Monday, June 14, 2010

House hunting


Our first excursion was to the Ribeira Sacra in the southern part of Lugo province. It is an extraordinarily beautiful place, with terraced vinyards dropping down hillsides to the River Sil. It´s also a little remote.

Our agent was a chain-smoking, personable older local gent who had been targeting the foreign buyers interested in picking up a cheap stone rural place - which pretty much describes me. We´d emailed a list of properties we were interested in from the website. He drove us all over, basically telling us all real estate agents in Galicia were crooks, except for him, and eventually showed us about 20+ properties over a day and a half. Some were in better shape than others and some had more property attached, but none with a sizeable parcel. We were immediately smitten with a place built around an interior patio. He didn´t have the keys to show us the inside (that will become a theme) but hinted the owner, who recently inherited the place, needed cash. The surrounding garden belonged to a cousin, as well as a tiny sliver out front which would need to be negotiated. We decided that was the best we´d seen and he would let us know. Turned out there was another heir, in Venezuela, and she didn´t want to sell because she didn´t trust the family in Galicia. Oy.

Next trip was to Asturias, around Taramundi. Again, a spectacularly beautiful area, but remote and even more mountanous. Met a local agent who showed up late and in a 2 seat vehicle. He drove our rental car. Of the 10 properties we´d chosen from their website, he actually showed us 2. One was a barn, not a house, and wouldn´t get reclassified. He argued with us about how much land we were looking for and why we didn´t care for a place perched on a hillside with a close to vertical drop. He also broke down crying at lunch reminiscing over his childhood. We attributed that to stress, not us, and said goodbye to Asturias.

We moved on to Lugo. Met an English agent who resembled a bouncer more than anything. He met us at the train station, took us to his office and went over the properties on the website, despite the fact that we´d already emailed a list. He did drive us around and show us most of what we´d had in mind, while telling dirty jokes and assuring us that he was the only honorable RE agent in Galicia. He hinted the agent in the Ribeira Sacra was an addict. We were dazzled by a house around Vilalba (birthplace of Fraga) with a walled garden, but he didn´t have the keys to show us inside. Turned out there were 6 brothers who´d inherited the house and hadn´t spoken to one another in 20 years when he got them to agree to the listing. No negotiating the price.

We checked out a Spanish agent. He was a contractor/builder as well as selling houses. We saw a finished renovation (200K€), one under construction and a property outside Palas de Rei in Lugo. The house was beautiful,and in pretty good shape given that there was no bathroom, with a shed and an horreo and 5000m2 of land. We made a low-ball offer and were informed that the price wasn´t negotiable. This despite the fact that it was listed at 51, 49 and 47K on various web pages. We moved on. The renovated places are still for sale.

Meanwhile, V has a brother in La Coruña who works with the restaurant trade. He called after we´d got back to say that a client described the English guy as a ¨mafioso¨ and we should contact her nephew, a Galician agency. We looked at their site and emailed. Noone ever answered.

Since then we´ve gone up on a couple of separate occasions to see places, but they always turn out to be attached to something hideous and unmentioned in the description. Or too remote and too small. These trips usually involved night trains and lengthy bus rides and were exhausting as well as disappointing.

Lately, there have been Brits who again specialize in English buyers in the north of La Coruña. The first trip, once again after emailing and confirming a list, upon arrival we were told 2 had been sold, one was at an unknown address, and were taken to others. This drives V crazy, and he´s the Spanish one. This last visit we saw one of the supposedly previously sold ones, which we really liked but is basically 4 walls. Another was lovely, but too small. Another I loved, but had a brick second story which V won´t have, even though the owners accompanied us out to the house and the wife offered to show me how to make bread and empanadas in the stone oven. They´re just lovely folks, the Galicians.

Our last outing was in Pontevedra. Both places were up at the top of hills with nearly vertical roads, out where the wind turbines are. One still had clothing hung on pegs and tools set out. Apparently they were elderly and both died suddenly. Unsettling. The other had beautiful stone, but was too low for V - he´d be hitting his head on the beams. We were taken to meet the owner of the second - selling on account of a divorce. He´s very keen to sell, that was clear, and immediately dropped the price 4000. We said we´d think about it.

So now, we´ve got two possibilities, which is 2 more than before, but both require TOTAL renovation, lacking roofs, plumbing and electricity in one case.

I just want a place to grow potatoes and tomatoes. And sweet corn. And roses. And lavender, and basil. . .and have sheep . . .and chickens. . .


  1. Both the houses I bought in Spain I found by wandering around and looking for handwritten "Se vende" signs nailed to walls. Cuts out the agents. And as your husband is Spanish, you won't have the problems I had the first time, negotiating prices, mortgages, plusvalia etc with practically no Spanish.

    Maybe hire a car and spend two weeks just driving around the areas you like best?

  2. You have come across the old age problem of purchasing a house in Galicia...too many people and no negotiation on the price.
    Never trust a main with a cigar… is all I am willing to say on the Internet.

    Greetings from The Ribeira Sacrá

  3. What an amusing tale, Coco. That is to a reader of your blog but I dare say less amusing and more frustrating to you both.
    Thanks for linking to our blog. I'm afraid I can't point to you any particular bit of our blog relating to our renovation as such. We were searching for a building plot for our proposed straw bale house and enough agricultural land to keep a few animals and came upon this place which already has a habitable house and a little cottage which we rent out. That has proved so profitable that we are in the process of doing up the first floor of our barn to provide another small holiday accommodation but that has ground to a halt while I construct our luxury compost toilet. (I say "luxury" in the sense that it's not just a stainless steel bucket.)
    I've left camera buying advice below your own comment on our blog.
    Best of luck finding what you are searching for.

  4. We can guess who the bouncer was in Lugo. Having now lived in Spain for over six years we would not trust any agent, Spanish or otherwise. If you can contact us by email we will give you a breakdown of our renovation costs to date.