Buying property in Spain need not be difficult, but it is important to follow some basic guidelines. First and foremost: use a Spanish lawyer. It really is essential you use a Spanish lawyer. Try and choose one that can communicate with you in your own language so you can ask your questions and know you can understand the answers clearly. There are many Spanish lawyers, especially in Andalucia, who speak excellent English. We are always happy to recommend a lawyer if you do not have one.
There are a certain number of documents that your lawyer must ensure are in order before you complete a purchase:
The seller's own title deed. Know in Spain as the Escritura Pública. This is the registered title deed of the property. It is inscribed in the Registro de la Propiedad, the Property Registry, and it is the only guarantee of title in Spain. In this title deed you will find a description of the property, the details of the owner, if there is a mortgage or court embargo existing on the property.
The Impuesto sobre Bienes Inmuebles. The receipt of the owner's annual property tax, called the IBI. This receipt is very important for two reasons. First, it will provide proof that there are no outstanding taxes due on the property. Ideally, with an old property you should ask to see the last 5 year's receipts. Second, the IBI receipt will show you the property's cadastral reference number and also the Valor Catastral, the official assessed value of the property. This is very important because various taxes are based on it.
The cadastral certificate. The Catastro is a second system of property registration which concentrates on the location and exact boundaries of the property. The certification comes in two parts, one being a description in words of the property, the other a graphic representation, either by a plan or aerial photograph.
It is important to realise that in Spain until a deposit has been paid and a private contract (agreeing the purchase price) has been signed by the seller and your lawyer, the property is still considered to be for sale and could be sold to anyone making another offer.