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Spanish Secrets: Done Deal

…Measuring less than five feet tall and surrounded by tall weeds he reminded me of a Tolkien-like character. Over eighty years of hard work and sunshine had left him with a deep-brown complexion, leathery yet subtle. On his head sat an oversized and well-worn cap which, if it wasn’t for his elephant sized lobes, would have slipped over his head at any moment…

Craig Briggs meets a Galician man with a house for sale – and a deal is done!

When buying a charming old ruin in Galicia it is preferable to forgo certain pre-purchase formalities. For example; unless one’s lifelong ambition is to live like a 19th century Spanish peasant, an internal inspection is quite unnecessary. After removing rotting floorboards and water-damaged ceilings, very little of the inside will remain.

Whilst the inclusion of a water well is always helpful, it’s not essential. Most are shallow pits which quickly run dry during the long summer months. Connection to the national power grid is an advantage, but not vital. Providing there’s a supply to the village, connecting to it shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. With mains sewerage restricted to towns and cities, the presence or otherwise of a septic tank is inconsequential. By far the most important criteria when buying a Galician ruin is the quality of its masonry and the structural condition of supporting walls.

Although unnecessary, an internal inspection is essential. It’s a way of showing respect, not only to the current owner but also his ancestral family history. It’s always helpful to observe due reverence as the owner wanders through the abandoned house, possibly for the last time, reliving childhood memories and extolling the virtues of the insect-infested floorboards.

For this reason we’d agreed to meet Pablo at our chosen ruin. He would introduce us to the owner, who would then show us around the house.

As we exited the main carriageway and drove into the village, we met Pablo ambling along a narrow country track. I rolled down the window and we exchanged pleasantries. He informed us that the owner had just arrived and he was heading off to greet him. He refused a lift, so we crept along behind him as he jogged down the lane.

Moments later we arrived. After parking nearby we walked along a narrow, well-trodden footpath through tall swaying grasses towards the house. Almost hidden from view, in the overgrown pasture, was the diminutive figure of Don Antonio, the proud owner of this ruined farmhouse.

Measuring less than five feet tall and surrounded by tall weeds he reminded me of a Tolkien-like character. Over eighty years of hard work and sunshine had left him with a deep-brown complexion, leathery yet subtle. On his head sat an oversized and well-worn cap which, if it wasn’t for his elephant sized lobes, would have slipped over his head at any moment. Through a fraying hole in his dark, knitted jumper, a once white shirt appeared grey and wrinkled. Underneath his shabby appearance there was no mistaking the warmth of his handshake and the friendliness of this smile.

We began our guided tour in the downstairs bodegas (cellars). Two large wooden doors secured their entrance. He turned a worn, rusty key in the lock and flung them open. The distinctive sound of rusty metal cried out as an arrow of bright sunlight illuminated the cool, damp room. Dusty cobwebs hung from thick wooden joists and decades of woodworm infested timbers cluttered the floors. A makeshift cattle-pen separated the large, dark space.

We gingerly entered this dark abyss and briefly stared into the cool darkness of the bodegas. We were pleased to step back outside into the blinding brightness and comforting warmth of the afternoon sun. At the side of the house a series of worn, stone steps led to the first floor.

The living space upstairs was divided by redbrick partitions of questionable build quality. Their builder must either have been in an extreme hurry or undertaken the work blindfolded and with one arm tied behind his back. With the tour complete the serious business of negotiating the price could begin.

It hadn’t taken us long to realise that the house wasn’t connected to the national electricity grid. The only water supply was over one hundred metres away and jointly owned with other village houses. Not only that, the shallowness of the well meant it was virtually useless for modern-living water requirements. Armed with these facts we began to chip away at the asking price.

To outsiders, Spanish negotiations appear heated and highly animated. Voices are raised, fingers pointed and fists hammered on table tops. After much animation and protestation a deal was struck. We agreed to meet at the Notary office the following week and complete the transaction.

Happy with his argumentative prowess and the resultant price, Don Antonio spat into the palm of his hand and offered it to me. Equally as happy, I obliged. With a warm, damp handshake the deal was done.

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Copyright © 2007 Craig Briggs

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