How to Buy Land in Spain
If you are a fan of TV series like Grand Designs, you may be tempted to get ultra-adventurous and build your own Spanish grand design. It’s unquestionably a great plan; you’ll end up with a dream property with everything brand new and built precisely to your specifications.
However, before you start downloading home design software or, if you are that way inclined, sketching designs, it’s essential to understand the steps involved if you want to buy a plot for construction in Spain. Therefore, this post discusses how to buy land in Spain safely to avoid headaches with installing utilities, planning permission, or construction-related issues.
Buying land in Spain is in many ways the same as buying a villa or apartment. First, you search for an estate agent in the area where you’d like to own land; then you look through their listings for a plot you want. Once you find a great plot, you hire a lawyer to handle the legalities and a surveyor to appraise the land. The lawyer will guide you through buying the land and let you know of any additional fees you need to pay. However, unlike when buying a house, which is already constructed on a plot with planning permission, you need to make sure you can in the future build the home you want on the land you purchase.
Planning Laws for Land in Spain
Under Spanish law, all land is categorised. Therefore, before you begin searching for your perfect plot, it is important to know the different land categories you will find on sale. Most land will be described as Urbano (urban) or Rustico (rustic or rural).
There are significant differences between urban and rustic land in Spain. Spanish law permits you to build on urban land, but getting a building permit can be difficult or impossible if you buy rural land. There are also differences between autonomous communities and even municipalities within the same autonomous community, so it is essential to hire an experienced lawyer when buying land to build on in Spain.
You will usually find Suelo urbano (urban land) in a built-up area. However, it will not necessarily be located within a built-up zone; it could be in an area with few constructions, but close to a town or village and marked as urban land on the Plan General de Ordenación Urbana, or PGOU.
The PGOU is a document of a legal nature, which includes a project for a city, town, or village. Therefore, in a vague way, we can think of it as the desired model of a town and how the town hall wants the municipality to develop in the future. Consequently, even if an area is not currently built up, officials have marked the land as urban and allow building and development if a buyer should desire.
Suelo urbano will generally have mains to utility services installed, but there may be some connection requirements to complete in some cases. This would likely involve costs and legal fees.
There is a minimum size of urban land you are required to buy, defined by the town hall. Depending on the size of the house you want to build, you might need a larger plot of land than the minimum requirement.
Land for Development
Suelo urbanizable is developable land that has not yet been urbanized but is delimited by urban planning instruments as an area for new urban growth. Thus, building can commence once the corresponding urban transformation work is complete.
Developable land can be considered land in transition, which does not stop it from being rural until its conversion to urbanized land is finished. For this, it must have general or development planning and require administrative work through parcelling and other distribution methods and the approval of an urbanization project. Then, the physical work to divide the plots must be done, along with the installation of services and other requirements for the land to be classifiable as plots.
In a nutshell, developable land is an area town hall planning departments have defined as a zone for a town’s expansion.
On developable land, planning permission isn’t always necessary. But if you intend to buy developable land for a building project, you or preferably a solicitor, lawyer, or reputable estate agent must first check with the town hall about the requirements, specifications, and limitations that may be in place before you can build on suelo urbanizable.
Suelo urbanizado is land that is fully urbanized with established facilities such as drains, pavements, surfaced roads, sewerage, utility mains, etc. If a particular facility such as pavements is not yet in place, you are advised to find out if plot owners are likely to be charged for future installations. Often owners will be required to cover the cost, or partially pay for the improvements, whether an individual may desire them or not.
Sellers will often sell urbanized plots with an approved project, and with this type of purchase, building work can start immediately.
Getting permission to build on any urban plot is usually straightforward. Still, there will very likely be some restrictions, such as how close you may build to the plot’s boundaries, how many floors are permitted, and which construction materials are allowed, etc. So again, it is crucial to hire a skilled professional to make sure you know all the ins and outs before buying an urban plot.
Suelo rustico is controlled by Spanish national laws and the laws of the autonomous region, even though it is within the administration area of a local town hall.
Rustic land will be either green belt (protected land) or urbanisable, which is not protected but not classed as urban or buildable due to town planning and a lack of infrastructure.
Due to the land being rustic or rural, by definition, it is not to be built upon, and usually, Spanish law does not permit building on rustic land. But it is a grey area, and in some situations, regional authorities will issue building permits for rural land construction.
For example, if there is a public interest, such as setting up a camping ground for tourism that may create jobs, or starting an artisan business that might need a small building for storage, etc., in such circumstances, permission could be granted.
The granting of permission to build on rural land varies significantly between districts. For example, many regions grant permission to build on a small part of the total area. In this case, you would need to buy a considerable amount of land to build anything substantial or would need to settle for a minuscule home. In other cases, authorities may give permission if the building is on land used for farming purposes.
For a rustic land building project, you need the consent of the local and regional authorities.
If you are thinking of buying a rural plot, the local and regional laws need to be thoroughly scrutinised, so never go ahead with purchasing rural land without legal help.
When you have found a suitable plot, your or your agent or solicitor will get the town planning certificate (certificado urbanistico or cédula urbanística), which states the specifications for building on a plot of land. You should not go ahead with a purchase until you have this certificate and are satisfied the land meets your requirements.
Building regulations in Spain change frequently, so regardless of what you are informed is allowable, you will need an up-to-date legal appraisal by an architect of the site before you go ahead and sign on the dotted line. Make sure your lawyer is certain the land conforms with local, regional, and national regulations. Also, ask him to check the rules for such things as the maximum height of a construction, if multiple balconies are allowed, and brick or colour restrictions.
You’ll also need to find out how much of the land you can build on. Again, this will depend on several factors, mainly the size of the plot and the nearest neighbours.
While the building laws in Spain may seem daunting, they are not much different from the UK, where land is divided into zones, including green belt, brownfield, commercial and residential land, among other categories. As a newcomer to Spain, the classifications are bound to sound confusing. Still, a professional will understand the legalities perfectly and advise you on which land is suitable for your dream home project.
Architectural style rules, as with everything else, vary. But unless you are building in a historical area, these regulations are typically reasonably lax.
Once you have found the ideal plot and your lawyer has confirmed permissions for construction, it is time to gather legal documents. These include the following:
Geotechnical Report (Informe Geotécnico)
In Spain, you need to obtain a geotechnical report to decide the suitable foundations for the property you wish to develop and anticipate any possible problems. These include issues due to soil type, the presence of water, huge rocks invisible on the surface, or other characteristics of the land that could cause difficulties.
A geological survey involves drilling, taking samples, and examining them.
An officially registered specialist provider must produce the report. This typically takes a few weeks to finish and costs anywhere between 1.000€ and 3.000€.
Topographical Report (Informe Topográfico)
While not legally required, if you buy a plot with a steep slope or other feature that might make building a challenge, it’s recommended to commission a topographical report. A qualified topographer should produce this report. A topographical report also usually takes a week to complete and costs between 300€ and 1.000€.
Completing the Sale
Once you have these reports, your lawyer can arrange to complete the sale in the local notary office. Unfortunately, you cannot inscribe your title in the property (land) register unless a notary observes the sale deeds. A notary’s signature is needed to upgrade a private contract into public deeds to be recorded in the land register. Be aware that just because a notary is a legal professional, they do not offer legal protection, so you must take a qualified professional along with you when signing the deeds.
Once you have signed the deeds, you can obtain the following:
1). The nota simple, an official land registry report that describes the land, its boundaries, and ownership details.
2). The catastral (cadastral) document, a record showing the extent, value, previous ownership, and usage of the land. The cadastral value, which is not stated on the cadastral document, is a vague evaluation estimate. This estimate is used to calculate local taxes for rubbish collection and rates. You can find the cadastral value on the IBI receipt, which you can request from the seller or their legal representative.
3). The escritura, or title deeds, is a lengthy legal document that contains a great deal of information.
The title deed is a public document that declares the change of ownership of a property or plot of land. After the notary has signed it, the land registrar will consult the escritura to change the ownership details at the land registry.
From then on, the notary office where you signed stores the title deeds. The notary office will give you a copy on completion of the transaction, but as a copy, it is not a legally binding document, and you can request more copies should you lose the first.
The escritura describes the landborders, referencing the neighbouring plots and any natural features.
On rural land or properties without fencing, you might find nearby owners use trees or rocks to establish their borders.
Buying a plot of land to build on in Spain is more complicated than buying a house already built, whether it is a new build or resale property. However, many buyers feel the paperwork and extra steps are worth it, as the result is a brand new home with the exact features and fittings you desire.
Before you buy a plot of land in Spain, you can save yourself a lot of time and possibly money by talking to an expert. At Valuvillas, we understand everything you must know before going ahead with a purchase, so contact us today.