IT was marketed to high-earners from Northern Europe as the opportunity to come and live the Spanish dream.
To escape the dreary weather and own a luxury villa on a coastline that gets over 300 days of sunshine a year.
Buyers who dreamt of packing their lives up and moving to the Costa del Sol were lured in with glossy promotions and slick computer-generated images of ultra-modern glass homes perched on hillsides above the sea.
Founded in 2017 with just a dozen employees, the rapid expansion of Otero Group, the company responsible for making these dreams a reality, understandably raised eyebrows.
Starting on the Costa del Sol, by 2022, they claimed to be opening developments all around Spain, including the Balearics, Madrid and Alicante, with half a billion euros under management and more than 130 employees – plus a whole constellation of suppliers and contractors.
Its owner Ruben Otero coined the slogan ‘Focus on Excellence’ and described this breakneck growth as ‘meaningful’ and ‘sustainable’. He also listed his company values as ‘transparent, agile and results-oriented.’
The problem is the recent results can only be described as poor, at best, as the company suspended all developments and looked to be heading towards bankruptcy.
An employee in its head office in Marbella told the Olive Press this week that ‘all projects had been suspended 10 days ago’.
Neither she, nor the main sales agent in the Manilva area, could explain what had happened or indeed when construction would begin again. In the words of agent Mario, ‘everything is in limbo’.
Taking Manilva as a snapshot of the developments that Otero has been working on over the last few years, things are not looking rosy.
Dozens of units were planned overlooking the lively Duquesa Port in a giant valley scheme dubbed by a marketing wizard as ‘the Duquesa Valley’ in 2021. Next door, came La Paloma, then Don Amaro and finally Oceanic, with its 24 stunning individual homes, each costing between €1.3 and €1.8million.
Come early 2022, Otero announced that some of the homes were finished and ready to be lived in.
But when the excited Brits, Belgians and Scandinavian buyers began to move in, the first inklings that all might not be well with Otero and its business model started to sink in.
“I don’t think there is one unit that doesn’t have an issue, be it with basements, electricity or water,” Michel Katic, 57, told the Olive Press.
The South African moved into his Don Amaro property in June after selling up his courier company in Cape Town and retiring with his wife and daughter to Manilva.
“It seemed absolutely stunning and looked like a fantastic opportunity,” he said of the ultra modern unit. “But since arriving it’s been problem after problem.”
Quite simply, the Spanish dream has turned into a nightmare. The list of problems have been endless; from a swimming pool sliding down a slope, to water seepage causing power cuts and even missing floor-to-ceiling curtains, which he insists he has paid over €5,000 for.
And it gets worse – Katic’s property is now totally overshadowed by an unfinished shell rapidly thrown up that has totally blocked his view.
“You might find this funny – but Otero sold us this villa with sea views,” he said laconically. “Now we can hardly see the sea.”
All repairs are currently coming out of his pocket, as Otero has ignored him continuously since he paid the final instalment for the property.
Thinking of moving? “We actually have nowhere else to go. We sold up and moved to Spain permanently. So there’s no leaving now.”
After disaster struck last month and Otero stopped paying the contractors, in the words of one resident, the developments have ‘become like living in the wild west.’
The English woman, who asked not to reveal her name, claimed to be in a group of 30 homeowners demanding action from Otero and the town hall.
Alarmingly, she was so terrified of the unfolding disaster that she was too scared to meet the Olive Press and begged us to help.
“They’ve robbed us, they’ve lied to us, they bully us – it feels like dealing with the mafia,” she said. “Two of my neighbours are so upset they feel suicidal about it.”
She revealed how over the last fortnight, she and her fellow neighbours have seen a series of shadowy figures prowling the unfinished units and abandoned construction sites.
She added that she had ‘seen looting, scavenging and attempted break-ins’ to the nearly finished properties. “There are teenagers, old people and random men wandering around in our gardens – we are living in fear here.”
Yet incredibly, she claimed owners have been subject to a remarkable demand from representatives of Otero insisting they pay a further €120,000 retroactively to ‘pay for an increase in the cost of building materials’.
“And they have threatened to cut off our water supply if the residents, who already have their keys, refuse to pay up,” she added.
But on top of that, she claims that Otero has not been paying its own water bills, but instead was illegally tapped into the communal water.
Other neighbours arrived in Spain last year to find they were unable to move into their supposedly finished villas and were forced to rent apartments in the meantime.
One couple from Belgium, Danny and Sandra have a home full of defects, from dents and scratches in appliances and to walls, as well as shoddy workmanship and even structural problems.
They had been told their villa was ready in February, but when the couple arrived from Antwerp the house was nowhere near ready. They had to spend three weeks in a rented apartment at a cost of €2,000. “They were continually lying and that is a big problem,” claimed Danny.
After signing for the property and getting the keys, Otero kept adding new costs to the final bill.
After adding €23,000 for a kitchen, €35,000 ‘due to Coronavirus’ and then €7,000 for the infinity pool, they even had the front to demand €500 just to install a socket where the television was supposed to go.
It all meant the overall price of their villa ballooned by €110,000 above the originally-agreed price to €640,000.
And just last week, after the January 25 meltdown, they received another letter from Otero demanding a further €84,000 – ‘for building material cost increases’.
If they refused to pay up, Otero would be able to withhold their first occupancy licence which they needed to legally occupy the house.
“I hate them!” Sandra admitted near tears, as she recounted the ordeal they had gone through at the hands of Otero.
“I was sick from the stress – as were so many other people.”
Danny believes the company’s downfall was caused by selling properties too cheaply and then trying to make up for it by cutting corners on materials and workmanship.
Many of the other buyers who are facing the biggest losses were too afraid to speak to the Olive Press, or were advised against it by their lawyers.
One British buyer who is remaining more optimistic is Chris Morris, 35, a builder, who put down €700,000 in February 2022 for his Otero-built property in Valle Romano, in Estepona.
He insisted that because he owns the plot of land, he also owns the home on it, which is now 75% completed.
“Well it was 75% until the contractors took back the doors, the aircon, the windows, and so on,” he said. “But I don’t blame them, I would have done the same in their shoes.”
He added: “We’re in talks with the company now to try and get windows and doors put back in to keep the unit secure.”
He added that Otero will be in breach of contract if it fails to finish his property by May.
“Some people said Ruben Otero had fled to Venezuela with all our cash, but my architect – who’s been very helpful – said he saw him in a restaurant in Marbella on Saturday night.”
An experienced constructor back in the UK, his advice to fellow buyers is simple; ‘don’t panic’.
“No one has lost their money yet. Until it’s final, don’t dwell on it. Just keep positive.”
The Olive Press had not received any comment from Otero despite regular requests from its lawyer David Sanchez, based in Malaga.