31 years ago today we signed the documents for the house I live in and exchanged deeds (Escritura).
So here's a snippet about that time from my book about our life Berwick Street to Barcelona.
For some time Tony and I had been thinking about buying a holiday home abroad. Almost everywhere we went felt right. Arriving in Spain for the first time I knew I had come home and we decided there and then that we wanted to buy somewhere, if nothing else to retire to. With the limited funds we had it felt like some kind of pipe dream. We'd not long ago bought our home in London but were aware that it was a now or never situation.
Casual interest turned to serious property searches quite quickly. In 1989 we were looking for a flat in Sitges. The first three days of our holiday we spent the time trawling the estate agents’ windows and offices for anything we could afford. Prices were similar to those in London and we knew how difficult it had been to find something. We were beginning to think that it just wasn't going to happen.
On one visit the town had been full to bursting with tourists. Finding anywhere to stay for the week was nigh on impossible so we were staying with a friend in his flat. While sitting on the sofa having a morning coffee one day, which we had decided would be a property free day, I was looking through a local free newspaper called the Claxon. I was drawn to the property section.
"Look at this," I threw the newspaper into Tony's lap.
"What?" he almost barked. He didn't like me throwing things when I could just as easily pass them over.
"Inside, page forty-two, under property." I said and leaned over and pointed out an advert.
"It's got to be a misprint," he suggested. "There's no way a two bedroom flat would be that cheap, and are you sure you want to look in Vilanova? We don't know it at all."
"Let's go see the agent anyway," I suggested. "It might just be the bargain we are looking for."
"Mr Positive, eh? Don't get your hopes up too much, you know what you're like." Tony warned. He was right I had already decorated a couple of flats while we had been looking in the estate agents’ windows.
"Okay, I know, but come on let's go see. The agent is called Nevots and is in Rambla Sama, wherever that is..." I'd raised my hopes high already and although I knew that the trip could be a tricky one with our limited Spanish or could even be a waste of time.
We caught the train to Vilanova, just a five-minute journey. After a while wandering around the town like lost tourists and having asked a couple of locals where the estate agents was we found it. We went in and asked, in faltering Spanish and a lot of gesticulating, if we could see the flat in the advert. The receptionist told us to sit down and disappeared into the back office. We were both nervously fidgeting. We were so far outside our comfort zone.
"Good morning, I am Sr Nevot." Sr Nevot announced himself in English as he stood in his office doorway.
"You speak English?" A statement and a question all in one.
"Yes. I heared you speaking and you are English too," Sr Nevot replied. "You would like see this flat, ahora?" he asked indicating we should follow him into his office.
"Yes please," I said quickly. "Pero... El price is correcto?" Spanglish looked like the best way forward.
Sr Nevot looked at the advert I had brought with us and confirmed that the price was correct. "Moment," he said picking up the phone. From what I understood from his conversation he was calling an associate to come to the office to take us to the flat. I related what I understood to Tony.
For the next few minutes Sr Nevot filled us in on the property we were going to look at. It was indeed a bargain. This was because it had been a Granny's flat who had died. The children couldn't agree that any one of them should live there so they intended to make a quick buck by selling.
We were driven to the flat which felt quite a way out of town by Sr Nevot's assistant, who spoke no English.
On arrival I was slightly disappointed with the view of the flat from the street. It didn’t conjure up romantic Spanish home for me at all.
"Hmmm," I sighed.
"Let's see what's inside." Tony was still hopeful. It was amusing how one of us would always take on the positive role.
Nevot's assistant let us in and proceeded to open the blinds. The flat was a bit dark and stuffed with ancient furniture. The wallpaper was peeling in places and the kitchen had seen better days, but it was authentic Spanish. "I love it." Tony said with no enthusiasm in his voice. I thought he was being sarcastic until he nodded towards the assistant and I understood we were playing a game of not showing any interest.
"It's okay," I said to Tony nodding frantically behind the other guys back.
"It's perfect," Tony said in the same tone of voice. "Needs a lot of work, but we can do most of it."
We wandered through to the garden. In the middle of the patio there was a well with bucket and tower. All along one wall were chicken cages and at the end of the garden a huge shed that had been used for keeping goats. Weeds were growing everywhere. Needless to say the floor was less than clean, covered in ...... well you get the idea!
Back outside Nevot's assistant opened the car door for us. "Let's walk back," I suggested. "We can explore round here a bit first." It was a brave decision. We didn’t have much of an idea where we were in relation to the rest of the town.
"Andamos," I told Nevot's assistant, gesticulating wildly.
He looked amused but shut the car door and asked if we liked the flat. I told him that we did and would come to the office before they closed for lunch "Antes de la una," he advised before driving off.
Just two doors up the road was a bar. Tony nodded and headed in that direction. Once inside we sat at the window, figures of interest in this quiet barrio. The owners were lovely people and so friendly and helpful. We ordered beers.
"So are we going to buy it?" Tony asked I could tell he was as keen as I was.
"OMG, OMG," I was excited and nervous at the thought of us having our own place in Spain at last.
Tony laughed. "Is that a yes?" We toasted our luck clinking our glasses together and ordered another before heading back into town to secure the deal.
Since then the place had changed a great deal, and here are just a few pics of the garden.