Telegraph.co.uk  

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/global/main.jhtml?xml=/global/2006/09/09/opprophetdoom09.xml&DCMP=EMC-exp_18092006

'My pain in Spain'
 

(Filed: 09/09/2006)
 
 

Beware the lies of the Costa salesmen
 

The nightmare of buying a sea-view holiday flat taught Sheila Prophet salutory lessons

When a friend and I decided to buy a small holiday apartment, pictured below right, on the Costa del Sol, we thought we had done everything right.

 

Spain development during construction

We were using the services of a British-owned estate agency with a string of international property awards, a large office in Puerto Banus, and a local lawyer with apparently impeccable credentials.

Three years later we found ourselves embroiled in the largest money laundering investigation in Spanish history with our lawyer under arrest as the alleged mastermind. Our purchase money, documents and the flat were impounded by the Spanish police, and Interpol was treating us as suspects.

How naive we had been, making the same error as thousands of other inexperienced British buyers. We believed that estate agents and lawyers in Spain operate the same way as they do in Britain. They do not.

Never, ever use the lawyer recommended by the estate agent. Instead, find an independent lawyer who will act only in your interest.

Our saga began in Spring 2002 at the Dorchester Hotel, London, at a Spanish property exhibition held by agency Ocean Estates. There, a representative of the company introduced us to a lawyer named Fernando del Valle, who sent me a glossy brochure offering his services.

We went to Malaga on a viewing trip and were shown a number of properties by an enthusiastic agent called Natasha, who went on about soaring prices and red hot investments.

After showing us grotty flats below our budget and glamorous ones well above, she realised we were sticking with our plan and took us to the complex recommended to us in the first place. This was at Alcaidesa, a beautiful spot on the still relatively undeveloped western end of the Costa del Sol. Its position, only ten minutes' drive from Gibraltar, and the fact that it already had one golf course with plans for a second made it a good proposition for future rental.

An hour later, we had put down a deposit and had bought a patch of hillside, which in summer 2004 would become Sea Golf Regency Apartments and include our one-bed flat. We then met a lawyer with Del Valle Abogados, or DVA, who would handle our purchase made through regular staged payments. We left believing we had reputable legal advice and Ocean Estates' full after-sales service.

By December 2004 our lawyer informed us the complex was almost finished. In early March they began pressuring us to make the final 50 per cent payment, claiming that if we did not, the developer would cancel the contract.

Unsure of our legal rights, we agreed, without getting the chance to view the property first.

Two days later came the bombshell. After trying to phone DVA and getting only an answer machine, I became uneasy and, checking a news website, saw the headline: "Scandal in Marbella - lawyers arrested."

Some 41 people had been arrested suspected of laundering more than 250 million, a Iuxury yacht two private planes and 42 luxury cars were seized; and 251 properties on the coast, including ours, were "frozen" by the courts. It transpired that Fernando Del Valle, was the administrator of our development company, Alleerton Holdings. All this seemed to come as a total surprise to Ocean Estates, who we couldn't contact on their 0800 number and they seemed to take no responsibility for our situation. In the end, it was left up to buyers to help themselves, by tracking each other down, mainly through the internet (www.devwatch.com and www.eyeonspain.com), and getting together to discuss how to proceed. We all agreed there was no way we could get our money back, so the only way forward was to complete our purchases.

Last summer the courts released our apartment and purchase money. In February we completed our purchase. The second golf course is underway, and with the growing popularity of neighbouring Sotogrande and the advent of cheap flights to Gibraltar, the area is definitely up and coming.

However, hundreds of people, including some at our own development, have not been so lucky and have either lost their money or been left in limbo.

Beware the lies of the Costa salesmen:

  • There are only a few left and if you don't sign up today they will all be gone.
  • Prices are rising by 30/40/50 per cent a year.
  • Nothing will be built in front to obstruct your view.
  • It is easy to sell it on before completion.
  • I like this development so much I have bought one myself.
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