From that unforgettable day onwards, we were then sent e-mails on a daily basis from companies such as Kyero and ThinkSpain with numerous properties both in our chosen area andfurther afield. As we quickly discovered, these are nationwide platforms that host all the estate agents properties, a little like Zoopla and Rightmove I suppose.

They must have links to the Estate Agents we searched and then added us onto their mailing list. To be honest we didn’t mind that much as it gave us a broad insight into what else is out there.

Would you believe, only a few days after our Eureka moment, I received an e-mail from A Place in the Sun offering free tickets to their touring exhibition and this one was at the NEC in Birmingham. I think the company also have links to foreign estate agents as this was too much of a coincidence. I immediately saw a way of achieving many brownie points with Deb and getting a free day out, soI downloaded the tickets straightaway.

‘Hi hun,’ I said when Deb returned from work that evening ‘I’ve got a surprise for you.’ ‘So have I,’ she replied excitedly ‘but you first.’ ‘Well,’ I said ‘I have managed to acquire a couple of tickets foran A Place in the Sun exhibition at the NEC. These tickets are really sought after and difficult to come by and please don’t ask about the cost, you wouldn’t want to know, but anything for you.’ I was going to come clean later, honest.

‘That’s strange,’ she said ‘I got an e-mail at work today offering me tickets for the same event, for free, and it was worded like they couldn’t even give them away.’ Anyway, moving swiftly on…..

Over the next few days Deb started searching for the best deals for flights to Valencia and somewhere to stay near to Montroi. The one we ended up with was the Hotel La Carreta on the A3 about 15mins from Valencia city heading West. It was directly adjacent to Circuit Ricardo Tormo, apparently a well know motor racing circuit.

Flights were booked for November, which was only 4 weeks away, and a 3 night stay organised at La Carreta. Once the flights, accommodation and car hire were booked we contacted Azahar Properties, a chap called Simon Creed, and Spain and Property, a lady called Suzy (unpronouncable Spanish surname). We told them the dates we were in Spain and arranged viewing days for the properties we had chosen from their portfolios. We arranged to meet Suzy at her office directly from the airport and Simon the following day.

All really exciting, couldn’t wait, but first we had the A Place in the Sun exhibition to look forward to. It would be good to get some advice, guidance and a bit of knowledge before we go on our viewing trip.

We travelled South to Birmingham on the day of the exhibition, expecting great things and really looking forward to the whole day. I said to Deb in the morning ‘Make sure you wear really comfy shoes as you will be walking miles all day today, the halls at the NEC are huge.’ ‘I know,’ she said, ‘we went to the motor show years ago and I came back absolutely shattered.’ So we were going fully prepared for a full day of walking round, gathering information on property purchases in Spain.

We turned up early, which will surprise nobody out there who knows me, in order to get a decent parking space, which we achieved. Onwards to the entrance and into the foyer of the hall, with people already queueing for the exhibition to open. It was like a Saga or Warner Leisure Hotels coach trip had just turned up. All grey hair and pullovers over the shoulders, Ken Barlowesque style. ‘Are we in the right place?’ I said to Deb ‘It looks like a Derby and Joan tea dance.’ ‘Yes. She replied. ‘See that sign over there, and keep your voice down.’

Anyway, doors opened at 10am, in we rush and there it was in all its glory. Taking up about one tenth of the floor area of a single hall was the ‘exhibition’, using the term very loosely. Around 50 to 60 small stands were set up in a corner of the hall with Estate Agents from European countries and Florida, and money transfer companies, whatever they are. In the centre was a facility for people to carry out a screen test for the programme and then later an opportunity to meet a presenter of the show who would appear live on a small stage.

We obviously avoided the French and Portugese agents, weren’t particularly interested in the rest of Europe, so concentrated on the Spanish agents. They all seemed to be advertising/promoting properties in popular tourist and expat locations and didn’t seem to be particularly interested in our questions about inland properties. Not quite what we had expected.

Next we had a good chat with an agent from Florida, all leathery brown skin and perfect white teeth, originally from the UK and with the weirdest accent I have ever heard, a mix of Floridian/Geordie. It was worth the trip just hear that accent, and one I would defy any impressionist to impersonate.

Finally we had a brief chat with a money transfer chap and I really didn’t get what he was trying to sell. Money transfers? I have a bank for that, what should I be paying you for? Little did I know.

We then thought we would cheer ourselves up by carrying out a screen test. As I am six foot six inches and Deb only 4 foot eleven inches I was looking forward to seeing how the cameraman would achieve a shot that included both of us properly. Chances are he’d have to set his camera up halfway across the rest of the open and unused hall. Unfortunately, we had that particular bit of fun denied us, the queue was huge. I think this is what most people came for as the stalls weren’t that busy.

Ok, we have been here for an hour and walked around the exhibition twice, so we’ve done it all, apart from seeing/meeting a presenter. Apparently the presenter changed on a daily basis, hardly surprising as it must be traumatic facing this lot. ‘Shall we go and see which presenter it is?’ I said to Deb. ‘Good idea,’ she replied, ‘who do you hope it is?’ ‘Not really bothered.’ I said, but secretly hoping it would be Sara Damergi.

More disappointment was to come, not just because it was Jonnie Irwin and not the lovely Sara that was appearing, but he wasn’t showing up until 1pm. It was only 11am, what were we supposed to do for 2 hours? As much as I wanted to test the cameramans skills, I didn’t fancy standing in a queue for that long.

We left then, after an hour,with a plastic bag full of details that were useless to us, feeling a little deflated and disappointed. ‘Think positive,’ Deb said, ‘It was a free day out and we now have our viewing trip to look forward to.’ Things were about to get very real.

coming soon – First property Viewings

A Place In The Sun

We spent the afternoon trawling the websites of Azahar Properties and and Spain and Property. (We needed at least two agents and ACO Inmobilliari still didn’t appeal to us.)

Once again, I think the person who should have designed the website, the IT guy, was off the day they produced the one for Spain and Property, it was appalling. The photo’s were too small and not informative enough, the search engine was really difficult to use, the written descriptions were squeezed into the tiniest of spaces and they were difficult to read. ‘Do you think they want to sell any houses?’ said Deb.

To top it all though was the subject matter in some of the photographs. Imagine, you have just put your property on the market and the Estate Agents photographer turns up unannounced to take photo’s of your house. You had friends over for drinks and snacks last night but you’ve not tidied up the lounge yet, plus you’ve just set up the ironing board in the lounge ready to iron a mountain of clothes. In the kitchen, the sink is full of pots and the worktops are cluttered and untidy from breakfast. Oh yes, and there’s a dismantled motorbike strewn across the spare bedroom. Outside, you’ve not got round to weeding or cutting the grass for a few weeks, but at least the grass is partially obscuring that old sofa you’ve been meaning to get rid of for ages. At this point you say to the photographer ‘Not a problem, come in and carry on. My husband’s still in bed but I’ll just cover him up’. It amazed us that in some properties absolutely no effort at all had gone into making the place in the least bit presentable. It was like they weren’t bothered whether they sold it or not. At least it was entertaing for us though.

In comparison, Azahar Properties website was clear and informative with concise descriptions and easily readable. Photographs were of good quality too, so we started with this one. Same criteria with beds, bathrooms etc but with our new and enhanced budget of 130,000€ (Great stuff, I’ve just found the Euro sign on my keyboard).Up came the same properties from before but now with a few extra at a higher price. Our new requirement of an olive grove made it easy to discount many properties that didn’t have one, however attractive a proposition they appeared. Deb’s reasoning for the olive grove was actually quite sound. ‘We want a property that is private and secluded yes?’ She was right. ‘Correct.’ I replied. ‘Well to get that we need land around us to create that privacy and properties with land all have olive groves.’ She is not just a pretty face.

A swimming pool was a tricky subject. Some came with pools, although the ones with above ground pools were out as we both thought they looked unsightly and an afterthought. If a property had a below ground pool it was viewed favourably, although what about maintenance? Is it expensive to run on a yearly basis, do you have it heated or not, what size is preferable? We had so many questions on this subject and no answers. I looked up from the computer, ‘If a property we like has a below ground pool already then great, just include it in the list and we can get more info when we visit.’ Deb looked up at me quickly, ‘Visit? What, you mean actually go and have a look at properties in Spain?’ ‘Of course.’ I said ‘How else are we going to judge whether a property is right for us?’

Renewed vigour set in with the search that afternoon and at the end of it we sat back and assessed our situation. During the last 5 hours or so we had decided that we were buying a holiday home in Spain (one with an olive grove no less) with a view to retiring there in a few years time and it becoming our permanent home. We had a list of 10 properties we wanted to view in the Montroi/Montserrat area of Valencia and now needed to decide best way to arrange viewings. ‘What about appearing on A Place in the Sun?’ Deb suddenly said.

What a gem of a cliffhanger to leave this particular blog on, but no. I think both Deb and I knew the answer to this question as soon as she asked it. We are both very private people and I couldn’t think of anything worse than exposing our budget and part of our lives and sharing our future on National television. This was never going to happen.

We both really enjoy A Place in the Sun, seeing the different areas of different countries and the properties available, but I do have some issues with the programme, or, more specifically, some of the people appearing.

You will see the prospective purchasers who say ‘We have decided to sell up and retire here even though we’ve never even visited the country before.’ To my mind if you’ve decided you want to buy a place in a specific area, then go and visit the area yourself first. You can obviously afford it if you can afford to purchase a property. See whether the reality matches up to the internet research you’ve done.I see these people as being on a free fact finding mission. If they don’t purchase anything they should be presented with the bill for the production costs of the programme right at the end.

Then you have the people who only want to purchase in one specific town that they visited once for a week the previous year. After being shown the only four properties in the town within their budget they are then shown a property half a mile out of that town and they say ‘Oooh, we don’t feel comfortable here because we don’t know the area.’ At this point I would love to see Jasmine Harman point out that until last year they didn’t even know their choice of town even existed. She should then politely suggest they broaden their horizons and get a life before jumping in the car and buggering off with camera crew, leaving the couple there to explore how to get home. I bet the chance of that happening would increase viewing figures immeasurably.

I also don’t understand why people want to go and live in Spain, France or wherever and spend most of their time discussing the modern kitchen or the decorating or the furnishings. It’s an outdoor lifestyle, focus on the outdoor space, it’s where you will spend most of your time. And finally, there are the people we all watch the programme to see, the ones who actually make a purchase. Well done guys, really pleased for you and I hope it all works for you.

I think they should produce ‘A Place in the Sun Revisited.’ We can then see how they all got on and whether Paul and Tracy’s 4th floor, 35sq m apartment with a North facing 5sq m balcony in the centre of Benidorm actually was the correct choice for their retirement home.

coming soon – Marketing

Spain for Sure?

I think what we needed to establish, if we were going to do this, is what the short and long term use of the property would be.

‘How would you like to use this property, just as a holiday home?’ I said to Deb. ‘You said it yourself before’, she replied. ‘After you retire do you want to be in the same place but with nothing to do? Of course not. So what about a holiday home for now and permanent retirement home when we give up work’.

Actually, that would really suit us. We are not ‘all inclusive hotel’ kind of people. We like our privacy, really enjoy each other’s company and thrive on peace and quiet when we are away. For that reason we aĺways go self catering and always in a detached property in its own plot with privacy. Deb is getting so sick of looking for suitable properties in a chosen area at the right price. Most offer privacy but few give it, and when you turn up at your ‘secluded’ villa and see another villa directly next to you with a first floor balcony overlooking ALL of your garden what can you do. That has happened a few times, along with having a building site next door and one with a golf course at the bottom of the garden. What’s wrong with the golf course you might ask? Well, you’re on your sunlounger trying to read, sleep, chat, or whatever and every 10 minutes you get a group of up to 4 people wandering past, with their clubs shouting ‘good morning/afternoon/evening (yes it goes on all bloody day) or they randomly stop to have a chat with you. Now I haven’t got a violent bone in my body but I had come up with a few alternative uses for a 7 iron by the end of that holiday.

‘That makes so much sense,’ I said ‘but are we sure it’s inland Northern Spain or is there anywhere else you would like to consider?’ Obviously this didn’t include France or Portugal. ‘Florida’. She said. Now I knew she was referring to the Gulf Coast and not Mickey Mouse world. We love it out there, pace of life, beaches are amazing, love the people when we do get out and about, I could go on and on. But a holiday home in Florida? The cost of the flights, car hire etc would limit you to one, maybe two, visits a year and the last couple of times we’ve returned it’s taken me a week or more to get over the jet lag. Must be an age thing. Deb knew all this and I know she still loves Florida, as do I, but it’s unrealistic. We have also said that it’s fantastic to holiday there for 2 or 3 weeks but permanent living? We don’t think so. Northern Spain it is then, with the occasional foray to Florida for the odd holiday maybe.

Ok, location sorted, what about budget ‘We obviously can’t afford to buy somewhere like that one for 100,000 cash,’ I said, ‘we’d need a mortgage. Shouldn’t be too much trouble getting one though so what do you think on budget?’

Note here that the last mortgage I had applied for was for our family home back in 2004. The criteria at that point for qualifying for a Self Cert mortgage was that you essentially just ‘told’ the lender you could afford it, then they gave you a big bag of cash. This system worked great forself employed people. They knew they could afford it even if the books didn’t quite reflect this.

I have been self employed for 20+ years and have my own, well established, small architectural design business and Deb works as a site administrator on large construction sites. I considered we were doing reasonably well. Therefore i ‘knew’ we could afford a small mortgage for a Spanish property so it shouldn’t be an issue, I’m not reckless with our hard earned cash, I wouldn’t risk everything.

So we went onto a mortgage calculator with, I think Caixa bank in Spain, and established what we thought we could afford, which then established our budget. Really useful item with their mortgage calculator link also reminded you to take into account 10-14% of the purchase price for fees. We now have 130,000 Euro budget, with less than half of that mortgaged, and for that it seems we can get a large detached property with all the bells and whistles. But what bells and whistles would we want?

‘Ok,’ I said, ‘We have 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, pool, indoor kitchen and a barbecue. We also now know that your life will never be fulfilled until you have an olive grove. What else do we need?’ Deb looked at me then, a little emotionally ‘Can we really do this, it’s not a pipe dream?’ I looked over at her, ‘Of course we can hun.’ ‘Well’, she said ‘in that case let’s go for it! I think we should have outstanding views, no overlooking neighbours, private and secluded but not isolated, in the country but easy access to all amenities and within about half an hour or so to the coast. Oh yes, a couple of orange and lemon trees would be nice. Well you’ve got to start somewhere haven’t you.

coming soon – A Place in the sun

Our Spanish Move

So, you fancy a nice little bolt hole in Spain? Maybe you’re retiring and looking to relocate permenantly. Maybe its somewhere you can use as a holiday home or, for the more adventurous, somewhere you can buy with a view to moving permanently in the future? Who doesn’t have the dream?

Piece of cake right? Well actually it isn’t that difficult, although you do come across some horror stories. These are usually because people are I’ll advised or try to cut corners. Go through the process properly, while carrying out your due diligence, and you should be rewarded with your own little bit of heaven.

Sometimes though circumstances just conspire against you, but with hard work, determination and just a sprinkling of good luck you may just succeed.

Our story is one such instance and I hope the highs and lows of our journey will be useful to people out there contemplating something similar. I kid you not, this is seriously how our journey commenced.

In the Beginning

Back in 2016 I raised the subject of our long term future. At the time I was 56 and my beloved wife of 21 years, Deb, had just been dragged kicking and screaming into her 50’s. We had no plans in place for retirement and what we were going to do with our long term, post work life.

‘I’m worried’ I said to Deb, ‘Are we just going to give up work and then the following day we are in the same place but with nothing to do?’

We were sat in our lounge, the TV was on in the background and of ‘A Place in the Sun’ was showing. Who doesn’t watch this programme and have a few dreams?

‘Why don’t we do that?’ I said, ‘A nice little place in Spain or France or somewhere. Not Portugal, I don’t like Portugal.’

This sweeping statement was based on my one holiday to Portugal, about 20 years ago. It was particularly windy February, rained occasionally and our accommodation was awful. On this basis the whole of Portugal was discounted. Slight me once and be forever cast out!

‘What about France?’ I said. ‘I don’t like the French’ Deb replied.

Another broad ranged, sweeping statement based on a visit when she was a young girl with her family, during which time her father had a major fall out with a local over directions to a local attraction.

Now France is not somewhere I’ve visited and it’s never really come up as a destination when considering holidays. More of a place you drive through, fly over or sail round to get somewhere else.

‘Spain then?’ I said. ‘Hmmm’ she replied ‘Why not?’ And so the discussion progressed, in a hypothetical sense.

Now Deb is very familiar with Spain. At 18 years of age she was in the Costa Del Sol selling villas to the rich yuppies of the 1980’s in Marbella and Puerto Banus. This experience has tarnished her view of Southern Spain forever, bit like the French. She can really carry a grudge.

We’ve holidayed in other Spanish coastal resorts, as everyone has, and to be honest I wasn’t that impressed with the offerings of all day breakfasts and Sunday roasts, what’s that all about? I prefer to try and embrace the locals and the culture of whichever country we visit on our holidays. Apart from The Gambia of course, there wasn’t much embracing of the locals going on there. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve been.

‘Southern Spain is also too barren,’ she said ‘ I prefer it further North where you still have some dramatic landscapes but also a lot of rolling green countryside filled with orange, lemon and olive groves’. Sounded good to me. ‘Obviously we wouldn’t want to be in Little England in the sun would we?’ I asked. ‘Absolutely not’ she replied.

We were then, hypothetically, getting somewhere. Trying to drag myself away from Sara Damergie on the TV, we pulled out the laptop and zeroed in on Spain and in particular the Costa Blanca, further North than Benidorm, around Javea. Now we’ve visited Javea a couple of times, which is a lovely place for a holiday but not somewhere we would want to live. Native language is English and you can’t move for British expats. It suits a lot of people and I hope they enjoy their lives there, but we would prefer somewhere more traditional.

Further North to Denia, then Gandia. These are more working towns with a tourist industry but a little too built up for our needs. ‘Try inland a bit’ I said. ‘within striking distance of the coast if you fancy a day out but far enough away to be a proper Spanish town.’

Inland is a completely different experience and one that looked exciting even on Google Maps. We scoured the area further North than Gandia and inland from Valencia. We obviously hadn’t a clue what we were looking for so we just moved around the area looking for an interesting sounding town.

Well, hellooooo Montroi! Small town, surrounded by fields, larger town of Montserrat nearby and a dramatic backdrop of mountains. Only half an hour or so to Valencia, sounded ideal. What then would your hard earned savings buy you in Montroi?

Within half an hour of me asking my critical first question, we were about to start looking at properties in Montroi, Valencia Region, Spain for a, still hypothetical, move. Deb and I are nothing if not impulsive.

Excitedly Deb tapped into Google ‘Estate Agents Montroi Spain’ and three came up immediately.

First was Spain and Property. She said ‘I think the Company marketing man was on a day off when they decided on that name’. Then Azahar Properties, we both liked the look of that one, and ACO Inmobilliaria, what? Even though zero thought had gone into the name Spain and Property, at least it told you what it was about, but this? (We found out later that inmobilliaria is Spanish for real estate). Our learning curve had begun.

Into Azahar Properties web site we dived and straight to their search engine. Decisions to be made. Where? Was the first question. I said ‘We don’t know the area at all so it doesn’t matter, ignore this’.

Number of bedrooms? ‘Well that’s easy Deb said, ‘ minimum of 2, so there will be somewhere for me to go if your bloody snoring disturbs me’, what can I say, it never disturbs me ‘and one for when Josh comes to stay or the occasional guest’. 3 it was then.

Quick note here, Josh is our only child and focus of our life. At this point in 2016 he was just entering his second year at Newcastle university for a Masters in Civil and structural engineering

Number of bathrooms? ‘That’s easy as well’, she said, ‘2, preferably a family bath and a decent en-suite’.

Type of Property? A list came up then with everything from Apartment to luxury villa. ‘Let’s try villa’ Deb said, ‘I don’t want an apartment or a townhouse as they won’t have enough outside space, I wouldn’t think we’d be able to afford a luxury villa, so we’ll go for villa’. ‘Do I get a say?’ I said. ‘Of course you do but you’d have chosen villa over the others wouldn’t you?’ She knows me better than I know myself. It was sound reasoning so villa it was.

Price? The biggie. I said ‘We could maybe only buy a cowshed for 1million euro or a palatial detached villa for a fiver, we have no idea. Start off with 100,000 euro, see what comes up and we can re-assess from there’. 100,000 was typed and Search pressed. Exciting.

WOW!!! First property of 21 listed was a 4 bedroom, 2 storey detached villa with master en-suite, family bathroom, indoor kitchen, outdoor kitchen (is that Spanish for a barbeque?), wood burner, swimming pool, solar panels, all in an 800sq m plot. For 95,000 Euro. ‘What’s that in real money?’ Deb nearly shouted at me in excitement. I had to check what the current exchange rate was, I think about 1.17 at the time, and then work out the value in sterling. ‘Nearly £82,000,’ I shouted back, equally excited. ‘We could buy two and you could have a whole separate house if you get sick of my snoring’. We did laugh.

But seriously, a 4 bedroom detached house with its own pool and barbeque for 82,000, this has to be worth looking in to.

Then Deb looked at the details and accompanying photo’s. ‘There’s a neighbour overlooking the back garden where the pool is. I’m not happy with that, and it’s an above ground pool, I don’t want one of those, and it’s painted red, that would need to be changed. I’d like an olive grove and it hasn’t got one.’ What?? Where did that come from? At no point in the last 45 mins of discussing changing our future lives forever had the requirement for our own olive grove cropped up. I hate gardening and I can’t stand olives. It just sounded like so much hard work for no reward.

‘Right,’ I said, ‘If we are going to look at this seriously then we need to agree what we both want and look for properties that tick as many of those boxes as possible.

Hypothetical had very quickly become real.

coming soon – Spain For Sure?