Ground floor vs. penthouse

Raymundo LarraĆ­n Nesbitt, April, 1. 2019

Buying in Spain? This blog post sheds some light on the differences between ground floors and penthouses.

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By Raymundo Larraín Nesbitt
Lawyer - Abogado
1st of April 2019

 

Today, April’s fool, I decided to write a short blog post on the differences between buying a ground floor and a penthouse in Spain.

One of the first things that struck me when I moved to the United Kingdom to work for a British multinational, was the difference in concept between the UK and Spain regarding ground floors and penthouses.

In the UK, ground floors are considered the superior choice, the more expensive and prestigious option. Normally these properties are more accessible, as top floors in older buildings lack lifts (think of tenements); something which in Spain is almost taken for granted. You will be reminded of this each time you need to drag the groceries two flights of stairs in the UK. Besides this, ground floors have access to small, enclosed private gardens which are highly appreciated, especially in large cities. These, and several other reasons, translate into significant differences in property price. Hands down ground floors are the best option in the UK, even to rent out.

But how does this hold up in Spain?

Truth is not very well. In Spain, amusingly, this relation is in fact the opposite. Ground floors have traditionally been seen as ‘inferior’ properties and their price reflects this. Penthouses are in fact the coveted asset, specially in large cities where they are regarded as prime property and are a very sought-after commodity by those affluent enough to afford them.

What explains this difference in perception? Is it a reflection of differing cultural values, a whim? Personally, I think it has to do more with adaptation. There are objective justified reasons on why penthouses are – by far – the superior option in Spain; it is not something you can merely write off as a ‘cultural’ difference.

Penthouses have the following advantages over ground floors in Spain:

  • Security. Ground floor properties are easier to break in. Penthouses on the other hand tend to be more secure, safeguarded. Additionally, a little known fact is that Spain’s Criminal Code severely punishes thieves when they climb to steal. Thieves know our Criminal laws even better than most lawyers do and for them the ratio of efficiency is more proficient on stealing from ground floors rather than penthouses – if caught. For exactly the same theft, lower floors are left off the hook on paying a small fine whereas stealing from a penthouse may lead to jail terms (if climbing is required). You will find that ground floors in Spain have been broken into several times, in some instances, several times within the same year. Those iron railings you see in the windows of ground floors are there for good reason, it is not just decoration.
  • Noise. In a penthouse you don’t hear your upstairs neighbour walking all day long, let alone if they wear high heels. This is a major problem in older properties, especially with wooden floorings. The acoustic contamination of lower floors is significantly more acute than if you live in a quieter penthouse where you remain largely oblivious to street noises. Let us not talk about lifts. A ground floor will be permanently hearing the lift being taken all day long, whereas a penthouse won’t; because it is only used by the penthouse owner.
  • Accessibility. Because almost every building in Spain has lifts, this issue that applies to UK properties would not apply in Spain. Moreover, in modern buildings, penthouse owners normally have a key lift which gives them exclusive access to the upper floor.
  • Privacy. Whereas in the UK, ground floors tend to have their own private gardens of exclusive use sealed off with hedges, this does not apply in Spain. Anyone can have easy access to your garden, encroaching on you. Moreover, in some gated communities, your green garden is in fact legally labelled as a communal area; meaning other neighbours even have the right to come in! This means you cannot erect wooden fences or seal off your garden, because it is not really yours, and it is not really private, it belongs to the community of owners. Even on selling on the property, these metres squared will not be tallied in your title deed because it is a communal area in most cases. Penthouse owners on the other hand grow some very nice exclusive gardens to the point of creating their own mini jungles in large cities.
  • Sunshine & brightness. Ground floors normally have little to no sunshine exposure, being normally dark. Penthouses bask in sunlight almost all day long.
  • Cold. Ground floors in gated communities tend to be dank, as the water from top floor balconies trickles down on them, creating nasty humidity patches and mould growths which require continuous repainting of walls. Penthouses on the other hand, tend to be warmer as heat rises naturally and they are always blessed with more sunlight hours, especially if south-orientated. This in turn impacts your electricity and heating bills, as ground floors will need to spend more money to stave off the cold, unlike penthouses, which have a natural proclivity to store warmth.
  • Views. Last but not least, is the obvious fact that penthouses tend to have a commanding view of its surroundings, whereas ground floors are entrenched, dark and normally lack any views.

 

For all the above reasons, buying a penthouse is the superior option; at least in Spain.

 

 

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