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Tips for leaving your Spanish home empty while you’re away

If you're going on holiday or leaving your home for an extended period of time, here's what you need to know about keeping your empty home safe while you're away.

Spanish home
Leaving your Spanish home empty. Photo: holzijue / Pixabay

If you’re planning on leaving your Spanish home empty for a while, either because you’re going on holiday, temporarily going away for work or because it’s a holiday home, then you’ll want to make sure your house is safe both from burglars and squatters. 

Although home robberies fell during the height of the pandemic, you still need to protect your home as they’re still common in many places in Spain. According to the latest figures, there were 54,310 forced entry robberies in 2021 in Spain and 349,433 thefts in general.

Although robberies can occur anywhere in Spain, they are most common in big cities. In 2021, the places where the majority of home robberies took place were Catalonia, Madrid, Andalusia and Valencia.  

Squatting or okupas in Spanish, rose by 18 percent in Spain last year. According to Spain’s Interior Ministry, there were 13,389 cases in 2021 until September (the latest data available). Catalonia was the region with the most squats at 5,689, 42 percent of the total number. This was followed by Madrid with 1,282 cases, then Andalusia with 1,994 cases. 

READ ALSO: How to stop squatters from moving into your empty home in Spain

Here are some of our top tips for keeping your home safe while you’re away. 

1) Rent it out

If you’re going to be away for a substantial amount of time, one of the best ways of keeping your home safe is to rent it out. You could choose to only rent it out for the specific amount of time you’ll be away if you don’t want to organise a long-term let. Be aware that it’s not always legal in Spain to rent out your home on a short-term basis to tourists, unless you have a tourist licence. 

READ ALSO – EXPLAINED: What are Spain’s rules and taxes for Airbnb rentals?

2) Organise a house sitter 

If you’re not able to rent your property out, another option is to get someone to house sit for you. Housesitting is an agreement whereby you let someone live in your house for free for the time you’re away, in exchange for looking after your property, and usually your pets too. You can also ask them to do small jobs like watering your plants and looking after your garden. There are several housesitting websites where you can advertise your property.  Many of them accept house sits in Spain. These companies will also help sort out house-sitting contracts and you can review potential house sitters to see what reviews previous owners have given them. 

3) Make it look as though someone is living there

If you don’t want people living in your house, the most common piece of advice is to make it seem like the property is inhabited. This might mean setting a timer on some of the lights in your house or getting someone to pick up your post. You can also ask a neighbour or a friend to keep an eye on the property or stop by on a regular basis to open the blinds once in a while, turn on some lights and make it look lived in. 

4) Invest in security measures

If you’re going to be away for a considerable amount of time and can’t ask neighbours or rent it out, then your best bet is to install some extra security measures. This could include a full surveillance system, a simple security camera, an alarm or even a reinforced door. There are many different security companies in Spain offering a range of services. Even phone and internet provider Movistar now offers security cameras as an add-on to their deals.

5) Join a neighbourhood watch

If you live in a community or residential area, think about joining some type of community watch scheme, where neighbours are in charge of looking out for each other’s properties. 

6) Inform security guards

If you live in a complex with security guards, you may want to inform them that you’ll be away so that they can keep an extra eye on your property.  

7) Check your insurance

Check your home insurance policy to make sure that it’s still valid if you’re going to be away for an extended period of time. Some insurance policies only cover an unoccupied house for up to 30 days at a time. If you’re going to be away for longer, you may need to look at getting some other type of insurance. 

8) Turn off appliances

This one doesn’t have so much to do with burglaries or squatters, but just to be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to unplug appliances. This will save you from having to pay more on your electricity bill when items are not being used and will also mean the appliances are not a fire risk. 

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How to turn a bar, office or shop into a residential property in Spain

Commercial properties in Spain can be a lot cheaper than residential ones, but it’s not as straightforward as buying a former restaurant, office or shop and moving in. Here are the steps to follow and what you need to be aware of.

How to turn a bar, office or shop into a residential property in Spain

One of the tricks budget property hunters in Spain have been using in recent years is buying a local (commercial property), oficina (office) or nave (industrial unit) and transforming it into a vivienda (residential property) to live in or let out. 

It’s a trend that’s roughly doubled in big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona in the last five years. 

Buying a commercial property can work out to be 50 percent cheaper than a flat or house in Spain and there can be other advantages such as it being more open plan than Spain’s typical corridor-themed apartments as well having more money to invest in the renovation. 

Is it possible to turn a commercial property into a residential property in Spain?

Yes, in theory it is, but it’s not always possible. The rules relating to a change of property’s usage from commercial to residential or vice versa are determined by each municipality in Spain, so before you rush to buy un local, you have to do your homework first and be aware of some of the most common pitfalls.

It could be that the limit of residential properties per hectare has been surpassed already, or that without some major changes the property doesn’t meet the standards of size, rooms, space, height, layout, ventilation, air extraction or light of the town or city hall. 

It isn’t the most straightforward process and depending on the property and the individual municipal rules in place, it might just not be possible to live in the property or rent it out to others.

Living in a commercial property is illegal and may cause you problems such as not being able to activate water and electricity or register your padrón at the town hall.

Despite all the paperwork needed, flipping a bar or office and turning it into a home usually works out cheaper than buying a residential property in Spain. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)

Don’t be discouraged however, as in many cases it is possible to change the use of a property from commercial to residential and in regions such as Galicia authorities are currently facilitating the process to address the matter of empty abandoned stores and the lack of well-priced accommodation for young homeowners.

What are the steps to follow in Spain to change a property from commercial to residential?

Check the statutes of the community of owners: In order to make any changes within the community of neighbours, permission must be requested in advance. Beforehand, you can ask the comunidad president for a copy of the community statutes to see if the change of use from commercial to residential is mentioned.

READ ALSO: ‘La comunidad’ -What property owners in Spain need to know about homeowners’ associations

Request permission from the town hall: After getting the green light from la comunidad, you have to go to the ayuntamiento (town hall) of the town where the property is to find out if it’s possible to add another residential property to the finca (building). 

Even if this is confirmed, it doesn’t certify that the change of usage from commercial to residential is allowed, for which the town hall will ask you to provide an architect’s proyecto técnico or feasibility report based on municipal urban laws. You will only be allowed to swap from commercial to residential if the project meets the safety and habitability requirements of the Technical Building Code (Código Técnico de la Edificación).

Get the Building Licence: Known as licencia urbanística or permiso de construcción in Spanish, this is an official document required by the town hall for you to carry out a construction or renovation project. In other words, you’ll need this municipal authorisation to begin work on your future residential property, whether it’s major work or minor . 

Get the Certificate of Habitability: Once the renovation work is complete, you’ll need the cédula de habitabilidad to be able to move in or let the property out . The conditions for this are regulated by each regional government and again it’s an architect who must prepare a technical report in order for a town council technician to issue the certificate of habitability.

The certificate we need for the change of use is that of primera ocupación (first residential occupation), which has to include the usable surface area of ​​the home, rooms, address, location, maximum inhabitants etc.

How much does it cost to transform a commercial property into a residential one in Spain?

If for example it’s a 80m2 property with two rooms, the total would be about €50,000, according to property websites Idealista and Habitissimo, with the bulk covering renovation costs (€500/m2= €40,000) and the rest going to cover permits, architecture costs and taxes.

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