Brits, Brexit and Spain

Brexodus outcomes for British homebuyers in Spain

Spain has always been a big destination for British property buyers, whether that’s for a holiday home or for retirement. There are over a third of a million Brits in Spain. But now Brexit has thrown a big spanner in the works; some areas - like Valencia - are seeing a British exodus, and new buyers have been deterred by uncertainty about their rights to own property or to reside in Spain.

Some worries are overdone. There’s no requirement for owners of Spanish property to be EU citizens, for instance, though Brexit could make mortgages more difficult to source and could complicate some of the paperwork, and weaker sterling has made Euro prices less affordable.

Although ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ according to EU negotiator Michel Barnier, provisional agreements protect the position of Britons who have moved to another EU member state by the end of the transition period. In other words, Brits who want to reside permanently in Spain have till December 2020 to make their move. Even if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement, Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis said in October 2017 that the Spanish government would ensure British citizens already living in Spain were protected from Brexit fall-out.

Healthcare rights of Britons living in Spain

Another worry for many Britons in Spain is what will happen to their healthcare rights after Brexit. So far, there have been indications that existing coverage by the S1 card for British pensioners in Spain will continue - but possibly only for those who are already retired by the date of Brexit. Since a third of British residents in Spain are retired, that's obviously a major issue. Those Brits who move to Spain to work there will be covered once they start paying into the Spanish system. However, holiday home owners could see the European Health Insurance Card disappear, forcing them to take out private insurance.

British buyers certainly haven't been convinced by what they've seen so far. They represented 38 percent of all foreign buyers in Spain in 2008, but that fell to under 14 percent after the referendum. In Valencia and Alicante, some Brits are selling up and heading home; one report put the figure as high as one in five.

Spain still has a lot to offer to canny Britons.

The Spanish property market is still a bargain. In Valencia, prices are still 40 percent below their peak values in 2006-7, and even in Madrid, properties are still selling for 13 percent below their 2007 values. At the same time, the market has begun to recover and is simmering nicely - Spanish developers' association Asprima, which produces statistics together with Bankinter, estimates prices will rise by between 4 and 8% in 2018.

For instance, in Almeria province, cortijos can be bought for around EUR 250,000 - a farmhouse with land for the price of a terraced house in most British cities. Murcia is another bargain area. Even buying on the Costas, bargains can be found simply by driving half an hour inland, or by looking at the extremities rather than in the centre of the coastal strip.

If beach life is important, prices on the Costa del Sol are still reasonable - around EUR 90-150,000 for two bedroom apartments, though prices are higher in the most fashionable areas, like Sierra Blanca, Marbella, and on the beachfront. On the Costa Brava, foreign buyers have to compete with Barcelona natives wanting a weekend property, but a villa with a private pool can still be had for just over EUR 500,000. Inland from the Costa Brava, the medieval villages of the Baix and Alt Emporda have almost the feeling of Tuscan hill towns, and stone townhouses or rustic farmhouses start at around the same figure.

While most British buyers head for the Costas, or look at farmhouses or village houses (particularly in the 'white villages' of Andalusia), culture vultures and investors may prefer to look at purchasing property in Spanish cities. San Sebastian, in the Basque country, is one of the most expensive places to buy, with even small apartments selling for EUR 250,000, but both Basques and foreign investors see it as a good rental investment. Madrid, Seville and Barcelona are also thriving cities with interesting investment potential - though Barcelona has become very expensive, and the market is faltering following the Catalonian independence referendum. (Madrid and Barcelona have both introduced bans on short-term tourist rentals, which could make the cities less interesting for buyers wanting to finance a holiday home through tourist lets.)

Is it the right time to invest?

Most likely it could be a great time to buy. Financing, which was very thin on the ground a few years back, has freed up a good deal in the last year or so, which should help make up for sterling weakness. Prices are rising, and if sterling continues to weaken, the increase in value for British buyers could be appreciable. At the same time, the UK housing market is showing signs of slowing down. Prime central London property prices fell in 2017, and UK prices overall have now fallen for two consecutive months.

If Brexit hits the economy hard, the housing market and UK commercial property will clearly suffer, and some investors have already acted - for instance the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund adjusted the values of its British real estate down by 5% after the referendum. Taking money out of the UK and putting it in Spain might be a very smart move.

Besides, wealthier purchasers might like to note that the purchase of a Spanish property worth more than EUR 500,000 will give them automatic residence rights, whatever their nationality. That could be the best investment of all!

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