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Spanish Secrets: What Have We Done?

After more than a year of bureaucratic delay Craig Briggs and his wife Melanie at last acquire a delightful crumbling old ruin of a farmhouse in the Galician countryside.

For more of Craig’s equally delightful columns please click on Spanish Secrets in the menu on this page.

It was a warm, humid July afternoon when we parted company with Don Antonio, his son Jose and daughter-in-law Pilar. They’d promised to prepare the necessary sales documentation as quickly as possible. No one could say how long this might take. One month? Possibly two? One thing was certain; none of us expected that it would take over a year.

Unknown to us at the time, Don Antonio had not registered the house in his name. It later transpired that the house had never been officially registered. This would have to be done before the sale could proceed. The services of an architect were required.

After surveying the house and grounds, a detailed plan was prepared. The plan was then submitted to the property registry office in our provincial capital Lugo. Here it joined a snail-like queue of Spanish bureaucracy. Thirteen months after joining the queue it emerged, free of red-tape, officially stamped and approved.

By this time, any excitement at owning and renovating a rural farmhouse had long since dwindled. It was now merely a business transaction. Once again we’d arranged to meet Don Antonio and his family at the notaria between 10.30 and 11 am. Our meeting coincided with the annual Fiestas in the town of Monforte. We’d expected the town to be busier than normal so we’d left home early.

To our amazement the town was very quiet. Rows of market stalls lined the street in front of the college. Draped, sun-bleached tarpaulins provided their only security. Tall stacks of tables and chairs, hurriedly cleared in the early hours, cluttered the pavements outside bars and cafes. Like giant veiled statues, covered fairground rides packed the adjacent car park.

Roadside parking areas were occupied with an assortment of caravans and campers, temporary homes to the nomadic traders and street entertainers. A shortage of town-centre parking spaces had rippled into outlying districts. Eventually we found a place on the outskirts of town. A dry dusty field had been commandeered to accommodate the fiesta’s overflow parking needs.

The streets themselves were otherwise abandoned. There were a few pedestrians taking the cool morning air, walking pets or collecting the morning newspaper. Closer to the centre, road-sweepers were busily clearing-up from the previous nights festivities before the populous awoke.

We strolled to the bank and collected the money for the house purchase. I tucked the bundle of used notes into my briefcase before we headed next door to the notaria. As expected, Don Antonio and family hadn’t yet arrived but it wasn’t long before they appeared. Pilar flung open the waiting room door and confidently marched in. Her husband Jose followed close behind and finally Don Antonio shuffled through the entrance.

This time everything went smoothly. After a brief wait we were ushered into the notary’s office by a motherly looking secretary. Behind a meticulously-organised walnut desk sat the meticulously dressed notary. He greeted us politely and asked us all to take a seat. With these formalities complete he began to explain the sale contract, firstly in Spanish to Don Antonio and then to Melanie and me in Queen’s English. A few signatures later and the deal was concluded.

With practiced discretion, he bid us good day and left the office. This was our sign to hand over the cash. A quick count, more hand shakes and the presentation of a set of old keys followed. The whole episode took less than ten minutes.

We are now the proud new owners of a delightful old ruin, crumbling in the Galician countryside – what have we done!

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Copyright © 2007 Craig Briggs

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