"I hadn’t done Due Diligence (Mistake 4). Our two thousand dollars went to a crook."
Do Your Homework! #
It must have been a case of tunnel vision. From America, using the computer search engines, we shopped for property in Mallorca (Mistake 1), though search engines are THE quickest way to sort through thousands of listings of rental apartments. Ever persistent, I finally found one that fit our budget and was a beauty. I emailed the owner. She agreed to rent it month to month while I sorted out whether I could find work in Palma.
She asked for a bank draft of $2,000 to hold the property for us. We sent the money (Mistake 2). I emailed photos of the place to my family and friends, telling them of my impending move and my mom was so excited she promised to visit. (Mistake 3)
Then I got an email in Spanish from the owner “We need another payment, the first one didn’t go through.” But she asked for $200 less which was for me unexplainable, a Red Flag. And I had my copy of the completed transaction. After one and a half hours of calling to verify her site, I discovered it was a “clone” or “dummy” site. And that the phone number and name on file for the woman who actually owned the property was different from the one I had sent our money.
I was the “dummy”. I hadn’t done Due Diligence (Mistake 4). Our two thousand dollars went to a crook. And worse I had to eat crow, when cancelling all my invites to friends and family.
So, verify. Call the realtor(s) and verify the property is really for rent. There isn’t an MLS on Mallorca. Anyone can put any ad up on a real estate portal. Property sellers will usually list their flats on several servers. Idealista, Habitacalia, whomever, call their real estate reps and ask if they carry that listing. If not, it’s a dummy site.
Beware of the Summer Trap #
However, we soon glimpsed a light at the end of the tunnel. Friends of ours who had lived in Mallorca off and on for decades, knew a guy with a real apartment to sell. It had every convenience you could think of, though it was up on the fourth floor with no elevator to help you out. Our friend visited it and thought it was fantastic for the price at €220,000. So we made a deal with the owner. We wanted the furnishings and he wanted to close as soon as possible. He said okay to the furniture if we could close in sixty days. We agreed (Mistake 5).
We bought plane tickets for that date, non-refundable (Mistake 6). Two weeks later, he emailed us that he was too hasty in setting a date, 4 months would be better. 12 days later he was emailing us again and said 6 months was what he needed. Oh, and it was no longer furnished, that would be extra (Mistake 7 was his mistake. He was drunk). We realized he was renting out the place on Airbnb and would lose more than ten thousand Dollars if he sold to us before summer. We ceased answering his emails.
Thinking Positive #
Real estate prices in Palma have risen dramatically over the past few years. There are no signs they will stop rising. Mortgages are around 2.5%, maybe we should BUY NOW??? By this time, we had hired a lawyer in Mallorca for protection. We asked him if he would go around and look at the properties we wanted. He sent us an email. “You can’t buy a house you haven’t visited.” Sourpuss lawyer. We ignored his advice (Mistake 8).
We searched and found a property in Calatrava, which we could afford. 52 m2 for €215,000. The cheapest apartment in the best neighborhood. We couldn’t lose money. We had all the papers and a tentative agreement with the sales agent. It was Saturday night so we agreed to finalize the contract the following day (Mistake 9).
I woke up Sunday morning and said. "Honey I’m an interior designer and you know I wouldn’t let a client buy a sofa unless they’ve sat on it first. Why are we buying an apartment we never set foot in?" Thank goodness we came to our senses in the nick of time. Maybe our lawyer was not a “Sourpuss” but wise.
The Schengen (Release the Kracckken!!) #
Being Americans, we are subject to a law we had heard rumors about but didn’t face until three weeks before we were to travel to Mallorca (Mistake 10). The EU has a rule for everyone outside the EU, you can’t spend more than 90 continuous days in a European Country. I would be forced out of Mallorca at the end of 3 months? This screwed up everything. Who would hire me if I was going to leave in 90 days?
Even better I can’t work in Spain unless I have a work visa (Mistake 11). So, what did we do? We kept looking at apartments to rent in Palma on the online listing sites. Thousands of listings. It was addicting; we’d be secretly searching for flats, neither telling the other. Why we kept searching on the web for a place in Mallorca I don’t know. Oh, I know why. We had non-refundable plane tickets.
I was discovered searching by my other half. He admitted he, too, was searching and asked me what I’d found. There were many that were too expensive to rent or buy but ONE was just above our threshold for monthly rent. It had doors, regally, old-carved wooden doors that made the place feel and look more like a palace.
I called the realtor who got my passion for living in Mallorca. He had an idea of how to fit within the Schengen law without violating the “No short-term rentals in apartments in Palma law” (that had just gone into effect). He suggested that I ask the owner if he could rent it for a year with a clause allowing us to break the lease anytime with two months advance warning. "So, you can stay for three months”, he said.
Our friend who had lived decades on the island did us a favor. He met with the realtor and went into the actual apartment. By this time, we had learned our lesson. And he loved it! Said it was at the center of the best part of Palma. Yeah!!! But legally we had signed a contract for a year. And, so, we had to pay the realtor his full commission. Otherwise there would be a red flag for him with the tax authorities. Plus, we paid three months in advance that seemed to make a difference to the owner who was now on board. We all signed over the web and voilà! We had a belle-étage apartment waiting for us in Palma.
Welcome to Mallorca #
It’s a long flight from America but so worth it. The warm weather in Mallorca is heavenly, the people are friendly and the infrastructure is amazing. Awe-inspiring vistas and promenades that we never see in the States. A lot of the old housing stock in the city center is Gothic, Renaissance and Art Nouveau structures. The ambience captivates with horse drawn carriages, the imposing Cathedral "La Seu" with design changes in the early 20th century by Antoni Gaudi and the blue Mediterranean as a backdrop to the city. Palma has it all and more.
But my other half, who hasn’t had a vacation in three years, was very clear to our realtor and me. "I want a week swimming in the sea. I’ve earned a vacation. And I’m going to have it. Before I want to think about looking for housing. And we aren’t buying this year. Absolutely not in the cards. We are looking for something we might want to buy in a year." (Mistake 12).
That evening Steve, who was officially “on vacation”, looked at hundreds of real estate ads and sent a list of 12 he wanted to see to the realtor. He did this every night for 10 nights and days. And his vacation was only to last 15 days (possibly Mistake 13 if we don’t find anything!).
€300,000 was the top of our price range. We spent most the days visiting listings in person. Pictures on the web lie. Most feature listings adding light to brighten dark rooms and adding length or width or both, with wide angle lenses. We were disappointed. Nothing under €500,000 was calling out to us (Mistake 14 visiting apartments over your budget).
Unbeknownst to us, our realtor was following a property he never mentioned to us because it was €385,000. He watched it drop to €350,000 and then to €295,000. He called us immediately to see it the next morning. We’d seen it in pictures and not liked it but we trusted him and went over.
A quiet street, the apartment is hidden in an old palace, with its windows opening to the courtyard and two streets below. The corner unit had sun and breezes from three sides. The floors were covered in authentic tiles from the last century and the previous owner had a carpet woven to match the tiles. Stunning. Even the courtyard was painted the color of my living room at home in Washington, D.C. Steve and I loved it. Afterwards, the three of us had a pow wow over a snack and decided we’d buy it a full year ahead of schedule. (Not a Mistake). We called our offer in, before coffee was served. Already another offer had been made that morning but as we were higher, the owner accepted our offer.
We purchased a home in Mallorca.
We stopped looking at listings.
We were floating a foot off the ground we were so happy. (And still are.)
And my honey went swimming in the ocean.
By John Hutson
8 September, 2020