‘Don’t leave your brain on the plane to Spain’

In this week's instalment of My Spanish Career, The Local talks to real estate agent Graham Hunt about surviving Spain's property crisis, why the country's new home rental law is so confusing and whether Spaniards really lack an entrepreneurial spirit.

'Don't leave your brain on the plane to Spain'
Hunt has set up numerous Spanish businesses in real estate, communications and website development. He is currently juggling five projects, two businesses, three blogs and fifty-five web domains.

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.

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.

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EXPLAINED: What you need to know about locksmiths in Spain

If you get locked out, have a break-in or need to change or fix the door lock at your home in Spain, here are the rates and advice you need before calling a Spanish locksmith (cerrajero).

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about locksmiths in Spain

Like anywhere, locksmiths are generally expensive and the price can vary greatly depending on the service you need and where you are.

It also depends on when you need them, as it’ll cost much more to call them out on a Saturday night than a Monday morning, for example.

Nor would it cost the same to open your front door as it would a reinforced security door.

But locksmiths don’t just make copies of keys and bail you out when you’re stuck outside your flat.

They also offer a whole host of different services including, but not limited to, opening safes, creating master keys, installing security doors, anti-drill doors, cutting specialist locks that reject copied keys, and even unlocking the boot of your car.

How much does a locksmith cost in Spain?

Given all these variables, the price can range massively.

According to Cronoshare, the average price for a nationwide call out in Spain can start from €80 anywhere up to €400.

On average, for a basic service, you can expect to pay anywhere between €40-€70 an hour for the labour, with the price of changing or installing a basic lock anywhere between €80-€200. 

For basic door openings, it depends on the situation you find yourself in: for doors locked with a key, which is a more complex task, prices average around €200, and for doors that are jammed or slammed shut, slightly cheaper in the €80-€100 range.

For an armoured or security door, prices can start at around €300.

In short, a general rule is that the more complex the task is, the higher the prices.

And as always, prices can vary depending on where you are in Spain, the quality of the locksmith, the time of the day and week you need his or her services, and if its a public holiday or not. 

So, as always, compare prices to try and find the most economical solution without skimping on quality.

As such, the following rates are estimations taken from average prices from locksmith.

Weekend/holiday rates

Where prices can really start to add up, however, is when you have an emergency situation requiring a locksmith’s assistance at the weekend, on a public holiday, or outside of normal working hours.

And if you live in Spain, you probably know there’s quite a few of those days throughout the year.

If you really need a cerrajero on a public holiday or during non-working hours (usually defined as anything between 8pm-8am) prices can reach €300 or €500 due to the fact you’ll have to cover the cost of travel, which starts from around €40 plus the increased rate.

Then you must also include the price of labour to the flat rate, which is usually somewhere between €40 and €70 an hour regardless of when you call them out.

Key vocabulary 

We’ve put together some of the basic vocabulary you might need if you find yourself needing a locksmith while in Spain.

el cerrajero – locksmith

la llave – the key

la llave de repuesto – the spare key

la puerta – the door

la cerradura – the lock

la bisagra – the hinge

día festivo – public holiday

cambio de bombín – change of cylinder lock

puerta blindada – armoured door

coste de mano de obra – labour costs

quedarse afuera – get locked out 

puerta cerrada de un portazo – door slammed shut

puerta cerrada con llave – locked door

Tips relating to choosing a good locksmith in Spain 

If you’ve just started renting a new place or have bought a property, it’s advisable to change the lock as you don’t know who has keys to your front door. If you’re a tenant, try to negotiate this with your landlord as it’s in both of your interests that only you two have keys to the property.

If there has been a burglary in your property while you’re living in it and there’s no sign of forced entry, then there’s a very big chance that the burglars had a copy of your keys, and you should definitely change the locks. 

If you’ve lost your keys and you think it happened close to your home, again it’s advisable for you to change the locks.

One of the best ways to avoid being locked out and having to cough up a hefty sum is to give a spare set to someone that you trust that lives in your town or city in Spain. 

When it comes to choosing a locksmith in Spain, you should make sure he or she is a reputable one. Asking friends and family first can be your first port of call.

If not, make sure you read reviews online if available to get any insight beforehand.

In order to avoid any nasty surprises, ask them on the phone for a budget (presupuesto) for all the costs attached to their services before accepting.

Be wary of cerrajeros that automatically want to change the whole lock when a simpler and less costly option is possible. 

Usually they should offer you a contract for you to read carefully before signing. It should include a three-month guarantee for the potential new lock or at least a breakdown of the costs.

Make sure that they are not charging you an excessively high price if it’s an emergency, as this is not actually legal.

There’s also asking them to prove their accreditation with the Unión Cerrajeros de Seguridad (UCES).

Weekend and holiday rates can be higher nonetheless, so consider your options and if it’s worth staying with a friend or family member for a night to save some money. A trustworthy and honest cerrajero will let you know about the money you could save if you choose to wait as well.