A guide to buying property in the Catalan capital.
“Were I to get the hell out of England today, I’d probably go to Barcelona, which has all the good things, good way of life, and reasonable weather.” Bernie Ecclestone – Boss of Formula 1 – quoted in The Daily Telegraph (Tuesday July 6th 2004).
Bernie Ecclestone – a well-travelled man by any measure – isn’t alone in holding this opinion of Barcelona. Almost everyone who visits the city falls in love with it and there is no end to the amount of international newspaper articles extolling its virtues. In the time since the 1992 Olympics, which helped put Barcelona on the map and transform the city with Billions of Euros of investment, Barcelona has become one of the most popular city break destinations in all of Europe, and the most popular city destination for the British.
Given the obvious attractions of living in Barcelona, and the fact that hundreds of thousands of Northern Europeans are buying or planning to buy property in Spain, it should surprise no one that many foreigners are now buying real estate in Barcelona.
Many of these overseas property buyers do so without much insight into Barcelona’s real estate market. Locals from Barcelona might not all be property experts, but most of them will have a reasonable idea of Barcelona’s real estate market by virtue of growing up and living in Barcelona. Foreigners who have not grown up in the city, do not read the local newspapers, and do not have the benefit of discussing property in Barcelona with local people such as family and friends are at a disadvantage when it comes to making real estate purchase decisions. This guide is intended to give foreigners interested in buying property in Barcelona a crash course in Barcelona real estate, and provide them with some of the information that locals take for granted.
Barcelona's strengths and weaknesses
What is it about Barcelona that wins it so many admirers? A quick review of its strengths and weaknesses helps answer this question.
When looking to buy property in Barcelona, you want to consider the city’s strengths and weaknesses from property investor’s point of view.
Location & surroundings
Barcelona is on the Mediterranean and almost everyone loves to be by the sea. The city has 4.2 kms. of good beaches within a few minutes of the city centre and easy access to some of Spain’s best beaches both to the north on the Costa Brava and to the south on the Costa Dorada.
Just one and a half hour’s drive to the north are the beautiful Catalan Pyrenees with their charming medieval villages, rivers, valleys and ski resorts. The wine regions to the South and West of Barcelona offer varied and delightful forays into spectacular countryside and the opportunity to enjoy some of the best food and wine in Spain. One hour due north of Barcelona by car is the Empordà region – often compared to Tuscany – and the South of France is just 3 hours away by car so weekend trips to the Languedoc and Provence are an added bonus. Few other cities in Europe are surrounded by such a variety of attractive regions.
Barcelona has a pleasant climate that is free of the oppressive heat of Madrid and the South of Spain whilst never being too cold or miserable in the winter. It is one of the few cities in Europe to have a perfectly balanced climate in which one can enjoy the change of seasons and the impact of this change on fashions and menus.
Barcelona is big and cosmopolitan enough to avoid the dreaded small town parochial feeling without being overwhelmingly big, impersonal, sprawling and choked up like many of the world’s big cities. Once again it gets the balance just right. Furthermore the fact that Barcelona is hemmed in by the mountains and the sea means that sprawl is not an option so Barcelona is forever destined to be the perfect size.
Barcelona is the gateway to Spain from Europe and extremely well accessed by road, rail, sea and air. Its popularity with tourists and the size of its business community ensure a large choice of regular and low cost flights in and out of Barcelona every day from all over Europe. The main Mediterranean motorway running down from France passes Barcelona and in due course the arrival of the TGV-fast train rail link will make cities like Paris and London accessible by rail in a mater of hours. Ferries leave Barcelona for the Balearics and other Mediterranean destinations several times a day.
Barcelona is undoubtedly Spain’s most modern city. Under Franco’s regime Barcelona was always the rebellious city striving to be a part of modern Europe in contrast to the conservative and establishment leanings of Madrid. In the present day Barcelona is thoroughly modern with excellent infrastructure, services and some of the best health facilities in the world. Living in Barcelona means not having to compromise on any of the advantages of modern life.
Culture & Style
Barcelona oozes style and culture. Designers consider it a leading centre of design flair and innovation, which is why many international design companies have offices in Barcelona or even head offices. The architecture is world famous and stimulating, as is the cuisine. Barcelona is very much a part of the international art circuit and important exhibitions often pass through Barcelona (for instance the Lucien Freud exhibition which came to Barcelona after London and before San Francisco). The city is also a paradise for shoppers looking for both high fashion as well as something different and Barcelona Fashion Week brings in all the big names.
It is no secret that Barcelona suffers from petty crime in the main tourist areas of the old town. However outside of the Raval and parts of the Gothic Quarter and certainly everywhere above Gran Via Barcelona is a safe city in which to live and mooch around. Out on the town in Barcelona of an evening you never sense the undercurrent of violence so common in British cities.
Cost of living
Though the cost of living in Barcelona has risen substantially since the introduction of the Euro it is still a cheap place to live in comparison to other European cities. Compare the cost of dining out (including taxis) Between Barcelona and London and you will understand what we mean.
Though the Catalans are bilingual in Spanish and Catalan it can be difficult to get by in other languages. However this is already beginning to change as younger generations grow up learning and speaking good English.
The job market for foreigners in Barcelona is relatively weak and local employers are somewhat close-minded about the type of people they are willing to employ. This is probably the single biggest reason why more young professional Europeans have not moved to Barcelona. However foreign entrepreneurs are starting to locate in Barcelona (tech companies, hedge funds and so on) and will in time create a job market for international professionals. Nevertheless, for the time being, interesting and adequately paid jobs for foreign professionals are scarce in Barcelona.
Every city has its strengths and weaknesses, the sum total of which determines its quality of life. Many people agree that Barcelona’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses to a greater degree than is the case with most cities. This explains why Barcelona consistently tops the European cities rankings for quality of life carried out by consultancies such as Cushman & Wakefield.
The Eixample (Ensanche in Spanish) is divided into the L’Esquerra de l’Eixample (Left Ensanche) to the left of Paseo De Gràcia as you walk up it from Plaza Cataluña, and the Dreta de l’Eixample (Right Ensanche) to the right of Paseo De Gràcia. A district known as La Sagrada Familia – around the famous Sagrada Familia cathedral by Guadí – will also be considered as part of the Ensanche for the purposes of this guide.
Buying Property in the Barcelona Eixample
The Eixample was built during the 19th Century in the first big expansion of Barcelona beyond its city walls. The construction of the Eixample coincided with an explosion in local wealth earned from the industrialisation of Cataluña and repatriation of profits from places such as Cuba. Wealthy local families commissioned grand buildings from Modernist architects – the most famous of which was Gaudí – to demonstrate their wealth and social standing. This explains why the Eixample is home to many of Barcelona’s most splendid buildings and has some of the best housing stock in Barcelona. A walk around the central parts of the Eixample from Calle Ausiàs Marc up to Avenida Diagonal and from Calle Muntaner across to Paseo De Sant Juan will reveal many stunning beautiful façades and entrances. However beyond these streets there are few modernist buildings and the overall quality of the housing stock is lower, with many more buildings constructed between the 1960’s and 1980’s.
At the time of the Eixample’s construction the best apartments were built on the first floor – know as ‘principal’ – as the main residence of the owners of the building. This was because lifts did not exist in those days and owners did not relish walking up several flights of stairs to reach their homes. Therefore first floor apartments in the Ensanche have the highest ceilings and most elaborate interior finishings. Servants and other employees of the family used to live on the upper floors, which therefore had the most modest apartments in the building. This meant that Barcelona’s social classes were divided by floors rather than districts. In the present day the top floors in the Eixample are now highly sought after as residential properties because lifts make them just as easy to reach whilst they are quieter than first floor apartments and benefit from more natural light. Large roof terraces are also highly valued in a city with such a good climate.
The Eixample has a grid system of city blocks built around large interior patios (know in Spanish as patio de manzana). The ground floors of buildings, which used to house factories, are now used as commercial premises. The large patio in the middle means that most apartments have a good natural source of light both at the front and back of the building.
The Eixample is home to an area known locally as the ‘cuadro de oro’ or golden box in English. This expression refers to the streets between Enrique Granados, Bruc, Diagonal and Gran Via. This area is the most exclusive part of the Eixample, home to the finest buildings and is referred to as golden because the property prices are always robust.
The Eixample is one of Barcelona’s most desirable areas to live in. It is elegant, attractive, clean, central, safe, well communicated with excellent shopping and restaurants / bars and has a large housing stock of excellent quality. It attracts sophisticated buyers of all age groups (unlike the Old Town, which does not appeal to older buyers or families with children). Residents are predominantly affluent locals. Shopkeepers in the Ensanche tend to know their customers, which helps build a sense of community in the area. Everything in the Eixample is within walking distance.
Ensanche Izquierda – Eixample Esquerra – Left Eixample
The Left Eixample, which also includes the Gay Eixample (the gay community helped to revitalise the area after several decades of decline during the 60’s and 70’s), is home to a wide range of bars and restaurants. Beyond Calle Muntaner the streets become shabbier and buildings less impressive but nevertheless the area is attractive from a residential perspective, though not perhaps from a short-term rental perspective. The redevelopment of the old bull-fighting ring (Plaça De Braus Les Arenes) on the corner of Plaza De España along with the proximity to Montjuïc could have a beneficial impact on property and prices in the bottom corner of the Left Eixample.
Ensanche Derecha – Eixample Dreta – Right Eixample
The Right Eixample below Diagonal and across to Paseo de Sant Juan is smaller than the Left Eixample, is more upmarket, and has fewer bars and restaurants. It has some of the best buildings in Barcelona, and is one of the most exclusive residential districts in the city. Facilities are excellent (for instance fresh food markets and gyms), and the district is in the very centre of Barcelona with good access to all areas including Barcelona’s Old Town and beaches.
The Sagrada Familia district of the Eixample is a pleasant residential area, though it does not have as many fine buildings as the more central areas of the Eixample (with the obvious exception of the Sagrada Familia itself). It lacks a sense of sophistication but it is well located and communicated. Properties with good views of the Cathedral command a premium. The streets around Paseo De San Juan are particularly attractive.
Investors who are prepared to take on refurbishments should consider buying larger Eixample apartments – generally bigger than 100 m2 – and converting them into stylish 2-bedroom apartments, for which there is a growing market.
The Born area of The Old Town is centred on an attractive street known as El Paseo Del Born (Passeig Del Born in Catalan), not far from the famous church of Santa Maria Del Mar and in a district more generally known as the Ribera.
Here are some points to bear in mind when looking to buy property in the Born district of Barcelona:
- Like Barceloneta, The Born is extremely well located within Barcelona from the point of view of proximity to Barcelona’s most famous attractions. It is an easy walk from the main attractions of The Old Town, the city park, the old port and the beach.
- The Born was built as an extension to the old town, outside of the original city walls. Some of the Barcelona’s richest families built palaces and other grand buildings in The Ribera, especially on streets such as Avenida Marques De L’Argentera and Calle Montcada (where the Picasso Museum is located). This means that there are some beautiful period buildings to be found in this district. Nevertheless the housing stock is old and many properties for sale in the Born need renovation.
- Over the last 10 years The Born has undergone a radical transformation, even by Barcelona’s standards. It has become one of Barcelona’s most edgy and fashionable districts, home to an enormous variety of restaurants and bars, not to mention anti high street fashion boutiques. At the same time it has become an extremely popular residential district, especially amongst younger foreigners with good budgets wishing to live in amongst the action. This has driven up prices considerably. The Born area now has one of the highest proportions of foreign property owners of all Barcelona’s districts.
- Residents of The Born are a mixture of old-timers left over from the period before The Born became achingly cool, trendy Barcelona professionals such as designers and architects, and increasingly foreign buyers who use their properties for weekend breaks and rent them out the rest of the time.
- The Born is also one of the prime areas for short-term rental flats given its charm and proximity to prime tourist attractions.
Due to the amount of bars and restaurants in the Born it can be very busy at night. Buyers who do not wish to be bothered by the sounds and smells that come with this should pay careful attention to the surroundings when deciding where to buy in The Born. Buyers would be well advised to visit the area they wish to buy in at night to determine how much noise they will have to put up with.
- The Born will continue to attract overseas buyers and trendy local professionals without children. However the high prices in the centre of The Born and the negative side effects of tourism, bars and restaurants are expected to drive people looking for ‘Born without the noise’ across Calle Princesa and up into the quieter streets of Sant Pere Mes Baix and Sant Pere Mes Alt.
Barrio Gótico / Gothic Quarter / Old Town
Broadly speaking the Barrio Gótico (Barri Gòtic in Catalan) lies between the Ramblas and Via Laietana, and runs down from Plaza Cataluña to the Paseo de Colon at the old port. This is one of Barcelona’s most touristy areas.
Points to bear in mind when looking to buy property in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter or Old Town
- Broadly speaking the Barrio Gótico (Barri Gòtic in Catalan) lies between the Ramblas and Via Laietana, and runs down from Plaza Cataluña to the Paseo de Colon at the old port. This is one of Barcelona’s most touristy areas.
- Being the oldest part of Barcelona the Barrio Gótico has a lot of charm. However the downside to this is that many of the streets are narrow, old buildings often don’t have lifts installed and many properties are in poor condition and need considerable reforms. The narrowness of the streets means that apartments tend to be starved of natural light and noise can be a problem, especially so given the amount of tourists wandering around the area day and night. Much of the area is difficult to access by car, which has an impact on the convenience of living there. It is not a family-friendly area to live in.
- When the Eixample was built during the 19th Century local people with money moved out of the Barrio Gótico to take advantage of the wider streets and better quality of life that the Eixample had to offer. For much of the last century wealthy locals avoided the Barrio Gótico and the lack of residential wealth meant that the Barrio Gótico became rather shabby and sleazy. However over the last 10 years the area has been transformed and is now one of Barcelona’s trendiest districts. Hip local professionals such as designers have moved back into the area and foreign buyers, drawn by style combined with old world charm, have had a significant impact on the property market in the Barrio Gótico. Rising prices have gentrified the area and petty crime has fallen, though it is still a problem. As a general rule of thumb the further down you go towards the Paseo De Colon the shabbier the streets and the higher the risk of petty crime. However the quality improves again once you cross Calle Ample.
- Developers have been at work in the Barrio Gótico though much of the development has been focused on converting buildings into hotels. However private apartments have also been refurbished though prices for these types of properties have risen dramatically throughout the beginning of the decade.
We expect the gentrification of the Barrio Gótico to continue as it increasingly appeals to foreign buyers and trendy locals. However the area will not attract families and older buyers due to the noise and inconvenience of living in the Barrio Gótico. This limits the pool of buyers more so than in other areas like the Ensanche.
Gràcia used to be a village outside of Barcelona, but as the city expanded it became one of Barcelona’s central residential districts.
Some points to bear in mind when looking to buy a home or property investment in the Gràcia district of Barcelona.
- Rather like the Old Town Gràcia has a network of narrow streets that makes the area feel cramped. However it also has a high number of attractive squares to compensate.
- Gràcia has a youthful residential profile and is home to a large number of bars and restaurants that appeal to a younger clientele. The downside is that street noise can be a problem for residents.
- On balance Gràcia is an agreeable residential area with a good local feel to it and without the petty crime problems common in the Old Town. The streets between Via Augusta and Calle Verdi but below Astúries stand out.
Some points to bear in mind when looking to buy property in Barceloneta, one of Barcelona most popular waterfront districts.
- Some parts of Barceloneta are affected by the ‘ley de costas’, or coastal law. In theory these properties are built on public land, and could be expropriated without compensation. New changes to the Ley de Costas have reduced this risk and created some fantastic investment opportunities.
- Barceloneta is one of the 4 districts that make up Barcelona’s Old Town. The other districts are the Ribera (which includes the Born), the Gothic Quarter and the Raval. The Old Town is known as Ciudad Vieja in Spanish and Ciutat Vella in Catalan.
- Barceloneta was built 150 years ago to house the fishermen working out of Barcelona’s port. The original inhabitants were not wealthy and the real estate for sale reflects this.
The relative poverty of the original inhabitants means that Barceloneta’s property for sale is not of the best quality. Nevertheless buildings are basically well constructed but lack any of the fancy detail and charm found in wealthier zones of Barcelona, such as the Ensanche and the Born. Furthermore the buildings of Barceloneta were built close together as maximising living area per square metre was more important than comfort and style at the time Barceloneta was built. This means that property and apartments in Barceloneta feel somewhat claustrophobic, noisy and lack privacy.
- Priorities change, and in the present day Barceloneta’s location is unbeatable; right on the beach and walking distance to many of Barcelona’s top attractions in the Old Town and the Born. It also has several parks and sports facilities nearby.
- Barceloneta apartments are now some of the most sought after areas in Barcelona amongst foreign buyers. Foreign buyers tend to be relatively young and from other EU countries like the UK. These buyers are looking for small second homes with access to the youthful attractions of Barcelona such as the beach and the Born. They also wish to rent out their apartments on a short-term basis when they are not there. Locals are also buying up apartments in Barceloneta with a view to renting them out on a short-term basis.
- Barceloneta’s residents are a mixture of old timers, new-age types and young foreigners from other European countries. Given the amount of apartments in Barceloneta offered on short term lets there are also a large number of tourists staying in Barceloneta.
- Apartments tend to be small and expensive in terms of price per square metre. Many of the buildings in Barceloneta do not have a lift. For the time being many if not most apartments need some sort of refurbishment.
- There are two main reasons why Barceloneta is relatively expensive. One is because if its unique position on the beach without any barrier such as the Ronda Del Litoral dual carriageway between it and the beach. The other is because most of the properties in Barceloneta are small and prices per square metre tend to rise the smaller the property.
- In the future Barceloneta will continue to attract younger international buyers and short-term rental investors largely due to its unbeatable location. Because of the small size of most apartments in Barceloneta prices are still accessible though in relative terms they are expensive. Barceloneta has the potential to become one of Barcelona’s trendiest districts if it is developed the right way.
Sant Martí & Poblenou
Sant Martí, which includes the area called Poblenou, is the backdrop to some of Barcelona’s best beaches. For most of the past century this area was neglected and run down, and spurned by affluent buyers. With the transformation of Barcelona’s waterfront at the time of the Olympics, that has now all changed.
The street layout is based on the model used to develop the Eixample though the stock of property is completely different. The area originally emerged as one of Barcelona’s key industrial zones with factories and warehouses in abundance. This industrial development engulfed but did not overrun the village of Poblenou, which has managed to keep its village charm as can be seen from a stroll down the Rambla De Poblenou. Poblenou was a humble district where local tradesmen, factory workers and fishermen lived. This gave the area a strong sense of community that can still be felt today.
In the present day Sant Martí is home to many small business and is also starting to attract larger national and international business. The contrast between daytime and night in Sant Martí is starling. During the day it is difficult to find parking and the area is heaving with business activity. At night parking is abundant the most streets are quiet, with the exception of the streets around the Rambla De Poblenou.
As a district, Sant Martí has some of the most exciting potential when it comes to investing in property in Barcelona. It has a good location running along most of Barcelona’s best beaches yet it is well communicated and close to the centre of town. For the ’92 Olympics the local government developed the Villa Olímpica to house athletes and staff and as a consequence Sant Martí is now home to facilities such as the new Olympic port, the Icaria shopping / cinema complex, and the Hotel Arts – one of the best hotels in the world. More recently the Diagonal Mar residential complex has been built and the Forum hosted – both on the far side of Sant Martí as you move out of town. These are huge developments whose impact on the district will take time to be felt. However there is no doubt that they leave Sant Martí closer to the centre of town than before and will bring in money, interest and property buyers.
Given the beachside location and number of old industrial buildings in Sant Martí this is a perfect district for redevelopment along the lines of Docklands in London, Manchester and Lower Manhattan in New York. Some of Barcelona’s most stylish lofts and hip architecture are already to be found here, and recently the ultra-chic restaurant / nightclub ‘Oven’ opened up as the first glamour destination in the area. Then of course there is the out-of-this-world ‘Els Pescadors’ restaurants in the Plaza Del Prim, surrounded by abandoned red brick factory buildings and serving up the best seafood in town. We believe that the district has the potential to become one of the funkiest centre-of-town, Mediterranean-beachfront residential districts in all of Europe but it does depend upon the decisions of the municipal government. At present much of Sant Martí is given over to the @22 project in the hope that it will become one of Europe’s hottest new technology parks. The result is that much of the property in the area is classified as commercial and cannot be developed for residential purposes. Some developers have ignored this and gone ahead with residential redevelopments on commercial property but there are risks inherent in this course of action (not least of which is the difficulty that buyers have getting mortgages for this type of property). @22 has not been a great success due to the dotcom meltdown at the time it was launched but it might yet bring in tech companies and do wonders for the district. On the other hand it might starve the district of sufficient residential property and prevent it from taking off.
Diagonal Mar deserves a mention of its own. Situated on the far side of Sant Martí, where Avenida Diagonal ends near the beach, Diagonal Mar is a luxurious modern residential development of high-rise apartment blocks that has sold extremely well to investors. The development offers beachside modernity, luxury, gardens, pools, tennis, parking and sea views, all within 15 minutes from the centre of the city. It is a type of Pedralbes on the beach but without the awful architecture. No doubt this will have a positive influence on property in Sant Martí but for the time being Diagonal Mar has a somewhat desolate feel to it. It lacks life and character and its proportions are impersonal. Furthermore it will have difficulty attracting affluent local families whilst all the good schools are on the opposite side of town. Nevertheless its advantages outweigh these disadvantages and given that it is still in parts a building site we expect the development to take on more charisma with time.
Sarrià - Sant Gervasi district
This district is one of Barcelona’s most exclusive residential areas, and is 10 minutes by car from the centre of town.
Some of Barcelona’s best hospitals / clinics and schools are located in or near this district. Children can walk to school, which makes it popular with affluent local families looking for property in Barcelona.
In the streets above Bonanova you can find individual houses and semi-detached properties. This is one of the closest areas to the centre of town where you can buy these kinds of properties, and a nice mixture of architecture. The high price of these properties reflects this fact.
In contrast to the affluent neighbouring district of Pedralbes, this area has a great community feel to it, with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants within walking distance. It is also well communicated with the centre of town by bus and metro. The Sarrià part of the district is especially attractive with a charming Spanish village feel to it.
This area is perfect for comfortable living in pleasant, easygoing surroundings whilst only being a short taxi ride from the centre of town. It is also the perfect district for renting property on a short-term basis to MBA students at nearby business schools such as IESE and ESADE. MBA students tend to be affluent and well behaved tenants. This is a potentially profitable rental niche that is largely overlooked.
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.
The Poble Sec is a small but agreeable residential area if Barcelona with a pleasant community feel to it. It falls within the district called Sants-Montjuïc and is located just below the hill of Montjuïc with all its theatres, galleries, gardens and Olympic sports facilities (where many concerts are now held). The Poble Sec is also just across the Avenida Del Parallel from the Eixample and the Raval, not far from the centre of town.
The Poble Sec is an interesting district from an investment point of view. It is an up-and-coming area that has long been overlooked, but is now transforming into a trendy district with a good neighbourhood feel and a fun, youngish scene with lots of new bars and restaurants opening up. Many of the streets follow the Eixample town plan, and the district is well placed near to the centre of town, the waterfront (walking distance) and all the attractions of Montjuic.
Despite its obvious attractions, the fact that the Poble Sec was traditionally ignored by affluent buyers means that house prices are relatively low compared to other areas near the centre of town. As a result, the Poble Sec can offer good value, and may offer better investment returns that other, better known areas with a bigger stock of property for sale.
Pedralbes, like parts of Sant Gervasi, used to be an area where wealthy families had large out-of-town homes. However, as demand for housing grew in the 60’s and 70’s, it was developed into a residential area offering upmarket apartments with communal gardens, pools and parking.
Pedralbes is a comfortable area to live in, but much of the recent architecture in Pedralbes is boring. Apartments may be big and the lifestyle convenient, but the architectural language of the area is dull, unlike other parts of Barcelona. In many places you need a car to get to anything resembling a shop, restaurant or bar.
That said, the good schools, large apartments, communal gardens, pools, parking and safe streets obviously appeal to families looking for a suburban lifestyle close to the city centre, which is what Pedralbes offers.
Pedralbes is also home to much of the prime property in Barcelona, especially as you follow Avenida Pearson up the hill. Many of the buyers in this area today are foreigners, whilst the vendors are wealthy locals of a certain age whose children have left home, and who no longer need such a big house. They tend to now want to move to an apartment closer to the centre of town.
Many of the big houses in Pedralbes need several domestic staff to run. Another problem with Pedralbes is that it is not easy to get to by public transport, which can be a problem for staff.