The Top Spanish Property Scams And How To Avoid Them

Every now and again we see an online listing that is so outrageously fake that we have to take a step back and admire the audacity of it and also wonder how anyone might actually fall for it. We wrote an article last year about one of these scams and today we are going to arm you against all of the scams we have knowledge of so you don't become a victim.

Just a little warning first though. Not all listings that seem fake or iffy are. Sometimes there are reasons for the too good to be true listing. One of our jobs here at Valencia Property is to find those pearls in the shell while not tripping up against the more obvious scams. So let's get down into the jungle and find out what scams are out there waiting for the unsuspecting Spanish property buyer.


The Bait and Switch

Beloved of many of the more shady agents and especially the coloured tie brigade* the Bait and Switch is that the agency advertises a brilliant looking property which you get in touch about and arrange to see only to find out that "somebody left a deposit on it yesterday" when you go to see it and you get shown a load of the dregs that the agent has left and cannot sell in the hope that the last one, it's always the last one, the only half decent place you see, will be good enough for you to place a deposit down on "before someone else snaps it up". Yes, it's bait and switch and pressure selling really.

The original property you wanted to see may well have been sold years before but because the photos look good and the price is now an absolute bargain it will always attract clicks and enquiries meaning the agent now has your details to plague you forever more with mails, whatsapps and phone calls, even well after you have bought.

*The coloured tie brigade are the agencies where the agents are all forced to wear the company tie. They are franchise outfits who think a tight shiny suit and a certain coloured tie make their agents look more professional. They are almost 100% wrong in that assumption


The Fake/Ghost Listing

You have probably seen them before, a gorgeous looking apartment at a ridiculously low price compared with everything else and the chance to be the first to view it. It looks very different to every other listing because the owners have based the style of their property on their "lifelong love of New York loft living" ... until you do a Google reverse image search and find out that it is actually a New York loft and the photos have been lifted from a high end agency in New York selling this particular loft for around 16 gazillion dollars as opposed to 700 euros per month with utility costs included or 150k to buy it.

Why do it though because when you want to visit you will obviously find that the property doesn't look like as described on the tin or even exist? Simples. The agency involved wants your details to spam you with other properties just like the bait and switch or even worse they want money down now, see below. We have written about Ghost Listings before here, take a look.


The Airbnb Rental Scam

An extension of the fake rental listing, the Airbnb scam actually exists and the photos look better than normal long term rental listings because everything is ready to move in. You know these types of shots intimately if you have ever used Airbnb because you'll recognise the fruit bowl on the table, the towels rolled up in the bathroom, the red rose and petals scattered over the bed and that wooden slat table and two chairs on the balcony all set up with coffee and croissants.

You can almost smell that coffee.

But that's what you should be doing, smelling the coffee. You go round to view and the "owner" allows you to look around the apartment yourself and is very vague about how anything works, how long they have lived there and any other details you ask about because, and here's the scam... they have only been there for a day or so.

How does this scam work then? Well, the "owner" is renting the place for a week or so on Airbnb but then offers it for long term rental doing loads of viewings while there. It's very easy to list on portals such as Idealista and Fotocasa as an individual and it's free. Everyone who goes leaves their details for the contract and a holding deposit and the owner will meet with them again on Saturday "before they go away" to sign the final contract and show them how everything works.

What really happens on Saturday is that the scammed person turns up along with ten to twenty other victims and finds the property either empty and a ghosted phone number or, even worse, all of this AND the actual owner there wondering what the hell is going on with so many people insisting they have rented the place for the next year and demanding that the "contract" is honoured.

Don't believe it? Then read our article about it with examples.

How can you avoid this scam? Well you could contract our rental service if and when we start doing it again for more than a very limited number of clients who have been in touch with us well before their visit. Or you could make sure that you never give over money to a "landlord" before getting the keys. Mostly you can avoid this scam by going through agents. Anyone who has just one listing on Idealista or any of the other portals should be steered clear of because oftentimes they are scam artists doing this once then listing another place, then another, then another.

The biggest victims of this scam are people who post on Facebook asking for rentals and using those immortal words "We don't want to use an agent, owners only". Good luck with that.

Those words are like scammer catnip.

Every single reply that says "DM" should be considered a potential scam because 99% of them are. Now I'm not saying that people who think they are too clever to use an agent are prime scamming material but.... well ok, yes I am, so sue me.

If you are in the Wild West (In this case the Spanish property market) and you decide to turn up to a gunfight with an overripe banana you should really expect to have the undertaker immediately taking your measurements for the coffin before you get shot. Scammers have experience, you don't and believe me you are not too clever to fall for it, scammers are good at what they do.


The Money Down Before Viewing

A property is advertised online so you contact and ask to view. The advertiser asks you for money to arrange a viewing. (Yes! Believe it or not people actually pay to do this.) That money is kept whether you like the property or not as it shows you have/had real interest in seeing the property and "it can be used for the next property you want to see" with that agent.

We see this with both rental and sales properties. In the sale properties your desperation to see the listing may mean you part with up to 3000 just to view a property and some of the best known agents have been known to demand this money upfront as it shows to the seller that "you are a serious buyer" Sometimes they justify this by saying the owner won't show the property to "just anyone". Your reaction to this should be to tell them where to get off not to say "ok send me your bank details!"


The "Only Cash Buyers" Scam

Illegality is the watchword here. Ask yourself why somebody may want only cash buyers because in the end everyone is a cash buyer whether their money comes from a bank through a mortgage or their own funds. The buyer gets a bank draft whichever way it is sold. Well, there are two reasons someone will want only cash buyers.

Firstly the property is totally illegal. For example they may be selling a ground floor commercial property that they have renovated for living in but it is still classed as commercial as opposed to residential. This will mean that any bank will refuse to give a mortgage on it and the seller knows this so they ask for cash buyers only. How do they justify this? "We need a quick sale and not have to wait for someone to arrange a mortgage".

The second reason is that cash buyers are less likely to be using a lawyer to find out about the illegality, especially cash buyers who are willing to part with a part of the payment in actual cash. Recently we heard an owner who was asking 445k for their property but they were insisting on 80k in cash with the deed price being well below the real price paid. We advised the potential buyer who consulted us about this to run an absolute mile! However, lots of cash buyers think that having cash will make offers more attractive to the seller. It doesn't, it just means you are more likely to be scammed.


The Render Con

Renders are most often used by developers who wouldn't get half as much interest in their development if they used current pictures of a hole in the ground. We have written about the problems with renders on new builds before, take a look here.

However, with apartment listings the render problem is because they give you an impression of what the property will look like... or rather might look like... when you have modernised it. You will be hard pushed to find a disclaimer in the description stating that the images are renders and renders are so good these days that unless you know what you are looking for then you might not appreciate that this is an artist's or AI impression of what the property may well look like in the future. On arriving at the property then the reality is far away from what you thought was there but by then you are on the hook to be shown something totally unsuitable.


The Access Con

How do you know if the person trying to sell you a property is the owner of said property? Well before putting any money down you might want to get your lawyer to check out whether the person showing you the property is the owner, is the agent for the owner or has the Power of Attorney to actually sell a property that is not theirs.

Last year we found someone trying to sell a property that wasn't theirs to one of our clients. On doing the checks and asking for paperwork the con came to light, no power of attorney, no ownership papers, nothing. How did they get access to show the property? Not a clue but they were definitely trying to sell something they had no right to sell just because they had the keys. Just because someone has access to a property does not mean that they have the right to sell it. Down on the Costas a few years ago there was a famous case of an agency that had taken 30-40 deposits off clients and potentially a lot more, for properties they purportedly were selling for the owners. The truth was they were the renting agency and they did a runner with over 800k of cash from lots of people. You need to be careful out there.


The Estimated Start Date

Seriously, a huge red flag! When the new build is advertised and you get all excited about the potential of you getting your property in just 18 months time with just a deposit and stage payments and then you see it, "Estimated start of Works April 2022". So you visit the site and find a hole in the ground, a blank wall or an advert fading in the sun and looking pretty sad. However, you are looking at an ad online from home and may not have the ability to make a site visit to see for yourself that work has not only not started but also there are no signs of life or preparation for doing some work.

This is a big problem with new builds. The work may not start on the date given, it may not be started a year later and the truth is it may never start. It all depends on the number of reserve deposits placed, the speed of the bank in advancing the funds required to build and the funds available to the developer. You may park a 20% deposit on a property which never gets started and even if it does might not be finished and good luck trying to get the money back once the developer goes into administration.

How do you avoid this? Make sure a lawyer puts the contract together getting your money back if works haven't started at a certain date or if if there is an overrun in the works or even better make the money go into an escrow account and be sure to make sure that the development is bank guaranteed and financed and that the building permit has been granted.


Conclusions

There are plenty of scams around and the more desperate people become to find somewhere to live the more scams will appear. We will keep this page updated with any new scams we spot. You need to be vigilant and ask the right questions to avoid the scammers but remember scammers are usually very good at what they do so maybe just maybe get in touch with experts who know their way around the market and know what a scam smells, feels and looks like (Yes you're right, I mean contact us)


Tip of the Week

We put up a video on Youtube this week of the queue to get the Padrón certificate in Valencia. Take a look (And then like and subscribe to the channel). Valencia is so popular at the moment that doing basic things you need to do when you get here is really difficult. This was the queue for the Padrón at Valencia town hall at 10am on a Wednesday morning.

You don’t have to queue if you get an appointment but guess what, that particular lottery is almost impossible to win. The best advice get a lawyer or gestor to arrange everything for you. I think that paying someone to organise it is a much better option than taking your chance in the queue.


Visa Options and More on the Podcast

? Dreaming of living in Spain? We discuss various visa options for those looking to make the move, including the non-lucrative visa, highly qualified worker visa, and more. ??


Property of the Week

And also description of the week is the House of the Rising Sun in Olocau. We sold this property a long time ago to our client who now wants to sell after years of enjoying it and getting a really good rental return on it. Take a look.

Valencia Property presents, the House of the Rising Sun

"There is a house in Olocau
They call the rising sun
And it's been a refuge for many a family
But now it's time to move on

Your brother might be a swimmer
Who could swim all summer long
Your father could be a paella fan
And all his sorrows drown

Now the only thing you need for this
Is the cash to buy it now
And you'll be more than satisfied
Owning just this one

So mother tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Spend your life without misery
In the house of the rising sun

Get one foot on the airplane
Or get here on a train
Then go right down to Olocau
To buy this house it's great

Well this villa's cool in Olocau
It's called the Rising Sun
And it's now the target of many a buyer
And God you should be one"

OK you've got the earworm now and you can even sing your own version of the Animals' classic hit about a "House of Ill Repute" but we used this song because this house is actually called "Sol Naciente" or Rising Sun because to some it looks a bit Japanese.

What do you get for your money though? Six or seven bedrooms in the main house and an outhouse converted into guest accommodation with a bedroom, kitchenette and bathroom. You have a large living room, kitchen and three bathrooms in total, an underbuild for plenty of open storage and even a trench for car repairs or a wine cellar for yourself.

Outside the plot has the largest pool you can ever hope to own, a tennis court, barbecue area, plenty of fruit trees in the orchard and an easy to maintain front garden and outdoor eating area.

The property is well maintained and rents out fantastically well for short term lets and because of this the owners are putting it on sale now but wish to complete in September if possible as they have plenty of rentals for the summer and also want to spend a few weeks there for a final year.

Arrange your viewing now because it's unusual to get such a distinctive property that is so large at such a decent price with potential for passive income and also for living in. There is also an option to build a self contained unit on the first floor with access from the rear if you want to have a smaller house and more guest accommodation.

Set just over 1km from the beautiful village of Olocau and half an hour to the city of Valencia, the House of the Rising Sun could be yours this year.


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