Within five years of moving to Europe, businessman Douglas Loewe “fell in love” with Barcelona, he said.
He decided to buy a home there, spending about 500,000 euros ($545,000) to purchase an apartment in the city’s famous Eixample neighborhood in 1999, the senior operating partner at Macquarie said.
But by 2017, Loewe felt the two-bedroom penthouse needed an overhaul.
The main living area of Loewe’s apartment in Barcelona, called Aribau 133 Sobre Atic.
Within a year, he had transformed the “deteriorated” two-bedroom penthouse into a three-bedroom space that is now worth 1.7 million to 2 million euros, Loewe said — more than double the amount he spent to purchase and renovate the property.
Loewe had renovated the apartment once before, but “it needed refreshing on a lot of levels” after almost 20 years, he said.
He hired Matthew Coe, founder of the property investment firm VistaFutura Associates, to renovate the entire apartment.
In total, Loewe said he spent about 250,000 euros on the renovation. “It was an incredible return on my investment because [Coe] was able to help bring my vision to life,” he said.
It took less than a year to renovate and “every stage was right on schedule,” he added.
Loewe on one of the two terraces in his apartment.
The pair tapped a pool of resources to coordinate the renovation, buying furniture from boutique stores and engaging a design firm to construct the kitchen, Loewe said.
Coe said one of the biggest challenges his clients face is imagination, especially when it comes to old apartments.
“Building that confidence that … we can end up with something that they’re going to love … takes a big leap of faith,” he said.
The penthouse originally consisted of two top-floor apartments that had once been used as an office, but Loewe decided to combine them when he purchased it, he said. The final renovation displays a use of space that is “almost surreal,” he added.
The living area before the renovation (top) and after (bottom).
The apartment features an open plan with a microcement floor and wood along one wall, Loewe said. His favorite feature in the home is a Leon Rosen desk that is his “prized possession.”
He had purchased the lacquered desk in Manhattan from Rosen’s high-end furniture company The Pace Collection, which sold fine contemporary pieces, according to Incollect magazine. “The Leon Rosen is virtually scratch proof and water repellent … it is both gorgeous and extremely practical at the same time,” he said.
Loewe also added furniture that was affordable yet comfortable, “so you didn’t feel like every time you sat down on the sofa you were worried about depreciating the assets,” he quipped.
In searching for his ideal property, Loewe said, he had in mind a safe neighborhood like Eixample and proximity to “excellent amenities” like a farmer’s market, a good-quality gym and restaurants.
The apartment’s terrace before (top) and after renovation (bottom).
Located “around the corner” of the apartment is tapas restaurant Paco Meralgo, which is “a Barcelona institution,” Loewe said.
The penthouse’s two terraces offer “spectacular 360-degree views,” which include the towering La Sagrada Familia, the hill of Tibidabo and the ocean, he said.
“The real estate market in Spain is open to buyers from around the world,” Coe said.
Pricing “compares favorably to most U.S. cities, even midsize cities” such as Denver, Chicago and Miami, he said. Foreigners can buy property in Barcelona’s city center for “less than half of what they would pay” in those cities, he added.
The apartment’s kitchen area before the renovation (top) and after (bottom).
Coe’s clients tend to be either Northern European or American, although he has had several clients from the Asia-Pacific region. Most Northern Europeans view Barcelona as “a good place to escape to in the winter” and search for small apartments, he said.
The renovated dining area of the apartment.
Those considering buying a property in Barcelona should first try out short term rentals and get to know the neighborhoods, Coe said.
For Loewe, the most important thing after doing your research is relying on local expertise.
He recommends finding someone with “experience in that local market … but more importantly, frankly, really good taste and communication skills.”