Category Archives: #wabas

PART 40 An Ex-pat, not an immigrant

PART 40 An Ex-pat, not an immigrant!

time for thinking

The British way to get yourself understood abroad seems to try first in normal English, when that fails we try speaking very loudly and slowly, but still in English. For reasons beyond normal rationality we figure that will work. Why? Is it because we are rude and arrogant or is it because learning another language in school in the UK is not prioritised or valued enough? The Scandinavians almost grow up bi-lingual, learning English alongside their native tongue from kindergarten age, and many, as a result, seem adept at learning other languages too. My multi-lingual friends and acquaintances all grew up bi-lingual whereas here in the UK it often high school before learning a foreign language is taken seriously in education.

The hypercritical way some Brits abroad defiantly, almost triumphantly, live in Spain for many years without bothering to learn more than café con leche or cerveza, or speak only their own ‘Spanglish’, never ceases to amaze and dismay me. They are the first to criticise the immigrants in the UK who don’t speak English within three weeks of arriving; but an Englishman abroad is not an immigrant, an Englishman abroad is an ex-pat!

However after years in Spain, having lived in their ex-pat (immigrant) community, drinking and eating in bars with only English speaking or ex-pat (immigrant) staff, and dipping into the odd Spanish fiesta or parade only when attending with a group of other ex-pats (immigrants), they can come unstuck. It’s when the difficult things in life happen, like illness, that they realise they are actually living in a foreign country (they are an immigrant!) and the nurses don’t all speak English and you have to pay for an interpreter or rely on ex-pat volunteers who did learn the language (immigrants who have integrated better!) to come to your rescue. One day, if you live in Spain, you will wish you had bothered with Spanish, so why wait? You may even find you enjoy living the dream a lot more through being able to live a fuller and more integrated life in the sun.

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My family abroad:Early Comunications Phone what Phone

Early Comunications

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We were in a time that was pre-internet, pre-mobile phones and there was no landline in the valley at that time.  Our contact was a phone call every Thursday evening at 7pm UK time initially made by Mum and Dad from the international phone box in town.  Later we rang the house phone of friend’s they had made instead, again every Thursday evening at 7pm, as soon as we returned from our children’s swimming lesson.   It is hard to imagine in this day and age of instant contact that this was only 25 years ago.  Today I am in contact with my children and grandchildren most days, we send each other pictures just seconds after the photo was taken and it doesn’t matter if we are not in same country, it is still instant.   We use texts, emails, ‘whats ap’ and facebook; I can even send a message via my phone to the little ones’ cuddly toys to be played to them; sometimes we even talk on the phone!

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Despite there being a telegraph pole positioned right outside their house, it would be nearly two years before Mum and Dad had their own landline phone.  One day workmen turned up, erected new poles in the valley, one just a few yards down the road from the villa.  A few days later the phone lines were hung on the poles, missing out the original pole outside the villa.  When shown the old pole the workman shrugged and as the lower part was encircled by the front wall they just cut the pole down at wall height and carried it away, leaving the bottom meter still in the wall.  To my knowledge it is still there.

Mum later described those early days as seeming like a great adventure into the unknown.  It was exciting and brave heading off to a foreign country with a different language, different culture and different food.  She says that today’s technology has robbed the younger generation of the chance to experience that feeling, that today it is so normal to move around and so easy to keep in touch and the cultural differences with our continental neighbours have blurred and merged as we eat the same foods and drink the same wines and the world is smaller.  Maybe she is right.

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What is the difference between a Property Finder and an Estate Agent?

What is the difference between a Property Finder and an Estate Agent?

An Estate Agent is a business or company that lists properties to sell, taking a commission from the owners at the point of sale for the process of facilitating the sale through advertising and finding the buyer. We are all familiar with their role. There are various professional bodies who oversee and regulate the industry, in the UK that is the NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents).

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So what is a Property Finder?

An estate agent works FOR the vendor (seller) so their job is to sell the house. The interests of the buyer are therefore secondary by definition. A Property Finder is someone working for the buyer, not a business interested in selling what is on their books (because they don’t actually list anything and are not answerable to a vendor), but in FINDING the right property at the right price in the right location for the client – the buyer.
As Property Finders based in the UK for Spanish property we are regulated by the AIPP, Association of International Property Finders, which in turn in the UK is also part of NAEA, so you get all the protection of NAEA plus additional protections from the AIPP.

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What do we do?

By working with the buyer we, as Property Finders, establish the criteria. In some cases the budget and criteria will not match the chosen location, so by working with the client a Property Finder can establish which points cannot be compromised and in which areas there may be an alternative or a compromise to bring the right property in on budget. We establish together a list of priorities, absolute must haves, definite don’t likes and desirable extras.
Every buyer has a different list of priorities so every client receives personal attention. We look in a wide area but actually know all the areas where we search. For instance, a client buying a holiday home or holiday rental investment is not particularly effected by how sort after the local primary school will be, but a family relocating will need to know school options.
A property finder is not limited to one list of properties so can assess the suitability of properties listed by a range of reputable agents as well as other sources, giving a far wider choice. The client also benefits from working closely with one person rather than constantly having to tell different agents what they want and trying to remember to whom they gave what information, especially as the criteria may evolve over time as certain considerations come to the fore.
Generally a Property Finder will also arrange viewings. In Spain it is common for vendors to use multiple agencies so if you view with four agencies you may actually be taken to see the same property several times, but if it wasn’t right the first time it won’t be right on subsequent visits either, so a complete waste of your time. When you are searching for a property in another country time is in limited supply and needs to be used wisely. You will want to view only the most suitable properties, not the ones the estate agent needs to sell regardless. ‘Viewing trips’ to see new developments can be frustrating times for buyers as they are shown what is being built regardless of whether it fits their criteria! A property finder is not interested in wasting your time or leaving you frustrated by seeing properties that would never be of consideration and don’t match your ‘wish list’.
A property Finder won’t pressure you into buying the wrong property. Our reputation relies on matching the client to the right property and making the process of buying that property as smooth as possible. In that respect we have built up good relationships with various reputable estate agents and other local professionals.

So why can’t you look for a house by yourself?

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You can. But if you live in the UK and want to buy in Spain do you have enough detailed first-hand knowledge of the area, the time to check out thousands of possibilities and the patience to deal with 20 estate agents all claiming they have the best properties for you? Or would you rather let someone take you through the process of buying, checking you are aware of the actual costs involved, (buying in Spain is very different and more costly than buying in the UK), have someone talk through your requirements and priorities, asking questions about your needs and how they may change over the next few years, so that when you visit everyone has clear understanding of your preferences on styles, locations, surroundings, size, age, distance to the beach, amenities, airport etc.? Many clients find we ask questions about subjects they have not yet considered that may (and often do) influence the final choice of property.

What will it cost you?

We work for clients with all budgets and therefore will not exclude those on limited budgets. In our case we do not charge our clients anything for our service because we receive a payment from the estate agent for finding the buyer for a property they have listed. Remember for you that simply means that if we don’t find the right property for you it hasn’t cost you anything. When we do find the right property you will pay no more for that property than you would have done anyway, so it still hasn’t cost you anything but will have saved you time, frustration and probably the cost of several extra visits. Plus as we negotiate hard for a good price on the right property you may actually get it for less than you would have done if you hadn’t used our service. Plus you have a Property Finder working in the background to check on the progress of your purchase, act as a sounding board at all stages, someone who has personally been through the buying process themselves and has helped many others too – a person who is not compromised in their service to you by needing to act in the interests of a vendor. Plus, once you have purchased the property we are still around to help with questions and helping with finding professionals like electricians, plumbers, keyholders and with holiday rentals if you need such services.

REMEMBER: An Estate Agent works for the vendor. A Property Finder works only for the buyer. So who will hold YOUR interests higher?

 

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My family abroad: The beginning

My family abroad:  The beginning

My aunt and uncle were the first people in the family to buy a property in Spain.  In the mid 80’s they bought an apartment on the Costa del Sol, a small Spanish fishing town called Fuengirola near Malaga.  I didn’t visit there until 2012 and by then it had grown to a huge and very busy town busting with people.  Initially they bought the apartment as a holiday home, about 10 minutes’ walk to the marina/port area in a small apartment block overlooking a park.  Their neighbours were all Spanish, they had deliberately avoided an ex-pat community.

My aunt and uncle worked hard on learning Spanish as they intended to integrate as much as possible into the local community when they moved there in their retirement.  They had a neighbour in the UK whose sister had moved to the town in the 60’s with her daughters and the lady, Doreen, agreed to look after the apartment while they were in England.  They had several years of visiting the apartment before their retirement and it was on one such trip that they took my widowed Grandad with them.  I was told that when he and Doreen met it was love at first sight!  There cannot be many who emigrate at the age of 86 years old but before my aunt and uncle retired my Grandfather packed his bags and moved to Fuengirola to be with Doreen, who was only a couple of years older than my Dad.

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Not that long after my aunt and uncle moved permanently to Spain.  Grandad stayed after Doreen passed away, spending his last few weeks in a Spanish nursing home at almost 95 years old.  My uncle passed away a few years later but my aunt has stayed, still in the same apartment, and now in her early 80‘s is still active and leads a busy life in her adopted country.

Also in the 80’s my parents were visiting various parts of Spain, searching for a place they felt they wanted to call home.  And so my family abroad had begun.

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Memories of a young Traveller – Don’t drink the water!

Concrete Jungle The Place I love

Torrevieja

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The town of Torrevieja is a short drive from our house.  The small city dates back to 1802 and is named after the old watch tower (Torre = tower and Vieja = old).  I have heard a number, and read a lot more, comments on how awful the place is and how crime-ridden by people who have not been there in recent years (if at all).  So large cities with high rise are not my kind of place but to my surprise I find I like many parts of this particular city.

The buildings are, in the main, not that tall.  In fact smaller than other large tourist towns I know well in the northern Costa Blanca such as Calpe, Denia, Javea and of course, Benidorm (which I don’t know well as one visit was enough!).  The place is truly international with influences from as far apart as Italy and the Caribbean, with one of the most diverse populations in Spain.  In 2014 the population is recorded as 108.063 of which around 47,000 are Spanish and the rest a wide mix from across the globe.  Native English speakers make up about 11%-12% of the total population, which is pretty much in line with the overall percentage in Spain and lower than some other coastal towns. To give you some idea of how the town has expanded the current population is around four times larger than in 1990 and twice that of 2000.

The town’s blue flag beaches, long promenade, fishing port, yacht club and harbour make up the sea front.  Much of the tourist area of town has undergone an up-date with new pedestrianised areas, new theatre, new out of town concert venue, new tourist information office and much more.  The narrow streets are packed with individual shops and bars run by the Spanish, not ex-pats, with residential apartments above, many to only five storeys.  The town has somehow maintained its identity whilst catering for international visitors which swell its number to 500,000 in high season.

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So is it crime ridden?  In the past the police force was over-stretched due to the very rapid expansion of the town, which stopped when the property boom ceased.  These days they seem much more on top of things and crime rates are comparable to other medium sized sea-side resorts.  As with resorts, cities and busy market places around the world there are pick-pockets and other opportunistic criminals taking advantage of the relaxed holiday makers.  But this is the same the world over.  If you take care of your belongings you will be ok.  As for comments I have read about ‘bars on windows’ I can’t help but laugh.  Window and door grills are, and have been for longer than the tourists have been coming, part of the way Spanish properties are built.  The sudden increase in eastern Europeans living in Spain a few years ago but unable to work in Spain caused a problem as they had to steal to eat but their numbers have declined as they have realised they can do better in other countries where they can find work or claim benefits.  In recent times the fact that there is no long-term benefit help to the unemployed has left some individuals desperate and feeling they have no option but to resort to crime to feed their families has become a challenge, but overall crime rates are not something to fret about.  Since the town made it illegal to buy from the ‘looky-looky’ men with their fake goods touted on blankets along the sea front they have almost disappeared.  Do I feel safe walking around Torrevieja?  Yes.  Do I feel safe walking around London?  No.

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Perhaps one of our favourite pass-times when we go to Torrevieja is to visit Valors and enjoy their chocolate y churros, on the opposite side of the road to the square by the church of the Inmaculata Conception.  The original church, like much of the town, was destroyed by a major earthquake in 1829 and the current church was built in 1844 using the stones from the original watch tower (Torre) in the foundations.  If you have children then the fun fair and Park of Nations are a must.  Or if you prefer more cultural surroundings then have a coffee in the Casino (which is not a casino but a restaurant and art gallery and social centre).  If you are there for the right week in August then you can experience the Habaneras Festival which has been run annually in the city for over 40 years.  This is a music festival and competition where the music is a fusion of Cuban and Spanish.

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Torrevieja grew from the salt industry, still a major employer, producing half a million tons of salt a year.  There are two lakes, Laguna Salada de la Mata and Laguna Salada de Torrevieja, but they are more commonly known as the blue lake and the pink lake.  The Parque National surrounds the blue (La Mata) lake while the pink lake is a hive of industry.  The lakes, together with the Mar Menor to the south and the Santa Pola salt lakes to the north, create a unique micro climate, one the World Health Organisation lists as one of the healthiest in the world; particularly good for those who suffer with joint or respiratory problems.  Combined with the warm average winter temperatures (higher than the Costa del Sol and several degrees warmer than north Costa Blanca) of over 10 degrees (usually upper teens in the day)

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Memories of a young Traveller Childhood Spain – with my Grandparents

Childhood Spain – with my Grandparents

On our second visit to Spain my Dad had thought it would be a great idea to take my Grandparents (his parents) away with us.  My Grandmother had never been outside the UK and my Grandad’s only previous experiences had been whilst serving during WW2, mainly in North Africa.  My relationship with them was probably unusual, I was not close to either, although my relationship with my Grandad grew closer over the years.  My Grandma had never forgiven me for being born a girl and I can honestly say although I saw her almost every week of my childhood we were almost estranged.  I wasn’t therefore particularly excited about them coming along.

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My strongest memory was that I saw my stern and fierce Grandma, a woman who usually frightened me, laugh and smile.  My Grandfather I remember as being fun but always saying or doing the wrong thing.  I suppose today you would call his comments racist and bigoted but it was the 60’s, pre EU days, his memories of sights from the War still playing over in the back of his mind.  My Dad was forever apologising to people for his behaviour.  He hated the food, the ‘foreigners’ and the heat!  He told a ‘bloody crout’ to ‘go back to his own country’ and when Dad pointed out that as we were in Spain we were actually the foreigners he replied that he was British so couldn’t possibly be foreign!

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However my strongest memory of them is at the beach. Grandad with dad taking me into the sea and between them swinging me high as I ‘jumped’ the waves.   Grandma sitting under the thatched sun shade knitting, wearing her flowered frock and hat – and still in her stockings!  Despite everything they both said it was the best holiday they had ever had.

My Grandma died in 1985 and a year or so later my Grandad holidayed in my Aunt’s apartment on the Costa del Sol and when he met the lady who looked after the apartment for my Aunt it was love at first sight.  Doreen had lived in Spain over 20 years so was not inclined to move back to England now she was a pensioner in her early 60’s.  So at the age of 86 my Grandad moved to Spain to spend his last years living as an ex-pat.  He and Doreen had 7 happy years before she died of cancer and my Grandfather outlived her by another two years, staying in Spain, living to the ripe old age of nearly 95.  A happy but rather ironic story!

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