Today we are interviewing Julie Colcutt who runs the company Alta Villas which is based in the town of Javea on Spain’s Costa Blanca coast.
Julie is an expatriate who has moved to Spain from the United Kingdom, specifically the Reading area, and today she gives us her story of her move to Spain including plenty of advice and tips.
We also tell the story of how Julie has set up her successful business in Spain, which can also help people who are looking to move over here. So no matter what your situation I’m sure today’s interview has something for everybody.
Julie I just want to start off by asking you really how you came to even think of moving to Spain, how did it all start, were you watching a lot of Place in the Sun programs or something?
Yes! (lot’s of laughter) my husband and I were addicted to that program. As well as that we spent many holidays in places like the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands and we just got a real feel for the Spanish way of life which we really appreciated as compared to some other places such as France which didn’t really attract us as much.
Initially our thought was to buy an investment property and so we set off on some inspection trips to the Costa del Sol and also Murcia. The reasons we were interested in moving to Spain was obviously the weather but also it was a lifestyle choice, my husband and I have six children although not all of them were going to move to Spain.
The ages of the three children concerned were 16, 13 and 12. Some of the areas near Reading were pretty rough and we felt Spain would be a safer environment for them to grow up in. Fortunately they were really positive about the move.
When did you actually move to Spain?
We moved to Spain two years ago and at that time things were still pretty buoyant with regards to the world economy, we both had very good jobs in the United Kingdom and at the time it looked like we could move to Spain and continue our work from there.
What did you do in the UK Julie?
Both my husband and I had worked for an international recruitment company.
Okay so we know that you’ve settled in the Costa Blanca, so how did you end up in Javea as opposed to these other areas of Spain that you initially looked at?
We went on some inspection trips in the Costa del Sol and got a bit disillusioned really, we just kept seeing lots of new builds and fair enough we were shown some glitzy bars which were beautiful and right on the beaches but something just didn’t feel right for us.
What we did prefer was making some trips of our own and just going to some what we might call normal bars and getting a little bit off the beaten track and exploring ourselves to get a real feel of the area.
We do feel that property prices were considerably more in that area and it just seems too English and if I can say this, quite pretentious and it felt like you had to have money in order to feel like you fit in.
We continued looking and we really wanted a place on the coast with mountains in the background. We ended up looking in the Torrevieja area on the southern Costa Blanca but that wasn’t for us, also we looked at Murcia which we did quite like but that wasn’t exactly right and then we hit upon the area of Oliva and then Els Poblets where we originally rented, this was in September 2008 and we moved over with three of the children.
We were attracted to this area because we felt it was a beautiful area on the coast, midway between two good airports of Alicante airport and Valencia airport. Although we had decided to put the children into the Spanish school system, as a backup we did have some good international schools nearby in the Lady Elizabeth School and the XIC College.
So I know that you are actually now based in Javea so what happened in Els Poblets?
For those who don’t know, Els Poblets is a small village just outside the relatively large town of Denia and although it seemed right at the time we found in hindsight it was completely wrong culturally for the children. It was too quiet and there wasn’t enough going on for them. They felt isolated and didn’t integrate. Luckily we had abandoned our plans to buy and we had rented instead.
Okay you’ve hit on a good subject because I know that lots of people looking to move to Spain worry about the education system – what’s your take on it?
Mark I disagree with a lot of people who say that the Spanish education system is poor and a lot of that is based on my previous job experience in the international recruitment company. We took on a lot of Spanish people who were very well educated with very good English and skills.
I won’t pretend it hasn’t been difficult at times because my children were at a very advanced age but it is doable and you just need to be aware of the challenges. For example as well as learning Spanish they will need to learn the local dialect, well in this area anyway, which is Valenciano.
One of the things that I like, is that whereas in the United Kingdom where they tend to have exams once a year at the end, in Spain the children are constantly tested on a term basis on what they have learnt and if they pass each test they will pass for the whole year. If children fail they are given an opportunity to repeat the year and to catch up, rather than getting completely left behind.
Once the Spanish schools see a good attitude and behaviour they are very supportive.
Okay that’s all good and you know that’s from your experience which is brilliant as well, let’s shift the focus and talk a little bit about finding work in Spain which really isn’t easy is it?
No you’re absolutely right, we came over at a buoyant time and then the recession hit. Our plans had to change when the company that we were working for were not able to allow us to work in Spain so we had to immediately start to look for work. I found work almost immediately but my husband did search for six months before he could find something suitable, although he has been very fortunate to find a very good job.
The area that I have gone into with my company Alta Villas, is to help people through my experiences and all the contacts that I have gained. What I found when we were looking for a long term rental in Spain was that agents were not really interested in what was really suitable for us as a family. Obviously they were just interested in renting us a property regardless of our personalities or likes and dislikes.
Julie I think this is a good point because it is something I stress constantly to people asking me about moving to Spain. I can’t stress enough the importance of getting to know areas and renting first before you decide to buy.
Mark I would agree with you, obviously some people know the areas and so they have made a decision on where they would like to buy and that’s something that we help people with as well, but yes renting is a great option, in fact there is more demand than supply right now.
At the detriment to my business and making money I would rather take the time to get to know what people are like and what they are really looking for, so that I can really make recommendations because it’s important to me that people don’t go through what we have had which was to end up moving four times since we have been in Spain!
To me integrity and trust are really important words and when I see my former clients it is a really satisfying feeling knowing that I’ve helped them as much as possible to settle into this new life of theirs.
With my clients I can actually advise them on all sorts of issues such as the local schools, driving in Spain, we can help people registering their cars, help with pets and getting their NIE numbers etc. For me it’s not just about finding people a home, it’s about helping them relocate as well. So I pride myself on being available after everything has been done.
I also really try to work out what would be best for my clients because renting a four-bedroom villa in this area will cost around €1500 per month and so it’s really no good for everyone concerned if ultimately our customers run out of money and end up having to move back. It does take time to find work and so having a six-month cushion is really ideal.
I just wanted to ask you a question because I know some people are concerned about the contracts with regard to long-term rentals and long term lets, can you offer any general advice?
What happens is typically most landlords arrange an 11 month contract which is known as temporada and once that comes up for renewal and both parties are happy, typically another temporada contract is drawn up for another 11 months. Some people are under the misconception that they physically have to move out and back in again but that’s actually not the case these days.
The other contract it is also possible to get is known as vivienda which is typically for five years and it does give the tenants more rights.
Any advice for people looking to buy in Spain, what’s your experience at ground level?
Well we basically get to know our clients and what they are looking for and we then contact the estate agents. They are reporting to us that they are pretty busy and activity is most definitely picking up.
Of course there is still some nervousness in the market and some people feel that prices may have further to fall. My opinion is that they really will not fall much further – if at all – and there really are some great bargains around now.
So this is definitely a good time to be looking to buy property in Spain because you can’t always time the market exactly. Certainly cash is king and if you’re in a position to make a good offer you can get some great deals.
Let’s face it people are still keen on the same benefits that you can get with Spain which is the lifestyle, sun and good weather. The only thing I would point out is that Spain is not as cheap as it used to be, but that really isn’t a reason not to move here.
Many of our clients are telling us that things are also difficult in the United Kingdom. I know a number of people have moved back but things are not necessarily greener on the other side. We are getting a lot of clients coming from inner-city areas which of course have a lot of social problems.
I think it’s a good point to mention that we feel much more of a sense of belonging in Spain. Because we live in an expat community you get to know a lot of people and you always bumping into people and chatting and saying hello which we never had when we were back in the United Kingdom.
I like the fact that there is a real Spanish side of life that you can get involved in. In the summertime all our neighbours are Spanish and I deal with a lot of different nationalities in my business, especially Dutch, French and Germans. The children also have friends of many different nationalities and it’s really broadened their mind and given them a lot more confidence.
There is absolutely no way that we personally would go back to the United Kingdom as our lives are much more enriched living here. In the first year that I lived in Spain admittedly I wanted to go back lots of weekends but obviously it takes time to get used to everything and to learn to settle here. We absolutely love it here now.
Julie thanks for your time in talking to us. Finally, we have established that you’re dealing with property sales, holiday rentals, long term rentals and relocation services, how far of an area do you cover in case somebody is interested in contacting you?
We basically cover the Javea, Moraira, Denia and the Jalon Valley area. Our aim is to provide a total solution for the Spanish property owner. It´s been fun talking to you and I hope people find this helpful.
Now find out how Julie is doing two years after this original interview – in this sequel – living in Javea.
Alta Villas – Property sales, rentals and management.
Javea, Denia, Moraira and the Jalon Valley
Landline: 0034 965 796 311 (Spain and non-UK countries)
0044 (0)843 2078363 (Low cost calls from the UK)
Mobile: 0034 622 354 907 (Spain and non-UK countries)
0044 (0)872 4260186 (Low cost calls from the UK)
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About the Author
Main author and owner of SpainMadeSimple.com which was started in 2004 when I first moved to Spain.
Spain Made Simple features expert advice on all aspects of moving to and living in Spain as well as useful tourist information and travel tips.
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