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.
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
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
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.
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
It is easy to sell it on before completion.
I like this development so much I have bought