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What worries British second home owners in Spain most about Brexit

With just days for Brexit to become a reality, we spoke to Brits with property in Spain about their worries for the future in terms of time spent between both countries, higher taxes and other complications they may face come 2021.

What worries British second home owners in Spain most about Brexit
Alicante, one of the provinces in Spain with most British second home owners. Photo: José Francisco Caro/Pixabay

While Brexit is throwing up many complications for British people who live full-time in Spain (or plan to), there is another group who will be impacted by the changes from January 1st, 2021 – second home owners.

Spain’s great quality of life, sunny weather and reasonable house prices have helped make it a dream holiday home location for many Brits, with the latest Spanish government estimates suggesting 800,000 to 1 million Britons own a property in Spain.

Some had intended to eventually reside full-time or retire to Spain while others wanted to continue enjoying spending prolonged periods of time at their Spanish home while keeping their primary base in the UK.

But Brexit is now casting doubt over British second home owners’ plans for the future, as a callout by The Local Spain on Facebook group “Spanish Homeowners 2020” indicates. Here are the main worries that they expressed.

The 90-day rule

It’s clear that for Britons who currently like to spend long, relaxed summers in Spain, or come here to avoid colder winters in the UK, their plans are curtailed by Brexit.

The 90-day rule – the same one which has always been in place for all non-EU citizens wanting to spend time in EU countries – states that you can spend 90 out of every 180 days in the EU without needing to get residency.

“My husband and I are retiring next year (March) and were hoping to be back and forward for maybe 6 weeks at a time without having to count days in 180,” Isobel Dougan explained.

“It’s going to spoil things. We will still visit but in a more measured way.”

The rule allows for 90 days in every 180, so in total in the course of a year you can spend 180 days in Spain, just not all in one go.

“It’s the 90 in 180 days that does not work, if it were 180 in 365 days it would be workable,” Kathy Thompson commented, a concern shared by other second home owners who worry about having to spend time away from Spain when they most want to be there.

The rule applies to the whole of the EU, so if you spend a whole three months in Spain you can’t then go for a week in Paris within the same 180-day period, another setback for many British second home owners in Spain who also love travelling around Europe.

The clock only stops once you leave the EU and head to a non-EU country (which the UK will be from December 31st 2020).

It could be that some Brits who want to avoid the UK’s cold winters at all costs have to look outside of the Schengen area to countries like Morocco or Cyprus if they’re forced to leave Spain when their 90-day period has elapsed.

This site has a more detailed explanation of how the 90-day rule works, as well as a calculator to allow you to work out your visits.

Photo: AFP

Higher taxes

UK citizens who don’t live in Spain but let out a property in the country will no longer be able to dock off expenses from their tax declaration once they become non-EU citizens.

The measure relates to the IRNR (Non-resident Income Tax), which for EU residents is 19 percent on net income and for non-EU residents is 24 percent.

READ MORE: ‘It’s absurd’ – How Britons who let out properties in Spain could see taxes triple after Brexit

This was a concern voiced by several second home owners on the group who are renting out their Spanish properties while they are not there.

“We will be able to manage the amount of time we visit and we know that our taxes will rise but not sure which ones and by how much,” Sheila James Mitchell said.

Property Rental Income Tax is one of several taxes that can apply to non-resident property owners in Spain including inheritance tax, wealth tax and capital gains tax.

READ MORE: Why Brits in Spain should consider drafting a will now more than ever

For Spanish purchase tax on resale properties there’s no difference between EU and non-EU, for other non-resident taxes it’s rather the regions that decide what’s applicable.

Having a knowledgeable fiscal or legal adviser who understands your specific situation is the surest way of getting a clear picture of what taxes will apply to you as a British second home owner in your part of Spain.


Plaça dels Sedassos in the Catalan city of Tarragona.Photo: lecreusois/Pixabay

Selling Spanish property after Brexit

For Christine Bennett, who’s owned an apartment in Spain for nearly 40 years, “the pain of getting it registered with the tourist authorities”, the quarterly tax returns, the fact that you “can’t carry forward losses from one period to another” and the rise in Property Rental Income Tax for non-EU homeowners are all making her question whether owning a second home in Spain is now worth it.

“Sadly, property prices will be badly affected until Brexit issues settle down so we will be trapped for a long time I think,” she argues.

The tax hike from 19 percent for EU homeowners in Spain to 24 percent for non-EU homeowner also applies to capital gains tax, although there are some exceptions and the CGT rate is subject to change.

Dilemma over where to be a resident

All these concerns are leading many British second home owners to think long and hard about where they should be officially resident: a decision which up until now wasn’t legally enforced and which is now leading many to ask some tough questions.

“Get residence, get your padrón, and live happily ever after,” Chris Symington recommends.

“Too many Brits have mocked the system, lived full time in Spain, not paid tax, used the Spanish system, not paid tax in the UK either but when there’s a problem, who do they turn to – yes the UK! I have no sympathy with the Brits living under the radar getting something for nothing.”

This is of course not the situation for most British second home owners in Spain, who now have to add up the pros and cons of committing to either Spain or the UK, from a personal and practical standpoint.

READ MORE:

And the window of opportunity to decide is quickly closing, as David and Mo Welchman point out: “Remember if you move to be a Spanish resident after 1/1/21 you will not be able to work unless you have a working visa before leaving UK”, among other changes that will make it harder for Britons to become residents in Spain in 2021, even if they are already homeowners here.

READ MORE:

Photo: David Prado/Unsplash

Will Spain be lenient towards British second home owners?

The general consensus among many second home owners who commented is that Spain will treat British non-resident second home owners well after Brexit.

According to the latest official data, they do outnumber British residents in Spain by anywhere between 500,000 and 700,000, although this figure could be quickly changing and the Spanish government hasn’t yet published its 2020 foreign residence census.

“My opinion is that there may be disruption in the early days and a few costs may rise but the Spanish are very pragmatic and will adapt,” Chris Symington wrote.

“Our experience has been that they have never worried too much about laws and regulations and foreigners such as Brits have exploited that fact.

“The Brits will want to enjoy Spanish hospitality, they will want the sun and sangria and the Spanish will accommodate that too. Their economy cannot change much as tourism is deeply ingrained so they will need the British pound. We will need the villas, hotels, shops and bars just the same as before.”

Tim Reynolds shared that view, stating that: “If we all left, it would put the Spanish economy under more strain than it is already.

“After an initial couple of years of upheaval, I cannot see the Spanish Government making it hard for us otherwise it will hurt their economy, and could potentially increase the call for their citizens to leave the EU”.

So far Spain has been forthcoming in protecting the rights of Brits in Spain, but primarily those who are residents or intending to become so before the end of the year. They have recently enshrined in law British residents’ right to vote in local elections (a reciprocal agreement that applies to Spaniards in the UK too) and ensured they will keep all other rights they had as EU citizens under the Withdrawal Agreement.

But other second home owners aren’t quite as convinced Spain will be able to turn a blind eye to overstays by non-resident second home owners.

“This is no longer about Spain – this is about the EU wide Schengen Area,” Gavin Harris wrote.

“A new computer database will operate across all EU borders tracking your entry and exit to the Schengen area. And it’s not about looking at how lax Spain were with Brits when we had freedom of movement – it’s about how strict they have been with third country nationals like Americans”.

Will a visa be made available to second home owners in Spain?

This would be a solution for many of the British second home owners who have shared their views for this article.

The British and Spanish governments haven’t yet come to an agreement regarding visas for British nationals travelling to Spain which would allow them to extend their stay past the 90-day period, or a visa specifically for British second home owners in Spain. 

There is however a general belief that EU countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece with a high number of UK property owners are likely to reach a bilateral agreement with the UK, subject to reciprocity no doubt. 

Spain is forecast to be the EU country most affected by Brexit, so once the dust has settled on the initial travel and trade shock of the UK leaving the bloc during a pandemic, a deal for second home owners could be on the table. 

For the time being, it seems that they will have to adhere to the 90-day rule and keep in mind that the latest reports suggest that by 2022, UK visitors are likely to need to apply online in advance for a visa waiver (European Travel Information and Authorisation System – ETIAS – valid for three years) before travelling to Spain and anywhere else in the Schengen area.

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PROPERTY

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Despite being known for its year-long sunny weather, Spain is the EU country with the fewest homes with natural light, often intentionally. Why is it that when it comes to spending time at home, Spaniards seem to love being in the dark?

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Spain – the land of sunshine. The country gets between 2,500 and 3,000 hours of sun per year on average, almost double the 1,600 hours the UK gets, for example.

You’d probably assume that finding a bright apartment in such a sunny country would be a piece of cake, but unless you’re renting or buying a modern home, it might be trickier than you realise.

More than one in ten Spaniards live in dwellings they feel are “too dark” – the highest percentage among all EU countries, according to figures from Eurostat.

As far as dark homes go, Spain is head and shoulders above the EU average of 5.9 percent, and higher than other nations with a high rate of gloomy homes such as France (9.5 percent), Malta (9.4 percent) and Hungary (7.7 percent).

At the other end of the brightly lit spectrum, it’s no surprise to see that countries with cloudier skies and darker winters such as Norway, Slovakia, Estonia, Czechia and the Netherlands have homes that let in plenty of natural light, and yet Spain’s sun-kissed Mediterranean neighbours Italy and Cyprus do make the most of the readily available light.

Dark homes are almost twice as common in Spain as the EU average. Graph: Eurostat.

So why are Spanish homes so dark?

Is it a case of hiding away from the sun, and keeping cool during the summer months? Or is it something else? 

Apartment blocks

The vast majority of Spaniards live in apartments as opposed to houses, often in tightly-packed cities with narrow streets.

In fact, in Spain 64.6 percent of the population lives in flats or apartments, second in the EU after Latvia (65.9 percent.)

By contrast the EU wide average is 46.1 percent.

By nature of apartment living, Spanish homes tend to get less sunlight.

Depending on whether they have an exterior or interior flat, they might not actually have a single window in the flat that faces the street.

If the apartment is on a lower floor, the chances of it receiving natural light are even lower. Internal patios can help to solve this to some extent, but only during the mid day and early afternoon hours. 

why are spanish homes so dark

A dark, narrow street in the centre of Palma de Mallorca. Photo: seth0s/Pixabay

Hot summers

During Spain’s scorching summer months, there’s no greater relief than stepping into a darkened apartment building lobby and feeling the temperature drop. 

In southern Spain, and in coastal regions, Spanish buildings were traditionally built to protect against the heat and hide away from the long sunny hours. White walled exteriors and dark interiors help to keep homes cool.

It’s often the case that bedrooms are put in the darkest, coolest part of the apartment, sometimes with just a box-window to allow for a breeze but no sunlight.

Spaniards’ obsession with blinds and shutters

Spain is pretty much the only country in Europe whose inhabitants still use blinds (persianas), even during the colder winter months.

In this case, rather than it just being down to keeping homes cool during the sweltering summer months, their usage is intrinsic to Spain’s Moorish past and the fact that they provide a degree of privacy from nosy neighbours. By contrast, northern Europeans with Calvinist roots such as the Dutch keep the curtains open to let in natural light and because historically speaking, keeping the inside of homes visible from the street represents not having anything to hide. But in Spain, the intimacy of one’s home is sacrosanct, especially when the neighbour in the apartment building opposite is less then ten metres away.

Keeping the blinds or shutters down also has the advantage of making it easier to have an afternoon nap (the siesta, of course) or to sleep in late after a long night out on the town. 

In any case, it seems hard to believe for some foreigners that many Spaniards are happy to live in the dark whilst spending time at home, regardless of whether they’re sleeping or not. 

A byproduct of this? Dark, gloomy homes.

why are spanish homes so dark

Spaniards aren’t fans of airing their dirty laundry, at least metaphorically speaking. Blinds have historically provided the privacy they’ve wanted from their homes. Photo: Quino Al/Unsplash

The long, dark corridors

Spanish apartments have plenty of quirks that seem odd to outsiders, from the light switches being outside of the room, the aforementioned shutters, the bottles of butane and last but not least, the never-ending corridors. 

Most Spanish homes built in the 19th and 20th century include these long pasillos running from the entrance to the end of the flat. They were meant to provide a separation between the main living spaces and the service rooms (kitchen, bathroom etc), easy access to all and better airing and light capabilities. But when the doors to the rooms are closed as often happens, these corridors become the opposite of what was intended: dark and airless.

Navigating these windowless corridors at night is akin to waking around blindfolded.

dark corridor spain

Light at the end of the tunnel? Dark corridors are a common feature of Spanish homes. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Are Spaniards rethinking their dark homes?

Times are changing, and modern designs are experimenting with more spacious, light-filled, open-plan apartments, especially as the Covid-19 lockdown forced many Spaniards to reconsider their abodes. 

It’s also increasingly common to see property ads stressing that the property is diáfano, which means that natural light enters the home from all sides.

However, the vast majority of Spanish homes are still gloomy for the most part, often intentionally.

A combination of traditional building styles, the crowded nature of apartment block living, the use of shutters, the desire to keep homes private, and the long windowless corridors mean Spanish flats can seem dark if you’re new to the country, and with good reason.

Ultimately, it is worth remembering that Spanish society is one that largely lives its life outdoors. Living in smaller apartments, Spaniards generally spend less time at home and more time out and about in the street.

Native to a hot and sunny country as they are, Spaniards’ homes are a place of rest, relaxation and, crucially, sleep.

Spanish people have enough sunlight and heat in their lives; they like to live, therefore, in homes designed to keep cool and dark.

READ ALSO: Why are Spanish homes so cold?

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