The Cost Of Running Your Home
The cost of running your home
The cost of running your home is affected dramatically by the climate. The warmer winters mean that you will spend less on heating – there is almost no reason to have central heating operating for most of the day. Heating is only really necessary in the evening, especially between November and April. The type of energy you use can also affect your cost of living. When we lived in the UK we had gas central heating, and electricity for cooking and lighting. In Spain we currently use electricity for cooking and top-up heating when necessary (as we did in London) but we use a log burner as our main source of heating. What are the relative costs?
Electricity bills in Spain appear to be much lower than they ever were in the UK despite the fact that many people in Spain think electricity is expensive. For us, a typical monthly cost during the winter months for cooking, lighting and supplementary heating is around 25% less than the bills we were accustomed to in the UK for a similar use of electricity.
Outside some of the major cities in Spain there is no town gas. Should you have gas-fired appliances you will need to buy bottled gas – but it is very cheap. When you buy a property that has gas appliances you will almost certainly inherit the gas bottles. These can be replaced for less than €10 at the nearest depot. We found in our first apartment here – where we cooked by gas and had gas-fired hot water supplies – that one bottle lasted for approximately six weeks. I think this is very good value for money and certainly much cheaper than gas supplies in the UK. There is a little bit more inconvenience since you need to ensure that there is always a replacement bottle available but this is not really a problem.
We also know many people who use gas bottles to operate radiators and, once more, the cost is not excessive. However, using bottled gas to run a full central heating system can be expensive. A gas-fired central heating system can use one bottle of gas per day. Avoid gas-fired central heating!
If you live on the Costa del Sol during the winter months the most efficient and also the most pleasant form of heating is a living fire, which burns logs. You may buy a property with an open fireplace in which logs can be burnt. This is fine but it is possible to have very efficient log burners installed which cost very little and because they are enclosed they are potentially much safer and many also have the benefit of fan assistance to blow hot air throughout your property – they are log burning fan heaters.
The supply of logs seems to be inexhaustible. You have various choices. You can either go to the log yard and fill the car up with logs or there are many small companies who will deliver logs to your home. This year we have chosen the second route because it is much easier and we currently have deliveries of logs which last us for up to six weeks for less than £50.00. Compared to the cost of gas central heating or electricity in the UK, I think this is very good value for money and a real fire looks so wonderful. After all we will only have to pay for logs for three to four months of the year.
One word of warning however: logs are also available from many garages, but bought from this source they can prove to be expensive and are often not as good as those bought in the log yard since they have not been cut and dried in the sun during the previous summer. These logs are what would be referred to as ‘green’ wood. The logs from the specialist suppliers tend to be hard wood, which has been properly dried, and as a result it burns superbly and produces a lot of heat.
This is the one area where you do need to be very careful. There are many UK expatriates who make a very good living here by charging their fellow countrymen the prices which they would have expected to pay in the UK for household repairs or redecoration – and they then ask for the money to be paid in cash and they do not supply a VAT receipt. Whenever you need to call in someone to redecorate, sort out your plumbing or your electrical problems you should call in the expat contractors and then check their estimate with a local contractor. You might be surprised by the difference in cost between the two.
Only you can make the decision as to whom you give the work, but we have known occasions when people have paid £1,000 (in cash) just to have their living room and a hallway redecorated. This is not a typical Spanish price and is a classic example of an expat ripping off a new arrival on the Costa del Sol.
So long as there is a constant supply of new arrivals prepared to pay such exorbitant prices the practice will continue. If you need work done on your property, whatever the work, I would suggest that you arrange for local builders to do the work for you. You should also insist on receiving a VAT receipt.
Remember also that it may be false economy to have household repairs or renovation work done for cash. When you eventually decide to sell your property you will almost certainly be liable for capital gains tax but the only costs you can offset against your tax liabilities are those costs for which you can provide receipts showing that local VAT has been paid. Without these receipts you cannot claim.
The Spanish national telephone service, Telefonica, is a modern, state-of-the-art service and it costs no more than the equivalent service in the UK. In many ways it actually provides a better service. We were surprised to find an automatic telephone answering service included with our bills. Our experience has always been very positive in moving into apartments which already had the line connected when we have asked for the line charges to be transferred to our name.
We have, however, heard of people moving into new property who had to wait for several weeks to have a new line connected. This does not happen very often in new urbanizations but people moving to new property in the country without a telephone line have often had to wait several weeks or even months to have a telephone connected. We have also found Telefonica very good when it comes to dealing with problems. They can always find an English-speaking customer care operator – would you find a Spanish-speaking operator in the UK?
Mobile services are also very good and we were surprised that we were able to buy a new chip for our existing mobile with no problems whatsoever in Spain. We did not have to throw away the old handset whereas in the UK one is generally led to believe that if you want to change your supplier, be it on account or pay-as-you-go the first thing you need do is buy a new telephone. The fact that you do not need to buy a new handset can be a very real advantage if you do not plan to spend 12 months of the year on the Costa del Sol. You can buy a chip to use here and if you go back to the UK you can remove this from your phone and reinsert the UK chip. One handset can therefore be used in both countries.
Internet access is another matter. Initially I had a connection through a very good provider that offered local call charging for Internet access. The service was good but it did crash on occasions and I thought that the annual charge seemed a bit high, so I changed to another provider. I now find that while their service appears to be better, I am paying more for my telephone calls when I do go on-line. When I challenged the new provider on this they tried to persuade me to switch to an ADSL line – this may mean nothing to some readers but to others they will see the sense of this. If you use e-mail and the Internet a lot this would be the sensible option and it is very easy to organise in Spain and it is not expensive (as little as €10 per month).
Insurance is the one thing we all need nowadays, whether it be for the fabric of your house, its contents, your car or even for your health. In Spain, insurance costs much less than it does in the UK, unless you have moved from a very rural part of the UK.
If you decide to buy a property in an urbanization, the chances are that the insurance of the buildings is included in the annual urbanization charge. You need to check this with your estate agent at the time of purchase. If not, you are likely to find that the cost of insuring the buildings is much less than the equivalent cost in the UK basically because the cost of rebuilding, should there be a claim, is much lower.
What about contents? I cannot generalise on this, since contents insurance obviously depends on where you live, the relative risk of crime that might result in a claim to the insurance company, and also on what you own and the value you put on it. We have found, however, that the cost of contents insurance in our properties in Spain is considerably cheaper than that in SW London. In fact, insurance for approximately the same value is about one third of the cost we had to pay before we came here. I have not quoted actual prices, since costs depend on the company selected and the cover requested. From our experience, insurance of your worldly possessions will be much cheaper here.
Car insurance is certainly much cheaper than it is in SE of England on a Spanish-registered car. Currently we drive the sports derivative of a well-known super-mini and our insurance, fully comprehensive, is approximately one third of the equivalent cost in the old country and that includes roadside assistance. Take that cost off and the insurance would be about one quarter of the cost. OK, I have to admit that we are both over 50 and that reduces our insurance payments, and we do have maximum no claims discount but many people considering a move to Spain will be in the same situation. Whatever your situation you are likely to find that car insurance on a Spanish-registered car will be considerably lower here.
Health insurance is discussed at length in Chapter 10 Healthcare, but the bottom line is that it is much cheaper here. When I left the UK some three years ago a well-known insurance company offered to continue the private healthcare policy that I had enjoyed (as a perk) as an employee of the company that I had just left. The premium quoted was £170 every month. I do not know what that policy would cost now, but I do know that I have private health insurance in Spain for just over one quarter of that cost per month. This private health insurance covers hospital care, GP care, and an annual visit to a dental hygienist. This is much better value for money and actually provides me with healthcare that is infinitely better than anything I could expect in the UK.