Buying In Spain? Read This First

If someone wanted to buy a home in Spain you would point them at a newspaper article or guide book, right?

Me too - until now.

Instead I would suggest they read a new novel, set in a part-built estate peopled mostly by British expats: it gives a left-field view of Spain that is unerringly accurate but rarely recounted by journalists or guidebook authors.

I read the book - Mr Lynch's Holiday, by Catherine O'Flynn - in Spain earlier this month. It was my 13th visit: most have been personal but several have been for work, viewing properties in cities, on inland plains, along the Costas or on the Balearics.

I've always been struck at how different the Britons are in different parts of Spain, and this book touches on that under-reported subject.

In the main, those living in cities and inland want to integrate, work hard at speaking Spanish and mix perfectly well.  A trip to inland Andalucia earlier this year was a case in point. The British and Irish I met there loved and respected the Spanish in equal measure, integrated fully and were proud of what they achieved.

But some other visits also tell me that many Britons on the Costas and Balearics prefer to form and stay within expat enclaves. Sometimes they learn no Spanish and try to live a kind of Surrey-in-Sunshine existence. 

There are many exceptions to this broad stereotype, of course. But O'Flynn's description, given early in the book is frighteningly accurate.

"They had no interest in joining the hordes of expats clustered along the Costas in vast apartment complexes and chintzy hillside developments. Eamonn saw the majority of British settlers in Spain as an amorphous mass of Daily Express readers riddled with hypocrisy - railing against benefit cheats at home while happy to avoid Spanish tax, indignant at immigration levels in the UK but oblivious to their own immigrant status."

You get the point. 

There is writer's licence here but O'Flynn bravely talks of an aspect of 'the Spanish experience' rarely mentioned by journalists or property professionals trying to 'sell' Spain. 

Many expats really are like that, curmudgeonly contrasting today's terrible Britain with the nostalgic magic of a golden age which possibly never existed at all. Yet their distaste with their home country isn't quite enough to deter them from, say, collecting their British pension - spent, often enough, on full English breakfasts and curry nights. 

The novel is also excellent at showing the practical problems of incomplete developments (common in parts of Spain even before the latest crash); the difficulties of living in schemes miles from a nearby town; the sheer tedium and isolation of some expats' lives.

It isn't all property and expats, of course: the novel's main narrative concerns a father and son separated by geography, experience and attitude. 

But for me it is a timely book. With Spain's holiday home market on the floor and renewed efforts to promote it as a cheap holiday and retirement location, British interest in the country is increasing again.

If you are considering the move and/or a purchase in an incomplete estate, read this novel first - and then make your mind up.

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