The International Living Podcast

Episode 34: An Expat’s Experience Buying Property in Spain

July 19, 2023 International Living
Episode 34: An Expat’s Experience Buying Property in Spain
The International Living Podcast
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The International Living Podcast
Episode 34: An Expat’s Experience Buying Property in Spain
Jul 19, 2023
International Living

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This week, the Bigger, Better World podcast takes a trip to Spain, talking to writer Maria DiCicco about her experience buying a property in Zaragoza.

House-buying can be stressful, even in your home country. Transferring large sums of your hard-earned money, dealing with real estate agents, lawyers, vendors, and all the complicated processes and procedures that go with buying a new home make for a challenging time. Now, imagine all that, but you don’t know the language or the procedures in the country you’re buying in and…due to a pandemic, you can’t even visit it in person!

None of that stopped Maria and her husband from purchasing the historic property of their dreams in the ancient Spanish city of Zaragoza. Determination, desire, and a dollop of patience paid off for them, and now they have their happy place in the sun. A place to make memories for themselves and their young daughter, a place, perhaps, to settle down and retire to one day.

In her article for International Living magazine, and in her discussion with podcast host, Jim Santos, Maria explains how she found her dream home overseas, the process for buying it, how much it cost, and how she overcame all the obstacles in her way to become a homeowner in Spain.

Join host, Jim Santos, as he meets Maria DiCicco in the latest episode of Bigger, Better World.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform:

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

This week, the Bigger, Better World podcast takes a trip to Spain, talking to writer Maria DiCicco about her experience buying a property in Zaragoza.

House-buying can be stressful, even in your home country. Transferring large sums of your hard-earned money, dealing with real estate agents, lawyers, vendors, and all the complicated processes and procedures that go with buying a new home make for a challenging time. Now, imagine all that, but you don’t know the language or the procedures in the country you’re buying in and…due to a pandemic, you can’t even visit it in person!

None of that stopped Maria and her husband from purchasing the historic property of their dreams in the ancient Spanish city of Zaragoza. Determination, desire, and a dollop of patience paid off for them, and now they have their happy place in the sun. A place to make memories for themselves and their young daughter, a place, perhaps, to settle down and retire to one day.

In her article for International Living magazine, and in her discussion with podcast host, Jim Santos, Maria explains how she found her dream home overseas, the process for buying it, how much it cost, and how she overcame all the obstacles in her way to become a homeowner in Spain.

Join host, Jim Santos, as he meets Maria DiCicco in the latest episode of Bigger, Better World.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform:

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

Jim Santos 00:09 

Welcome once again to Bigger, Better World. Today we're going to talk about something that can be a very scary process, and I speak from experience: Buying a property overseas. Our guest today, Maria DiCicco, did just that when she and her husband bought a home in northern Spain. She wrote about it for the July 2023 issue of International Living magazine in the article ‘An Expat’s Experience Buying Property in Spain’. And she's going to talk us through the process today. Maria, welcome to Bigger, Better World, and thanks for joining us.


Maria DiCicco 01:12 

Hey, Jim, thanks for having me today.


Jim Santos 01:14 

Now today you're joining us from Zaragota in the north of Spain, correct? Or is that Zaragoza?


Maria DiCicco 01:21 

It's Zaragoza. And it's really funny. I want to add this little add in about how we got the name Zaragoza. It used to be a Roman city, and Caesar Augustus was the founder of Zaragoza. And if you really try hard and you say Caesar Augustus very fast, you might hear a bit of Zaragoza in the name. And that's how we became Zaragoza.


Jim Santos 01:49 

I also read that it was sometimes pronounced Saragosa.


Maria DiCicco 01:52 

Yes, that's the English way to say it, with the s instead of the z.


Jim Santos 01:56 

Now, what was it that attracted you to this area?


Maria DiCicco 02:00 

Truth be told, I had no idea this place existed until I met my husband, who is what they call a mano here in Zaragoza. That means he's a native from this town, from this city of Zaragoza in Spain. And he was here till he was a teenager. And we met in Florida, back in the States. So we came here a couple of times to visit for weddings, just to see family, and came to realize it was a very family friendly city and it had a lot to offer for us.


Jim Santos 02:32 

And where is Zaragoza located in Spain?


Maria DiCicco 02:35 

So again, most people probably don't even realize it's on that map, but if you are taking the train from Madrid to Barcelona or vice versa, it's actually smack in the middle of the two. So you have to go through Zaragoza in order to get to one of the two cities by way of train. So if you think about the northeast sector of Spain, it's just up there.


Jim Santos 02:57 

So I understand in your article you bought your property back in 2021.


Maria DiCicco 03:01 

We did. So back in 2020, obviously, the world was shut down from traveling. And I am no stranger to travel. My husband and I were traveling three or four times a year overseas for recreation. And it got to the point where 2020 kind of put us in a slump. We had all this money in our pocket, and we were really wanting to get back out there traveling, and I couldn't. So I traveled by way of the Internet, and I would scroll through houses in Italy, the €1 houses you could buy. I would look through different pictures of places we could visit, potentially, when the world opened back up. And one day I just said we could buy something with all this money that we've been sitting on. And we did. Yeah.


Jim Santos 03:53 

I think a lot of us were frustrated by suddenly being shut down, especially if you're like. My wife and I were also used to traveling a lot, and we had lived in Ecuador for years, and now suddenly we were confined to the home, basically. So I can understand the impulse to get out there and do something. And I understand from your article something that we have in common, says you bought your place sight unseen.


Maria DiCicco 04:16 

Yes. And it's funny, I was listening to one of your previous podcasts today, and that doesn't seem that uncommon, even though, to me, it felt like the craziest thing in the world.


Jim Santos 04:26 

We actually bought our condo in Ecuador. Well, we'd been in the building, so I wasn't completely blind, but we actually bought it based on photographs that were sent to us.


Maria DiCicco 04:36 

Sure. You know what we did? We called realtors and had them literally do a video walk through with us on the phone with a six-hour time change, and they would take us around the apartment and show us all the nooks and crannies of what we might be getting into. And that's how we eventually landed on the one we're in now, which is actually my first choice. So it worked out in the end. But we went through four or five of these video walk throughs before we decided what we wanted.


Jim Santos 05:08 

Well, you actually had a head start, I guess, since your husband was familiar with the area.


Maria DiCicco 05:12 

Yeah, you know what? He didn't choose this area. I did, because of our travels here. It's the ideal area to be living if you want to be a tourist, really, or if you want to have a vacation home in this city of Zaragoza. We are literally steps from the Basilica de Pilar, which is the foundation of the city. It's this enormous multi spired cathedral along the Rio Ebro, and people flood down there daily for festivals, tapas, in fact, just downstairs, the very boisterous Tapas Street, which we knew about, purchasing this sight unseen. But being here is a different thing when you realize you have to try to sleep through the bar crowd. That is absolutely midnight. But this area is just so lively, and it's the place to be.


Jim Santos 06:10 

How long was it before you were able to actually go out and visit this place once you had purchased it? Because I know travel was still very difficult in 2021.


Maria DiCicco 06:19 

Sure. So the interesting thing is when you purchase property in Spain, and I don't know if this is for all properties or just our situation, they actually gave us a very loose window of the purchase date. So we went through all these different agreements and documentation processes early on in the spring of 2021, and they didn't actually need us out here until July, August. It was just completely open. 


So we said, well, let's look at our calendar and what works for us to get on an airplane and get out there. And it just so happened, it worked out a few months past those agreement dates and basically move in day was the first day we saw it. We flew into town. I remember it was a Thursday evening rather Friday morning. We fly into town after a Thursday evening flight. Friday at noon, we had an appointment with the bank to open this banking account and make sure all the ducks were in a row.


Jim Santos 07:23 



Maria DiCicco 07:23 

And then Friday at two they said, okay, we'll give you a 15 minutes walkthrough just to make sure everything's still good, that you still like it. And then at 2.30 we had the signing. It was a whirlwind. It was absolutely insane. And then that whole weekend was dedicated to buying Ikea furniture and painting the house and getting in here as quick as we could.


Jim Santos 07:43 

And when you purchased this, it was with the intent of just visiting there from time to time during the year?


Maria DiCicco 07:50 

Yeah, for now. I think originally in the back of our minds when we started looking, it was just a pipe dream. It was just something to keep me busy.


Jim Santos 07:58 



Maria DiCicco 07:59 

The scrolling all day through different homes. And then we said, well maybe we could get something and we could rent it out and Airbnb or VRBO, something like that. And then it came to being this is our place now, and we're going to put our beloved touch on it and we want this place for ourselves. So after the scrolling and going through the variety of housing options, we decided that we didn't want to rent it. We wanted to have our stamp on this place and keep it as our own. 


And what we would try to do is come here three or four times a year for a couple of weeks at a time and build a secondary holiday home for us and have somewhere that we can live abroad while still having a foot in the United States.


Jim Santos 08:47 

Yeah, that's interesting. I've often felt the same way. My wife talked about if we travel abroad that we could put our home up for rent while we were gone. And it's just the idea of other people being in my space, I just didn't like that.


Maria DiCicco 08:59 

Yeah. And I think it's tough for me to grapple with because if you turn it into a rental, then all of a sudden you've got to really reduce your footprint. You don't want people snooping through your clothes, your things.


Jim Santos 09:12 



Maria DiCicco 09:13 

It's no longer as homey. It's more like a shell or a box. And you come here and you'd have to bring everything all over. And part of the appeal of this place is that my daughter, when we purchased this, was two years old and it's kind of tough to travel with a toddler and obviously, as she's close to four now, it's gotten a lot easier. But what we could do at the time is we would have everything we needed here. We would have the car seat, the crib, the stroller, all the toys. Anything we needed was already here. So basically we just had to pack a personal bag, hop in an airplane and we'd be here. And that made traveling with her a lot easier, especially after the Pandemic just made a mess of everything.


Jim Santos 09:52 

Travel wise, now that you've been going back and forth for a few years, are there any thoughts of maybe settling in Spain at some point?


Maria DiCicco 09:59 

At this point, my next step, I think, is going to be summering in Spain. So as you probably well know, the schools in America have a hiatus in the summer months, so two, three months at a time, kids are not in school. So at this point, my kid’s in daycare, we figure once she's in primary school or elementary school, then those summer months would be ideal. We could spend two, three months. I think after that, who knows? But baby steps.


Jim Santos 10:33 

Now, I saw in the article that this is a one bedroom, one bath apartment.


Maria DiCicco 10:39 

Yes, it is a shoebox. Well, not to say we live in a palace in Florida, right? We live in about 1100 sqft in Florida, but here it's 40 m², so it's about 600 sqft. Once you get all the toys strewn about and all the belongings that I love to collect as we travel, it gets to be quite small. But like I said, it's in the heart of everything, so it's all we need.


Jim Santos 11:06 

And it seems like the price is probably a lot different from your place in Florida.


Maria DiCicco 11:09 

Yes, I think the price of this place was a huge reason we even went down this path. And it was interesting to me to see that everything that went on the market when we were searching was maybe €75,000 to €120,000. And they were really nice places. Much bigger, honestly, than this place. But as the radius expands beyond the Centro Historico, the price would get you a greater value of square footage. But the price tag on this was just unreal to us and we couldn't even fathom… how do they get away with this? A place like this in the States would just be chewed up in a heartbeat.


Jim Santos 11:59 

My wife and I recently were in Florida and considered buying a property. There much thinking the same that you had there, that we could go down there from time to time ourselves and rent it the rest of the time. But one of the things that pulled us back from that was when we investigated the property taxes in the area, they were just really high. Like something that would be $200,000 would be like $6,000 a year in property taxes. What are the property taxes like there in Spain?


Maria DiCicco 12:27 

Oh, Jim, you're not going to want to quote me on this. This is definitely my husband's department. But I'll tell you that the cost of living being here or away, it's all one lump sum into our bank account. It all just gets deducted automatically. We figure it's about €2000 annually coming out of that bank account. It all just gets auto deducted. Yes. And that's with us being here or away.


Jim Santos 12:54 

Yeah, that's not bad at all.


Maria DiCicco 12:56 

No, I think we pay about that much in property taxes in our place in Florida.


Jim Santos 13:03 

Okay, well, let's get to the actual process itself of buying, because, like I say, my wife and I went through the same thing, and it can be kind of scary, especially when you're doing a lot of stuff remotely. One of the first things you talked about was that for Spain, there aren't any restrictions as to who can buy property.


Maria DiCicco 13:21 

Yeah. So we weren't actually aware of restrictions or otherwise and didn't take that much into account only because I have dual citizenship with Italy. Now, you would think that because my husband is Spanish and from Spain holding a Spanish passport, that he would be the one that got our foot in the door. But in fact, when you're gone for too long from Spain and haven't renewed your documentation like he mistakenly did, it was me that we leaned on. 


So it was my passport, my Italian passport, that got the process started. So we honestly didn't look too further beyond that to see what kind of restrictions there may be, because we knew I am a European citizen, and I could get our foot in the door that way very easily.


Jim Santos 14:06 

Now, another part of the process you described was you had to get your foreign identification numbers for Spain. Was that a complicated process?


Maria DiCicco 14:15 

The process is about as complicated as going down to your local consulate, which for me is in Miami. Being in Orlando, that's a decent drive. And basically getting an appointment with them is next to impossible. So that was the only struggle. But once you have your paperwork together, it's a very easy process.


Jim Santos 14:38 

You also mentioned we talked about this a little bit earlier, that you did some research before buying, looked at a lot of places online, and that's really great advice. We also did the same thing. We were using even Google Earth to try to look at neighborhoods and picking out different areas. You also mentioned that it was important to contact multiple agents.


Maria DiCicco 14:57 

Yes. So when we used the Spanish platform called Idealista to search for the possible properties. We found that boxing ourself into one estate company was not going to help us. And the reason being, the properties were literally flying off the page. I'd find something one day that I loved, and the next day it was gone.


Jim Santos 15:23 



Maria DiCicco 15:25 

The process really through Idealista is you can call a phone number, which is challenging from the States. You'd have to use Google voice or any number of other calling procedures that might cost you a little extra. And then also you really have to speak Spanish. So it came down to the availability of my husband to be home to speak Spanish, and the time change to get these people on the phone. 


So all that considered, I try to do my due diligence by emailing them, and email doesn't go far when you're speaking English to a Spaniard. They don't want to deal with you. So I got on Google translate, and I started just translating what I wanted to say. And I know some pretty basic Spanish. I think I'm actually pretty good at Spanish, but the Spanish might not think so. My limited Spanish would get translated, and I popped it in an email, and that would garner better results. 


And at that point, we'd say, okay, I know you think we're crazy, but we need to walk through. Can you call us from the property and get us on the phone with you? But anyway, because these places were disappearing left and right, it was really challenging. So we had to make sure that we talked to several different people to have a couple of things up our sleeve when we had the time to meet with them.


Jim Santos 16:50 

One of the issues we ran into in Ecuador at the time, there have been some changes since then, but at the time, all you had to do to be a real estate agent was say, I'm a real estate agent. There wasn't any, really, licensing or registration procedure in Spain. Are the real estate agents that you dealt with, were they all licensed?


Maria DiCicco 17:09 

Well, as far as I could tell, they all seemed above board. They all worked with different property companies that were well researched. And when you start talking to the real estate agents, some of them would say, oh, that's a really great company. You should keep working with them. And that kind of respect was great for us to hear, because some of the people we did work with, we loved their personalities and how good they were to get back with us. 


But in the end of the day, they couldn't get us the properties we wanted, so they would actually refer us and say, this other company you're working with is truly a good company. So continue down that path.


Jim Santos 17:45 

Yeah, that's very uncommon in the States. They’re usually very jealous about which agencies you use.


Maria DiCicco 17:50 

Oh, yeah, you can't dig your toes in multiple pools like that in the States. And another thing that just completely blows my mind about the process in Spain is there's no bidding war. And if we had that in the States, that would just be a game changer. So I may be getting ahead of myself here, but the bidding war does not exist. And the purpose behind that is because when you put down your deposit saying, hey, I'm kind of interested in this property, but I'm not so sure yet, can you take it off the market? They do plop right off the market, and it's yours to look at. So you have no obligation whatsoever, and you look at it and make up your mind, and then you move forward.


Jim Santos 18:43 

This would be the small deposit that you're talking about? About $1,000 or €1000?


Maria DiCicco 18:48 



Jim Santos 18:49 

In the US. Consider that like earnest money.


Maria DiCicco 18:52 

Exactly, it's earnest money. And while that's happening, nobody else is allowed to look at the property. And as far as Idealista is concerned, it comes right off the website.


Jim Santos 19:01 

Okay. Yeah. It is not that situation in the US.


Maria DiCicco 19:04 

No, not at all.


Jim Santos 19:06 

So the offer price is the price. There's no negotiating on that.


Maria DiCicco 19:11 

It's tough to say because with us, we were told further down the line by our real estate agent for that property that we could negotiate down a few thousand euros. But in general, I found that because things were flying off the shelf so quickly at price and a list price, there was no real wiggle room.


Jim Santos 19:36 



Maria DiCicco 19:37 

And I was surprised to see that because the properties that were going on the market and then immediately coming down were modern, larger spaces at the same price point as ours. But people wanted modern and they didn't want… we have we have the timbered, you know, the timbered archways in the in the living area, and we have all the old tile and the old oak shutters and everything. So it's very historical, our property. And people don't want that. The really new ones, the Spaniards want those. So those were coming off the market immediately.


Jim Santos 20:15 

How about as far as opening a bank account, you touched on that earlier. Did you find that to be a complicated process?


Maria DiCicco 20:20 

Yes, once we got here, it was not complicated whatsoever. But I'll tell you, some of the challenges we faced is we wanted to take care of everything abroad. And as I told you, we arrived in Spain and that morning we had a meeting with the bank. So we would have loved to do all this prior. But the issue is you can only deal with your local branch. So if you have a local branch, let's say a few blocks from your home, that's your branch. And you need to open a bank account in person at that branch. You can't even change your password for your online account unless you go in person to that branch. So everything is very kind of old school in that respect. 


So we tried to do what we could. We researched different bank accounts for expats and people like us who are just kind of in transit, one foot here, one foot there, and ultimately came across Banco Sabadelll. And I liked them because they had something called the key account, which, as it turns out, I thought I could only open through my Italian citizenship. But I've actually opened the account with my American passport and my NIE, which is that tax number I had to go get.


Jim Santos 21:35 



Maria DiCicco 21:36 

So with the mix of my American passport and the NIE that I got with my Italian passport, I was able to open the bank account. But the other challenge was, once we got to the bank, it's Spain. We had an appointment for, let's say I think it was 11:00 a.m., the bank was closed and they were all out having merienda or so, whatever mealtime it was, of the day. And the bank was completely locked and we had no time. And they finally showed up and we got in the door kind of in a panic at this point because we had to close on the house in about an hour and bad planning on our part, I guess. 


But we got in there and English was not spoken. So thankfully I had my husband. We could have probably gone through the back and forth of using Google Translate on my phone, but there was a moment there where, from sitting in the seat of only understanding limited Spanish, I thought they weren't going to allow us to have the account, but really they were upselling us. So we got through it and the bank account was no problem.


Maria DiCicco 22:47 

And they actually covered all the expenses we needed, including home insurance and everything else that you might consider necessary to have a home. It all just dumps in and out of that account. And it's been very easy ever since we opened it.


Jim Santos 22:59 

And I would think it's important to make sure that the bank will let you pay, like, local utility bills and things online for the months that you're not there, that you have Internet access to it.


Maria DiCicco 23:10 

Yeah, everything's easy peasy. We can access everything from home. Banco Sabadell has this feature with the key account. Everything is in English, so we have their app, and online we can deal with whatever we need. And then all the utilities companies, they may be in Spanish, but again, Google Translate is a beautiful thing and it's all very easy for us to manage from abroad or when we're here.


Jim Santos 23:35 

Well, once you've made your first couple of payments, it becomes pretty routine, I would think.


Maria DiCicco 23:40 

Absolutely. The first couple of trips back here, every now and then we'd come check our mailbox upon being away three or four months, and there'd be all these notices in the mailbox just say, oh, no, we forgot to report our water usage on the water meter. Or this and that. 

And there are all these little things that we had to kind of learn how to deal with not being here all the time, because if you're living somewhere all the time, you could obviously open the closet door outside and look at the water meter and report it. But we're not here. So we had to kind of get around all that and automate some things. But now we're good to go. And those are out of sight, out of mind.


Jim Santos 24:18 

Now, another really key piece of advice that you give in this article is to make sure that you have a local attorney to help with the process.


Maria DiCicco 24:27 

Yeah, the lawyers are actually not something common here. It was a preference of ours because it is common in the States to have a lawyer in this kind of dealing and kind of gave us peace of mind. So I got on Google and I just looked up Abogado for real estate, lawyer for real estate, and I narrowed it down to three or four companies. 


Again, I emailed them in my Google Translate Spanish, and I eventually got a response. And honestly, we did not need this person. But it was more peace of mind to make sure that the documents we were reading along the way made sense, that they weren't trying to screw us over in any way, and that anything that could have gotten lost in translation between how we do things in the States and how they do things here could have been met with a legal representation.


Jim Santos 25:27 

Yeah, it's great for peace of mind, especially if there's any part of the process is going to be remote. And it's also important to remember that in many countries, unless a document is in the official language of the country, it's not considered a legal document.


Maria DiCicco 25:41 

Yes. So, gosh, I really feel like I'm doing a commercial for Google at this point, but Google Translate has a documentation feature where you can upload any document. And so we would get these contracts and we'd uploaded them to Google and we were able to review line by line, exactly what those documents said in English, and that really helped us. But even then, when you get to the English translation, you might see something you don't like, and that's where the lawyer would come in.


Jim Santos 26:11 

Right. And sometimes those translations are a little stilted. It's a little difficult to understand exactly what they mean.


Maria DiCicco 26:15 

And that's where my Spanish husband comes in.


Jim Santos 26:19 

Another reason to have an attorney you brought up in the article, too, was in case you need a power of attorney for signing documents in your stead if you're not going to be there.


Maria DiCicco 26:28 

Yes. Thankfully, we didn't have to walk that path, but we started to because of COVID we still didn't know. Can we get to Spain in time? Are we going to need to do the signing remotely? And if so, who's going to carry that out for us. So we printed all the documents, we walked the path, like I said. And it wouldn't have been challenging, but it would have been time consuming at the very least. So our lawyer could have been the power of attorney if we had desired it.


Jim Santos 27:05 

Now getting back to the purchase process, you mentioned that first deposit of about €1000. That says that you're interested. Then the next step is the conpraventa. It's like an intent to purchase. At that point you had to pay a 10% deposit.


Maria DiCicco 27:21 

Yes. So at that point it's beyond just intent. Right. So you intend to purchase means you're looking at it. That's when the depositcomes in, that's that $1,000 payment where you want to take it off the market so nobody else can see it, but you're just not quite sure you want to maybe go through some negotiation.


Jim Santos 27:43 

Right. And that's refundable.


Maria DiCicco 27:45 

That is refundable. So the compraventa is the 10% deposit. That is going to be 10% of the final negotiated number. And that point is you really got your foot in the door with this property. You plan on purchasing it, but you're just trying to nail down the facts.


Jim Santos 28:06 

And then after the contracts, the compraventa has been signed and approved by all the parties. That's when you move to setting the closing date.


Maria DiCicco 28:14 

Yes. So at this point you're going to get basically a receipt for all the things that you might need to pay. And I know that in my article I listed kind of the details of what that is and it may be a little bit different from place to place, but we paid. So you'll have your line by line list of that final negotiated price for the property. Then you're going to have taxes on top of that, fees, more taxes, and then the notary, which is that signing process that also costs a little bit of extra money as well.


Jim Santos 28:50 



Maria DiCicco 28:50 

So you'll get that as part of your closing date conversation and you just want to make sure that there's nothing funky going on. I know that with us, we almost lost the property. We told them we were going to walk because at this point the person we were purchasing from, they were also purchasing a property and they needed the money ASAP to purchase their new property. So of course we still hadn't seen our property. And they wanted more than 10% for that secondary contract. That compraventa. They wanted like 80%. They wanted almost all of it. 


And at this point we talked to our lawyer and we said, this doesn't sniff right, I don't think we should do this. And we handed it out and it was a really tough decision. And we said, you know what, we're going to walk away from this one. And lo and behold, not two hours later we get a phone call from the real estate agent. He says, okay, the other guy sorted out his finances. You're good. Let's continue. So at that point, we had the numbers, all those final details are figured out. And this is that last point where you say, okay, this is exactly what you're going to expect on that day that you sign.


Jim Santos 30:04 

Now, on your list of the fees and everything, property tax, registration, transfer tax, that's all pretty standard. You listed the agent fees there. Does the buyer pay the real estate fees or does that come out of the purchase price?


Maria DiCicco 30:19 

If I recall, it came on top of.


Jim Santos 30:22 

On top of, okay, on top of.


Maria DiCicco 30:24 

But I can't be sure on that one either, Jim. The other thing kind of stood out was the value added tax. The VAT was 21%. Yeah, that's a sizable chunk at this point. It was, how much do we owe you? Just tell us where to sign. There's always going to be added this and added that. And at this point in the game, we were in. So what's another 21%?


Jim Santos 30:51 

Well, another piece of good advice you gave was when you're transferring the money over to complete the process overestimate the amount of money that you're going to need.


Maria DiCicco 31:01 

That was a challenge. I tell you what, I don't know if you've ever spent any time wiring money abroad, but I haven't.


Jim Santos 31:07 

It's a scary process.


Maria DiCicco 31:12 

Right now. I haven't looked lately, but I mean, the Euro is doing really well. So at the time we were at maybe $1.26 for the transfer of money. And it was so much extra money on top of you see this beautiful price tag say, oh, we could buy this apartment in Spain for €75,000. And then and then because all those wire transfer fees really started to add up, because not only are you transferring money abroad where you have the added fees, but you have to transfer that money from US dollars to Euros. 


So when that transfer happens, you're not quite aware of the hidden fees. So there's multiple hops when the wire transfers are carried out. It goes from the American bank to some middleman bank to some other bank, and then it finally gets where it's going and you might lose a couple of bucks in the exchange. So the first time we did our wire transfer, we underpaid, maybe it was $30, $40 just given the transfers, but we underpaid for the second one. We said, oh, we better overpay. And after by the third time we transferred money, it kind of all evened out, but there was still money left over at the end.


They said, well, you got to tack that onto that final dollar because you missed it, right? So it's kind of tricky. So I would just say, always overpay. And they will give you a check in the mail back, which is what finally ended up happening is after all was said and done, we signed the paperwork. About two months later, we received a fairly large check in the mail for all the money that we overpaid.


Jim Santos 32:51 

Now that the process is all done and you're in you're in the home, you own the property, is there anything that you would have done differently?


Maria DiCicco 32:58 

Oh, gosh, I think no. Honestly, it was a trial by fire. It was not something I was familiar with. We have one home. I've never owned a home before. I own this home in Florida, and obviously the two paths are very different, so we didn't really know what we were getting into here. And I got to say, as we stepped through the process, even though there were bumps in the road, it wasn't that bad. 


And I don't think that I'd really do anything differently except change the way the euro was acting back then because we could have saved thousands of dollars. But that's not in great control. Right, but if the dollar was what the dollar to euro is what it is today, man, that would have been great. But no, otherwise, I honestly think that the process was as smooth as it could have been. 


We love our apartment here and it's old, it's 1900, so we're having fun doing little renovations here and there, and that's what we love to do at our home in Florida. So it keeps us busy. Every trip we come and just do a little bit here, a little bit there, and we feel like the value for what we got is tremendous and we're really building a home for ourselves here, even though it's not a permanent one. A holiday home is just as good. We're making lots of memories, so we really enjoy it.


Jim Santos 34:22 

We've been chatting with Maria DiCicco, author of ‘An Expat’s Experience Buying Property in Spain’, just one of the many useful articles you'll find in the July 2023 edition of International Living Magazine. Don't forget, you can learn more about Spain and many other expat destinations at the Ultimate Go Overseas boot camp in Denver, Colorado, this September 2 through the 4th. I'll be there, shamelessly promoting my own books and answering your questions about our travels overseas and the podcast. 


So go to for details and a discount before time runs out. That's Maria, thanks again for sharing your experience with us here on Bigger, Better World.


Maria DiCicco 35:00 

Thanks, Jim.


Jim Santos 35:11 

The Bigger, Better World podcast is a production of International Living. If you enjoyed this episode and you'd like to help support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media or leave a rating and review. If you have an idea for an episode or a question you'd like us to answer, email us at And don't forget to put podcast in the subject line of your email. That's 


We created Bigger, Better World to help showcase the ideas we explore at International Living each month and grow our community of travel lovers, expats and experts who believe as we do, that the world is full of opportunity to create a more interesting, more international life. You don't have to be rich or famous to do that. You just need to know the secrets. And that's what we bring you at International Living. 


If you haven't become a member yet, you can do it today with a special discount offer for podcast listeners. You'll receive our monthly magazine, plus a bundle of special extras. You'll find the link in our show notes. Or you can go to That's Next week, it's off to an often overlooked expat destination the Mediterranean islands of Malta.


Until then, this is Jim Santos for International Living, reminding you there's a bigger, better world out there just waiting for you.

A City With a Roman History
Buying a Place in Spain, Sight-Unseen, Via the Internet
Why We Don’t Rent it Out—It’s Too Convenient to Keep it as Our Own
Passports, Citizenship, and How Anyone Can Buy a Place in Spain
Browsing the Property Market With Idealista
Spaniards Want New, Modern Homes, So the Historic Ones Are Easy to Find
Practical Details of Owning a Home Overseas, and How to Deal With Them
Deposits, Payments, Fees, Taxes and Paperwork—Step-By-Step