Friday, May 30, 2008

Equity Release

From the Costa del Sol Action Group:
'...of especial concern are the Equity Release schemes which have been peddled on the Coast in recent years and have mostly been a disaster for those who have participated. The Action Group has discovered that a number of them have involved criminality. Bearing in mind the average age of the participants of the ER schemes is well over 70 many of the schemes have amounted to abuse of the elderly and robbing the aged of their life savings. The CDSAG is trying its hardest to assist such people. There was one case of a person starving to death and not knowing which way to turn. There has even been the fear of suicide where an elderly victim was too ashamed to tell their partner. The CDSAG stresses that victims should feel no shame at having been caught out by these slick conmen. The perpetrators of these schemes are in many instances highly skilled and seemingly very professional and trustworthy businessmen. Such con artists can take the best of us for our money. Imagine the creative genius and convincing manner it took to sell the Eifel Tower, never mind release the cash tied up in your property!
The CDSAG has found that up-front charges of up to 20% have been imposed in some cases (the norm being around 8/9%) with annual 'management' fees on top of this - with the released cash being invested in disasterous funds in emerging markets (these dodgy bonds paid higher commissions to the financial advisors.) All this has meant that the remaining 80% - 90% of the released capital could never make enough to support the borrowings of the 100%, and provide the promised income. They were in the main commission-driven schemes offered by unqualified, unregistered, heartless, smooth talking, cowboy salesmen'.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Changing a Bulb

The wiring is a bit wonky in our house, no doubt thanks to the age of our establishment. The sockets come in two different sizes, necessitating an array of ‘ladrones’ and gizmos to put the right plug in the right hole. Some of the sockets have burnt out over the years, or their fuses are of the type that no longer exists. Spain, when it comes to bricolaje, is enthusiastic about ‘progress’. We persevere.
Long bits of wire with multiple plugs snake under the carpets to keep the gadgets going. It’s a system.
The light bulbs though, are a menace. First of all, they don’t last 1,000 hours as it says on the box. In fact, some of them go ‘floop’ just as you are screwing them in, standing inevitably on a wobbly chair. Once, I went clean through the seat of an antique chair while reaching up to change a light. You should stand on the edges apparently.
But the real problem here is the light sockets, the fundas. These are made either from a thin plastic that soon cracks or from a sturdy plastic which cooks and cracks. The cable behind obligingly rots when it gets a chance. Half the time, changing a bulb (while standing on that wobbly chair, the spare bulb in your pocket) means having to change the whole fixture – in the dark, with a screwdriver which has a crooked blade.
That’ll be when the phone rings.

Shortly after I’d finished the above masterpiece, the Spanish government decided to change things, lightbulbwise (perhaps it was simply pure coincidence, although I think they’ve been checking my blog).
In three years time, the old incandescent bulb will be phased out, in exchange for those new, expensive to buy and cheap to run bulbs. If Spain tossed its 350 million light bulbs in favour of these new-fangled ones, why the country would save 3% on its energy bill and households would see their electric (which just went up by 10%) go down again.
I looked. They cost about ten euros a pop (actually, perhaps ‘pop’ isn’t the best word here, as, one would not be too happy if the light didn’t do its duty and last for ever).

Property Meeting in Mojácar

Levante Almeriense: AULAN
Covering the municipalities of: Mojacar, Carboneras, Garrucha, Los
Gallardos, Cuevas, Bédar, Huercal Overa, Pulpi, Antas.
12 AM 6TH JUNE 2008.
(1) Discussion of the aims of the Association.
(2) Talk on planning and real estate problems.
(3) Consideration of steering committee.
(4) Consideration of membership fee.
(5) Next steps.
(6) Other matters arising.
CHAIR: Lenox Napier.
In attendance representatives of: Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora No, Asociacion
de Vecinos del Pinar de Bédar, Levante Sostenible, Ciudadanos Europeos de
Anyone interested in joining who has not already done so, please call Mary on 661
742 102 to confirm attendance.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Wasp

I receive by email a daily average of two copies of articles from the British media that are critical of Spain, its housing problems, the Vera demolition, illegal homes, bankruptcies and the like. Poor Spain – the country we have come to love is now the target for the vilest accusations from Fleet Street and Broadcasting House! Reports of threats of demolition, special payouts for illegal homes, fraud, calls to the European Court of Human Rights… it sounds like Morocco in 1958 when the lunatic king decided to nationalise all the foreign land. The British media love a good story and this one has it all – all those rich bastards going to live the Life of Riley and losing their savings while we are stuck in an increasingly horrible Grate Britain.
After all, one house was knocked down this January in Vera by a maniac who should by all rights be in prison or at the very least fired from his job in the Junta de Andalucía for incompetence. But they haven’t fired him - not for his arrogance or his immorality and certainly not for costing Spain a staggeringly huge amount of both money and jobs. Indeed, they haven’t even fired him for going after ‘opposition’ town halls like Cuevas, Zurgena and Vera while ignoring places like Arboleas, Huercal Overa, Albox and Carboneras (all PSOE towns).
And the Brits don’t think local politics are interesting…
The Spanish aren’t very keen on being criticised by the foreign media. They don’t like these daily stories, ITV’s ‘Holidays in Hell’ and the rest of them, that are continuously beating the same drum. So, they circle the wagons and ignore them. The Spanish press will admit that there are too many empty houses already – although most of these were built around the cities as apartments for working families – but they don’t want to report on the problems facing the coastal towns or those concerns experienced by the Northern European émigrés that are so lovingly followed by The Times and Telegraph. And, as long as a few breasts make an appearance in the story, count on The Sun and the News of the World for joining in with some of their trademark sensitive reporting.
Locally, there is bemusement among my Spanish friends. Why have they turned on us? Well, you’ve got mayors, councillors, builders and architects all facing court sentences, I tell them, for fraud. Companies with a capital of just 3,000 euros change and switch to avoid bankruptcies but, if sued, only have those three thousand euros and, traditionally, a penniless president who resides in a nut-hatch. Politicians who can patiently wait until long after they are out of office before having to defend themselves in court or who rely on ‘compañeros’ in the system to get them off the hook. If it wasn’t for the lack of judicial expedience, some of these characters might even have gone to jail by now. In fact, the Minister of Justice defending that the nation’s judicial system was ‘not in chaos or collapse’ admitted that it would take a while to straighten things out. But, we can’t blame the town halls entirely. In the recent years as the money came in, they enlarged their legions of public employees (it’s good for votes) who get a guaranteed sinecure for life, and started on various projects such as museums, sports stadiums, multi-storey car-parks and all things nice. They are now stuck with continuing with these projects. At the same time, the traditional power of a mayor to decide what’s good for his pueblo (i.e. to give out building licences) has now been passed to higher authorities, sometimes with little understanding and sympathy over local issues.
There’s a story of a wasp that flew in through the window of a speeding car and stings the driver. The car flips and crashes into a bus. Twenty dead. One little wasp is responsible for a major accident. So, too, one demolition in Vera has started the cry from the foreign press (well done, most of our local freebies, for staying staunchly silent on this issue!).
Of course the problem of Spain’s building industry is much larger than one pointless demolition, although one has to wonder at the poor question of timing.

This article appears as an editorial in The New Entertainer and as a feature in The Olive Press (Granada)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rugby at Desert Springs

The Cabras Rugby Club from Carboneras

On a slightly wet Saturday, what could be better than a nice game of rugby? The sun came through the clouds as the two teams pounded onto the grass and battle began. The teams were our local Cabra Rugby Club based in Carboneras and the heavier and larger looking chaps from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. The game was fun, with good scores (that nobody seemed to know much about), a few fights and a cut head. I had the good fortune to meet a retired trainer who could explain the finer points.

During the second half, perhaps inspired by a herd of goats being led past by a dusty looking old shephard and a couple of dogs, the Cabras rose to even greater efforts and by the final whistle (and a few sums performed by the referee), it emerged that the local boys had won the day with 30 - 26.

Afterwards, the two teams posed for a photo, before breaking into song (for some reason - an interesting new version of 'Singing in the Rain') and organising a Full Monty, which your photographer was either a split second to early or late to capture.

For information on joining the rugby club, call Juan Pedro on 664 052 793.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Property Rights and Wrongs

There was a meeting last Saturday in the Best Hotel on Mojácar Playa regarding the problems of property in Spain - from demolitions to expropriations, 'illegal properties', third party mortgages, dodgy salesmen, 'builders' electric', 'land grab', buildings in flood plains and so on. Charles Svoboda from the AUN gave the main talk, with Bob Preston (Albox) from the AUAN (see his speech on, Helen Prior - whose home in Vera was knocked down in January (she is living in a caravan with her husband Len, without water, electricity or much hope of compensation) - Angel Medina from the Ciudadanos Europeos de Mojácar (see the website for photos at and me doing the introductions. Around 400 people came along to the meeting.

One thing that came out of it - I shall write more about the event later - was the announcement of a new local association to be called Abusos Urbanisticos del Levante Almeriense - No.

Left to Right: Angel Medina, Charles Svoboda, Bob Preston and Helen Prior, speaking.

For the moment - here's the press release:

On the 3rd May last, a meeting was held at the Best Hotel in Marina de la Torre, Mojácar, Almeria at which almost 400 people attended.
The meeting was chaired by Lenox Napier of the political party Ciudadanos Europeos de Mojácar and was organised with their assistance to discuss the planning problems arising in the area. The head of this political group and Councillor of Mojácar, Mr Angel Medina, spoke and stated that Spain should be kept as a favoured destination for foreign investments and was a good place in which to live, despite the problems which had arisen and which should be remedied.
With respect to the problems, Mr Medina mentioned a number of measures which should be taken, including: the establishment of a legal protocol (a set of regulated steps) for conveyancing; estate agents to be registered, supervised and insured; that the publicity and public consultation for plans be made obligatory and this be implemented as soon as possible; that the land registry should be relied upon to show the real-estate and planning situation on a particular property; that the catastro should be tied in with the land registry as soon as possible; that a commission should be set up to consider the current planning problems and to make recommendations, of which the administration and associations should be a party; and that there be independent agencies to oversee the protection of the environment and human rights.
Mr & Mrs Prior were invited and spoke. Readers will recall the demolition of their house – before the very eyes of this unfortunate couple, which has had great repercussion with the media outside Spain. They explained that, at the moment, no compensation for them was in sight. Bob Preston, President of Abusos Urbanisticos Almanzora No, an association trying to fight against perceived planning abuse in the Almanzora Valley in Almeria where thousands of homes are under threat also spoke and complained that, despite various indications from the various administrations, few concrete steps had been taken to legalise the homes involved.
During the speeches Mr Svoboda, of Abusos Urbanisticos No in Valencia, who has been fighting against planning abuse for many years, and whose association has thousands of members, urged people to group together to fight for their common interests to prevent planning abuses. Mention was made of a new association which was being set up to cover the Levante Almeriense (the western coastal part of Almeria) which would be linked to Mr Svoboda´s association and would work together with other similar associations, and eventually form part of a national federation of like-minded Associations.
This new, fledgling association is to be called the AULAN (“Abusos Urbanísticos Levante Almeriense No”). Members to be of this association have indicated that the association is to be independent of political parties, though they are grateful for the support the political party Ciudadanos Europeos appears to be currently giving to the aims of the new association.
It has been stated that the purpose of the association can be summed up in one phrase: to strive for the protection of human rights within the ambit of the real-estate and planning fields, preventing abuses.
It has also been stated that the association will seek to inform its members of planning changes – a bit like an early warning system so that its members will know what changes are afoot and are not surprised with the bulldozer turning up on their doorstep.
In addition, it is considered that by people grouping together they can press the administration for solutions to current and possible future problems.
Apart from this, concrete steps have already been discussed at political level and with other associations to seek to remedy the problems which have arisen and the members to be are pleased that these ideas appear to have some support.
It is thought that situations like that experienced by Mr & Mrs Prior must not be allowed to happen again, and full backing is expressed for Mr & Mrs Prior by the members to be of the association.
Concern is expressed that the plight of Mr & Mrs Prior has had a wide coverage outside Spain – one of the main reasons the British are reluctant to invest in Spain, due to the perceived lack of legal security - but that the Spanish media at a national level has failed to inform on what has transpired.
A meeting is to be held shortly to formally set up the association, elect members etc. In addition, at this meeting a talk will be given on the planning issues relating to this area.
Both English and Spanish living in this part of Almeria are welcome to join. The time and place is to be advised.