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Calculation of Surface Area on the Spanish Property Market

Together with the location and the views that the property can offer, another of the most important aspects that any potential buyer is looking for is the size of the property. It’s crucial to have information about the total area you have available in any property when making decisions regarding important topics, such as if the property is big enough to house the entire family, or perhaps too large for that matter, when working on the interior design and purchasing furniture, or as a measure of the relative value of the property.

However, foreign buyers might find that the square meters of Spanish properties are calculated in a different manner than they are used to from their home countries, and thus their expectations might not be met in a satisfactory way if such discrepancies are not uncovered until after going through with the purchase.

There are three main types of surfaces that are considered regarding the reality of a property

To prepare potential buyers so they are able to make an informed decision regarding their purchase, we will therefore in this article explain the different methods for measuring area on Spanish properties and the official sources where this information can be found.

Physical surface

The physical surface of the property is that which corresponds to its physical reality. In the field of real estate appraisals, the physical area of the property corresponds to the area verified by the appraiser, which derives from its on-site measurement.
There are several ways to measure areas, but the three main concepts that are utilised are Built Area (Superficie Construida), Useful Area (Superficie Útil), and Built Area with Common Elements (Superficie Construida con Elementos Comunes). This is where it’s important to be aware of the definitions utilised on the Spanish property market, as different types of areas can be included or left out in the constructed and useful areas in comparison with similar concepts on other national markets.

Built Area (Superficie Construida)

This is the name given to the total sum of the square meters that are within the perimeter of the dwelling. When sharing a wall with a neighbour, the perimeter is measured from the middle of the shared wall, and includes non-passable areas (ventilation ducts, partition walls, walls, drains and pipes, etc.). If the dwelling has a basement, loft or room whose height does not exceed one and a half meters, this will not be computed as built area. Terraces and balconies that are not enclosed (enclosed spaces are defined as having at least three of its sides enclosed) are included with 50% of its area, unless they constitute 15% or more of the total area, in which case they are calculated as a separate element.

It’s important to be aware that this is the general rule for calculating the built area, but that variations may occur in the different autonomous regions of Spain due to them all having their own legislations.

Useful Area (Superficie Útil)

The easiest way to describe the space that constitutes what is called “useful area” is that it refers to everything that you can step on inside the dwelling, excluding all the surface occupied by partition walls, pillars etc. Built-in wardrobes are included within the useful area, but not the space where the height of the room is less than one and a half metres. If you can’t step on it, it doesn’t count.

As you can see, the main difference between useful and built area is the usable meters. Logically, the second will always be greater than the first: in general terms, it is calculated that the difference between the useful and built area varies between approximately 15% and 25%.

Built Area with Common Elements (Superficie Construida con Elementos Comunes)

In apartment complexes and urbanizations, this calculation usually gives a very different result to the useful and the built area. Why? Because it also adds corridors and common areas to the total calculation (taking into account the participation coefficient that each dwelling has in these common elements that is reflected in the Cadastral Registry and in the title deeds). As a general rule, the Cadastre shows this data, but also differentiates between how many meters belong to the dwelling and which belong to common areas.

Registered surface

The registered surface of the property is the area that appears in the Land Registry. The Land Registry is a Legal Registry that forms a part of the Ministry of Justice, and which is constituted as a registry of rights or ownership and charges on real estate. There are many Land Registry’s in Spain, each corresponding to a predetermined territory based on the number of properties inscribed in each registry.

Since the reform of article 10.5 of the Mortgage Law carried out by Law 13/2015, the principle of legitimacy of the registered information (art 18 in the Mortgage Law) is applied to the location and geographical delimitation. In this way, credibility is granted to the registered description as long as its accuracy is not disproven. Therefore, the description of the property that appears in the title deed is presumed to be real.

The surface of the property registered in the Land Registry comes from the documentation provided by the property owners, and not from a direct verification of reality. In addition to this, its registration is voluntary. This means that, on occasions, the data may be out of phase with respect to the physical reality, due to changes to the property that have not been registered, or due to the registration of a declaration of new construction or horizontal division of property that subsequently have not been carried out, among other reasons. In this regard, it should be noted that the Land Registry does not attest to the surface measurements contained therein.

As the information in the registry is provided by the owners, there is no real standard method for the measurement of the area in question. It is therefore very important to understand the different methods of calculating the surface area, as the information included in the Land Registry can vary greatly from property to property. At times, the built area is indicated, in other instances the useful area, and at times both are indicated together. As stated above, these different methods for measurement gives very different areas for the same property, which makes it crucial to be aware if its built or useful area that is indicated in the extract from the Land Registry when deciding to make a property purchase.

Cadastral surface

The cadastral surface of the property is the area contained in the Cadastral Registry. It is an administrative registry, which forms a part of the Ministry of Finance and Public Administration and is responsible for registering all the real estate on Spanish territory. The inscriptions are free and mandatory and are made for tax purposes, as the cartography of the properties are the base for the municipal property tax (IBI) as well as the reference value which is used for the property transfer tax (ITP), stamp duty (AJD) and inheritance and donation tax (ISD).
This registry aims to reflect the physical reality of the property, so it must be continuously updated, through different registration channels. The surface area registered in this registry is obtained through various measurement methods, such as obtaining aerial photographs, inspection, or making declarations or communications. The registered area is oftentimes limited to only reflect the built area which is estimated from aerial photos, as the Cadastre in many cases does not have access to the interior of the property.

Differences between the Land Registry and the Cadastre

Discrepancies between the official data sources, Cadastre and Land Registry, are usually due to errors in the representation of the physical reality of the property in question.
In fact, due to the existence of numerous errors and inaccuracies, in 2015 the Spanish legislator undertook a reform of the law in this regard. With this reform they intended to achieve coherence between the Cadastre and the land Registry. Since the entry into force of the Reformed Mortgage Law, the Cadastral cartography is utilized as the base plan for the registration of properties in the Registry.

In order to register a property correctly in the Registry, a small error in the declared surface area in relation to the Cadastre is allowed to exist. If the error exceeds this limit, the Registry could freeze the inscription until the situation is clarified.

If it is verified that there are substantial differences between the registered surface and the cadastral surface, it is recommended to realize a measurement of the property, before acquiring a plot or a building. After carrying out the measurement to detect where the error is, the registered surfaces must be corrected. In this case, you would normally be required to provide dimensional drawings or a topographic survey.

The title deed and the inscription in the Land Registry is an opportunity to unify and fix all the differences that exist. Always starting with the cadastral adequacy.

On the other hand, the order of legal importance of the respective official sources of surface area data is the following:

  1. The extracts from the Land Registry
  2. The title deed
  3. The data in the Cadastral Registry

Here at Franke & de la Fuente Abogados we are always working to protect our client’s best interest, and whether you are a buyer looking to purchase a property, or a property owner who wants to make sure that their property is properly registered, we would be happy to assist you in making sure that everything regarding the property’s surface area is in order before moving forward with a purchase or a sale. So do not hesitate to book your first free consultancy with us, and remember – Always call the lawyer first!



Fredrik Werdelin