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Spanish Secrets: The Waiting Game

Buying property in Galicia can involve would-be purchasers in the waiting game, as Craig Briggs reveals.

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Property transactions in Spain are conducted by a notary at the notaria office. The notary’s role is to ensure that the sale contract is legal and that all parties involved understand their obligations. As an independently appointed public servant, he acts without prejudice. It’s a wonderful system; clear, transparent and best of all, there isn’t a legal vulture in sight.

Not wanting to lose out on another, money-for-nothing caper, solicitors on the Mediterranean Costas have managed to scare most English buyers into seeking their, “indispensable services” but not here. In these far flung reaches of Galicia we do things the right way, the Spanish way, the honest way and best of all, the cheap way.

In pursuit of our property prize, we’d agreed to meet Don Antonio, his son Jose and daughter-in-law Pilar, at the notaria between 10.30 and 11 am to conclude our purchase. Don Antonio had assured us that he was the sole and rightful owner of the property and that all the relevant paperwork was is order. Almost a week had passed since we’d sealed the deal with a warm, damp handshake.

With the exception of a weathered, brass nameplate fixed to the outside wall, there’s nothing to distinguish this busy public office from any other town centre apartment block. Beyond the uninviting entrance is a cool and dimly lit lobby. There’s and small elevator to the left and a well-worn marble staircase to the right.

We climbed the steps to the first floor landing. A clear-resin plaque, fixed centrally to a heavy wooden door, read - Notaria. The door’s scarred and scraped appearance is a testament to its regular public use. We pushed it open and entered.

The office was a hive of activity. Small groups of people huddled together clutching tatty folders of private papers. Unusually for these normally loud and animated people, their secretive murmurings were hardly audible.

The office is reminiscent of a waiting room one might have found at their local GP’s surgery back in the 1960’s. Facing us as we entered was a Formica-topped reception counter. Behind this sat two receptionists on wheeled typing chairs. A busy-looking office-junior scuttled around photocopying forms and despatching them to their correct station.

To the left of the waiting area are the notary offices. It’s here that contacts are signed and transactions concluded. Off to the right runs a narrow corridor, which leads to the administration office where the contracts are prepared. Inadequate seating for just nine occupies the remaining space.

By the time Don Antonio and his family arrived, the office was literally heaving with people. A disorganised queue had formed at the door of the administration office. It stretched the length of the adjoining corridor and in to the waiting area.

Unlike the English, the Spanish are dreadful at queuing. Under normal circumstances Spaniards are happy to wait indefinitely. Waiting could almost be classed as a national pastime. Their calm and relaxed manner changes completely when they are asked to wait in a queue. Such a request is accompanied by physical jostling, frayed tempers and raised voices. Pandemonium ensues.

Under these tense and potentially explosive conditions we waited for over two hours in this narrow, airless corridor. Finally it was our turn to enter the administration office. Don Antonio shuffled in carrying a large wad of faded and yellowing papers, bound together in several tatty folders. He pushed his bundle of shabby scraps across the desk towards the clerk. She stared in disbelief at these tattered remnants and gingerly fingered through them. Every few sheets she paused and asked a question of the blank faced Antonio.

It was obvious that the paperwork wasn’t in order and that we wouldn’t be completing the contract today. On Pilar’s suggestion, we trooped out of the notaria and along the street into another office. She spoke to a pleasant young lady at reception who began busily typing on a word processor. At this point my suspicions were aroused that a private sale contract was being drawn up.

This form of contract is still quite common in Spain. It gives the purchaser limited legal title to the property. The buyer is unable to officially register the house in his own name. However, the benefits of such a contract are that both parties avoid paying property tax and registration fees.

Having waited so long to find the right house, we weren’t going to rush into a contract that provided us with little if any legal title. Pilar and her father-in-law were somewhat disappointed but agreed to our request. Dejected and disappointed we returned home. Not for the first time we were left playing, the waiting game

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Copyright © 2007 Craig Briggs


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