Is a buying a Spanish ghost town the ultimate social distancing project?

Is a buying a Spanish ghost town the ultimate social distancing project?

  • Rural hamlets and unfinished developments provide plenty of choice for buyers looking for a project
  • CostaLuz Lawyers warns of the importance of checking legal and practical details before committing to buy
  • Planning permission, licences and zoning all need careful attention

The Covid-19 pandemic has made many city dwellers reassess their relationship with all things urban. In June and July 2020, buyer inquiries to Rightmove from those living in cities shot up by 78% compared to the previous year. The number of people considering properties in village locations, meanwhile, was up 126%.

It’s not just villages in the UK that are attractive to buyers looking to escape city life right now. According to the property experts at CostaLuz Lawyers, Spain has much to offer when it comes to escaping the pandemic, particularly for those looking to detach from urban life in a more substantial way.

“Spain is home to around 1,500 abandoned hamlets due to significant rural depopulation over the past couple of decades. These offer a fascinating opportunity for property buyers who want to opt out of city life and reconnect with the land. And with so many hamlets available, the prices can be really quite attractive.”

Keith Rule,

Rural depopulation is a big issue in Spain, where over half the country has a population density of under 12.5 inhabitants per square kilometre. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez reports that, “Half of Spain’s municipalities have fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, and a large part of our territory is at risk of depopulation.” As such, abandoned hamlets – of ‘ghost towns’ can be found dotted across the country.

But buying your own Spanish ghost town isn’t just about ancient farmhouses that are slowly crumbling in idyllic rural locations. When the global financial crisis hit, a swathe of developers across Spain went bust, leaving housing projects of all shapes and sizes unfinished. Some have little more than foundations in place, but others are almost finished. Most are now owned by the banks that took them on from bankrupt developers. As the sites are too expensive to demolish, most are just sitting unfinished, with nothing having happened since workers downed tools when the financial crisis began to bite.

“There are various options available if you want to purchase multiple properties in Spain at a majorly discounted price. In most cases, you’ll be taking on a project rather than a completed set of dwellings, but for buyers who are looking for something unusual some of the opportunities are really interesting.”

Keith Rule,

The CostaLuz Lawyers team warns, though, that it’s important to examine both the legalities and the practicalities of your purchase before committing to anything. First and foremost, there are matters around planning permission, licencing and zoning to consider. Many rural properties, for example, may have been built without the correct permissions in place. This means you might be ordered to tear them down. Others will have restrictions in place on the scale of renovations that you’re allowed to undertake due to protections on the character or nature of the dwellings.

Zoning has its own quirks. You might have a country spa or a glamping business in mind, but if the land is zoned for rural use then you might find yourself needing to run a farm instead. Even residential use might be out of the question without keeping a few sheep or growing a couple of crops on your land.

In terms of practicalities, the CostaLuz Lawyers team warns buyers never to make assumptions. It’s all too easy to take utilities – water, energy, broadband – for granted, but some abandoned hamlets don’t provide access to all of these. Some don’t even come with the potential for such connections.

There are other risks too, so it’s essential to look at the property transaction from all angles. Getting seven or eight houses and various outbuildings for under €100,000 may seem attractive initially, but if the legal and practical details don’t stack up, the potential can quickly unravel.

“The final element to consider is your exit strategy. Owning a village that’s a major project might be your dream right now, but what happens if you need to sell it suddenly or unexpectedly? With an estimated 3.4 million unoccupied properties in Spain, it could take years to find another buyer. It really is essential to check every aspect of such a purchase before committing. That said, if you find the right property and enjoy a challenge, buying a Spanish ghost town might just be the ideal social distancing project.”

Keith Rule,

For more information, please contact CostaLuz Lawyers’ UK office on +44 1908 635 111 and speak with Keith. To speak with Maria in the Spanish office, call +34 956 092 687 or you can visit