Mark Stucklin of Spanish Property Insight talks to us about moving to Barcelona and shares with us his extensive knowledge of the property market
What made you move to Spain?
I came to Spain in 1998 to do an MBA at IESE Business school in Barcelona, and then stayed put.
And why Barcelona?
IESE is one of the world’s leading business schools, ranked number 7 this year in the FT’s global ranking. It’s an added bonus that it’s located in Barcelona, which is a great city to be a student in.
How can you sum up Barcelona for those who do not know it?
As a lifelong expat I’ve lived in lots of different cities over the last 45 years, including London, Nairobi and Istanbul. Of all the cities I’ve lived in, I love Barcelona the best. It’s safe, attractive, the perfect size, with a nice climate, close to mountains and beaches, and well-connected by air, road and rail.
Do you own your own property? When and what did you buy? What was the buying process like?
I’ve just purchased a 200m² flat in the Eixample that I’m going to refurbish as a family home. The buying process was straightforward as there aren’t many risks buying a flat in a city like Barcelona. I’m buying now because I believe the market in Barcelona is turning after 7 years of falling prices.
What spurred your interest in property?
When I finished my MBA the dotcom bubble was in full swing and I went to work for an internet consultancy helping set up an online marketplace for the construction sector. When that bubble burst I joined a startup estate agency in Barcelona just as the Spanish property bubble began to inflate. I proved to be useless at sales but competent at marketing so I started a blog about property to offer buyers market information and developers a way to advertise directly to their target market. When the property bubble burst the advertising dried up, but fortunately I started getting a lot of consultancy work with banks, developers and funds operating in the property sector.
What are the key things you have learnt over the years as a property expert?
People tend to be over-optimistic in a boom and over-pessimistic in a bust. So buy in a bust and sell in a boom is the way I see it. And it’s better to buy small in a good location than big in a bad location. Never buy in a bad location just because it’s cheap.
What do you think are the main mistakes people make when looking for a property?
They don’t do enough market research to understand values. Research requires effort.
What are the main pieces of advice people ask you over and over again?
The questions that tend to repeat concern taxes, maintenance costs and how to value property in Spain.
Where would you say the property investment hotspots are right now in Barcelona?
The places where foreigners buy. The Eixample, in particular the Right Eixample, the Gothic Quarter and the beach areas of Sant Martí and Diagonal Mar.
And what about the rest of Spain?
At this stage in the cycle it’s all about prime areas with good access and consolidated urban infrastructure on the Costa del Sol, the Costa Blanca, the Balearics and the Canaries.
What are the major advantages of living in Spain over the UK in your opinion?
The traditional advantages remain as true today as ever: the weather, the food, the open spaces, and in the case of Barcelona, the proximity to beaches, mountains and the South of France, all of which can be reached in a couple of hours by car. Despite the economic crisis Spain is also a modern and safe country – in my experience safer than the UK, with better healthcare to boot. And when I want to go to London I can get there quicker and cheaper than from many places in the UK.
How different do you think your life would be if you lived in England?
I imagine quite different, but not necessarily in a bad way. I love visiting the UK, it’s wonderful in many ways.
Would you ever think of returning to live in the UK?
I doubt it. I think I would go to Switzerland before the UK.
Why have Brits had such a long obsession with buying in Spain? Do you think that love affair has waned over recent years?
Spain is an attractive country in Europe and the British have always found Spanish culture and lifestyle alluring, maybe because it’s so different. But Spain has its problems, and buying property in some areas can be a bit of a minefield. I think people are now more aware of the problems, and the property bust was off-putting. It doesn’t help that a corrupt and incompetent political class is now overseeing the demolition of British-owned homes in Andalucia. Sometimes I despair of the Spanish state.
Who do you think will be the next wave of buyers in Spain?
If things go well I guess Spain will attract an increasingly diversified international market, but I doubt any nationality will ever dominate again as the British did in the noughties.
What other regions of Spain are your favourites and why?
I love Extremadura because the countryside reminds me of parts of Africa, with better roads. And I love Formentera in the Balearics because it’s paradise.
If you were not a property expert, what career would you like to have followed?
I used to work in the Havana cigar business and I was heading back that way after my MBA before I stumbled into the property sector. It was that or become an acupuncturist, so I guess you could say I faced starkly different choices.