Steve and Mags Harding, Malaga

We are Steve and Mags (Margaret) Harding. We are both in our mid 50’s and both held full time jobs in the UK, which we gave up to move to Spain.

We have a Spanish horse (Enrico – meaning ‘rich’ or wealthy – called Rico for short), a Cocker Spaniel dog (Cokey) he is a Spanish rescue animal who had been left for dead in a car park, a cat (Chico) a gift to Mags from the local garden centre, and 4 chickens. We sold our UK property in order to finance our Spanish purchase.

We live in the Malaga (southern) region of Spain. This area is also known as Andalucía (Andalusia in English). We purchased a house here in May 2005 because we had made a conscious decision that it was time to move from the UK on a permanent basis. One of the main reasons that we moved was that we were unimpressed with the British weather and the direction in which it seems to be moving (i.e. wetter for longer periods of the year). We are both outdoor people who love being out in the garden or countryside.Mags loved to go fishing and I loved cycling. We both enjoyed walking. Rain, for us, spoiled this experience and this was especially true in the summer months when it is not possible to make firm plans for outdoor activity in advance. Andalucía has consistent weather and the most sunshine per annum in the whole of Europe!!

Our decision was made after my wife spent a couple of weeks in this region, helping a couple of her friends to decorate and prepare a small property that they had bought for rental purposes. She returned home to Luton bursting with enthusiasm for the region and (mostly) the Spanish people that she had met here. Mags convinced me that I too should spend some time here, so we came down for a couple of week’s holiday together and there started our search for our new ‘home’.

What challenges did you face?

Finding a property in the first place, while still living in the UK was the first challenge. Looking through the Internet estate agents for many weeks, then compiling a list of potential properties and flying out for a mad weekend of viewings. Incredibly tiring. In the end we found a builder whose style and value we liked in the Velez Malaga area and coincidentally, with the same agent as Mags’ friends had purchased with. We had a choice of a few properties but (as is usual with many people) we dallied over a decision with our first choice of property. By the time we made the decision, it had been sold 2 days before!! Doh!!

So our second challenge was how we were going to sell our UK property in time for the property transfer in Spain. This was thankfully completed just in time, but it meant making sacrifices over the price that we eventually received.

Having heard many stories of immigrants having to return to the UK after 3 years or less because they had run out of money, we decided that we did not want to risk our dreams being dashed by running out of funds before we could find enough work to support ourselves. So we decided that I would remain in the UK at my steady job and Mags would come out to Spain on her own. We anticipated a maximum timescale of three years and Mags would try to find enough work to support us both financially. I would then move out to Spain and search for work myself.

Unfortunately, it did not quite work out like that. Mags was working all the hours God sends, but still unable to earn enough to support both of us. It had turned out to be a good decision for me to stay in the UK and fund the exercise! Meanwhile Mags was doing building work (she and a friend laid a 90 sq metre terrace including digging out rock to 30 cm!) , gardening jobs and housework for other people. This was as well as running our own house, looking after our own gardens and building our own outdoor kitchen. I eventually found a job near Malaga on the internet and moved out here just over 1 year ago.

What were some of your earliest experiences on arrival?

When we came out to pay for the property, Mags stayed afterwards and has been here ever since. She stayed in a friend’s house until the furniture arrived!! One of our very good English friends came out to help Mags to sort the house and organise the furniture in the house. When buying a new Spanish property, it does not come with a kitchen or shower stall installed. Mags lived for 3 – 4 months without a kitchen at all. She cooked on a beauclaire cooker (flat gas grill) and washed up in a plastic bowl on a camping stand. We had shower stalls installed in the bathrooms and our first kitchen installed by an English guy here. Mags has since ripped out the original kitchen and reinstalled it in a different configuration in order to add more storage and a dish washer (which is more economical on water than washing up by hand).

What challenges do you still face, if any?

The most long lasting and continuing challenge is the language. Mags has picked up Spanish very well (she had only completed 6 months of lessons before she moved out here 4.5 years ago) and manages to order building materials, groceries and laugh and joke with the locals in the bars when we go out. But for me, I struggle with it still. We live in a mainly Spanish community (there are 2000 inhabitants in our village that is 4 km away) where English is only spoken by 3 or 4 local people (really!!). My language IS improving and I am now having stilted and simple conversations with our Spanish friends. I find it very difficult, but I am determined to succeed.

Can you tell us something about your property?

We bought a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom single storey property in the campo (countryside) with a pool and about 8000 sq metres of terrain. I say terrain, because we actually live in the mountain foothills. There were about 70 almond trees, 15 olive trees and a fig tree when we moved here. We have started a soft fruit area which contains (at the moment) oranges, a lemon, some mangoes, a nispero and a couple of avocado trees. All of this fruit is very cheap, luscious and grown locally, but there is nothing like seeing these growing on your own trees from the kitchen window! Imagine pouring a gin and tonic and then picking the lemon from your own tree, year round (the lemon is a perpetual variety).

There is the outside kitchen (built by Mags and a girl friend) and we have had a 24 sq metre garage built. This year we decided to add a horse to our small family, so Mags and her girl friend have built us a stable / shelter down the hill below the house.

The property is 1 Km from the road (tarmac) and we need a 4×4 to get out if it is wet as the track is so steep in places. There are 2 other properties adjacent to ours. One is occupied by a very nice Dutch couple and the other is not occupied at all. Neither of these can be seen from our place, due to the terrain.

What is the property market like at the moment?

The market is very depressed here. Apparently, Spain has the worst economic climate in Europe at the moment. Andalucía is purportedly the worst area in Spain.

Are there many other expats in your area?

In the local village there are a number of expats. I do not know how many as we usually mix with the locals rather than the Brits. This is not really intentional on our part, it is just the life that we (well Mags really) have made here. We did not come here to be Brits in the sun. We came to be Spanish in the sun and to integrate into the community as much as possible.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

We get on very well with the locals. Mags has managed to forge good relationships with many Spanish people and we number many of them among our friends now. I have joined the local motor bike club and we regularly attend meeting evenings. The bike club organise bars at some of the village events and we help serve at the bar on some of the occasions. We find them all to be genuine and friendly and always willing to invite us into their homes and lives.

Last Christmas we entertained some of our Spanish and English friends with a traditional English Christmas dinner and afterwards on the Nintendo Wii. We all had a great evening and a good laugh!

What do you like about life where you are?

The sun. The people. The freedom. The relaxed way of life (the mañana philosophy), although this can be very frustrating at times as well!!

What do you dislike about your expat life?

We miss popping round to the kids’ houses and taking our grandson out walking etc. But they come and visit regularly, so it is not too bad.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

DO IT!! DON’T WAIT!!

Word of advice for anyone else in a similar position of needing to sell property in the UK to fund an offshore (or onshore too I guess) purchase… Do NOT let your purchaser know that you have a pending purchase elsewhere and that you are relying on the sale in the UK, no matter how nice and honest they might seem. We were taken to the cleaners and were forced to sacrifice many £000’s of pounds to meet the deadlines. A hard lesson learned by us.

Did you set up your own business when you moved to Spain?

No, we work for other people. However, I would advise anyone thinking of setting up a business to find a local person / expert who speaks your language AND knows the ‘wrinkles’ (bureaucratic get arounds).

Do you have any other advice or information you'd like to share?

The Spanish LOVE queuing and bureaucracy, so if you need anything official doing, expect to spend at least half a day queuing for it!

What are your plans for the future?

Carry on living the dream!

Learn to speak and understand Spanish properly.

Buy another horse – Mags built the stable large enough for 2!!!