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basic guide to rural Spain self-build

When facing building in a rural environment reasonable doubts and concerns can arise. It is understandable, in most cases the promoter faces a completely new challenge, for which he has little or no previous experience. There are many issues to be elucidate, such as:

  • choosing between urban or rustic soil
  • taking care of works when you don’t reside there
  • getting the permits for the dream home
  • knowing if the budget will be sufficient
  • choosing between building on existing walls or demolishing…

In this guide we will provide some essential keys that will help you to meet this important challenge.

first things first… the language barrier

Learning the language of a host country is often a matter of choice, specially if moving to certain parts of Spain. However, things change if an expat needs to deal with the Spanish administration. This is of course mandatory if planning to self-build a home. In inN arquitecura we are very much aware of how difficult this can be for a foreigner. It is not just about the language skills, even if you speak some Spanish you will soon realize it might not be enough to deal with all the technicalities and legal issues the process involves.

In order to help you overcome the language barrier we count in our team with fluent speakers in English, French, German and Dutch. We will be very pleased to take this task as part of our comprehensive service.

I want to have a house in the countryside, but… is that what I need?

Taking the rural leap, either temporarily or permanently, is never an easy decision. Usually, those who are determined to move to the Spanish countryside take the step only after many trips and long stays. In any case, it is not a decision to be taken lightly.

The rural world has its own peculiarities which need to be well known if we don’t want to hang up the “For sale” sign any time soon. We must also distinguish between normal holidays and a permanent residence. The latter requires an extra degree of motivation, commitment to the environment, a process of adaptation and sharing minimum values with the locals. If community lifestyle, tranquility or nature have no appeal to you, perhaps you should rethink taking the rural leap.

I’m already decided. Where should I begin? A townhouse or a finca?

One of the first decisions to make (and perhaps the most important) is wether to choose a townhouse or a house on a finca in suelo rústico (farming land). Although both are in a rural environment, life is completely different in each case.

From a legal point of view (which is where we can best advise you) we must inform that building a house on farming land involves a series of procedures that can make the process significantly longer. In a protected environment, such as the Sierra de Aracena, any project on a finca will require the passing of one or more additional filters. Institutions like the Diputación Provincial, Cuenca Hidrográfica, Consejería de Turismo or Parque Natural will have to issue permissions depending on the location and activity of the property. The regulations that this institutions apply are more restrictive than those in urban land.

But this does not mean that we have to give up our dream house in a chestnut  and cork trees finca. The law allows the construction or reconstruction of country houses on farms as long as it is within the parameters established by the regulations. Therefore we will prepare for you a comprehensive preliminary study of all the related normative. In inN arquitectura we do not embark on any project unlikely to prospere. Moreover, we will never advise the purchase of a land without having previously ensured the feasibility of the project by consulting with every agency involved.

In urban land it is the City Council that must approve the project, but in some cases a positive report issued by the Commission of Culture is also needed. Many of the villages of the Sierra de Aracena are subject to this because they have been legally declared Sites of Cultural Interest. This can lengthen the process, especially when there is a negative report. So it is imperative to know in detail every regulation regarding aesthetic and urban aspects.

It is an unfortunately common mistake to believe that legislation is loosely applied in these villages, just because others acted at will before. That could be true some years ago, but not anymore. Controls are currently exhaustive, works without permission are called a halt and in the most serious cases demolished, not to mention the prospect of a heavy fine or/and an endless lawsuit.

In a matter of years, institutions have gone from an indulgent laisser faire to take very seriously the environmental protection of the Sierra de Aracena. In order to avoid unexpected surprises, we will prepare a complete report of the urban planning conditions to which the property is subject to.

the town is not my thing, I’m looking for a house in a finca

As we said, the possibilities here are somewhat more limited. However, current regulations allow the construction of new housing if the land has the required extension according to its cultivation and lies at a certain distance from the nearest town. There is also the option of renovating  an old forest house, or casamonte, as they are known in the Sierra de Aracena. It does not matter if it is in a state of ruin, even if only the foundations remain. When renovating we must consider that in most cases an increase in size will not be allowed. The dwelling must adhere to the pre-existences as much as possible.

As an advantage, these types of projects are optimal for eco-construction, since building times are not as constrained as in urban areas and natural materials such as stone, earth, logs or even straw are more available. On the other hand, if the farm does not have any supply connections it will be necessary to search for water and solve the sanitation, electricity supply and heating. If possible, this should  be achieved using renewable energy (solar thermal, wind power, biomass …). inN arquitectura projects on fincas are integral and seek full energy autonomy and environmental sustainability.

The construction of swimming pools is also regulated, so if you wish one it will need to be integrated in the landscape or respond to the traditional use of water. In this sense there are ecological artificial lagoons that have already been put into practice in the Sierra de Aracena.

a townhouse is all I need

Buying a plot or a house to renovate is a very advantageous option. First, the initial investment is much lower than in new construction. It is true that further investment will be needed for the renovation, but this will be a directed investment, that is to say, at the buyer’s will. And most importantly, you can discount the benefit of the developer. In this case the buyer becomes the developer, thus, if acting with good judgment, becoming the beneficiary of the increase of value of the property.

The difficulty lies in defining that good judgment. Investing in rural renovation involves certain complexities that differentiate it from the urban environment. Starting with the fact that houses in villages are much older than in the city. An important part of the buildings are centenary or even multi-centenary, many lack installations or are too old. And although the structures may appear solid, it takes an expert’s eye to accurately diagnose their aptitude. Therefore it is very important to be properly advised by an architect who can not only detect deficiencies, but also propose solutions and optimize the possible use of the house.

All this, of course, translates into budgetary increases. That is why in inN arquitectura we carry out economic studies prior to the acquisition of a house, so that the buyer can have the best possible information.

I already bought the property. What are the next expenses?

Whether you build in the countryside or a village there are fixed expenses you will have to count with. To begin with, the fees of the architect and the technical architect, their participation is legally indispensable in any residential project. The sum of their fees is variable, since it is usually established based on a percentage over the cost of construction works. This percentage varies depending on the complexity of the project, but it  does not usually exceed the 15%. This payment includes the work of the professionals, the architect’s association visa costs and the liability insurance.

It is not the norm, but the City Council can request the payment of its fees in advance, in order to proceed with the administrative process of your project. The value of these rates (they are not just one) is also estimated as a percentage over the constructions costs. In order to obtain a building license most municipalities request between a 4 and 5%. You will also be requested for a deposit, which will be returned at the end of the works if no damage was caused to the surrounding public spaces.

The bulk of the investment corresponds to construction works. We are very aware that budgetary deviations are the greatest concern whenever works begins. In order to minimize them it is necessary to apply the greatest rigour in the control and management of the economic chapter. Choosing the right constructor is one of the most important decisions of the process, this will require special attention, as we will later see.

what are the skills my architect should have?

Some of the qualities have already been defined. The person in charge of your project must be a good connoisseur of local regulations, as well as the organisms and agencies involved, this will certainly save you a lot of time.

It is equally important that the person you hire has a proven expertise on popular architecture and rural construction traditions. The Sierra de Aracena is very rich in this sense, in fact, each village has its own character. Throughout centuries, folk architecture has developed interesting adaptive solutions. We have  studied them thoroughly and extracted important lessons from them. This allows us to approach our designs from a bioclimatic perspective.

The architect must know very well his tools and his palette of materials. The proper use of white, clay, earth, stone or wood in all their forms requires proper practice in order to obtain natural results. When landscaping is involved, it is important to be aware of the species that best adapt to the local climate.

As for the fees, we must say that benefit margins for architects in the Sierra de Aracena are not significant enough to make it the decisive factor. At least not without weighing them together with quality in care, foreign languages skills, specialized experience, comprehensive service and ultimate satisfaction.

choosing the constructor

The following assertion might surprise some, but the choice of the constructor starts with the project. In fact, a project made with rigour and attention to each of its sections will discard all those constructors who do not have the means, experience or training to carry it out. It is essential that the project includes a bill of quantities of the highest precision, as this will be the main document on which the negotiation with the constructor will be based.

Here again the specificities of the rural environment intervene. This is a region where we can find plenty of small businesses, some of which do not have the technical means to produce detailed quotas. This is something that can not be waived, under any circumstances. This should be the first filter when selecting companies.

It is not advisable to ask for a single budget, but ten of them are far too many. The right number is between three and five. When comparing, it is not a matter of simply choosing the most economical, since it is often the case that the constructor can not define in a few days all the concepts contained in the bill of quantities. A thorough comparative will require statistical methods. Although the economic factor is of great importance, it must be weighed together with the prestige, location, availability of resources and the experience of the company.

In inN arquitectura we have already advanced much of this work. As experienced professionals in the construction sector, we can resort to companies with which we have already successfully collaborated. We will recommend you the companies that best fit the character of your project. Our services also include the advice and assessment of all the quotas received.

I already found a constructor, everything is set to begin

We often find clients who are reluctant to self-build because they do not reside in this area, thus fearing not to effectively track the works. In such cases we are pleased to communicate that we assume that burden for them. Construction sites are our natural environment, we do not just visit it every week one or several times, we also enjoy it. And for your peace of mind, you will be interested to know that the building progress will be periodically presented to you through a graphic and written report.

The good monitoring of  the work is essential for the final result. The technical knowledge is not enough without the capacity for anticipation and organization. No less important is the knowledge of the terrain, since self-build in a rural environment differs greatly depending on the site.

In the Sierra de Aracena, for example, the control and correct realisation of the thermal insulation of the building is imperative. This is a matter in which efforts and resources can not be spared. The control over insulation thickness and doors and windows, together with the thermal conditioning of the house, is fundamental to ensure comfort throughout the year.

“God is in the details”, so goes an old architect saying. We could not agree more. In inN arquitectura we face each new commission as an artisan would. We believe care and attention is the key to a successful building.

are we done with the house now? Not yet, it needs to be equipped…

Something that differentiates inN arquitectura from other companies based in the Sierra de Aracena is that we can deliver houses ready to live in, with clean towels in the bathroom and a hot fireplace to greet you. Having an interior designer in our team allows you to find your house fully furnished, equipped and decorated, always following your directions.

we’re not done with the key delivery.

In inN arquitectura we build trust day by day. We know how difficult self-build can be, so we are ready to assume the heavier tasks. Thus simplifying the process to make it as light as possible for you. This relationship of trust is our main value. That is why we work to make it last in time. With your permission, we will like to hold meetings after the delivery, as we will be interested in knowing, in frank conversation, your degree of satisfaction with your new home. Houses are to be lived, and it is in the small everyday gestures in which the quality of a design is put to the test. Incorporating your full experience into our knowledge base provides a great added value to our work.

If you have any further questions or concerns you can contact us here. We will respond as soon as possible.

© inN arquitectura 2019 | C/Álvaro de Castilla, 1, Galaroza (Huelva) | hola@innar.es | (+34) 600795135