Question: We were considering buying a property in Greece but were wondering how to the locals react to ‘foreigners’ who decide to set up home in Greece. Obviously it would make things a lot easier if we were made to feel welcome by our neighbours.
Answer: Generally, Greek people are warm and friendly and the concept of ‘filoxenia’ (hospitality) is happily alive and well. Families tend to build for themselves and do not buy and sell as frequently as we do in the UK in an effort to climb the property ladder, which means there are plenty of properties to modernise or land on which to build. Additionally, there are no state handouts or accommodation granted for those who are homeless or unemployed, which means no resentment at state funds being allocated to non-Greek persons. In the villages, most people are happy that the older properties are being renovated and brought back to life. It is particularly appreciated if you can learn a few words of Greek with which to greet your neighbours.
Question: We have been looking at some lovely old stone buildings and are thinking of buying one to renovate. Will our lawyer be able to tell us whether we need any particular permits or permission before we start work?
Answer: There are some very important points to consider when buying and renovating these older properties. Lawyers are not always expert on the subject, so ALWAYS check with a competent ARCHITECT.
Firstly, make sure that the size of the plot legally has the potential to take a larger sized property, if you are thinking of enlarging. The architect will also be able to tell you whether or not you must have a building permit, to carry out the works you want to. Additionally, you will probably have to declare the work you are going carry out, to the I.K.A. authorities. This is a very powerful state department. If you employ legal workers, such as roofers, plasterers, tilers etc. you are not only paying them, but also their national insurance stamp (I.K.A.). Even if you do the work yourself, you must still pay I.K.A. a percentage of the amount they would have received. If you do not declare the works you have done and you need to sell the property, you will face problems and have to pay in retrospect, which will be more expensive. Also, while works are being carried out on the property, you risk high fines if an I.K.A. representative does a spot check and you have no I.K.A. papers relating to the property.
Question: I am already living in Crete and my neighbours are always bringing me fresh produce from their land, eggs, cakes and so on. How can I reciprocate?
Answer: This wonderful hospitality is typical of the Cretan people and they are giving you these things out of “filoxenia” and would be insulted if you offered to pay. So perhaps at Easter, Christmas or New Year it would be nice to buy them a small present – biscuits and cakes are always appreciated, as is a nice house or patio plant. If you can bring small gifts back from any UK visits, such as British biscuits, printed tea towels and so on, these are also appreciated.
Question: I visit Greece a lot and want to buy there and have been looking at many houses and land, not always using an estate agent, but local people. Others have told me to only use a well established state agent with an office. What do you think?
Answer: According to the Law, when you sign a contract to purchase a property or land, the Notary Public, Lawyer present during the contract exchange, the Architect who prepared the topographic survey (which forms part of your contract) and the Estate Agent all share responsibility. The Estate Agent’s details will be put onto the contract and therefore is obliged to share responsibility, by law, if something goes wrong. By leaving out the Agent, you have one less party to be working on your behalf and in your interests. After your purchase, you will have many questions and queries you will feel more comfortable to know that there is an office with English speaking personnel to assist you.
Question: I am thinking of moving to mainland Greece or one of the islands but am a bit concerned about finding work. What is the availability of work like?
Answer: Unfortunately, official employment in Greece and the islands is high. Much of the work is tourist related and if there is a bad season, it is very difficult to find work. You have to work two seasons to have enough I.K.A (like our National Insurance) stamps in order to claim winter unemployment benefit. If you are looking for work, it is important to get to know as many people as possible, especially related to the type of work you are looking for. To work on an official basis, you will need to apply to the police station for a residence permit and pass the relevant bureaucratic procedures to get a work permit. A good employer will assist you through this process. If you are starting up your own business, brings as much related paperwork as possible, especially previous tax declarations, diplomas and so on. To work unofficially, you are very much at the mercy of whoever is employing and paying you.
Question: We have been visiting Greece for many years and have made a large number of Greek friends, one of which wants to sell us a bit of land his father left him. We don’t want to offend him and would love to buy the land (especially as it is very cheap) to build a small summer home, but he is telling us not to waste money on lawyers. What do you advise?
Answer: I am sure he is a wonderful friend, but if things go wrong, will you still want to be friends with him? Before you hand over a single Euro, ask for a copy of the most recent Topographic Survey and take this to an independent English-speaking Notary or Lawyer. If he does not have a Survey, visit an Architect and arrange for a Topographic Survey to be carried out, in the presence of the vendor, to establish the boundaries and ensure the plot is big enough to legally accept a building. If the plot is outside the village/town limits, it is very important to ensure the Forestry Authority gives the Certificate to build, without which you cannot apply for a Building Permit.
A Lawyer must be employed to carry out a search on the property at the Land Registry. A Notary must draw up a contract for purchase and the notary will request certain papers from the vendor. Please do not ever buy land or property without a contract drawn up by a Notary. If you can use an English-speaking Estate Agent, then all the better, as they will be working on your behalf to make sure the sale goes smoothly and legally. Contracts are in Greek, but you can pay for validated translation to be made. The land may be cheap to buy, but it can be an expensive mistake if all you can do is look at it and cannot build upon it.