In a clear homage to my youngest daughter’s favourite cartoon: yes you can!
I am talking about NIEs and not laying bricks but contrariliy to what happens in the Bob the Builder’s cartoons, the lack of NIE will not necessarily lead to a happy ending. A NIE number (tax number for non-residents who either live, work or own property in Spain) is very important and has to be obtained sooner or later.
The common perception is that it is not possible to complete the purchase of a property in Spain without a NIE. This is not true as it is in deed possible to sign and complete the purchase without the said number. The Notary who drafts the deeds will warn the purchaser of his/her obligation to obtain the said number but completion will not be stopped. However, once the purchase has been completed, the purchaser will have 30 days to obtain the NIE and pay the transfer tax as no tax can be paid without a NIE in place. This 30 days window seems wide enough but the purchaser needs to bear in mind that obtaining a NIE is not as straightofroward as it looks and the procedure could take several days and sometimes weeks. In the meantime, the property will continue to be registered in the name of the previous owner. Furthermore, if the tax is not paid withing 30 days from completion, penalties will be applied to the tax due, increasing unneceasrily the tax liability.
This is why although a NIE is not compulsory for completion, it is strongly advisable and we always prefer to wait until the client has a NIE number in place. If the client is in a hurry to complete (imagine a purchase with a large discount being offered on the basis that the purchase is completed in one week) then the lack of NIE will not be an impediment to complete the purchase. It will be sufficient to inform the purchaser of the need to obtain the said NIE as soon as possible or, if instructed by the client to obtain it ourselves on his behalf, take the necessary steps to obtain the said number.
Once again, not all urbans legends surrounding Spain are true. This is just another example of an urban legend that has been manipulated and misunderstood although, as usual with urban legends, there is some wisdom behind the advice.