Spain's eternal lure
News Article Date: Monday 29th of June 2009
Over a million Brits now call Spain home. Many of us were sold the dream of endless sunshine, blue skies, relaxing days on the beach, cocktails on the garden patio and happiness. However, lately many Brits are becoming more and more disillusioned by the way things work here, the building scams, the rubbish tips left by the constructors and the lack of opportunities work-wise in the land of eternal sunshine.
Spain appears to be losing some of its charm, and more and more of us are giving up the dream and moving back to the UK. Businesses which have been surviving for years have finally had to give up the ghost. The strong euro means that many holiday makers are just not spending as much as they used to, preferring to eat at home or not buy souvenirs. The shops and restaurants which depended on tourism are really feeling the pinch now. Cranes still litter unfinished urbanisations all the way up and down the Costa Blanca, with skeleton apartment keeping impatient dreamers on constant hold.
There are no official figures for the number of Britons going home, as nobody is really counting. One thing Spain is counting though is the number of unemployed, which rose to 17% in April, that is, more than four million of a population of 44 million, out of work. This is having a painful effect on the Britons who prospered during Spain's boom times.
John, who sold newly built houses in Murcia, to expats, making a fortune five years ago, has been forced to move back to Lancashire, due to not selling a single house in 12 months. Fortunately he managed to get his old job back at home. His family didn’t want to leave their house with a pool, their school friends or the outdoor lifestyle they all loved so much here, but have actually settled back into life in the UK much better than they ever imagined they would. “Living abroad certainly makes you appreciate things back home which you took for granted previously,” says Jenny, John’s wife. “The schools seem much more hands-on here, involving parents more, and with fewer exams. Everyone is much friendlier and polite than I remembered, and the scenery is so green.” Jenny goes on to add that she’ll never regret the 4 years they spent in Spain, and they all got so much out of it, learning a language and a different way of life, but Spain wasn’t to be their final destination.
Others however, are wondering what all the fuss is about. “I’d never move back”, says Mark from San Javier. “The idea of grey skies and miserable people makes me count my blessings.” And some businesses are still booming. It’s not all doom and gloom according to Rachel who teaches English to Spanish adults and children. “If you set yourself up well and find a niche in the market your services are always going to be in demand,” she comments with a smile. She has a waiting list of 30 children for next September’s classes, and her intensive summer course for the month of July is already full.
Barbara, who teaches yoga in Santiago de la Ribera, wouldn’t go back to the UK to live. “Whenever we go back to see friends and family in and around Cambridge we’re always so pleased to get back to Spain again. We love it here, the winter weather is idyllic, we walk or sail nearly every day, something which just isn’t possible in England, as weather doesn’t permit. We love the European lifestyle, sitting in a street café watching the world go by. When I walk along the beach in the morning I think how lucky I am to be living in such a beautiful place.” Barbara also says that one thing that really sticks out when she goes back to the UK is the materialism of the people living there. “It’s as if you have to have a new car or a big house, just to be happy, and we all know this isn’t the case.” She adds, “One friend from the sailing club said the other day, he’d rather be hard up in Spain than in England, and I think this is so true. You can make a flask of coffee and go and sit on the beach. It doesn’t cost you a thing and you’ll come home relaxed.”
At the peak of the Spanish building boom almost a million homes were built in a year, and with cheap prices and limitless credit it seemed everyone could make their dream of owning a slice of paradise come true. However last year’s property market crash caused developers to fold, house prices to plummet, interest rates to soar and owners were left in negative equity, unable to pay their mortgages. For some Brits in Spain this has meant financial and personal catastrophe. During the property boom buyers bought off plan and sometimes paid the developer in full before their house was built. However the end result didn’t look anything like the picture in the glossy brochures and the developer couldn’t be found for dust. The Spanish property crash has created bargains for buyers, but it's also left some people, who bought during the boom, close to ruin.
One question which must be asked is just why all these homes, which now appear to be unfit to live in, with faulty sewage pipes, no electrical installation or having been built on rural land, were given the thumbs up by local town halls when habitation certificates were issued. And why aren’t local Town Halls doing more to prosecute dishonest builders who have become rich overnight at the expense of their buyers.
It’s also undeniable that those whose pensions are sent to Spain in Sterling have suffered most and they have seen their buying power whittled away. But would they be happier if they were living in the UK?
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