By Emma Mitchell •
Published: 06 Sep 2023 • 15:45
Valencia, Spain. Credit: Image by wirestock on Freepik
The biggest decision a foreigner will make when buying a property in Spain is the location. What attracts some people to the coast when others are drawn to the countryside? What are the upsides and downsides of both? What do you need to think about when buying?
Spain’s Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda’s (MITMA) annual bulletin on housing and land for 2022 reported that 18.8% of house sales that year were to foreign residents and that the top five places places for foreigners to buy were:
Surveys from online estate agents and mortgage lenders highlight that the majority of these purchases are coastal.
Rural Spain has suffered a long period of depopulation. In 1960 over 43 per cent of people lived in the countryside, but by the year 2000 that figure had decreased to 23.7 per cent and in 2022 it was down to 18.7 per cent.
Talk to foreign residents in Spain about the benefits of costa or campo life and it’s not long before tribalism breaks out with coastal dwellers extolling the virtue of sea views whilst country living folk wax lyrical about the ‘tranquilidad’.
But if you’re thinking of making a permanent move to Spain, or even buying the dream holiday home, what are the pros and cons of life by the sea versus life in the countryside?
“The sun shines, the beaches are golden and because the standard of living is high, it’s a really comfortable place to settle in.” Stephen Howlett, VIPAlmeria
When people think of Spain, the phrase ‘sun, sea and sand’ is usually top of mind and that’s no surprise when warm weather is the norm, not the exception. But is the costa life all it’s cracked up to be?
“So much to do here all year round with so many groups of different sports and activities.” Lesley on Facebook.
Beach life. It’s obvious, but there’s something very attractive about being a short walk or drive to the beach in a country where sun and warm temperatures are the norm rather than the exception.
More foreign residents. For many people moving to Spain, learning a new language and culture can be daunting and so living where there are lots of other foreign nationals can be appealing.
Rental income potential. Renting private villas and apartments by the sea is a popular choice for holidaymakers and gives second home owners in Spanish seaside resorts a little income to offset their costs.
Lively social scene. Towns on the coast usually offer varied activities and groups catering for almost every interest and taste.
Good amenities. It’s generally a short walk or drive to amenities such as bars, restaurants, shops, banks and medical centres.
Public transport. Bus transportation and taxi firms are easy to access in most coastal towns so driving may not be a necessity.
Summer breeze. During the hot summer months the coastal towns will enjoy a cooling afternoon breeze. Inland temperatures can be significantly higher in the summer.
“It’s very busy in the summer months and Spanish holidays. The biggest problem is not enough parking.” Andy on Facebook.
Busy holiday season. Many coastal towns enjoy a large influx of holiday makers during the Summer months, which is great for local business but for local residents can mean traffic congestion, packed beaches and booked out restaurants.
Closed for Winter. Whilst the Summer season may be packed, there can be a lot of closed doors during the Winter as the area empties out and seasonal bars and restaurants shut. This can also mean that those living in urbanisations with lots of holiday homes can suddenly find themselves rattling around empty communities.
Poor parking. Living in a seaside apartment can mean having no dedicated parking space which may not be an issue in the Winter, but can mean you’re struggling to park anywhere close to home in Summer months.
Noise levels. Living by the sea means living in a place lots of people want to go to on holiday and that results in more noise from venues with live music, people on the streets and holiday renters ignoring community rules such as keeping noise down at night. On top of that, barking dogs can be a problem in built-up areas.
Crime. There are often criminals like the dreaded ‘hugger muggers’ or pick pockets working seaside locations during Summer months and, during Winter, the high number of closed up holiday homes make good targets for burglars. As there’s a higher number of visitors on the coast, people acting suspiciously are harder to spot.
Summer time premiums. It’s not uncommon for bar and restaurant owners to drop off-season offers and increase prices during peak season in order to make the most of tourist spending.
Communities. Living in an urbanisation usually means having a community that’s run by a committee with every household paying an annual fee for the upkeep of communal amenities and areas. There’s not just the expense, there’s also community rules to abide by and some can be bewildering or downright bizarre.
Winter chills. A lot of modern coastal properties are built with little to no insulation which, whilst great in Summer, makes for a chilly atmosphere in the Winter. You’ll need to think about how to heat your seaside property in cooler months.
“We find country living is popular with people like artists and writers who value peace and quiet. Increasingly families who like outdoor activities such as hiking and cycling are buying rural properties.” Jo Desmond, Olive Properties.
It’s easy to understand the lure of the countryside where the peace, the quiet and nature surround you. But is it all the good life in the campo?
“Watching the stars makes me forget about my worries. I bought the house for peace and certainly achieved that dream.” Roger, Benissa region.
Authentic Spain. There are fewer foreign nationals living in rural areas so life and culture tends to be more traditionally Spanish than on the coast, though you will need to learn Spanish to really integrate!
Clear skies. It’s not until you spend a night in the campo that you realise quite how many stars there are. Country dwellers often mention star gazing as a favourite evening pastime.
Cheaper living. It’s probably obvious that the cost of a drink or a bite to eat will be less in a rural bar or restaurant than it will on the coast and there’s also a healthy local economy of small-holders selling their produce or bartering goods and services with others. Country dwellers are often off-grid with their own water supply and solar power.
Tranquillity. In the campo it’s usually the case that the only noise is the wildlife so if peace and quiet is your thing then moving to the country may be the answer.
Active life. Moving to the country is an attractive choice for those wanting to keep active. Properties often come with land for those wanting small-holdings to grow produce and there’s walking and cycling opportunities aplenty on the doorstep.
Wildlife. Crossing paths with wildlife in the campo is a daily occurrence and it’s not uncommon to wake up to find Cabra Montés (Ibex) or Wild Boar wandering through your land. Eagles, Hawks and a bewildering number of Lizards plus, if you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the elusive Genet. Less crime. Country life often means low crime rates, both because there aren’t enough houses for opportunistic burglars to bother with and, in village life, everyone knows everyone else so suspicious strangers are quickly spotted.
“We have retired friends in the camp and medical access is the biggest issue for all of them; most in their 70s are thinking of moving closer to a town or to the coast.” John F, Facebook.
Medical access. If you have an injury or medical condition that needs urgent attention, being in the campo can be a challenge. In some areas ambulances won’t go up unmade roads which means you have to get yourself or your loved one to a meeting point. Even if it’s a minor injury you may find the nearest help is an hour’s drive away.
Wildfires. The biggest danger in the countryside is the threat of a wildfire. Having a wildfire alert app such as Wildfire Watch Spain or Fireguard Wildfire Tracker is a must. If the house has a pool it’s worth buying a bomba (pump) in case of fire. The number one thing you can do in a wildfire is follow a good guide on what to do.
Post and deliveries. Many campo houses aren’t recognised by postal services or even satellite navigation systems. Be prepared to rent a post box in a local town and meet delivery people at the nearest petrol station or car park.
Power and water. Country houses are often off-grid and solar may not fully cover Winter needs so wood burners or open fires are a must for warmth in the cold months. The house may have its own water supply that needs to be tested to see if it’s potable (drinkable) and a water softener or filters may be needed in some areas. If the house lacks its own supply, water deliveries need to be arranged and usage monitored so you don’t run dry before the next delivery. Where houses are on mains for power or water, in the campo outages take longer to repair as they’re not treated with as high a priority as outages in more populated areas.
Mobile and Internet. There may be no mobile signal but, thanks to satellite companies like Starlink, good Internet access is possible in the remotest of locations.
Isolation. Though villages usually have a strong community, living out in the campo best suits people who are happy with their own company. Country life can be isolating and loneliness is a real issue so being able to drive and access local villages and towns is a must.
Poor roads. One of the first questions from a country person after any big storm is whether any roads are closed. Rock falls on hard topped local lanes are common and not quick to be cleared and it’s not uncommon for houses in the campo to be accessible only by ramblas (dry riverbeds) which may be inaccessible for days after a downfall. Forget low profile cars in the campo, 4x4s are the way to go.
Whether you intend to live by the coast or in the country, there are a few other things you should consider and talk to your estate agent or solicitor about.
Rent first. It’s best to rent and visit the area in all seasons. What may be a bustling seaside community in the Spring and Summer could turn out to be a ghost town in the Winter.
Community charges. If you are buying on a community, be sure to ask what the community charges are per month or year. Community charges are for upkeep of communal areas and facilities, so another thing to beware of is new developments with lots of empty properties. Unsold properties can mean that the community charge is higher as it’s being divided amongst fewer households.
Noise. Check out whether any bars or restaurants near your intended purchase have licences for music. If they do, you may be hearing live performances on your terrace whether you want to or not.
Parking. Does the property have a dedicated space? If not, can you rent a garage or space somewhere nearby? If that’s not possible, consider how far away you may need to park during summer months when parking is at a premium.
Flood risk. During storms, water washes down ramblas and out to sea; has the area you’re thinking about suffered salt or freshwater flooding?
Heating. If you intend occupying your seaside property during Winter months, consider what ability there is to heat it. Air conditioner units can also heat but may not be the cheapest option, and remember those cooling stone or tiled floors may need rugs in the Winter.
Protecting vehicles. Cars kept by the sea may need to have protective coatings against salt spray and sand blasting to avoid expensive damage to paintwork.
Illegal properties. In the case of Andalucia there was a change of the state’s planning law in 2003 which meant that some houses built on rural land before that date and with full permission from the local council, were suddenly deemed illegal. It was estimated that 300,000 houses in Andalucia were impacted. These days it is advantageous for rural houses to have an AFO; a certificate which normalises properties built before 2003. Many rural houses do not have an AFO and, in those cases, it is worth considering asking the seller to obtain one before purchase or negotiating a reduction in price to offset the cost of you getting one post-sale.
Septic tanks. Most rural properties are not on mains sewerage so make sure your solicitor checks that the septic tank meets regulations and that there’s a contract in place for emptying them. Be aware; you may not be able to dispose of toilet paper down the loo and some people can get squeamish about using bins.
Land registry discrepancies. In Spain there are two bodies that record property and land; the Land Registry and the Cadastre. The Cadastre summarises the physical location, value and owner’s details purely for fiscal purposes whilst the Land Registry is a register of ownership and encumbrances and is purely for legal purposes. In theory, the size (building and land), type and location of the property should match on both, but the reality is that they often don’t on rural properties. If there is a large discrepancy between the two on such things as building and land size, boundaries or road access it can be a lengthy and expensive process to untangle and rectify. Failing to do these checks can result in a nasty discovery that a piece of land you thought was part of your property, turns out to be someone else’s.
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Emma landed in journalism after nearly 30 years as an executive in the Internet industry. She lives in Bédar and her interests include raising one eyebrow, reckless thinking and talking to people randomly. If you have a great human interest story you can contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ve lived on the coast and in the Campo and for us Campo wins every time. Mainly because there are so many tourists on the coast, and a great many English who live there permanently still have a holiday lifestyle, so it’s very busy, and of course very cold in Winter. We are 10 minutes from the nearest town here in the campo, but the hospital is on the outskirts so is very easy to get to, and the Health Centre is only a 15 minute drive away. We are all solar and on well water which goes through a water cleanser to get rid of most impurities but is still not drinkable, so we have to buy drinking and cooking water. We’re not at all bothered about no mains electricity as 8 solar panels and up-to-date batteries give us all the power we need, but we would prefer to be on a mains water supply if it were possible.
At last a very accurate and informative article,hope many prospective buyers get a chance to read it.
Well done ,and congratulations,pity we don’t get the chance to shake your hand.
Alicia and Mervyn
Twenty years living near Conil 15 minutes from the beach!
I’ve read your article and I don’t recognise the campo/ countryside living. I live in a village with just 200 houses, I have better internet than in the UK , fiber optic . The doctor comes twice a week to our village there is never a problem for appointments, the hospital is 4 miles away and medical treatment is excellent. We have travelled allot in Jaen and the roads here are fantastic . We are on the mains for water and electricity and we had a problem with our water , reported it in the morning and it was sorted the same day. In almost 3 years the power has gone off for 2 minutes. There is so much to do in our area , we dint have enough time to do everything on offer and it’s all free. When you reach 65 the local council invite you to a free meal you can take a friend etc. The local mayor visits you on or around your birthday to present you with a gift. Crime is zero , my village is close knit has a WhatsApps group so we can all keep in touch . The cost of living here compared to the coast is really good, the lifestyle is fantastic , if you want to dance until 5am in the morning there are so many towns n villages with fiestas amazing social life. There are allot of Brits here in rural Spain also I’ve met over 30 but I see many more in the shops and cafes. I think living in rural Spain is not as black n white as you portray it, there are different levels as I am sure there are for the coastal living.
I concur with the previous commentator, we live in a small town of under 25000 people, waling distance to shops and bars is less than 15 mins max, one medical centre and a small hospital, provincial capital 20kms away, fantastic internet, wonderful views over the olives the colour changes of the fields is exceptional and 700 Mtrs is up near the clouds sometimes. 200 kms to the Costas makes for great weekend breaks but couldn’t live there.
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