It must have been sometime during the late summer of 2000. I was working in Great Yarmouth. Getting ready to leave that morning, I saw that Jack our next door neighbour in Brundall was getting his caravan ready. We knew that Jack and Brenda had a holiday home in Spain and that since Jack had recently retired they used the caravan to travel back and forth to Spain.
When I spoke to Jack about his trip, he said that they were not going directly to Spain but intended to go across France to Switzerland and then down to Spain later on. I am rarely envious of other peoples lives but at that moment something inside me wished that we could do something like that.
The following weekend I bought the Sunday Telegraph. Why? I had never bought that in years. Scanning through the adverts I came across one for a company called "Propertunities" who were offering properties for sale on the Costa Blanca in Spain. They were also offering cut price inspection visits. £50 per person for a 3-day trip all inclusive of flights, hotel and transfers.
After sending for details of the properties available we found that we would be able to afford a two bedroom house on a development called Monte y Mar which was located at Gran Alacant about 10 kilometres south of Alicante. We booked an inspection visit.
The 3-day inspection visit
On Friday 22nd 2000 we arrived at Gatwick Airport with tickets for El Altet (Alicante) airport. We flew into the airport over the coastline which was all lit up below us and landed at around midnight local time. We were met by a Propertunities rep. and along with some others were crammed into a people carrier and driven south along the N-332 road. At the time it was a two-lane highway which went through the centre of all the little towns like Santa Pola, La Marina and Torreviega. Our destination was Los Alcazares possibly 50 to 60 kilometres from the airport. Although it was November, the air was warm. We arrived at the hotel at around 2am, tired and sweaty. Once inside we had to produce our passports and get booked in. The hotel was spanish and no-one except the rep spoke English. Finally we were shown to our room and gratefully went to bed.
Day 1 - Saturday November 23rd 2000
At breakfast the full party of 10 inspection visitors were present and we were joined by 3 Propertunities representatives. We were asked to indicate our preferences for properties to visit. We chose Gran Alacant and were assigned to John as our rep. Two other couples also showed the same interest. They were assigned to other reps. John was an affable Yorkshireman and very friendly and informative.
The visits were planned for the afternoon. John suggested that in the meantime we open a Spanish Bank Account and he drove us to the CAM Bank in Los Alcazares and helped us with the process. We opened a joint account.
After lunch, we drove off in convoy northwards. After a stop at La Mata on the way there we were shown around very expensive apartments which none of us could afford, we were taken to a fully finished community complex in order to get a feel for what the properties being built in Monte y Mar would look like eventually. It was a beautiful warm sunny November day. The experience was intended to warm you up to buying a property. And it worked. at that moment we agreed that provided we could afford it we would go ahead and agree to buy a property.
We stopped for lunch before we arrived at the Monte y Mar development in Gran Alacant. The development was being built by MASA and comprised two parts: the unbuilt site was at sea level and comprised just one showhouse; the nearly completed site was located at the top of a steep hill and was known as "Top Alacant". To buy a property at the lower site you would have to buy "off-plan" i.e. by selecting one of the numbered plots on a scale diagramn of the proposed community development. We were taken first to view the showhouse. This was a house model called the "Alba" which had 2 bedrooms but also a solarium up at roof level. It had been fully furnished to show the potential of it. The development also included a similar 2-bedroom house but without the solarium. This model was called the "Alborada".
After viewing the showhouse we were taken up to Top Alacant to see the Alborada model, two of which were still available. There were three of us interested in an Alborada. The price had increased since we received the initial information. I knew that I now did not have the full amount of capital to purchase one of these properties in the short term so we let the other two couples have them.
The finale to the day was a visit to the Masa furniture showroom down at the lower level. As the properties were sold completely unfurnished you had to buy all the white goods and furniture and lighting yourself. Masa had put together a number of "packages" to avoid you having to purchase things piecemeal. The other two couples decided on which package they preferred whilst we just noted the prices.
After an exhausting day we were driven back to hotel in Los Alcazares by John where we had dinner and a chance to relax and chat in the bar afterwards. We told John that we were interested in an Alborada. He told us that there were two "phases" being developed out of a total of six. Phase 1 has been completely sold. He knew there were a few Alboradas still available on Phase 2 and promised to take us back to the Masa Offices in Gran Alacant the next day to check on the availability and prices. We went to bed excited and full of expectation.
Day 2 - Sunday 24th November 2000
Following an early breakfast at the hotel, John drove us back to Gran Alacant. After checking with the Masa office, he told usc that there were only two plots still available on Phase 2. Using a plan of the proposed development we saw that one plot was at the top of the site and was one of only two which had a front and back terrace. The front of the house faced North. It was, however, adjacent to an electricity box which put us off.
The other plot - 174- was at the far end and faced South-West. John explained that orientation determined the price of each plot. Plot 174 was marginally more expensive but would get the sun most of the day. We opted for Plot 174! The site was bare earth with just a few trenches which marked out the location of each plot. As we spoke, a JCB drew up and began to dig out the footings for our plot!
We were then driven up to the Masa Offices where we signed to agree to purchase Plot 174. I had to write a cheque for the initial deposit there and then and was given a schedule showing when further payments needed to be made. The total price was around 11 million Pesetas which given the exchange rate at the time equated to around £64,000. The house was scheduled to be completed by May 2001.
We were driven back to the hotel having just put a deposit down on a house that at that time was no more than a series of trenches! Our family thought we were mad. There were so many stories of Spanish property rip-offs at the time. But I was buying from a reputable builder - MASA - and shared none of the concerns about having been swindled. ,p> Day 3 - Monday 25th November 2000
We met for breakfast for the last time. Each of us discussed what we had opted to purchase. Then we packed and John drove us back towards the airport for our flight back to Gatwick. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a restuarant in Los Arenales. We were joined by the senior rep who could not stand the couple she had "minded" during the visit. It was still sunny and warm and the feeling that we had done the "right thing" in buying a Spanish Holiday Home was wonderful!
John dropped us offat the airport and told us he would stay in touch until the house was completed. We flew home full of plans for using the place as our "bolt-hole" when we could.