Buying a golf home in Spain

The benefits and the pitfalls - don't let your heart rule your head, says property consultant Will Freeman

Will Freeman
Wed, 21 Jun 2006


Properties surround the Hacienda Del Alamo resort in Murcia

Golf, Spain and buying property go together like fish, chips and mushy peas - equally tasty as a meal or as individual portions.

Not that Spain should necessarily always be characterised by this traditional English food or associated with the traditional English bars on the Costas. Spain has much to recommend it beyond its popular coastal resorts.

To the south and east are the popular beach towns; in the north west the greener and more lush rustic countryside, while in Grenada you can ski in the morning and play golf in the afternoon!

Golf and property purchases make ideal bedfellows and in this article, I will explore why Spain can be a great destination to set down your roots while identifying some of its pitfalls.



CLIMATEWhatever the downsides of Spain you can be relatively sure you won’t suffer from a lack of fine weather. On the south-east coast, 320 sunny days a year is almost guaranteed. So for fair-weather golfers this is manna from heaven. You can play in shorts and a polo shirt all day long, rather than be trussed up against a howling wind and the driving rain you might even face in August in the UK. This is a massive attraction if you are offering your property to rent as a destination for golfing parties.

COMMUNICATIONS

Though there’s a temptation to think that us Brits work 80 hours a week and never take a holiday – it’s a fallacy. Despite the demands on the economy, we are one of the wealthier European nations and looking for a little more from our leisure time. Short breaks from January to May from October to December have become a realistic prospect especially to large numbers of keen golfers.

And if a busy and stressed executive decides to take a long weekend or even a week away with his golfing buddies, he doesn’t want to spend too much time in an aircraft getting to and from his favourite destination. So the fact that the sunshine and Sangria of the Spain’s southern Costas are only a little over two hours flying time from the UK is a big plus in this region’s favour. Add to this good road links and you have a combination that means golfers can get on with what they like doing best, rather than travelling!


Typical Spanish golf setting

Travel in the morning, golf in the afternoon or golf in the morning on the way to the airport and home – are real possibilities.

BUYING IS EASY

Spain has a distinct advantage over many other European destinations in that it has (compared to some other potential property purchase areas) a well developed and sophisticated financial system. Mortgages of up to 80% of the property value with interest rates around 3.5% are readily available. Occupancy levels needed to cover such financing costs by renting your property are therefore not all that demanding.

However be wary of developers who are throwing too many ‘sweeteners’ into the deal – for example low deposits or guaranteed rentals. In my experience as a property consultant, it’s a sure sign that the property is not in as much demand as they might infer. After all they’re not likely to give concessions away - unless they have to!

WHERE TO PLAY, WHERE TO BUY

This decision revolves around the emphasis you place on your own usage of the property, as opposed to the investment element of the purchase – to sell on at a profit. If the property is going to be mostly for your own use, then its position is determined by where YOU want to be. If you want peace and quiet up in the mountains, plan to keep a car handy and don’t mind driving up to an hour to the course – that’s your choice. However, this approach might restrict the attractiveness of the property in the eyes of a potential purchaser.


Typical Spanish off-course complex

And if you want to use this home in the sun for family holidays give thought not only to its proximity to golf options but also what facilities are available to non-golfers. This saves you not only domestic grief but may also be a consideration for those considering renting.

One thing is for sure - you won’t be restricted for choice! From full on golf and country club developments to a property, not connected to but within easy reach of, a course, your choice in Spain is almost overwhelming.

Anyone with a good knowledge of golf will know the standard of courses that are available in Spain. Property fronting onto the course (known as ‘frontline golf’) will always command a premium.

My own preference, from a property investment aspect, would be for a frontline property to a well-established course. Alternatively buy within easy driving distance of an established major course if finances restrict the purchase of a frontline golf property.


Ambassador for the 3 Molinos
resort in Murcia.

Buying on a development that proposes a major course is a good deal more speculative, as developers have been known to cut back on the golf side of the development if finances are tight once sufficient reservations have been taken! And no one knows how the course will really play until it is finished and has had time to mature.

Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros are among the big names contracted to build courses in southern Spain, with World Cup broadcaster Gary Lineker appointed golf ambassador for the 3 Molinos resort in Murcia.

LETTING YOUR PROPERTY

One of the drawbacks of Spain, from an investment point of view, is that there is no shortage of developed or part-developed property. A high proportion of this type of property is being bought for investment so there’s unlikely to be a shortage of property to rent.

If you do buy a property and are looking to run it on a cost neutral basis (i.e. that the cost of management, maintenance and interest charges are covered by after tax rental income), it is essential that you crunch the numbers and arrive at an estimation of an occupancy level that you will need to achieve to break even.

Bear in mind also that property will not ‘let itself.’ You need to have some sort of marketing strategy to make sure that its many attractions are promoted.


Colourful and functional properties like this in Spain

The internet and your own circle of family and friends are starting points, though beware that with the latter there’s inevitably the question of discounts. If you or your partner work in a large organisation pinning a ‘To Let’ notice on the staff board may also yield results. Of course, you will also have a wide target audience at your own local course. And I’m aware of many clients, who with a little sweet-talking and incentivising with influential people can generate excellent results.

WORDS OF WARNING

Though golf is at the emotional heart of my recommendations, the emphasis is still the purchase of property. And there are still some hard truths to take on board to prevent the heart running roughshod over logic and common sense!

I’m not breaking any new ground in my assertion! It’s a well-known fact for years that Spain has the ideal climate for golf, good infrastructure and excellent communications. It has available land, is close to the UK and northern Europeans like to buy property in the sunny south!

Consequently, vast numbers of people are trying to make their fortunes, either developing or selling property in Spain.

Call me cynical if you like but I have a suspicion that most of them are not interested in the success of your purchase as a long-term investment! The boom in popularity of Spain in the past 20 years has led to problems of over development and an outstripping of demand by supply.

As an investor this is always problematical. No matter what the ‘experts’ at the 19th hole or the helpful sales staff are anxious to tell you, you can’t avoid that first rule of economics: if demand exceeds supply, prices will rise and if supply exceeds demand, prices will fall.

However, if you are careful and buy partly for your own enjoyment, in a position that will be attractive to others, and if you are willing to hold the property for the long term, there’s no reason why a property in Spain, on or close to an established and accessible golf course, should not be an excellent investment.

It could also provide you and your family with years of pleasure and be a good nest egg for the future. And if you’re shrewd and sensible and let your head rule your heart it has to better than golf in wind and the freezing rain in a typical UK winter.

* Will Freeman is a consultant for Chamberlains Overseas and can be contacted on 0121 442 40404.

Tell us on the forum your experiences of buying property abroad. Where do you recommend, what are the pitfalls you have discovered?

 

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