A British newspaper has recently published a story about a retired couple who lost their retirement home on Spain’s Costa Blanca and who have had to wait six years for the UK’s Court of Appeal to rule that they will be compensated for the loss of the property and £300,000 they had spent on taking legal action.
The sad story of Stewart and Linda Forrester is a reminder to all buyers looking at properties abroad that independent legal advice is a priority. The couple, who had saved hard to enjoy later life in Spain, bought the property through a Atlas International Property Services, a UK-based agent for developers Tecnologia Urbanista. Atlas, now in liquidation, told buyers it was a ‘one-stop-shop’ that would handle every aspect of the sale, including the services of Spanish lawyer Miguel Angel Aroca Seiquer, who was supposed to ensure they got the title deeds for the apartment.
After nine years of enjoying the apartment near Alicante and spending a significant amount of money on home improvements, the couple returned to the apartment to find the foundations had collapsed causing irreparable damage. The developers offered them another property, which they accepted.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. They discovered from neighbours in the same apartment block that mortgages had been taken out on the properties, even though the Forresters and others had bought the properties outright. The lawyer Seiquer told them not to worry, as they would have the title deeds soon. Instead, they discovered the property could be repossessed at any time. So, they took the decision to voluntarily give the apartment back to the bank.
Their legal battle against the developers, Atlas and the lawyer, in which seven other couples and two other people joined them, started in 2012 and has only finished in 2018 when the Court of Appeal in London upheld that the lawyer had been negligent. Lord Justice David Richards said Seiquer failed in his duty to advise the buyers about the risk of paying final instalments on their flats without ensuring that they would get mortgage-free title to the properties. Seiquer failed to tell buyers that the transactions were not guaranteed by banks, as required by Spanish law. And he neglected to advise them not to part with their cash until the developer could prove it had mortgage-free title to the flats.
The majority of developers, agents and lawyers are reputable, but there will always be some that act unethically. So, if you are buying a home overseas, get your own lawyer rather than one suggested by developers or agents, then you can be sure that your legal representative is taking care of your best interests, not somebody else’s.