Recently and as a result of the sum of several factors such as the unstoppable fall of the sales of properties and an increase in mortgage defaults, Spanish banks have accumulated more than 150,000 million euros in property assets. Assets which, incidentally, the banks do not want but the truth is that since October 2008, the amount of acquired houses by banks has not decreased, quite the opposite, it has continued to grow.
This is partly due to the so-called “dación en pago”, common and usual practice in Spain, which consists in giving the house or flat to the bank and canceling the mortgage debt or part of it, after the property has been valued. In some cases, the Dación en pago involves payment of the total mortgage debt (dati pro solute) and in others cases payment of part of the mortgage (dati pro solvendo).
However, the truth is that as result of excessive accumulation of assets by banks, the chances of banks accepting the “dación en pago” these days without an offer for sale for the property by a third party have declined.
Another strategy used by families in Spain to keep ahead and tackle debt is called “REUNIFICACIÓN DE DEUDAS”. It consists of clustering all sort of debts (including personal loans and mortgages) into a single mortgage, the monthly payments being refinanced and maturity dates being extended. This practice reduces the total monthly payments and restores the family’s or individual’s creditworthiness. The downside of this practice is that it would mean either re-mortgaging the property if there already was a mortgage in place or mortgaging the property if this was free of charges. For those without a property it would mean committing to a longer repayment plan with higher interests.
In my opinion the “dación en pago” and the “reunificación de deudas” are appropriate measures to keep afloat financially. In the case of the former, it would mean cancelling the mortgage and being able to start from scratch without debts. In the case of the latter, it would allow buying some time to make things work and hopefully be able to tackle the debt later on in a better position, mentally and financially. These options prove much better than defaulting on debts, as this always implies legal consequences that stay with the debtor for years, whether this is bad creditor reports or the fear of being sued in Court.
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Higher mortgage interest rates in the Eurozone, a fall in the value of the pound and the effects of the recession mean that many Britons who have bought holiday homes in Spain are now struggling to meet their monthly repayments.
Our firm has seen a rise in the number of people seeking help to renegotiate their Spanish mortgages or advice on alternative options.
The increase in mortgage interest rates from 2.5 to 5 per cent in Spain and the weaker pound have both increased the cost of mortgage repayments. However, buyers who allow their homes to be repossessed could face consequences in the future.
Under Spanish law a borrower is liable with his own personal assets for any mortgage signed in Spain. Where a home is repossessed by the bank and sold and the value is not enough to cover the outstanding mortgage, interest and costs, then the bank will be entitled to claim against the borrower for the shortfall. In the case of UK residents this could mean the lender issuing proceedings in the UK.
The borrower could also be put on a register of bad debtors and be blacklisted in Spain for six years. This may not worry UK residents who decide to leave Spain. However Spanish lenders are fully aware of the importance of credit ratings in the UK and are now exploring ways to pass on information to UK databases.
Some are looking into signing reciprocity agreements under which they can share information with companies in different countries. Ultimately UK residents who default in Spain may find their credit history affected back in the UK. A decision by the European Court of Justice on 23 November 2006, which clarified the circumstances in which financial institutions may exchange this type of information, has brought this scenario a step closer to reality.
Options for homeowners in financial difficulties include renting out the property, extending the mortgage term or remortgaging, or ‘dación en pago’ in which the property is transferred to the bank in lieu of the outstanding mortgage.
Whatever the situation, handing in the keys and simply walking away is one of the worst things you can do. It’s worth exploring the options as a rash decision could come back to haunt you at a later date.