It seems ridiculous to say that we never intended to build a villa, but that’s really what happened. No one talked us into it. No high pressure was applied and at the beginning, we didn’t want to do it. If it hadn’t been for our friends from England, we wouldn’t have even considered it.
We’d known Don and Margaret for years so when they called from England and said, “We’re building a villa in Spain! Why don’t you come over for a visit?” we thought why not. Little did we know what this would lead to. We came, we saw, we explored the area, we sampled the food, the wine and the weather and it was good. Their villa was small, partially completed and still under construction. It was nice for them, but it didn’t enthuse us. However our hosts were proud and excited and when they insisted that we meet the architect and developer we agreed just to be polite. The developers were two British brothers who were slick, big on charm and, as it turned out, more than a little shady. Don and Margaret mentioned that the brothers were customers at their pub in Bath and were know to be rogues. Duly warned, we agreed to meet. One of them treated us to lunch at the beach and we never saw either of them again. Willi Kuntz, the architect was a German gentleman who had reams of drawings of different villas, but he spoke hardly any English. He took us around the urbanization (estate) looking at plots of land and we remember standing on a rocky hill top as he explained that he intended to build a road there and that there were three lots available. A few days later Willi appeared with a drawing of what a new villa would look like and suggested that we ought to open a bank account in Spain in case we decided to go ahead. He took us to a bank and we risked ten dollars opening a new account. We returned to Canada and thought no more about it.
Ten days later a package arrived from the brothers containing a complete set of plans, artist’s drawings of a lovely villa, a map of available lots, a price list and a contract. As nice as this was, we weren’t interested so we wrote back saying that the price was far too high and that we would want a much more modern kitchen with dishwasher, ceramic stove, wall oven, microwave etc. As I said to my wife Lorna, “That will be the end of this.” Little did I know what I had started.
A few weeks later, a new contract arrived and everything we had asked for had been included and they had reduced the price. We really didn’t have much interest, so I wrote back saying that we would have to have a better, larger lot, nicer tiles and a completed garden. And I added, the price was still too high. Much to my amazement, another new contract duly arrived including all of our new demands and with a price that was less than before. By now we were intrigued and curious to know how far they would go. Over the next several months we added ever more requirements and continued to grumble about the price even though it kept falling. Eventually I said to Lorna, “The only way to stop this is to say we’ll accept their offer. They’ll never agree and we’ll be rid of them.” Much to our amazement, they agreed.
By this time we had learned that a property in Spain involves two deeds, called escrituras; one for the lot and one for the building. It is vitally important to ensure that these are in order and properly filed. This means using a lawyer, so we turned to the International Law List and looked for a bi-lingual lawyer near our property. When I came across one by the name of Cornelius Greenway Rafferty, a graduate from Notre Dame in the USA, I figured I had my man. It bothered me a little that the name of his firm seemed to change each time he wrote, but it was always on some variation of British, American, Anglo-American or Spanish letterhead, but he did a wonderful job for us and I completely ignored the name changes. Strangely enough we had never signed the contract.
The first major hiccup occurred a few months later when we went over to inspect the progress on our villa. The first payment was to have paid for the land (and we had the escritura for that) and for the foundation of the villa. But when we arrived in Spain, we found that absolutely nothing had happened, that our lot was on the top of a rocky cliff and the road that was to have been built to it was nowhere in sight. By this time we had heard one horror story after another about the developers, the architect and Miguel Valero, the Spanish builder. The British brothers had disappeared, people’s money had vanished, nothing was being built and everyone was mad. We were astounded to learn that some buyers had handed over all of the money in advance, some had paid in cash and one couple even gave the developers a power of attorney to pay for their villa. Willi was as confused as anyone else and when foreigners appeared asking “Where is our villa?” He simply replied, “Where is my money?” As it turned out the brothers were not paying him, but were using the money to buy property elsewhere and the language difficulties left everyone mad at someone.
Fortunately we had brought all of our papers with us and we held a meeting with Willi and an interpreter. When Willi realized what was happening he told us to ignore the developers and to pay him directly. By this time we had met several homeowners who had bought and built villas through Willi and were quite happy. One couple, Perry and Margaret Zigades (a lovely Greek man and his British wife) offered to let us know how our villa was progressing and when the next payment was needed. We agreed and over the next few months I received many calls. Perry was used to expensive transatlantic calls, so our conversations where very brief and consisted of him saying things like “John the roof is on. Send more money.” and then hanging up.
We returned in the spring, found Willi and he took us down a brand new road and opened the door to our new villa. It was bigger and better than we expected and he had generously upgraded all of our appliances because we had helped him out. We were very pleased. We named the villa and had a ceramic sign made. We called it Casa Loma because it means house on the hill in Spanish which it certainly is and as a joke that only Canadians would get if they thought of Toronto’s well-known famous castle on the hill called Casa Loma.
This is one of the best things we have ever done. Casa Loma is convenient, has spectacular views and we are in a micro climate that is always temperate and comfortable. We are the only Canadians around and our neighbours are a friendly group of internationals. We learned Spanish, feel very much at home in Spain, enjoy the people and culture and have learned how to cope with the Spanish way of life and way of doing things. Our friends thought we were mad to do it, but most have come to visit and they like it too.