Despite being the premier destination for Britons buying abroad, Spain has not had a great press lately. Amid reports of mis-selling on the Costa del Sol, the media and the public are still fretting over the Valencia land rules. Investment banker- turned-realtor Andrew Benitz puts the latter into perspective: ‘The Ley Reguladora de Actividad Urbani-stica (LRAU) was passed in 1994, ostensibly to reduce land speculation in favour of urban development, on the basis that urban development can be beneficial to the community as a whole.
However, poor drafting of the law by the municipality of Valencia has allowed developers-in cahoots with local town halls-to exploit the situation against the interests of individual landowners, particularly in the case of land close to a beach which is in increasingly short supply.
‘Under the law, developers can force landowners to participate financially in a development, claiming that it will add value to their land. The property owner has only 15 days to object to the development plans, so if he or she is not about to complain, it’s just tough luck.
‘The law affects all rural landowners, not just foreigners, although the latter have complained the loudest-hardly surprising, given that some ex-pat owners have arrived for their annual summer holiday to find that their house has been bulldozed, and their land expropriated with little or no compensation.’
The positive aspect of the situation, Mr Benitz points out, is that the law only applies to rural land; once land has been developed, property and buyers are safe from future ‘urbanization’. Also, a lot of international pressure is being heaped on Spain to amend the law, a battle which may well end up in the European Court of Human Rights. In the meantime, Mr Benitz suggests that overseas buyers should stick to established developments, buy a rural property well away from the coast, or choose a coastal area within a protected national park which can never be developed.
With future capital growth in mind, Mr Benitz has based his agency, Titan Investments, on the Costa de la Luz-a ‘humble, unaffected, stretch of coastline’ which runs for 417km from Tarifa, on Europe’s southernmost tip, to the Portuguese border. This is also Spain’s cheapest Costa in terms of property prices, which is currently served by four international airports-Jerez, Gibraltar, Seville and Faro.
Titan Investments (00 34 954 156938) is handling sales at the picturesque, wooded Nuevo Portil golf resort overlooking the golden beaches of the Huelva region, where a finished frontline golf villa with four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a private pool, costs from ?487,000 (about £325,000) upwards.
East of Andalucía, the Costa Blanca is often the first port of call for buyers intimidated by high prices on the Costa del Sol. Investors concerned about possible future ‘land grab’ activity need have no fears about the bona fides of a prestigious new development, the Señoria de Roda, near Murcia- due for completion in 2008, and already dubbed ‘Spain’s Poundbury’ by UK sales agents Ultra Villas (0800 180 4890).
Here, developers Peinsa and Golf Invest are creating 600 new 18th-century-style homes on 247 acres bought from the family of the marqués de Rozalejo, whose forbears were given land by Jaime I as a reward for repelling Arab invaders from the town of Murcia. The proximity of the marqués’s 16th-century palace means that strict planning and design guidelines have been imposed on the developers to ensure that the new scheme echoes the style and ambience of the surrounding historic buildings. A two-bedroom apartment with a rooftop sun terrace costs ?161,000; a two-bedroom townhouse, ?171,500; and a three-bedroom townhouse with an arched façade, two balconies and a solarium, from ?219,000.
Discerning buyers in search of sun, solitude and glorious scenery have always taken to the hills of Southern Spain, where unlike the Costas, the landscape only changes with the seasons. Gaucín, in the hills south of Ronda, has long been a refuge for Britons with a yen for the quiet life, and as it name suggests, the spectacular Los Siete Segretos at La Gaviota, near Gaucín, hides its secrets well. The splendid 10-acre country estate looks out across the Sierra Crestellina valley to the Mediterranean, Gibraltar, and, weather permitting, to the coast of Africa. It has a large six-bedroom main house, a three-bedroom guest house, separate staff quarters, two swimming pools and stabling for 11 horses. It is on the market through Aylesford (020- 7351 2383) at a guide price of ?5.5m.
Twelve years ago, Anna Mallett, the Singapore-born widow of the former general manager of the UK’s Egg Marketing Board, bought a small house in the mountains at Pedramala, two miles inland from Calpe and Moraira, on Spain’s northern Costa Blanca. Since then, Montessa, which stands perched on the mountain edge 500m above sea-level, has been lovingly restored and extended. The solid stone-built house has a large open-plan living area on the top-floor leading to a huge master bedroom suite; below, at sun terrace level, is a separate guest apartment, from where a staircase leads down to an infinity pool, surrounded by gardens. Ultra Villas quote a guide price of ?1.1m.