Buying New or Old?

In some cases owners ascertain correctly that their choice during the hectic  purchase stage was, in hindsight, the wrong one. Unforeseen expenses of adding a proper garden and terracing to a newbuild or refurbishing an older property may have stretched finances and their patience, while serious structural defects or legal issues might have turned their dreams into a nightmare. It is important however to understand that the potential pitfalls of investing in either option will normally only be discovered later, such that there are generally unforeseen catches with nearly every property on the market, new or old.
In this two part article we will look at the common problems encountered for both types of purchase (starting with re-sale), such that existing owners and prospective buyers can weigh up the characteristics and associated risks for themselves. Each property is unique and buyers have different requirements such that while a 5 year DIY project might suit someone fearing boredom in retirement, it could be an unwanted headache for someone with a busy schedule. It is the combination of individual buyer needs and longterm individual property characteristics that will ultimately result in a suitable or unsuitable match.
Re-sale positives:-
Older properties are often more ‘honest’ e.g. walls in need of decoration will not be hiding any recent cracking. The property may have proved that it’s foundations and build method can stand the test of time, which, (as well as wet/dry ,  hot /cold seasons) can even include a few flash floods and  earth tremors. Many older properties are actually better built than some newbuilds.
Earlier builds are often located on the better sites, e.g. when suitable building land was in better supply, the constructor may have chosen a relatively level plot or stable slope with good bedrock. .(Subsidence has been very common in 2006 due to lack of rainfall).
On larger chalets and town houses roof overhangs are often much better than modern equivalents. This helps to reduce damp in walls and makes the need for redecoration less frequent.
Older textured surface finishes provide a much better bond for paint systems than (say) a modern smooth render finish.
All properties need ventilation and a few drafts help to keep down condensation related mould as well as giving a healthier supply of fresh air to occupants.
Requirements such as attention to damp, renewal of kitchen /bathrooms might be more obvious and hence easier to account for.
Most older properties include security bars over windows.
External features such as built BBQ’s stone walls and driveways as well as extensive terracing, planting and irrigation may all be in place. In some cases established trees would take a life time to re-create (Capability Brown, never got to see most of his finest works in their planned glory). Existence of these features is normally worth tens of thousands of euros and should be accounted for.
Older properties are normally on larger plots. Even a hundred meters of extra plot, may make expansion of the living space legally viable. A non  licensed underbuild conversion or extension might therefore be permissible via retrospective planning permission.
General legality issues may have been sorted out a long time ago, such that there is less risk of nasty demolition orders or fines. More established urbanisations are more likely to be legally and physically complete. Purchasing within an ‘Urbanizacion Recepcionada’ is normally the safest option.
A more established built up area may protect you from any high density housing developments nearby.
If the land is rustic i.e. not urbanised, generally purchasing a property with 10,000m2 or more (measure it!) is a safer bet as many localities permit 1 house per 10,000m2 on rustic land.
Many established properties have far more character than newbuilds, giving more of a homely rather than holiday villa feel.
Many properties are sold furnished and often include items from lawn mowers to cutlery.
Re-sale Negatives:-

Underestimation of refurbishment costs

Older properties may suffer from numerous unforeseen and hidden structural or building fabric defects.
As well as commonly needing new kitchen and bathrooms, properties over 25 years old may need replumbing as iron was commonly used prior to copper.
While often wiring is in good condition if run in conduits, sockets, circuit board and even power supply may need upgrading.
Decorative and structural timbers windows and doors may well have suffered rot and insect attack.
Steel reinforcement decay in concrete elements may need cosmetic or even structural repair.
Very old or DIY built weekend casitas may have poorer foundations and other structural omissions.
Solid floor at external ground level could suffer more damp, and flash flood water ingress.
Rising and penetrating damp may have been patched over for sale or simply not have been noticed previously.
Swimming pools may leak or have been poorly patched up just prior to sale. Pump and filter may be pending replacement.
Septic tank may be a very basic soakaway designed for less frequent use (e.g. summer months) without toilet paper.
Attention to draft proofing and heating source may become evident after first winter.
A well established garden will need maintaining and produces a lot of waste. Some trees may need removal or be near to the end of their lives.
Existence for 4 or even 40 years is not a guarantee of legality. National and regional governments are clamping down on local town hall practice which may not have complied with planning regulations (‘normas’). Some well established properties (especially those on rustic land) may still be subject to demolition in the future. Get a good lawyer to check legality (of the built living space, not just plot ownership) and land classification issues. Urbanisation of previously ‘rustico’ areas will normally mean costs of tens of thousands of euros for those owners allowed to stay. Existing properties that are in the way of access etc may be subject to compulsory purchase and demolition orders. We are not talking nasty ‘land grab’ here, but simply enforcement of the law. Building on an orchard in the UK without permission would result in certain and rapid demolition. The Spanish authorities are actually being more forgiving when they let someone’s house stay and simply enforce an urbanisation charge, which when complete will result in higher property value.


So second hand properties have their plus and minus points, which will have both advantages and disadvantages for owners. All used structures deserve closer independent inspection prior to making a purchase decision. Legal issues should be extensively checked by an independent lawyer and most importantly understood by the buyer.
Before you rush to by a newbuild on the strength of this first article, don’t be too hasty. Not many newbuild owners are far from sitting cosy. Many are in court with builders over construction defects, unable to legally convert underbuilds (due to lower plot size) and trying to recover from overspending on external finishing. An increasing number are unwittingly sited using a loophole in the law, which results in much smaller plot sizes (this loophole will probably be closed by order of Madrid and existing houses are unlikely to escape penalties). Some people have already been evicted from illegal homes, and unless central government make a u-turn, many more evictions and demolitions will follow. Demolishing illegal property stock is a great way to fire up demand for fully legal builds in properly designated areas, (a welcome boost to the legal construction sector and economy as a whole, while winning favour with environmentalists and possibly avoiding jail for local mayors and officials).
Before making any hasty decisions, see the next issue of IT for the advantages and disadvantages of buying a newbuild.
If you have a building structure related question you can e-mail Mark for free initial advice :–   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. A free 17 page buyer’s guide is also available on request.

NB:- Information for advice purposes only. Proper legal and safety procedures should be followed for all property purchases and building works.

Information provided by Mark Paddon BSc Hons Building Surveying. ICIOB. Property purchase advisor in the Valencia region. 

Additional information