Vicarious Stress

How serendipitous is it that, simultaneously with preparing this issue on Housing, I am helping a friend buy an apartment in the south of Spain?

I’m telling you, buying real estate – even vicariously – is utterly nerve-wracking. It starts with the matter of Where do I want to live? Which province, which city? A town? What street? A square, maybe? With a view of the ocean, or is that too windy? – for the south of Spain is plagued by poniente and levante winds that can catch you unawares, banging your windows off their hinges and randomly redistributing your piles of papers.

Whereas during most of the year, the Dutch are safely inside, protected against the elements, in the south of Spain, life on the streets goes on until deep in the night – including the screeches of little children. And the garbage is picked up in the middle of the night. And the streets are cleaned using high-pressure hoses in the middle of the night. Silence is truly golden – and rare – in the Spanish inner cities. Consequently, you want an ‘exterior’ apartment for the light and the air, but you want an ‘interior’ apartment for your nightly peace and quiet. And a ground floor apartment is burglar-sensitive, but so is a roof-top apartment – as the thieves can run from (flat) rooftop to rooftop, like in a James Bond movie.

Once you have decided where you would like to live, you can start searching online for a home. But, if 14 of the 15 houses are not at all what you are looking for, are you going to fly all the way over there to check out the one house that is? My friend decided she wasn’t, which meant that years went by between the start of the house search and the decision that she had found one. She has that luxury – but what about you, who have, say, six months to transition from your old home to a new one?

‘Which are the cheapest tiles? I’ll take ‘em. Cover as much as you can with them. Okay, maybe not the living room’

Which brings us to financing. Arranging a mortgage long-distance is no mean feat. You need to find someone who knows about local mortgages: which ones there are, whether they cover more than the purchase price, and whether they are attractive for a short-term period. You have to enquire your way through a maze of options and regulations, in another language. But even if you have the money in your bank account, patiently waiting to be transferred, there are other hurdles. Due to new anti-whitewashing laws, the Spanish banks want to know exactly where the money came from. “My bank account back home” is not good enough of an answer. “Really?” they say, “and how did it get there?” Trust me, rolling your eyes is not advisable in this situation.

Next is the decoration of the home. While you have always fantasized about decorating your home to suit your tastes exactly, you find that you are on a timeline that provides limited opportunity for shopping around. Not to mention how daunting the bills become when you are buying new furniture, new appliances, a new car and have to redo the kitchen and the bathrooms. It soon becomes: Which are the cheapest tiles? I’ll take ‘em. Cover as much as you can with them. Okay, maybe not the living room.

Talking about redoing the home: Who’s going to do what? Who’s going to be in charge of overseeing the process? How do you know that they are charging you a reasonable price? Who’s going to make that last-minute, must-know-now decision with a time difference of several hours? Who’s going to call the supplier and tell them that they promised to deliver the windows yesterday – and that without them, the curtains, the blinds, the painting and the touch-up of the walls cannot be done? My friend waited three days for the preliminary purchase contract, only to receive it a little before midnight Spanish time – 5:30 P.M. U.S. time. By 3:45 A.M. she got a prickly text message, asking her when she was going to sign it and send it back. By 6:15 A.M., they were calling her with the same question. The contract was in Spanish. It had been delivered 12 hours prior, with three days delay, could they at least give her time to decipher it?

In short, if you are looking for home here – or anywhere – I sympathize, from the bottom of my heart. And if you want to buy a house in the south of Spain, give me a holler. I might have a few tips.

Merry Christmas!!

Stephanie Dijkstra

Editor in chief