Thursday, 18 March 2010

A blind alley

(Reproduced with kind permission of Per Svensson)
A blind alley By Per Svensson: A certainly well meaning Secretary for Europe in the British Foreign Ministry, Chris Bryant, has been on a lightning visit to Spain in an attempt to assist his countrymen who are experiencing serious problems with property purchases in the country. During a meeting in the British Consulate in Malaga an agreement was reached with the Secretary of State for Territorial Cooperation in the Spanish National Government, Gaspar Zarrias (previously the strong right hand of Ex-President Chavez in the Andalusia Government) and the Minister in Andalusia for Urban Affairs, Juan Espadas. The agreement was that the Junta de Andalusia would pay for a functionary “expert in urban matters, education, health and social services” to be placed in the British Consulate in Malaga to provide “information to residents in Spain … to avoid legal problems.” It is anticipated that a similar arrangement will be made in Alicante with an urban affairs expert from the Generalitat Valenciana. The British Ambassador and a number of associations defending the interests of people affected by urban planning abuses, or by the excessive use of the Law on the Coasts, were also at the meeting. The threats of demolitions I understand the interest of the victims groups to take part in any discussions which may affect their situation, hoping maybe that the meeting itself could help in resolving their real problems: the threats of more demolitions of foreigner’s dwellings. I also understand the intention of the representatives of the Andalusia and Valencia Governments, who are trying to find a cheap way out of their responsibilities for the abuses. There was nothing in the statements made by Mr. Zarrias to indicate that the demolition orders issued by the Junta de Andalusia would be withdrawn, and he stressed that the information given by their urban expert to residents had as its aim to prevent legal problems (meaning in the future). May we ask: Has this information not been available all the time in the offices of the vast number of private lawyers and real estate agencies, the office of the European Residents in the Alicante Provincial Government, the offices of the Defensores de Consumidores and notary’s offices, and on the web page of the property registrars in Spain? Even on the web pages of Ciudadanos Europeos the information has been available for years. So how could the scandals in Albox, Catral, Axarquia, Cartama, Mijas, Marbella, Bigastro, Zarra, Lliber or Montroi, just to mention a few, have happened? Information sources for trans-national property buyers Because the decision by a person in the north to buy a home in the south is mainly taken on a cold, rainy and windy, winter day, after viewing a film or TV report with palm threes and beautiful beaches, visiting one of the many property exhibitions or reading an advert about homes in the sun for sale. In almost every town throughout Northern Europe there is an active network of real estate agents offering properties for sale in Southern Europe. You do not need any special education or training to become such an agent, you must just have a phone/fax/e-mail. Almost none of them speak the language or know the laws of the countries in which they are selling. What they do know is that they will get 5-10% commission on the sales price when the client buys. The client is taken by the sales agent to the country where the property is located, or is met at the airport by a collaborator. He is not taken anywhere to get good advice. Almost invariably the visit ends with them signing a private sales/purchasing contract and paying a deposit. More and more trans-national property buyers are using the Internet for additional information but very few know they for instance should go to the web site of the “Ilustre Colegio de Registradores” of Spain to find the correct information. When using the Internet to search for information on property in Spain, almost all will enter “property in Spain.” I did so and found 133,000,000 entries. Having studying the 30 first entries, I saw they were all selling properties, or services connected with a purchase. The property registrars are not mentioned. I then typed “Spanish property registry” knowing well that almost no new property purchaser would be aware important information could be obtained there. I found 2,420, 000 entries, and after searching the first 30, found that the “Ilustre Colegio” was not amongst them. The entries were openly or disguised property sales. It was only when I searched specifically that I arrived at the Registrars site. Who would know to do that? Only those professionally connected with the sale of property in Spain, never an average buyer. The Consulates, a blind alley The British Embassy and Consulates have a good record when it comes to taking up the issue of abuse against their countrymen in Spain but they are blind alleys when it comes to solving the problems. Will victims of all nationalities go to one of the two British Consulates with their problems? Should potential new buyers be expected to approach Spanish functionaries sitting in those consulates before making a decision to buy? A ridiculous assumption. It is the year long battle of organisations like AUN, investigations by the European Parliament (re-read the Auken Report of almost a year ago from the EUP – there has still been no answer from the Spanish or the Valencia Governments!) and the reports in the foreign press, that have put pressure on Spanish politicians. I expect they will now all praise the agreement with the British Consulate in Malaga, brush their hands and say, “Now all foreigners can safely buy in Spain!” No, they cannot, and they should all be warned against trying to do so as long as innocent victims are still under the threat of losing their home, or having it vandalised by scheming “agentes urbanisticos” under the Valencia property laws; but still no proper, functioning information system has been set up. The Spanish Governments have disqualified themselves by not giving any form of answer or reaction to the year old Auken Report, approved by the European Parliament by an overwhelming majority. This valuable and accurate document must not be forgotten or ignored. We must go back to point 35 of the final conclusions in the Auken report which states: Once again (the Parliament) calls on the Commission to initiate an information campaign directed at EU citizens buying real estate in a Member State other than their own. A proposal for such a permanent information campaign within the framework of the European institutions has been submitted to one of the leading members of the European Parliament. That is the road.

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