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'Don't leave your brain on the plane to Spain'

Alex Dunham · 10 Jun 2013, 17:46

Published: 10 Jun 2013 17:46 GMT+02:00

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How did you end up coming to Spain?

I'm originally from just outside Liverpool but I've lived in Spain for half of my life now. I came as a student and I never left.

How did you end up working in Spain’s property market?

I bought a house in Valencia some years ago and I was shocked by the service offered by the local real estate agents.

It was when I helped a British friend choose a house here that I realized there were very few English speaking estate agents who could cater to the needs and desires of foreign property buyers.

There was a gap in the market as Spanish estate agents were only focusing on national buyers.

So I went about setting up my own business, Valencia-Property, which proved a success until Spain's housing bubble burst.

How were you affected?

We went from 55 sales in 2005 to 8 in 2006. The next year was even worse — three sales.

Our nine company employees had to leave because there was simply no business. I found myself discouraging potential buyers because prices were simply too high at the time.

How did you weather the storm?

I suffered a sports injury which kept me housebound for some time. I made the most of that time to teach myself internet marketing as a way of helping to get the business back afloat.

I also started uploading videos in which I give prospective buyers 100 tips on purchasing a property in Spain.

They've been invaluable in building a relationship with buyers prior to coming to Spain and viewing the properties they’re interested in.

We’ve been doubling sales for the past four years.

Are Brits still the main foreign property buyers in Spain?

They are, but UK sales have only recently started picking up again. I've been selling more and more properties to Chinese and Russian buyers but also Americans, Swedes and other nationalities.

What’s your view on the new law which will potentially grant residency to non-EU citizens who buy a property in Spain worth over half a million euros? Will it help rescue Spain’s ailing property market?

Contrary to what most people think, I would have set the bar at €160,000 like the government had initially planned.

I mean, who buys a second home in another continent for half a million euros apart from criminals? Not many people I can assure you.

Then there’s the fact that the vast majority of Spain’s two million empty properties are not going for that price.

It won’t make a difference. You only have to look at the number of sales of €500,000 homes by non-EU citizens bought last year to realize that.

As someone who’s a self-made businessman in Spain, would you be able to tell our readers if there is a lack of entrepreneurship here as is often claimed?

Not anymore there isn't. The days when the Spanish would aspire to work in the civil service as a means of living a comfortable life are long gone. There are a growing number of people who are coming up with ingenious ideas to beat the crisis.

The problem is having to pay €260 a month to be an autonomo, or self-employed. It strangles a company at birth.

I've helped plenty of young Spaniards with great ideas set up businesses in the US and the UK. It was always with ease because of the lack of red tape.

What do you think of the government's plan to stop homeowners from renting out their properties to tourists?

There's a lot of confusion surrounding the matter because decision powers have been devolved to each individual region. There are even different sets of rules between different Canary Islands!

So for example in the island of Fuerteventura, you’re not allowed to use the word "holiday" to advertise your property, but you can do otherwise.

In the region of Andalusia you have to own three properties before you can register any of them for rental.

The government sees it as a way of cracking down on tax evasion but they haven’t even taken into consideration that only 30 percent of tourists coming to Spain stay in hotels.

It could have a profound effect on tourism and not the one they're after.

Story continues below…

What are your main tips for foreigners looking to buy a home in Spain?

Again, I offer a whole range of advice on YouTube but if I had to round it up I'd say top priority is to do your homework before coming. Don’t leave your brain on the plane.

There are some brilliant deals on the market now that house prices have dropped by 40 percent but you still have to plan ahead if you don’t want to get caught out.

I always advise people to get an independent lawyer who speaks both Spanish and your mother tongue to ensure he will represent your interests and explain everything clearly.

How about tips for expats looking to work as real estate agents in Spain?

Thirteen of my ex clients decided to pursue a career in property in Spain after meeting me, but after the crisis only one was left.

It’s not an easy way to make money but it’s nigh on impossible if you don’t speak fluent Spanish or gain inside knowledge.

You can’t leave it up to the lawyer to inform you of what’s going on with a project or deal.

You have to keep your ear to the ground at all times.

Would you say now is the right time to start a new life in Spain?

I've always said that if you've got work and money, Spain is a great place to live. Then again, you can’t expect to be given a job so you have to set up your own business and give it time.

Alex Dunham (alex.dunham@thelocal.com)

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