Some years ago, I bought open rural land on the outskirts of the quaint fishing village of Plaka, opposite to Spinalonga (Elounda) on the island of Crete, Greece. It provided a solid learning curve of dealing with the bureaucracy. As a result, my recommendations here are 8 tips not to be overlooked today if you intend to buy land for development for a house or apartments (and designated outside a town or village limits):
1. Note: Building Regulations are administered by each prefecture. While the basic rules are applied nationwide, Crete's building regulations can vary, taking into account local circumstances. Be sure when taking advice, to listen to comments that relate to the prefecture (County) you will be located, not elsewhere. Crete has four separate administrative counties: Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion or Lassithi.
2. Be aware of the variation in the time it takes to issue a building permit by the nomaxia (county hall). Some permits are approved in a few weeks but they can take up to a year or more. Once your architect submits the application and it is accepted a reference number or what the Greeks call a "protocol" number is allocated to the file. The issuance date and protocol number have to be prominently displayed on the work site of your future home until building activities are completed, and all taxes and government charges paid - including clearance from DEH, the electric company. After the date of approval, you have four years to complete the build of your home or apartments.
3. Note: Forestry Department Clearance Needed. Outside of town/village limits, land that looks as though it is fallow, disused or not a tree in sight, may be designated forest in old official documents. Ensure the architect applies early for clearance to build in the permit process.
4. Archaeology Department Approval. With Crete's civilization dating back some 3,000 years or more, you never know where historical artifacts are to be found in remote villages and areas. The local archaeology department gives clearance to build as long as there are no relics on the site to be disturbed. If permission is given the department may have grounds to designate the site - as a "national heritage" place, or of historical interest and beauty, especially if there had been a dwelling originally on the land. If either is the case, your architect may have to follow a suitable traditional building design laid down by the authorities.
5. Hire a Surveyor. A custom has developed that foreign buyers of property in Crete have to pay for a surveyor to be hired by the seller to establish boundaries of the proposed land to be transacted. As time goes on this will become less important with the establishment of a computer-based, Greek National Land registry( "Ktimatologio" - which is replacing the "Hypothykophylakion", or public registry for titles of all kinds of immovable property in Greece). Get a Surveyor. Do not take the chance that after a contract has been signed, an angry neighbour complains the boundary is not accurate.
6. Tighter Building Codes along the Coasts of Crete. Coast means tourist activity in Crete and a target for tax collection Be aware that building design, erection of pergolas, verandahs and swimming pools, even the color scheme may require special consideration, and if not may have potential tax implications once you have moved in. Check out your architect's best advice.
7. Plan to Rent? Then an EOT Licence is essential. There are no more gray areas in short term holiday rental of Ex-pat property in Crete. For that reason and the tax office, explore all the issues regarding having to obtain an EOT License from the Greek National Tourist Organization, balancing its cost versus income benefits. If an EOT license is incorporated in your building permit application, it dictates a very different form of application with binding tax implications.
8. Buy in Winter time. It is the time of year when local Cretans are not under so much financial and general stress, unless they have to find money urgently to pay their annual tax. Either way it is to the buyer's advantage. Prices in the "off season" can be more flexible.
Note: This is not an exhaustive list of tips and not-so-obvious questions, but you should ask as many questions as needed of your architect with whom you will sign a contract after buying the land to build your dream home in sunny Crete.