I bought a second home in Spain for $250,000 because I don't want to live in the US anymore. It's half the cost of living in Manhattan.
- Michael Steven Grant and his partner bought a second home in Sitges, a town near Barcelona, Spain.
- The couple still lives in the US and are able to visit for extended periods because of remote work.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Michael Steven Grant about his decision to purchase a second property in Sitges, Spain. Grant worked in nonprofit fundraising before starting in July with VistaFutura, a company that helps Americans purchase and maintain property in Spain. Grant declined to name his partner for professional privacy reasons. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
After many years on the west coast I ended up on the east coast again, in Manhattan, eight or nine years ago. A year ago my partner and I were thinking of where we wanted to buy a second place with the hopes of, down the road, retiring to and living full-time.
Though we had previously lived in California, Hawaii, and elsewhere, we couldn't put a finger on anywhere in the United States. We had gone to Spain about five years ago and visited its three biggest cities — Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia — so I thought we should go back and maybe look at one of those.
Settling on Sitges
We decided to look at what was within about a 30-minute drive outside of Barcelona, that would be near a big city but yet be sort of a beachy resort. I did some research remotely and Sitges came up quite frequently.
Sitges is a very European beach town just three blocks from the Mediterranean. The apartments there are half the price of Manhattan and double the value.
So last September, we flew into Barcelona and took a 30-minute car ride to Sitges. We were there for about two weeks, mainly on vacation, but also with the intention of looking at real estate to buy.
We looked at a number of places but didn't do anything — like make an offer on a place — spur of the moment.
We had a fixed budget in mind because we still have the place in Manhattan that we have a mortgage on, so we didn't want to get too far above our heads.
For a budget we wanted to keep it under $500,000, which was around €300,000 at the time.
In our price range, it was a fairly tight list of what we could look at. Through friends we met a local Spanish-speaking bilingual attorney who was absolutely essential.
We also opened up a Santander Spanish bank account. The process took a whole afternoon and our attorney had to go with us. It's quite a chore as opposed to opening up a bank account in New Jersey or New York.
When we came back to New York and were primarily looking at places online. It's really up to you, as the buyer, to do your research. It's sort of like Manhattan — if you really want something, you can find it yourself. Because everything's out there, but the real estate agents are going to try to sell you what they have listed which might not always be in your budget.
We went back to Spain in March of this year and saw maybe a dozen places, none of which we liked. Then we found another listing off this general listing service called Idealista. And we arranged to view the apartment with our attorney.
The most advantageous thing was having a lawyer with us who could handle all the documents and everything. He really handled all the conversation and negotiations with the elderly lady who was selling it.
The logistics of buying overseas
We were probably one of the first — if not the first — to view the apartment. We wanted to buy it at the listed price, so there was no negotiation back and forth. We took everything as-is.
She just refurnished the whole place. It's on the second floor of a four-story walk up. And there are two units per floor. It's really nice. It's a rear-facing apartment so you don't get any street noise.
The next day our attorney met with her and us and our banker at a neutral office and did all the paperwork. We got a mortgage from the bank where we had opened up the account. Our attorney helped us through that.
Some people think you can't get a mortgage through a bank account in another country. We got a mortgage there for approximately half the value of the apartment. We spent much less on the apartment than our $500,000 budget — €235,000, which at the time was just shy of $250,000.
We're going to keep this place for a few years until we might finally move there. And then of course, maybe buy another one. We go over for a couple of weeks every quarter so every three months we go.
Patience is key
The apartments and homes there do not have heat. In winter it might be 60 or 50 degrees at night. During the summer, we run a small air conditioner in the living room. The electric and other bills are not high.
In Sitges and Barcelona, the business is conducted in a very personal, one-on-one manner. Some stuff is done electronically, of course, like the payments and the deposit, but a lot of stuff was done how you think things might have been done 40 or 50 years ago. Everything has to be registered with the city notary. So there are a lot of little small details that you absolutely could not do on your own.
For a lot of Americans, I would say you have to be very patient. Yeah, it's a different country, the language is different, the banking is different, the real estate's different, things aren't going to go as quick as you might get them done here.
As long as you're very patient with that and say, 'Okay, I'm going to go to the bank, and this is going to take two or three hours,' and accept that then it's going to be lunch and drinks and nap and that might be the only thing you get done that day. You'll be aggravated if you try to get certain things done quickly.
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