bermeja, have sizable contingency funds, but many do not. So, Adolfo says, if you are thinking of buying, first ensure you know how much your unit will cost per month, and if any pre-existing or planned extra amounts may be due.
Communities, and hence all the owners that make them up, may also be liable for damages arising from claims against them, such as for illegal pools, exposed electrical cables, shoddy construction, and so forth. Buyers should always check there are no pending or previous issues that could affect their purchase.
When acting for a client, Adolfo always examines all the following:
• AGM minutes from the last three years to find out how the community gets on, or if it doesn’t; check if there are any additional costs that could affect the purchase; ensure there are no building defects or, if there are, that these are being remedied; and confirm there are no possible other claims and costs.
• The horizontal division public title deeds, community statutes, and community rules to confirm there are no discrepancies between the documentation and reality (sometimes conflicts arise when the horizontal division is not properly registered, leading to problems among owners and with the community itself); and there are no unusual stipulations which could be detrimental to or limit his clients’ ownership rights, such as clauses impeding alterations to terraces, imposing fines for certain acts, or requiring additional payments for the mere act of building on a plot.
• The ownership coefficient that corresponds to the unit or share for sale and the annual charges due.
The bottom line is that, if you’re thinking of buying a unit, or units, in a Spanish urbanisation, whether it be an apartment on the beach or a plot on a golf course, you’d be well advised to do as much research into the community you’ll be part of as about the property itself. After all, while you can’t choose your family, you can decide who you want living next door for as long as you own your place in the sun.