When considering buying a property in Galicia it’s important to check what services the property already has and what are available. This is especially important for:
- New builds, because until the primera ocupacion (habitation) licence is issued you cannot formally be connected to municipal services, and many new builds are sold without this licence and therefore on builders’ electric and water supplies which are not official and can be cut off at any time and without warning.
- Rural properties, because some services may not be available or may be very expensive to connect to in rural areas.
- Properties within 100 metres of the coast, because for properties within the 100 metre coastal zone a connection to municipal water, sewage and electricity services is required to legitimise a property under the Costas laws.
Normally provided by Union Fenosa, you should check that the property has a connection and also that the connection is a legitimate one (in which case there will be a connected meter and the seller will be able to show you bills).
Rural properties without an electric connection can be costly and slow to connect if there are not existing power lines nearby.
If you find a new build or recently restored property running on builders’ electrics (no meter installed) it normally indicates that the habitation licence has not yet been granted. This takes time and costs money and you should ensure that you add a clause in the purchase contract requiring this licence to be obtained and the electricity properly connected before you complete the purchase.
For any new or upgraded electrical connection you will need to provide an electrical safety certificate from a registered electrician.
The more supply (amps) you contract the more expensive your standing charge for the electricity supply is. For this reason you will often find rural properties running on a 10 amp supply, which is barely enough to power a modern kettle. Normally this can be upgraded to at least 40 amps, but in some rural areas the infrastructure is at or near capacity and you will be unable to upgrade your supply until the infrastructure is upgraded, which could be many years. This can and should be checked with Union Fenosa before signing a sale contract if you a bigger supply.
Some properties will have a contracted amount (as shown on the bill in kW) but will have a larger main fuse than specified (eg. a 25 amp instead of a 10 amp), so always check what capacity the bill states rather than what the fuses show.
Mains gas supplies are normally only available in cities and some town centres. If the house does not have an existing gas connection you can either call the local supplier (typically Gas Natural Fenosa or Gas Galicia) to enquire if connection is available, or simply look at the pavement outside for small manhole covers with “GAS” written on them.
If no mains supply is available most of Galicia is covered by weekly delivery runs of bottled gas from the local petrol station or hardware shop. These bottles come either as freely bought, which do not come with installation conditions, or as part of a contracted supply.
If you have a mains supply or a contracted bottled supply you will need to maintain a programme of gas safety checks. For the most part this requires the flexible tubing connecting the bottles to the gas piping to be replaced every few years (there will be a date stamped on the tubing), checks on the functionality of connected appliances and visual inspection of the fixed piping to be carried out on a prescribed schedule.
Water & sewage
Cities, most towns and some rural areas have municipal water and sewage supplies. The quality of this water is variable and in some places with more antiquated infrastructure it is not categorised as drinkable (and for the most part all of it tastes pretty foul due to added chlorine and similar).
If your property is within 50 metres of water and sewage supplies you will normally have to pay the fixed charge for the supply even if you are not connected. There will be a designated connection point for services for your property, but you have to meet all of the cost of connecting your property to this connection point. This work will normally have to be carried out by the company providing the water supply.
In some areas private septic tanks are being outlawed and properties using these required to connect (at their own expense) to municipal services. It is worth noting that as Galicia is rarely flat it may well be that the connection point for municipal services is higher up than at least some of your internal plumbing fixtures and therefore a pump could be required to connect to the municipal services (giving a total cost to connect of eg. 1200€ or more).
In many rural areas there are no municipal water or sewage supplies. Sewage is normally dealt with in some sort of septic tank on the property, many of which fail to comply with modern standards and may require replacing if anyone ever checks.
Water supplies can be from pumped wells on the property but can also be via tubing going potentially several hundred metres up the inevitable hill to a deposito (water tank). Many of these depositos are fairly small, can’t be upgraded without the landowner’s permission, and are shared between several properties.
A shared, small capacity system can be the cause of many arguments and feuds within a village. An additional problem is that although landowners generally respect water systems if they are sensibly sited, most water systems (the deposito and also the land that the tubing to connect to the property crosses) are undocumented and therefore do not necessarily have any rights or guarantees under law.
Particularly with shared systems, it may be the case that the existing installation provides water but not to the standards of safety, hygiene, pressure or capacity you want (for example the header tank may not be fully enclosed, the connecting tubing may not be of a type suitable for drinking water, etc.). In such cases it is important to know what, if any, options there would be for you to modernise and upgrade the system if you were to purchase the property.
It is well worth thoroughly checking the water and sewage systems prior to agreeing a purchase and it can also be worth trying to obtain legal concessions (eg. right to update) or guarantees for the water system prior to signing a contract as Galician sellers are invariably better placed to request these from landowners (who may even be the same person as or related to the sellers) than foreigners who have already paid for their property.
Water quality for drinking can be checked with a laboratory service offered by most farmacias.
Telephone, mobile coverage and internet
Connectivity is an important criterion for most foreigners coming to live in Galicia. As igood connectivity cannot yet be taken for granted in rural Galicia it is always advisable to find out what is currently connected and what is available at the property before making a decision about whether to buy it.
Telefonica/Movistar can provide information about existing and potential landlines, and the best way to check for mobile coverage is simply to set your mobile to select operator and then look at what level of coverage you get (is it 3G? How many bars?) once roaming on that network.
The fixed line telephone infrastructure is owned by Telefonica/Movistar. In recent years they have been required to allow other telephone companies access to it and as a result they are highly reluctant to invest in new infrastructure in unprofitable rural locations.
What this means is that in some parts of rural Galicia the local exchange may be at capacity and you may not be able to install a new landline or to get broadband on an existing landline.
Telefonica/Movistar is gradually rolling out its new fibre optic network, but if this ever comes to remote rural locations it won’t be for many years yet.
Landline internet speeds for most of Galicia are around 2.4 Mb/s download and a dismal 0.2 Mb/s upload. This is just enough for skype video calling (with poor uploaded video) or for streaming TV, but the upload speed can be an issue for anyone working or storing files over the internet. Faster (up to 100Mb/s) fibre optic broadband is becoming available, but slowly and so far only in the major cities.
3G or better mobile coverage is now available in nearly all of Galicia, as searchable on these maps from Movistar and Vodafone, but in some valleys and hollows there is little or no coverage at all and not much chance of the situation changing in the near future.
Many foreigners coming to live in Galicia want to watch TV from their home country and this makes unlimited download an important criterion for your broadband supply. Landline ADSL connections have unlimited download as standard but mobile connections invariably have a monthly download limit beyond which you pay extra.
If a property cannot get a landline and does not have good mobile coverage then the only remaining option for phone and internet is via a satellite provider. This is available and does work all across Galicia but is also expensive.
Change of ownership process
As new owners of the property can be liable for unpaid services bills you should always request to see latest account statements for all services the property has showing everything paid up to date before you complete the purchase.
In Galicia estate agents don’t seem to habitually take meter readings at the point of sale and often don’t notify service providers of a change of ownership, leaving this up to the buyer and seller to arrange. One way or another you should ensure that this does get done and that the relevant accounts are moved to your name and bank account direct debit as soon as possible after the completion of the purchase. Note that for municipal services such as water and sewage you are likely to need to show the updated escritura (title deeds) to be able to move the account to your name.
If you have found a property you are interested in and wish to check out these details you can use Galiciaproperty.com’s property purchase assist service to help find them out before you commit yourself to a purchase.