There is a strong symbolic value in home ownership, the idea being that once you buy into a certain place of earth, you care more about society. The local people of Spain certainly seem to feel this way, since they are so happy to buy houses at price levels close to the maximum of what they can afford. Interestingly enough, it seems that many immigrants into this country are now prepared to do the same.
My family moved to Catalonia with the mindset to stay. After some years with typically time limited ExPat contracts in Thailand, above all I needed a feeling of settling down rather than an ever ongoing open perspective that next year we might live in a different place. Our desire to create a stable environment for our children of course contributed to that decision.
Buying a house would be a natural step in this development, but what poor timing we have. House prices in Spain have increased dramatically during the last few years and although the pace seems to have slowed down recently, there is surprisingly much optimism in the Spanish construction boom. Vilanova serves as a good example - so many apartments are currently being built or planned that the number of citizens will increase with up to 50% if they would all be filled with new permanent residents. This might in the end result in an over-supply but until now prices remain high.
We nurture our dreams by looking in real estate advertising every once in a while. During Easter, we found a place which looked so interesting from the photos that we asked the agency to arrange a visit for us. Someone might think that the reason for me going there only with my parents and not with my wife is because I have picked up so strong Asian values, that I do not think that she should take part in a decision as important as this. Let me calm you down by underlining that it was the other way around. My liberated Swedish wife rated an evening work meeting higher than the house check, so now you know.
The house we saw was in La Geltrú – the romantic and calm old part of our town. Since the architecture of this area is being protected, I knew in advance that we would come in to a house with small windows and narrow staircases. For this reason, I was in fact positively surprised about how spacey and light the house felt. Personally, I really liked the large garage area, where I found all the storage space which we would need to make our living more comfortable. Currently I feel that I always need to move two things in order to get to a third one. I admit that the bedrooms were very small with Swedish standards but we are in Spain and there were five of them. Finally we would be able to create the guest room we would want, so that friends from Barcelona could easily stay overnight with us. The living room was not large, but except for a big sofa we would have been able to fit in our dinner table, which we can not really make use of where we live today.
My parents were much less enthusiastic about what they saw. Initially, my father did acknowledge that there were many rooms in the house and he really appreciated the work space in the kitchen. He does not want to understand how fast the clutter which he complains about in our current kitchen would be transferred to the new one.
Neither did it take long before his opinion changed and I guess it was the long, tiled staircase up to the roof terrace which caused this. He firmly concluded that this was not a good house for small children and as if to prove how right he was, our oldest son started to climb on the balcony wall. This unnerved even the real estate agent so much that she gave me detailed instructions on how to mount an additional fence on top of the wall. While I thought that I had a view of well tended gardens from the terrace, my father only saw a mess, but which garden would not look like that compared to the calm Swedish middleclass neighbourhood where I used to grow up. There gardening was a big thing at least two decades before it became trendy.
My mother was critical from the beginning to the end. She reminded me that one of the most important things we want with a house is a small garden with easy access. Quite correctly, she pointed out that we would never make daily use of the roof top terrace since it was located two full floors above the kitchen. In fact, she never saw the terrace as anything but a danger to young exploratory children.
This house had a very beautiful façade, but one of the deciding factors for me not wanting to buy it was that the street outside was so busy. Unfortunately, Spanish people tend to drive carelessly fast and the pavements here were not exactly broad. The real estate agent underlined to me that once the construction work in the Sant Jordi area have been completed, the street will be turned into a pedestrian zone. I can not help wondering how many years it will take before that happens.
Still I must say that this was a house where I could picture myself living with my family but, realistically, it was not a bargain. With interest rates going up, we would have risked being slaves under the instalments, something we want to avoid since, after all, we are foreigners in this country and none of us a native speaker of Spanish, let alone Catalan.
My parents advise us to be content with what we have and rather try to improve our space situation by rearranging apartment we rent. With the Swedish rationality we pride ourselves for, that is an economically sound decision in a time when house prices are judged to be too high compared with the costs of renting. However, we will continue to keep our eyes open for new houses. For the feeling to have settled down.