The global credit crunch and the resultant slowing of Spain's housing market has hit tens of thousands of expatriate Britons – as well as other northern Europeans – who own holiday or retirement homes in Andalucia. Media reports suggest some have returned to Britain, hit by the recent weakening of the Euro against the pound as well as rising Spanish prices of food and commodities. Others, who failed to obtain sound legal advice before acquiring Spanish properties, are threatened with repossession or demolition as the authorities act against rogue builders and developers along the Costa del Sol and elsewhere.
These problems, as well as others involving Spain's tougher taxation laws, are among those which the skilled staff of Hassans Sotogrande, S.L. in Spain, have had to tackle since opening their office in January this year.
"Tax is a major problem for many expatriates some of whom don't even realize that they have tax obligations in Spain and, almost as important for many of those coming to us, is the need to structure the properties they hold in terms of the inheritance and capital gains taxes involved," says Raul Gutierrez who heads the Sotogrande team having spent the past five previous years running the Spanish section of Hassans, Gibraltar's leading international law firm.
The Sotogrande development, which further strengthens Hassans' long tradition of serving international clients in Spain and elsewhere, was described by Senior Partner James Levy QC as "a logical step to ensure our clients receive the best possible face-to-face service."
With four experienced Spanish lawyers and two qualified accountants with expertise in tax and property, the team in the ultra modern Hassans' offices on two floors of the Sotomarket Commercial Centre can also draw on the vast resources of the award-winning parent firm in Gibraltar.
"It allows Hassans to bring their international experience to the Spanish market," says Matilde Alarcon, manager of the Sotogrande office. "In Spain we are able to offer a full legal service, where necessary drawing on the skills available in Gibraltar, but specifically from Sotogrande we cover all the legal needs the expatriate community may encounter."
Among the services offered by the Sotogrande team are investment structuring, all aspects of property purchasing and leasing, advice and planning on Spanish, Gibraltar and UK taxation and residency permits and wills for expatriates.
"We also provide commercial services such as preparing industrial contracts, licensing, arranging commercial agreements and M & A," says Gutierrez, " and our qualified accountants and lawyers handle compliance and company administration, finance and accounting, payroll management and interim staffing or human resources management. Our Sotogrande office really is a 'one-stop-shop' for expatriate needs and, of course, we are constantly expanding."
"But the main thrust is to keep existing clients happy, win back expatriates who may have dealt with Spanish law firms and attract new ones."
"The concept of the Spanish 'one-stop-shop' is not new," says Tony Provasoli , who has assumed overall responsibility for the Sotogrande operation, and along with James Levy QC, is one of the longest-serving of the firm's senior partners. Almost two decades ago, Hassans looked at the possibility of a joint venture with a Spanish law firm. "That was in the 1980s, but the climate wasn't right," he recalls.
However, as more and more expatriates from Britain and other northern European countries settled in Spain – and particularly along the global golf-course magnets of the southern Costas – many turned to Hassans for advice on a range of issues and the need for staff with a dedicated knowledge of the intricacies of Spanish property law, personal and property tax issues and inheritance laws, became obvious to Provasoli and Levy.
"Thus about eight years ago, we decided to have another go – but this time keeping a Spanish team in Gibraltar, but developing it as a separate division within the firm," Provasoli explains. "This way, we could ensure that when clients living in Spain or planning to settle in Spain – or even setting up a business there – looked to us for guidance, we could provide them with top-flight advice and would know exactly what we doing."
"It was important to develop the Spanish team here in Gibraltar before re-locating them to a Spanish office in Spain this year. We trained them in our way of doing things and imbued them with the Hassans' work ethic. Most were Spanish expatriates and it was important to develop a work ethic with which clients could identify. At the same time, a grasp of Spanish mores and lifestyle was important in advising any client relocating from Britain to Spain."
Additionally, two UK tax consultants( Angela Smart and Paul de Beresford) visit the office from Gibraltar each week to advise on UK tax issues that still need to be addressed, such as UK income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax where there is income or are gains or assets in either Spain, Gibraltar or the UK owned by those originating from the UK.
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