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Top Tips for Buying Property Abroad

I bet you can feel it now, can’t you? The sun on your face, the sea lapping at your toes and the knowledge that you just need to walk up that track and you’re home.

Many people buy property abroad and you may wish to join them. Whether it’s a gîte in France or a villa in Spain, there are a number of things to think about before you decide to purchase overseas.

Bear in mind that the legal system and the steps to follow may be very different to what you’re used to in the UK. Here we provide a quick guide of what to look at and consider when buying a property abroad.

Things to Consider When Buying Abroad

• Research the local property buying process and inheritance laws.

• If you’re going to spend some of your time in the UK and let out the foreign property, check the letting and tax laws that will apply in both countries.

• Always get written confirmation of any special arrangements and negotiations. Don’t just leave it on trust.

• Don’t hand over any money without suitable professional advice first (unless you are prepared to lose this) and, if you do, always insist on a paper receipt for any monies paid. Check whether and under which circumstances a deposit will be refundable.

• Check that the seller actually has the legal right to sell both the construction and the land it sits on. If buying a brand new or partially-built property, check that the title deeds / ownership are actually registered at the local land registry.

• Ensure that the property or land isn’t being used to guarantee any loans and doesn’t have any charges registered against it by creditors. In some countries, debts follow the property and are passed onto to new owners, so make sure there aren’t any outstanding utility or tax bills. If there are, make sure it is a condition of the contract that these will be settled prior to the sale being completed.

• Check whether utilities are connected at the property and, if so, are in good working order – and that the property is legally entitled to use them. Some partially-built properties may not be directly connected or the existing connection may not be legal.

• Meet the neighbours. Locals can tell you if the area is liable to flooding, if there is any problem with water or electricity supply in the summer or advise you of any other problems that a seller or developer may keep under his hat.

• If you’re buying off plan either a partially built property or a new build, ask the developer to show you an example of one of his completed projects and, if you can, talk to the owners of the completed houses to see if they have had any problems.

Many property owners come unstuck because they haven’t sought independent legal advice. Often new owners will have gone off the “say-so” of the local estate agents or builders and wind up in a lot of trouble. When you’re dealing with documents in a language you don’t speak and you don’t have someone independent to at least translate, then you leave yourself open to signing something you don’t understand and which might not say what you think it does or have agreed with the seller.

A good lawyer would deal with many of the above points on your behalf. It’s always best to appoint an independent (English-speaking for Brits) lawyer who is fluent in the language and property laws of the country where you are purchasing.

Our International Property Lawyers at Slater and Gordon specialise in Spanish and French property and succession matters including purchases, sales, inheritance/tax planning and Wills.

For expert advice from our multi-lingual team please call us on freephone 0800 916 9083 or contact us online and we will call you.