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Spanish Secrets: The Witch's Revenge

So you buy an old farmhouse in Spain, intending to turn it into a holiday let. You call in a builder, get a quote from him, then sit back while the work proceeds?

Such is not the case. Craig Briggs continues his story of developing a property in Galicia.

To read earlier episodes of this story, and many more columns about Craig’s new life in Spain, please click on Spanish Secrets in the menu on this page.

The following morning we re-visited the house with Jose. He was the first of three builders we’d asked to quote on the restoration. We’d worked with him a couple of times before and knew he could do a good job, at a fair price. The final decision on who would complete the work would be based primarily on cost, although there were other considerations.

Upon arrival, I presented Jose with a copy of a makeshift plan I’d drawn up. It included a proposed layout of all the rooms, along with dimensions. It was obvious from the bemused look on his face that we didn’t share the same vision. After a brief pause he ambled off towards the house. Melanie and I followed, fumbling through our proposed alterations in disjointed Spanish. Every so often he’d stop to ask us a question and then continued on. He took great care to inspect the condition of the exterior walls.

“Son buenas fachadas y muy buena piedra,’’ he announced. (They’re good walls and very good stone.)

For a hardworking builder he had a calm, quiet voice which vanished on the wind. It was satisfying to learn that my layman’s opinions, on the condition of the walls, were indeed correct. The tour continued with an internal inspection. Without taking a single measurement or making any written notes he agreed to prepare an estimate.

Experience has taught us that it’s essential to request a time-span for these things. No-one ever sticks to their agreed timetable but it’s always useful as a point of reference. The alternative and preferred choice of many locals is to wait indefinitely. He agreed to call at the house next weekend with a price - not ideal but it would have to do.

“If we accept your quote, how soon could you start the work?’’ I asked.

The answer came as a devastating hammer-blow.

“March or April next year. It depends on the weather.’’

In our excited enthusiasm we’d completely overlooked the fact that it was now the middle of summer. Any builder worth his salt would be fully booked for months. This was the case with Jose.

The roof needed completely renewing before any interior restoration could begin. This required a prolonged period of fair weather. By the time Jose had completed his outstanding contracts, summer would be no more than a distant memory. It would be next spring at the earliest before work could begin on replacing the roof.

Our plans to have the house finished and ready for next year’s holiday-letting season were now in tatters. We would have to seriously re-think our intended timescale. Worse was to follow.

We were about to leave when Jose hit us with another body blow and this one was definitely below the belt.

“Is this the only entrance?’’ Jose asked, pointing at the narrow driveway.

“Yes,’’ I replied, wondering why he had asked the question.

With his distinctive lazy gait he wandered across to the driveway for a closer inspection. He looked this way then that, ambled slowly up the lane and then down it.

Having viewed the entrance from every conceivable angle he declared “It’s not wide enough. It will be impossible for a lorry to delivery building materials. If the materials have to be moved from this lane to the house by hand,” he paused ominously, “the estimate will be double.’’

Like a bolt of lightening, or perhaps more appropriately the final sequence in a sorcerer’s spell, the implications of Jose’s observations hit home. It seemed that our neighbour Maruja, would have her revenge after all. Her offer to sell us a tiny patch of waste ground at the outrageously exorbitant price of 600 euros, now looked like a bargain.

We explained to Jose that we could buy a piece of the neighbour’s land and widen the drive sufficiently for a lorry to gain access. He agreed to proceed with a quote based on this assumption.

Fortunately for us we’d parted amicably with Maruja and although we’d cheekily nicknamed her Bruja, Witch, she wasn’t such a bad old dear. She’d been presented with an opportunity and intended to take full advantage of it. We would have to swallow our pride, go back to see her and hope that she would still sell us the land at the same price.

She didn’t yet know it, but the Witch would have her revenge.

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Copyright © 2007 Craig Briggs

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