Five years after moving to Europe, businessman Douglas Loewe “fell in love” with Barcelona, he said.
He decided to buy a house there and spent about 500,000 euros ($545,000) to buy an apartment in the city’s famous Eixample neighborhood in 1999, Macquarie’s senior operating partner said.
But in 2017, Loewe felt the two-bedroom penthouse needed updating.
The main living room of Loewe’s apartment in Barcelona, called Aribau 133 Sobre Atic.
Within a year, he had transformed the “dilapidated” two-bedroom penthouse into a three-bedroom space that is now worth between €1.7 million and €2 million, Loewe said, more than double the amount he spent to buy and renovate the property. .
Loewe had renovated the apartment once before, but it “needed a renovation on many levels” after nearly 20 years, he said.
He hired Matthew Coe, founder of real estate investment firm VistaFutura Associates, to renovate the entire apartment.
In total, Loewe stated that it spent around 250,000 euros on the renovation. “It was an incredible return on my investment because (Coe) was able to help make my vision a reality,” he said.
The renovation took less than a year and “each stage was carried out as planned,” he added.
Loewe on one of the two terraces of his apartment.
The couple leveraged an array of resources to coordinate the renovation, purchasing furniture from boutiques and hiring a design firm to build the kitchen, Loewe said.
Coe said one of the biggest challenges his clients face is imagination, especially when it comes to older apartments.
“Developing that confidence that… we can end up with something that they will love… takes a huge leap of faith,” he said.
The penthouse originally consisted of two top-floor apartments that were once used as an office, but Loewe decided to combine them when he bought it, he said. The final renovation shows a use of space that is “almost surreal,” he added.
The living room before the renovation (above) and after (below).
The apartment features an open layout with microcement flooring and wood along one wall, Loewe said. His favorite feature in the house is a Leon Rosen desk that is his “most 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-resistant and water-repellent…it’s both gorgeous and extremely practical at the same time,” he said.
Loewe also added affordable but comfortable furniture, “so that every time you sat on the couch you didn’t feel like you were worrying about depreciating assets,” he joked.
When searching for his ideal property, Loewe said, he had in mind a safe neighborhood like Eixample and proximity to “great amenities” like a farmers market, a good-quality gym and restaurants.
The terrace of the apartment before (above) and after the renovation (below).
Located “just around the corner” from the apartment is tapas restaurant Paco Meralgo, which is “a Barcelona institution,” Loewe said.
The penthouse’s two terraces offer “spectacular 360-degree views,” including the towering Sagrada Familia, Tibidabo Hill and the ocean, he said.
“The real estate market in Spain is open to buyers from all over the world,” said Coe.
Prices “compare favorably with most American cities, even mid-sized cities” like Denver, Chicago and Miami, he said. Foreigners can buy property in central Barcelona for “less than half of what they would pay” in those cities, she added.
The kitchen area of the apartment before the renovation (above) and after (below).
Coe’s clients tend to be from northern Europe or the United States, although he has had several clients from the Asia-Pacific region. Most northern Europeans see Barcelona as “a good place to get away in the winter” and are looking for small apartments, she said.
The renovated dining room of the apartment.
Those considering buying property in Barcelona should first try short-term rentals and get to know the neighborhoods, Coe said.
For Loewe, the most important thing after doing research is to trust local knowledge.
He recommends finding someone with “experience in that local market… but more importantly, frankly, with very good taste and communication skills.”