The Raval lies across the Ramblas from the Barrio Gótico and stretches over to the Ronda De Sant Pau. It has a great central location but faces social challenges, and suffers from pockets of poverty and poor housing stock.
The Raval has always been one of Barcelona’s poorest districts, home to the most recent immigrants in each period, and a den of iniquity catering to the tastes of sailors given its proximity to the old port. It is also a district with a great, central location, heaps of charm, and an edginess that many people find attractive.
Despite its charms and rich diversity, the Raval suffers from some of the highest levels of petty crime in Barcelona, and this is a serious problem for people who live or rent in the area. Petty crime means that renting out property in the worst parts of the Raval, whether on short or long term contracts, can be a problem for owners and rental management companies.
The housing stock in the Raval district of Barcelona
Much of the Raval is comprised of poor quality housing stock set along narrow streets (a function of the districts origins as a deprived neighbourhood). Many properties for sale in the Raval will need significant refurbishment and few buildings have lifts installed. Furthermore the municipal government’s plans in the district mean that many properties are ‘afectada’. This means that, at some point in the future, owners might be served with a compulsory purchase order and be forced to sell their properties to the local government below the market price. Buyers of property in the Raval should always have a lawyer check whether a property is ‘afectada’ or not.
Some say that the Raval has great potential for gentrification and hence capital appreciation. It is well situated in the centre of the city and according to this theory all that is needed is for prices to rise sufficiently to push out the criminal elements and suck in trendy professionals with money looking for a new hip and edgy central district. The process starts with early pioneers who can cope with the risks and who are drawn in by the relatively low prices. They are followed by entrepreneurs opening trendy bars, restaurants, shops and galleries, much as has happened in areas of North West London and lower Manhattan in New York. This creates a virtuous circle that improves the area and opens up the market to more risk-averse buyers who are attracted by the central location. This was expected to happen once Barcelona’s Museum of Modern Art (MACBA) was opened in the Raval, and to a certain extent it has in parts of the Raval above Calle Hospital and between the MACBA and The Ramblas. These are also streets in which some of the best buildings in the Raval are to be found and in which the Municipal government has invested resources into improvements. However the process seems to have lost momentum with the result that the top corner of the Raval between the MACBA and The Ramblas and above Calle Hospital is attractive and safe by the standards of the Raval, whilst the rest of the district leaves a lot to be desired in terms of crime, housing stock and facilities. Will the process of gentrification continue to the rest of the Raval? Given its central location and the shortage of space in Barcelona it is likely that it will. However it is going to take longer than expected.
As a general rule the worst areas of the Raval are below Calle Hospital and also in the triangle between Ronda De Sant Antoni, Joaquín Costa and Sant Antoni Abad. In the ‘bad’ areas the closer to The Ramblas the better.
When looking for houses for sale in Barcelona take extra care with due diligence when it comes to the Raval. Many homes in the Raval will need refurbishment in the face of hostile planning rules, which is a big headache for foreign buyers. It may have a good central location, but otherwise it is not particularly convenient place to live, especially for families with kids. The insecurity, relatively poor housing stock, and significant number of properties that could be affected by compulsory purchase orders in the future are factors to bear in mind. Furthermore it is not an ideal district for renting properties; good quality rental agents do not like managing property in the Raval because their tourist clients and staff are much more likely to experience personal safety problems. Research shows that despite the high number of properties for sale in the Raval, there are relatively few apartments for rent, which says something about the difficulty of renting out property in the Raval. The Raval also has a problem with squatters, which can turn into a nightmare for absentee landlords.
The Raval’s central location close to many of Barcelona’s main tourist attractions means that it has considerable room for improvement, and for a while it looked like the Raval was on the up, but in recent years the gentrification of the Raval has ground to a halt. Gentrification is a dirty word in Barcelona, and there is a strong political groundswell building against it. The problem is that the alternative to gentrification is urban decay, as money flees rather than flows into the district. The Raval might be a good bet from a property investment perspective, but it is still one of the most risky places to buy a property in Barcelona.