Nestled between sea, mountains and rivers, Barcelona is a city rich with history and beauty, but also densely populated and, due to the city's layout, high-rise apartments abound.
Rent and property prices in Barcelona tend to be significantly lower than major European capitals such as London and Paris, and slightly lower than Madrid. That said, this is matched by lower levels of employment and lower average salaries.
Expats should keep in mind that it is helpful, and in many cases necessary, to speak Spanish when searching for accommodation, and particularly when arranging leases. For this reason, many expats hire a real-estate agent to assist in the process of finding and securing a place to live in Barcelona.
Types of housing in Barcelona
The city centre of Barcelona is packed with apartment buildings where expats will be able to rent or buy accommodation. Most expats rent property in Barcelona first, even if it is not on a short-term basis.
Given that there are many options for short-term accommodation in the city, many expats prefer to arrive in the city before committing to a long-term lease. The range of this kind of accommodation includes flatshares, single rooms in larger houses or vacated student accommodation, all of which aren't particularly suited to large expat families.
Houses in Barcelona are often difficult to find, more expensive and more challenging to secure than apartments. Several months of rent are expected to be paid in advance as a security deposit, in addition to the first month's rent and an agent's fee – usually the equivalent of one month's rent.
Barcelona is fairly unique in that its neighbourhoods tend to have a mixture of residential and commercial property, rather than solely consisting of one or the other. It is also usually possible to access essential services such as healthcare within a short distance of where one stays.
It may be a good idea for expats who will be working in Barcelona to find a property in close proximity to their workplace. Expat parents who send their children to a private school may also want to live closer to the school. In cases such as these, it is a good idea to find accommodation close to public transport.
As a general rule, areas that are closer to the beach – which tend to have more space and are close to important amenities – tend to be more expensive.
Finding accommodation in Barcelona
One of the first things an expat should do when looking for a place to stay in Barcelona is to identify areas of the city that appeal to them and serve their needs. This can either be done through research online, speaking to residents or exploring the city in person.
After searching for a suitable area, the search for an individual property begins. There is a multitude of online listings and property portals, and newspapers often have classifieds sections.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of these are in Spanish, although there are a few English websites and publications that are aimed at the expatriate community. Many expats make use of real-estate agents who can speak English and knows the property market to assist them in their search.
Renting accommodation in Barcelona
Expats who are going to be paid at Spanish salary levels should try to ensure that a housing stipend is included in their contract, as rent can take a significant amount out of a person’s wages. Students and young professionals in the city have increasingly taken to sharing apartments for this reason.
Deposits and leases
Thankfully, landlords often choose their tenants based on who contacts them first and can pay the stipulated amount. They will generally require proof of income and a security deposit of between one and six months’ rent.
After the terms have been settled with the landlord, the new tenant will sign a lease agreement or Contrato de Arrendamiento. The contracts are often in Spanish or Catalan, and this is therefore another one of the cases where hiring a real-estate agent would come in handy.
Costs and fees
On top of the first month's rent and the security deposit, if hiring a real-estate agent, tenants will also have to pay the agent's fee. This is generally the equivalent of one month's rent. Community fees, paid for the upkeep of communal areas and services, are generally included in the monthly rental amount.
Utilities are generally not included in rent and tenants will therefore have to pay for the usage of things such as electricity, water and gas. That said, in comparison to other big European cities, utilities in Barcelona are rather cheap.
Buying property in Barcelona
Investing in property in Barcelona is quite an attractive proposition for foreigners. As the Spanish housing market has taken a knock since the outbreak of Covid-19, house prices in Barcelona have fallen and are expected to continue to drop.
Expats who move to Barcelona to retire or live in the city and can afford it will find the relatively low cost of real estate in the city appealing. The fact that residency is granted to property purchases of more than EUR 500,000 is an added bonus.
It will be more challenging to buy property in the city for expats who plan on making a profit by renting out property or who plan to live and work in the city. The high levels of unemployment, a fragile economy and the unavailability of credit means that low to middle income earning expats are likely to struggle.
That said, expats who do their research into the real-estate market in Spain and have a steady income should have plenty of opportunity for finding a property that suits their needs.