Building Energy Efficiency Certificate: a new requirement for the sale of real estate

The Spanish Royal Decree 235/2013, of 5 April, has just come into force. It approves the basic procedure for the certification of energy efficiency of buildings. Under this new regulation, from June 1st 2013 on, you cannot validly formalize contracts for the sale or lease of property without the submission of such certification.

Real estate selling management has become a very difficult task in the last years, but not only because of the crisis: the continued imposition of new legal requirements has also hindered this sale management, with the excuse to increase the guarantees for the buyer. For example: recently, we have found that it has become impossible to record a property purchase contract in the Registry of Deeds if the transfer of ownership has not been previously communicated to the municipality concerned, so that the tax popularly known as “plusvalia” could be calculated and paid. Previously we had also found that, in the case of sale of dwelling, it has become necessary to prove its habitability by filing a document that, in many cases, costs a lot to get (or at least, a long time). And in most cases, in which such statements only come to ratify the existing factual situation, its demand has only served to slow processes and increase the costs and the bureaucracy around the sale of a property, which are already excessive.

The last obstacle to be overcome by sellers of property is the obligation to provide buyers or tenants the BEEC energy certificate confirming the energy efficiency of the house. This document will describe how the house effectively consumes electricity and will include objective information on the minimum energy requirements so that future owners or tenants of the building (or a part of it) have the opportunity to compare and evaluate its performance with other similar proposals.

The purpose of this regulation, allowing consumers to compare the energy efficiency of buildings, is to promote energy saving investments and also more energy efficient buildings in the housing market. In addition, this guideline helps to report information about carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the residential sector, which will facilitate the adoption of measures to reduce emissions and improve the energy rating of buildings. Laudable goal, of course, but in a very long term, if there is something new to be built in this country. Nowadays, what we have is a huge offer of buildings that do not find a buyer and selling them has become with the new directive even more difficult.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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The risk in buying inherited real estate

Buying real estate is always an important decision because it involves a significant investment. Thus, you should always think about the consequences and know exactly what you risk in your case.

Each case has its own set of problems. Today I want to consider a very specific situation: the children or the surviving spouse inherit a house or an apartment, where the deceased person had his or her permanent residence. During the signing of the necessary notary documents, to reduce the high Spanish inheritance tax, heirs are happy to listen to the proposal for including a declaration in the document of acceptance of the inheritance saying that they have no intention of selling the property in the next five years: this way, it will save quite a large sum for payment of the tax or even pay nothing, and the instrument of acceptance of the inheritance may also be registered in the land registry without problems.

As time passes, the heirs forget that at the time of the acceptance of the inheritance they have signed this declaration to take profit of this exemption from the tax, which was notarized, and then someone appears offering  a very reasonable price for the property (it has happened often so in the golden days, long before the crisis began). Then the heirs decide to sell, and therefore the buyer acquires the property and agrees to pay a high price. It can even be possible that a bank finances the operation with the warranty that the property the buyer is going to acquire is theoretically free from encumbrances. But this is not quite true: there are responsibilities in respect of the property, which are recorded in the register of deeds but of which very often no one thinks (nor the buyer who acquires, nor the notary who certifies the transaction, neither the bank who risks his money): State tax authorities have the right to review the tax declarations filed in each transfer of ownership, and if they do not agree with the calculation and the amount paid at the time of the acquirement, they can unilaterally make a new calculation of the tax, having the warranty, that the property is encumbered in any case to cover potential liabilities to tax authorities, regardless of who nowadays the owner is.

This would mean in our example that the tax authorities could present to the buyer a nasty surprise if it turned out that the conditions for exemption at the time of acquisition of the property by inheritance have not been met: as the real estate acquired by inheritance using the tax deduction should now be charged with a liability to which the current owner has nothing to do. And the tax, which is calculated by the tax authorities unilaterally to be paid by the children or the spouse of the deceased person, the former owners of the property, may represent a high percentage of its value.

That is why we always recommend not signing any contract or pre-contract of sale without first checking with the lawyer the problems that may arise in each case. This case is just one example of the many troubles, lying in wait for buyers at the time of signing the contract without diligence. However, there are many other cases, which include a big risk. The tax authorities are currently in need of resources due to the crisis and have at their disposal a large number of idle officials, who are currently engaged in audits of all types of legal transactions in the last four years (inheritance, sale, donation, etc.), looking for an excuse to be able to submit payments of additional taxes that are still enforceable, and require the additional appropriate amount.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Incoherent land information systems in Spain

In Spain, it is often the case that entries recorded in the cadastre and the land register (register of deeds) are not identical and the two registries can often contradict the actual plots on the ground.

The reason for this is that the sources of the information differ: in the land register, only information contained in official documents is recorded (e.g. notary certified contracts or judicial decisions); however, the information in the cadastre is submitted and recorded by municipality officials or the tax office.

The function of the information also varies: in the land register, a private individual enters the information which he wishes to defend with the guarantee of the official register; in the cadastre, the administration prepares the information necessary for the calculation of taxes and the enforcement of its own demands.

This potential contradiction is not the only difference between the Spanish and other foreign land registers: another and very important difference in the Spanish land register is the mandatory recording of a building’s description, including details of the construction areas, with a notary certificate, while in other foreign land registers (like in Germany, for example), only the explicit size of the plot (without any description of the buildings) is recorded.  Significantly, this means that if alterations are made to the building, its altered condition must also be updated in the land register with a retrospective notary “New Works Declaration”. However, this is often not done, either through ignorance, a reluctance to pay the notary, tax and registry costs, or more usually because (new) building has not been granted.

Nearly all contracts of sale for property are dependent on the funding of the buyer.  This funding is usually granted by a bank, but always with the guarantee that it is recorded in the land register as a mortgage on the purchased property.  It is therefore very important that the information recorded in the land register does not conflict with reality because any information missing from the land register can mean that the financing bank will not cover the purchase price agreed for the property (this price is agreed irrespective of what is actually stated in the land register). Therefore, if you are intending to put a property on the market as a seller, it is advisable to find out all entries in the land register and cadastre and compare them with the actual plots.

Providing that the correct measurements are recorded in the cadastre, it is relatively simple to amend the land register.  With existing (or older) valid building permission and construction final approval documented by the municipality, things can move forward quickly.  It becomes difficult however when a building or part of a building exists which has not been recorded and for which there is no official approval.  Then only the lengthy and expensive route of gaining planning and building permission through an architect remains.

The situation is different when not only the factual information, but also the legal information recorded is incorrect: this often occurs in the case of inheritances which have not been formalised or when the buyer has not notarized the signed contract of sale.  Because only information contained in official documentation can be recorded in the land register, private contracts of sale cannot be registered.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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The european order for payment procedure

The tardiness of debtors is a well known and frequent problem for business players. Naturally this problem increases in times of crises. An instrument which is not used very often to enforce a debt is the European order payment procedure. When clients consult a lawyer they often believe that if a debtor moved into a foreign country and didn’t leave any asset in Spain there is no possibility to assert the claim. On these grounds they write off their receivables. But there is always a possibility to enforce the debts. It exists a especially easy method if the debtor lives in another country of the European Union.

The european order for payment procedure is legally regulated since 2006. The European regulation 1896/2006 of the counsel and the European Parliament is released in the Official Journal Nr. L 399  dated 30.12.2006. As usual in european procedural law this is a communication system between juridical authorities and parties based on a mutual confidence of the member states of the European Union. Part of this basis of trust is the belief that all courts of justice of the European Union’s member states are credible and that the systems of public communication particularly post are credible as well.

Furthermore laws like this always want to simplify the communication between the administration of justice and the party of the proceedings in the different cultures, tongues and countries. This would be done with publishing officially translated forms in the official journal of the European Union. Because of this further costs and interpretation issues could be avoided.

It should not be forgotten that this European law is directly applicable and there’s no need to transfer it into common law.

In any case this is a possible procedure to the creditor of recovering receivables. However the creditor is free to use the old fashioned way as well, if he prefers it. The european order for payment procedure pretends to be significantly easier and quicker and it avoids any procedure leading to a judgment as well as an allowance of existing deeds between the different countries.

The creditor only has to present the official form to the competent court of the originating country which has to fulfil different requirements and will be sent by the court without further analysis to the debtor to his new residence. The court only checks the compliance with the formalities.

If the court doesn’t accept the form there is the possibility to appeal against this decision at the same level of jurisdiction in accordance with the national law. If the court releases the default summons the debtors has two possibilities, either he fulfils the requirement or he oposes. If he does neither of them the court of the originating country releases an executory title which accepted in every country of the European Union.

Carlos Prieto Cid, Lawyer

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Legalization of buildings outside the law

Traditionally it has been possible in our country to legalize buildings outside the law through the mere passage of time. However, the Law 8/2011 has added new requirements when recording new buildings in the register of deeds, giving more legal security to the system.

When selling a property, the buyer usually requires financing. To obtain financing is not only very difficult nowadays, due to the current banking situation, but also virtually impossible if the buyer can not offer a mortgage to the bank that lends him the money. To make it possible for the bank to register the necessary property mortgage, the real value of the estate to be charged should be reflected in the register of deeds. This is only achieved when the elements that provide greater value to the property, that is, the existing buildings on it, are properly registered. To register these edifications, a notarial declaration of the new building is always been necessary and this document must be submitted to the register in order to be recorded, accompanied by many documents to control its urbanistic legality.

Despite this, there was always a back door to buildings that violated the law, which could end up sneaking in urban registration of the property, with the economic and financial consequences discussed above. The mere passage of time with no reaction of the relevant planning authorities, the municipalities, leads to the possibility of regularization of these illegal edifications. As the deadlines for the sanctioning procedures passed and the planning authorities could no longer prosecute these buildings, they could end regularized, if certain conditions were met. But in the present days, the last reform of the Land Act we mentioned above, has added a key requirement, prior to the possibility of recording the irregular building in the register of deeds: we should show a municipal certification defining the content of the situation outside the law of the building we intend to record.

Article 20.4 of the Act indicates that
“4 …. in the case of constructions, buildings and facilities for which no appropriate measures to restore legality involving urban demolition can be taken, because the relevant limitation period has passed, the registration record of the completion of the work shall be controlled by the following procedure:

  • a) the notary deeds with the statement of a new building can be recorded in the Land Registry if they are accompanied by a certificate issued by the City Council or by a competent technician, or a descriptive notarized certification of the property or a cadastral descriptive and graphic certification of the property, when these documents confirm the completion of the work in a specified date and the description coincides with the title. For this purpose, the Registrar shall verify if there is a notation in the Register of Deeds because of the initiation of an urban discipline procedure for the property subject of the construction, building and installation in question and that the site is non demanial or affected by easements for public use.
  • b) The registration entry will record the outside-the-law position of all or part of the construction, building and installation, in accordance with applicable urban management. It will be necessary to provide the administrative act by which the situation is declared outside management, with the proper delimitation of its contents.
  • c) The Registrar shall report to the City the respective entries in the cases included in previous issues, and such notification will be recorded in the inscription”

This new regulation, in force throughout the state, which requires prior to registration the provision of a municipal certificate on the content of urban illegality is coherent with the goal to be reached with the law of passing “registration measures designed to ensure and strengthen certainty in the real estate contracts and business, through the Land Registry” and “emphasizing on register protection measures which aim to prevent and prosecute in the future situations that occur today and that are impacting very negatively on investment in real estate, both domestically and internationally“.

Let us hope that eventually these legal measures have the desired effect and strengthen the security image as necessary to encourage property investment, especially by foreigners.

Carlos Prieto Cid, Lawyer

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International Judicial Assistance

The increasing internationalization of economic activity and therefore of our society is causing a widespread outbreak of international issues in daily life and therefore also in the life of the local court proceedings. It is nowadays very common that in a judicial procedure one or both parties are domiciled abroad, or that it is necessary to obtain judicial evidence beyond our borders along the process.

When the lawyer has to formalise a power of attorney or an affidavit to certificate the validity of foreign law, or when a judicial warrant is necessary for a notification to the parties abroad or for evidentiary purposes in another country, all stages of judicial proceedings may have an international element that complicates the whole procedure or, in extreme situations, makes it virtually impossible to implement.

In Europe, cooperation between member states on justice and internal security is one of the three pillars of the European Union, along with the economic community and the common foreign and security policy. Moreover, since the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty, the Community provisions can be applied to each of the areas concerning police and judicial cooperation as contained in Title VI of the European Union Treaty, although this “communitarisation” of the rules for police and judicial cooperation has to be agreed unanimously by the Council and ratified by all Member States.

Although common European justice has never come to be developed as much as the economic and monetary union or inter-governmental coordination on foreign policy and security policy, in recent years developments in this area have become more popular and it is no longer so strange that the courts use these resources to carry out their daily activities. However, we find many difficulties to achieve that court officials use the European way of judicial cooperation effectively. The principle underlying the European regulations of these matters of judicial cooperation is to enable judicial officers of the member states to cooperate with each other using simple pre-established protocols, provided that, ex officio or at request, that international action is considered necessary by the judge. However, without proper coordination between lawyers experienced in international litigation and the attorneys and the court officials involved, today the international judicial cooperation would be very inefficient, because the existing protocols are not always known or respected by the court officials, what provokes an avoidable waste of time and resources during the process.

If we find such a lot of inefficiencies in the framework of the European Union, what could be said about the problems caused by international judicial assistance outside the scope of European cooperation? Therefore, the procedural experience of international law firms with European or global orientation, such as the ones joining the network EUROJURIS INTERNATIONAL can be of great help when planning international processes, not just for the parties involved, who can enjoy a much more efficient service of representation in court, but also for other lawyers, who are eventually in these situations and can count on their support and specialist external advice to avoid being caught in unexpected procedural problems when entering the complex field of judicial processes initiated in their own country, but that require the processing of incidents abroad.

Carlos Prieto Cid, Lawyer

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The role of the lawyer in the sale of property

In the glorious years of the housing bubble, when everything was easily bought, lawyers played an essential role in advising buyers to purchase property with all guarantees. Now that everything is being sold, our role is still essential to prevent a sale from being frustrated by legal reasons.

An ordinary person takes only very few times during his life the decision to buy or sell a property. However, there seems to be no awareness in the society that, before making this fundamental decision is wise to consult with an attorney. All the contrary, the general idea is that one should only go to a lawyer to solve legal problems and not, as it should be, to try to avoid them. That is why we lawyers often find customers that come to our office once they have already signed a contract, thinking that with a magic wand we can resolve a problematic situation, which would never have happened if they had consulted us on time.

Among the professionals involved in the decision making of a real estate purchase contract, the lawyer is the only one who can give advice with the warranty that this is only his role and that is why he gets paid, with the absolute independence of the one who knows that is going to collect his fees whether the operation is performed or not. In short, the lawyer is the only professional who can calmly tell his customer: do not sign! That’s why taking advice from a lawyer before signing a contract for purchase and sale of real estate is essential and the sooner you come to him, the better.

In real estate market intermediaries tend to avoid the intervention of lawyers, because they think it increases the costs of the transaction and therefore it reduces their room for maneuver. But the reality is quite the opposite: the costs of our intervention are very profitable. We can actually give many examples of real estate transactions that would have failed if there had not been an immediate intervention of lawyers. The most common problems that we solve are:

• problems with the matrimonial regime applicable
• a necessary formalization of an acceptance of inheritance,
• buildings awaiting a declaration of new construction (even if they have been legal built, but not registered)
• fiscal and money laundering control problems specific to non-resident sellers or non-resident buyers,
• special powers necessary to formalize the operation, when the contract parties cannot be present at the formalization of the purchase contract…

But the range of possibilities is enormous and each of these issues can cripple sales management until making it impossible, especially at the present time, because of the lack of buyers and the oversupply of housing available to the market. Furthermore, experience in international operations with nonresident buyers or nonresident sellers is at the moment crucial, as the housing market mainly offers its stock to potential foreign buyers from countries increasing their capacity and interest in purchasing property in Spain (Russians, Swiss, Indian, Chinese, etc.)…

The failure of a real estate transaction means for the real estate brokers involved an effective cost in time, dedication, displacements and risk analysis, and these costs have no compensation if the operation is not actually performed. The causes of such a failure are often legal issues that only an attorney skilled in the art would have foreseen early enough to provide possible solutions and avoid the loss of the buyer. Or, if not feasible any of the proposed solutions, the lawyer could advise to abandon the operation on time, before incurring further unnecessary costs. Working with real estate agents or other intermediaries in the housing market is an important opportunity for business and the synergies it generates are very helpful both for lawyers and for the agencies involved, providing their common customer the benefit to be able to buy or to sell with guarantees and to mature his decision with all the necessary information.

Carlos Prieto Cid, Lawyer

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The risks of giving power of attorney

The event often arises when we would like to sell our Spanish holiday home or freehold apartment but we are unable to be there at the time of the required notarial certification of the contract of sale because we are only there occasionally on holiday.  A common solution in such cases is to authorise someone to represent us in the notarial proceedings.

InSpain, the transfer of a property only becomes valid once the person giving the authorisation has notarially submitted a letter of attorney.

Simple handwritten authorisation is not sufficient as there must be a notarial letter of attorney for such transfers, i.e. one prepared by a notary to make it legally valid and enable it to be entered in the land register.

This letter of attorney must be signed in the presence of a notary to allow them at that moment to verify our identity and legal status in their capacity as a representative of the state.  They are also obliged to inform us of the risks of giving power of attorney.

This formality is a guarantee for the person granting power of attorney, but it can also pose a risk because the document being officially issued by the notary is really a key with which the authorised person can do anything which is written in it when exercising the power of attorney.  Later, with the letter of attorney in their hand, they can act without the knowledge of the person giving the power of attorney, or even against their will, because the validity of the letter of attorney does not depend on the actual wishes of the person giving power of attorney, but on the officially declared wording of the certified wishes which is contained exclusively in the notarial declaration of authorisation.  This gives the third party, who is conducting business with the authorised person in good faith, the guarantee and security that the transactions are as far as possible valid, irrespective of what the person giving the authorisation might think, and Spanish law therefore does not provide any opportunity to restrict authorisation in the internal relationship, provided the letter of attorney is not notarially revoked.  It is therefore recommended that power of attorney should only be given for the benefit of a person we completely trust or that the authorised person is preferably a lawyer whose area of expertise is continually monitored by a relevant authority, such as the Colegio de Abogados (Bar Association).

It is also possible for a lawyer to simply represent us during the notarial sale without documented and express power of attorney, with the person represented confirming the legal transaction afterwards in the presence of the notary.  However, this approach attracts additional costs and can also have further drawbacks.  The transfer to the buyer is provisionally invalid, i.e. the transfer is not valid until the notarial confirmation has been entered in the land register.  This always presents difficulties if the buyer of the property has to bankroll the purchase price and requires a loan guaranteed by a mortgage, for example.  In such cases, the sale cannot take place because the mortgage only counts as a guarantee if it is entered in the land register.

Carlos Prieto Cid, Lawyer

Buying property without risk

Before buying a property in Spain or signing a contract agreeing the sale of a property, it is important to be aware that, without the necessary guarantees, this signature can represent a major risk. The cost of consulting a lawyer is very small compared with the substantial costs arising from any possible legal proceedings resulting from a legal dispute. However, legal disputes are very easy to avoid if you receive the correct advice beforehand.

The services of a lawyer during a transfer of ownership can cover the following:

Prior inspection of the property:
– Register details: ownership, description, liabilities and tax liabilities
– Cadastre details: description, cadastral value
– Tax details of the property: outstanding tax
– Urban planning details of the property: valuation, planning, liabilities, legality of new building
– Horizontal ownership details: debts, special taxes and duties
– Condition of the building: implementation and monitoring during the preparation of a survey report
– Property value: implementation and monitoring during the preparation of a valuation report

Regulation of register, cadastre, tax and planning details

Financing and tax analysis of the project

Foundation and registration of a company with the tax office

Registration of natural persons with the tax office

Supervision of mortgage financing

Preparation and legalisation of documents
– Arrangement of power of attorney
– Application for apostilles
– Request for simple and certified translations

Drafting and verification of the private contract of sale, option contract, service contract etc.
– Drafting and negotiation
– Verification
– Guidance when signing the contract or signing in the name of the client by means of the power of attorney

Drafting and verification of certificates (for purchase, mortgage, acceptance of inheritance, building project etc.) together with the notary.
– Preparation and verification of documents necessary for issuing the certificate
– Drafting of the proposal and verification of the certificate text drawn up by the notary, based on the project
– Guidance when signing the contract or signing in the name of the client by means of the power of attorney

Processing of tax declarations and payment of tax

Entry into land register

Contracting party’s change of contracts with energy/water suppliers and phone companies etc.

Guidance in negotiating with the following persons/organisations:
– Seller/buyer
– Estate agent
– Builders
– Chief architect and technical architect
– Notary
– Registry officials
– Valuer
– Surveyor
– Bank
– Insurance company
– Property management
– Tax office
– Local council and other public authorities

Carlos Prieto Cid, Lawyer

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