Restoration & build finances

When you buy a property in Galicia the chances are that you’re going to at least make changes to it, and in many cases what foreigners moving to Galicia buy is (whether they realise it at the time or not) a full scale restoration project.

This means that when you work out your finances you should be working them out on the basis of the property you want restored or modified to the standard you want.

Obviously every property and every owner’s desired end product vary massively, so this page is an attempt to give you a rule of thumb guide to help you make calculations. The figures given here are prices per square metre, which may sound an inexact way of doing things but is actually how the architectural and building trade works for estimates and usually turns out to be surprisingly accurate.

Galician construction costs in general

In general in Galicia you can say the following:

  • Labour, both skilled and unskilled, is quite a bit cheaper (25-50%) than in northern Europe. This comes with the proviso that you hire workers who are actually skilled in what they claim to be skilled in, at least reasonably hard working, and honest.
    Like anywhere else in the known universe, there are good and bad builders, modest and deluded ones, and a few who will royally rip off foreigners if given half a chance.
  • Basic building materials (sand, cement, bricks and blocks, chestnut or pine timber, stone worktops, fibreboard roofing panels, etc.), ie. the stuff that the locals use, is competitively priced, easily sourced and it’s easy to find builders with the relevant expertise.
  • Transport of bulk materials within the local area tends to come for free, which is a significant saving over northern Europe.
  • More bespoke materials (hi tech roofing systems, composite beams, imported stone, green energy system components, etc.) can cost significantly more than they do in northern Europe, can be very hard to source without large transport costs, and it’s also hard to find builders who know how to work with them.
  • Health and safety exists in theory but often not at all in practice. This often saves a lot of money on scaffolding and so on BUT be aware that if you directly employ a builder (ie. not through a company and not registered self employed) then you can be liable for claims for accident and injury if you haven’t followed all health and safety rules. This is the same in the UK, by the way.
  • Property improvement taxes are levied in Spain, typically being 4% of the total value of the works + materials (including the market value of your own labour if you do it yourself).
    Of course as the council records of many older properties (ie. built before submitting an architect’s plan and getting planning permission was a legal requirement) contain almost no details of the layout and condition of the property many people opt to do small and medium (and sometimes large) building works without permissions, normally, it must be said, with no problems whatsoever as a result.
    This said, it is worth noting that if you later sell the improved property at a higher price you may face a capital gains tax issue as only tax paid improvement costs can be used to offset any gains.
Costs of specific categories of construction work

Some approximate costs by category are given below. Of course every job varies in price according to the materials used, the proficiency and efficiency of the labour, the preceding state of the area of building being worked on and the complexity of the design, but these figures are reasonable ballpark averages.

Replacement kitchen, bathrooms & windows

For work of this kind the major cost is the purchase of the materials. Labour can also be expensive but a lot of this kind of work can be done yourself to save money:

  • Kitchen – a good size IKEA or similar kitchen complete with appliances and a locally sourced stone worktop typically comes in at around 5000€ for the materials and around 1000€ for labour so long as you don’t require new electrical circuitry or gas lines and assuming the existing walls and floor don’t require significant work.
    Extensive tiling, especially with a good quality tile (material cost 15-40€ per m2) will significantly increase the cost.
  • Bathrooms – a shower enclosure and head, toilet and sink typically costs 500-1000€ for materials and around 500€ to fit so long as all the necessary pipe and electrical connections are already available in their correct places.
    Extensive tiling of a medium sized bathroom can often add a further 1000€ or more in materials and labour.
  • Windows – a cheap, medium sized double glazed unit starts at around 200€ plus 50€ to fit IF the existing window apertures are the right size to fit one of the standard glazing unit measurements available. If you need to have bespoke windows made for your property then 500€ per window, fitted, is more realistic.
Roof replacement

What all Galician roofers know how to do, and what planning permission typically mandates, is “uralita y tejas”, which means fibrecement boards with garish orange concrete tiles stuck to the top with expanding foam.

Fitting a basic replacement roof of this type costs, assuming the existing support structure for it is ok to be reused, around 50-60€ per m2 of roof surface, everything included. If you add insulation and a breathable membrane that cost increases to around 70-80€ per m2.

If the support structure requires work or replacement it will add a fair amount to the cost.
Going upmarket from this the only mainstream option available in Galicia is a slate roof, which is considerably more expensive.

Complete restoration of a property

If the only good parts of your property are the four walls (and the very important fact that you have planning permission for the volume of the house) and hopefully some structural beams then your costs are likely to be from around:

  • 300€ per m2 of floor area (count each floor, not just the footprint) if you do much of the work yourself using basic and budget materials and restore to a fairly rustic standard, possibly with minimal or no permissions.
  • …to around 1000€ per m2 of floor area if you have the work done for you, add insulation and modern technology (heating systems, etc.), use decent quality fittings throughout, rewire and replumb, and get all permissions in full.
    You can, of course, spend considerably more than this if you add bespoke or luxury items, and also if your build is badly managed or you hire the wrong people.
New build

If you’ve bought a plot that can be built upon and doesn’t have special planning permission requirements then your all inclusive build costs, including architect’s plan, all permissions and taxes are likely to be from around:

  • 600€ per m2 for a very basic build where you do some of the work yourself or a (timber based) prefabricated house where everything goes smoothly.
  • …to around 1200€ per m2 for a standard but good quality modern build by a construction company.
    If you add in bespoke, luxury, high tech or difficult to source locally items your build cost can go significantly higher.
Example calculation of a rural restoration project

Obviously the above prices are vague in the extreme, but they provide some frames of reference.

Taking the example of a typical 2 storey plus attic, 150m2 (4 bed) Galician country house on the market for 80.000€ that could be described as liveable in by an optimist in summer, the approximate cost to budget for if you mostly hire people to do the work is:

  • Purchase cost (including 10% tax and approx 2% in other costs)
    = 90.000€
  • If you redecorate and replace the kitchen and bathroom +10.000€
    = 100.000€
  • If you also replace the roof and windows +12.000€
    = 112.000€
  • Alternatively if you completely renovate, including all floors, to an ok standard (600€/m2) +90.000€
    = 180.000€
  • Or if you completely renovate to a high standard (900€/m2) +135.000€
    = 225.000€

…and remember to add a contingency on top of this too (10% is sensible). Once you do you can see how an 80.000€ farmhouse that may well still be habitable when you buy it can end up costing 250.000€ if you restore it to the high quality modern standards.

Some people are going to read these figures and think they are far too high and it will cost them much less (and in fact 10 years ago I would have been one of these people!).
In some cases they will be right (eg. if you’re a sourcing genius or come from a large family of helpful builders who like to come and visit), but in most cases it will end up costing roughly what I’ve detailed above
….and even if you can keep the costs down by doing a lot yourself you have to bear in mind that this means you will have less time available to work to earn income in the year or five that it takes you to restore the property.

That said, property restoration can be immensely satisfying and if everything turns out well you’ll have a home with genuine character that’s done to your design and tastes for a fraction of the price of the equivalent in northern Europe, where it’s colder and and wine is more expensive.