Spanish Title Deeds Are Legal Documents

Why do English people sign title deeds in Spanish without a proper translation?

Buying property in Spain

Buying property in Spain

Stories about English people who buy property in Spain and later regretted it are a regular staple in Sunday newspapers, so why do we not learn from the mistakes of others? I ask myself this question often as even professional English people used to signing important legal documents in the UK act totally out of character in Spain.

The signing of Title Deeds in Spain should surely warrant greater scrutiny when it’s in a foreign country and foreign language. It seems that the opportunity to try and avoid taxes by not registering the property properly is too enticing. Thinking they can get away with something they can not get away with in their own country reminds me of the little ditty “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”. What makes these people act in this way?

In Spain a building has to have the proper permits before construction can take place. At the end of the construction it has to be inspected and passed before it can be connected to utility services such as electricity, gas, water and sewage. A certificate of occupation is then issued (fit for occupation), and without this it is illegal for the property to be inhabited.

For some unknown reason some English people manage to persuade others to buy property, not properly registered, sometimes even accepting that the sellers do not have proof of ownership (being told this is normal in Spain), and in many cases signing documents in Spanish without having them first translated by someone independent of the seller.

On occasions some vendor agents will sell their properties without them being properly registered in order to avoid taxes. Also some buy a plot of land and build on it without a permit, or take extra land that does not belong to them to build something bigger. Spain does have a land register called Catastro, and it has a record of ownership and Spanish notaries will usually do a search before final signing.

Spanish properties can be demolished

Spanish properties can be demolished

I can tell many personal experiences of people coming to my office, but I will refer to one who did it correctly. I was involved from the beginning, we encountered potential problems when preparing the pre-purchase contract, and it had to be amended three times. In Spain these contracts are legally binding and detail how the purchase will proceed after signing and the payment of a deposit.

At the final stage, the notary gathers all the parties, including the bank if mortgaged, so the mortgage can be cleared at the same time (monies are deposited in a temporary account). The notary reads the title deed (escritura), or sale – purchase contract in Spanish. I was employed by the buyer and at this stage I had to ask the notary for changes to the escritura as it had errors with potential negative financial consequences for the purchaser I was representing . The escritura was amended twice, the parties signed and the money was released which highlights the importance of making sure all legal things are done properly.

Signing a document without understanding what it contains can result in future negative consequences, which for the sake of employing a translator isn’t worth risking. The happy event may have a sting in the tail and turn into a nightmare.

The puzzle for me continues to be why English people sign legal documents in Spanish without checking first?

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