Over many years working in the Spanish Property industry I have met hundreds of estate agents (or 'inmobiliarias' as they are called in Spain). I can honestly say that most of them are good people, conscientious, hardworking, knowledgeable and willing to do far more for you than any agent in the UK.
Sadly I have also met some rogues.
These are the agents who are willing to say anything that their clients want to hear in order to make a sale and walk away with an inflated commission, regardless of the consequences for the buyer later down the line.
Unfortunately the rogues are often just as charming and seemingly professional as the good agents. That's how confidence tricksters work; they gain your confidence, then they trick you.
There is also a third type of agent that I have met many times. Good people, with good intentions but who lack the depth of knowledge that is needed to truly look after their customers. There are many, many agents who fit into this category.
So how, as a buyer can you ensure that you are dealing with an agent who is both knowledgeable and trustworthy?
Spanish Professional Qualifications and Regulations
There are professional bodies of estate agents in Spain which require members to pass exams in order to qualify for association. The most well known is the API - (Agente de la Propiedad Inmobiliaria). The associations are regulated by law have disciplinary processes and members are protected by liability insurance.
However, there is no need to be a member of such a professional body in order to trade as an estate agent and there are almost no agents working in the international market who are members of an association.
It is also worth noting that while the associations do offer a route to recourse in the event that an associate leads you to make an expensive mistake, in order to take advantage of that you will have already have made that expensive mistake.
Due to the lack of adoption of these associations by agents focused on the international market, unfortunately they do not offer much help to buyers from overseas. While membership does demonstrate that the agent is professional and qualified, a lack of membership certainly doesn't mean that the agent is bad.
The AIPP (Association of International Property Professionals) is an organisation which requires members to follow a code of conduct in order to maintain membership.
The requirements of membership are not nearly as rigorous as those of the Spanish Associations, membership can be obtained with no previous experience of the Spanish Property Market.
There is a requirement to follow the associations code of conduct I would invite you to read it yourself and decide whether it offers the protection you would expect.
AIPP CODE OF CONDUCT
While I think membership of such an organisation does show some commitment to taking an honest and professional approach, as with API and the other Spanish associations, I don't think that lack of membership is indicative of a lack of honesty and the same problem is still apparent. If you need to rely on them it may be because you have already been led into an expensive mistake.
Association with reputable Companies
It might be easy to assume that because you first came across the agent via a well know UK company, such as Rightmove or A Place in the Sun, that they must be reputable.
Unfortunately this is a mistake. These companies are advertising agencies and little more. They do not run checks on their customers (remember, it's the agents who pay to advertise who are their customers, not you).
I have seen non-existent properties advertised on property portals and unscrupulous agents are able to advertise as easily as the good ones.
Recommendations are a great way of finding out more about the agent. Look for reviews on their website and independently, for example on Facebook or Google, and if you have friends who have bought in Spain previously their advice can be very helpful.
However do be aware that not all recommendations are unbiased. There exists a strong 'kickback economy' in Spain and it may well be that the nice guy you met in a bar who kindly introduced you to his friend who runs an estate agency will receive a commission in return for that introduction.
So How Can You Know if You Can Trust an Agent?
Unfortunately the answer is that you can't.
This is why it is so important that you take responsibility for your own research and employ the services of the right professionals to help you.
It is vital that you have your own independent solicitor. By this I do not mean that you should simply avoid using an in-house solicitor who is part of the agency but that you should not use the solicitor who is recommended by the agent (if an agent were to disagree with that advice I would say that that is a surefire sign that they cannot be trusted).
Ensure that the Solicitor is qualified, is a member of the regional 'Colegio de Abogados' and that they carry indemnity insurance, just in case they make a mistake.
Do not be pressured into making any commitment to purchase until you have had that solicitor review all of the paperwork.
Beyond that you need to make sure that you are equipped to make an informed decision.
The solicitor will not be able to tell you if the house matches the lifestyle that you want to lead, that's not their job. Nor is it their job to understand your financial situation or, for example, tell you that the property is overpriced and in an undesirable area. The agent's job is to sell the house on behalf of the seller so they are invested in telling you that the house is perfect for you. There will be no repercussions if the disagreement is over something subjective.
Benjamin Franklin said that "by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail".
Make sure that you do your own research, that you know what questions to ask and where to look for the information you need.
Set your budget, understand what the costs are that you will incur, work out what you want from the property and area and then independently verify whether the property you are looking at fits your budget and meets your requirements.
Don't just take the word of the person who is being paid to sell to you.
This way not only will you be able to proceed with confidence, but you will also be much more likely to find your perfect property.
If the agent is trustworthy then they will have no issue with you doing this. If anything you make their job easier.
The Spanish Property Expert
The Purpose of my website is to help give you the information you need to buy a property in Spain with confidence and without making very expensive mistakes. Please consider becoming a free SPE member to be notified when new articles are published.