Sue and John Walker, Jumilla

We decided to buy a property in Spain so that initially we could enjoy holidays in our own house there with the idea of moving over permanently when we retired. We were attracted by the climate, the relaxed lifestyle, the culture, the friendly people and we both enjoy good Spanish food and wine. After several viewing trips to different parts of Spain over several years, we fell in love with the countryside around Jumilla in northeast Murcia, and in March 2006 we paid a deposit for an off-plan property at Santa Ana del Monte just outside Jumilla.

We had lots of problems, especially as we didn’t find out about bank guarantees until after we had paid our deposit! I have written about our trials and tribulations in my book “Retiring the Olé Way”, which is available on Amazon.The developer went into voluntary administration in May 2008, just three months after our house was due to have been completed. We had both decided to retire by this time, and we were planning to rent a flat in Jumilla while waiting for our house to be completed. Once we moved over we looked around for a key-ready property in the town itself, rather than in the “campo”. Many expats choose to live in the countryside; however we had been living in London and thought that living in splendid isolation might be too much of a culture shock for us! As we were likely to lose our deposit because of not having that vital bank guarantee, we also had a more limited budget to work with.

Can you tell us something about your property?

We were shown the original off-plan property, which we had paid the deposit for, when we were on a viewing trip. I would advise anybody planning to buy off-plan to make sure that they have a valid bank guarantee before handing over any money, and also to use an independent lawyer. The buying process in Spain is completely different to the buying process in the UK, so try to find a Spanish lawyer who speaks good English.

We signed a rental agreement for nine months initially, and had to pay one month’s rent as a deposit. The agreement was in Spanish, so to be on the safe side we asked a friend who is bi-lingual to double check it for us, though it was very straightforward and we understood most of it. Spanish law is good and protects the tenant far more than in the UK.

The estate agent who found us the rental property had suggested that we look at a new development on the edge of Jumilla. We were a bit wary at first, as we had already had our fingers burnt once, however this time round our property had been almost completed by the time we were asked to pay the deposit, and we were reassured to see that it had a roof on! We moved into our new two bedroom apartment in April last year. We don’t intend moving again as we have everything that we need in Jumilla and we have made many good friends here. I am sure that as we get older we will also find it reassuring to live so close to all the amenities.

What is the property market like at the moment?

There are lots of bargains to be found on the Costas, which we believe is because the prices were over inflated in the first place. Prices have always been a lot lower inland, although in comparison they have remained fairly stable. The current economic climate offers a good opportunity for buyers in Spain and you may be successful offering less for the property you want.

Are you employed or self-employed? What challenges did you face in either finding employment or running your own business?

Although we have both retired, now that I have had a book published I am enjoying writing articles about our new life in Spain. As a qualified complementary therapist I had also thought about working for myself as a reflexologist, however social security payments for the self-employed are very high in Spain and it takes time to build up a client list, so for the moment I am sticking to my writing.

John and I have also started “Walkers Tours of Jumilla”: free walks around Jumilla in English. The tourist office organises several excellent walks during the year, however as these are in Spanish many expats find them a bit daunting. We have enjoyed showing friends and family around our local town, which gave us the idea of showing other people the sights of Jumilla. We can also arrange visits to a local bodega with wine-tasting, for a small charge.

Are there many other expats in your area?

There aren’t many expats actually living in Jumilla. Apart from ourselves, we have a friend who lives in the town centre with her eleven year old daughter, which makes a total of four. Far more expats live in the countryside or in the villages dotted around Jumilla, although we usually only hear other English voices on market-day. There is a larger expat community in Pinoso over 30k away, most of whom are British, but there are also increasing numbers of Scandinavians and Germans.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

I am happy to say that we have an excellent relationship with the locals, who have been very welcoming and helpful. Although our Spanish is still quite basic we do have many Spanish friends, who are very patient with us as we attempt to communicate with them in their language. Not many people in Jumilla speak English, although those who do are eager to speak to us, especially the children who are learning English at school.

What do you like about life where you are?

In one word: everything! Life in Spain has lived up to our expectations and in fact exceeded them. We have the lovely sunny weather (though it is colder in winter than we anticipated!), the relaxed lifestyle, the markets with their wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables at extremely low prices, lots of bodegas in town (Jumilla is renowned for its good wine) and the local people are very friendly. We are considered to be Jumillanos rather than Extranjeros and all the neighbours call out “Hola” or “Buenas” as we walk along the street.

We enjoy taking part in the many local Fiestas and especially the main Feria y Fiestas in August, the highlight being the Fiesta de la Vendimia (wine festival), which attracts lots of visitors into town. During August we also have the National Folklore Festival, Moors and Christian and the Fiesta de la Patrona, Nuestra Señora Virgen de la Asunción. Luckily September is fairly quiet so we all have time to recover from the festivities!

What do you dislike about your expat life?

Dislike is too strong a word; however the bureaucracy can be very frustrating at times. Apart from that, we obviously miss seeing our families as regularly as we did in the UK, but it does mean we appreciate the occasions when they visit us here or we return to the UK for a visit.

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

* Rent first, to make sure you have chosen the right area for YOU, rather than relying on the advice of friends or estate agents.
* As stated above, the buying process in Spain is very different and a bank guarantee is essential. We didn’t have one and still don’t know whether we will get any money back from the deposit we paid for the first property.
* Visit the area at different times of the year. We knew it was colder here in winter, but we were surprised when we saw snow on the ground, though it didn’t last very long in the winter sun.
* Learn some Spanish before you go, and don’t be afraid to use it. Spanish people really appreciate anybody trying to speak their language so don’t worry about making mistakes. Also, a smile is recognised universally, and goes a long way to help you make new friends.

What are your plans for the future?

We plan to continue with our Spanish lessons, even though our teacher doesn’t speak a word of English so at times we have problems understanding her. We also intend to continue enjoying ourselves here in Jumilla and involving ourselves in our local community.

I have written a blog about our life in Spain: www.spainuncovered.com, so I will be updating it on a regular basis, as well as continuing to write for several magazines and websites about Spain.

Next week we are going on a trip to Seville and Cordoba to celebrate my birthday, and we hope to have many more such holidays in future, exploring the beautiful and fascinating country that we now call home.

Contact details: www.spainuncovered.com
Twitter: @retiringoleway