If you arrive home from a Spanish holiday feeling restless, one answer is to let out your London flat and return to Spain. That’s what Carrie Frais did — renting out her Belsize Village home to begin a new life in Barcelona.
In 2002, Carrie was enjoying the single life in London. Working as a sports presenter for ITV, she was the new owner of a one-bedroom basement flat in Belsize Avenue, N13. The flat was tiny — about 400sq ft — and cost £235,000. Carrie spent a further £7,000 on a new bathroom and smartening up the patio.
“The flat’s good points were its amazing location — just seconds from Belsize Village and Hampstead with all its wonderful shops and pubs,” says Carrie, 45. “It was two minutes’ walk from the Tube and close to the centre of London. I never had problems finding tenants to rent it and the income was good at about £1,400 a month.”
A few months after buying her London home, Carrie met Tom Maidment at a mutual friend’s wedding. “We both loved Spain and spoke Spanish, having lived there on a year out from university,” she says. “To cut a long story short we got together and, within a year, had moved to Barcelona.”
At first they both commuted between Barcelona and their London jobs — Tom worked in sports marketing — but after getting married in 2005 they decided to forge new careers in Spain.
Tom established a successful property company and Carrie set up two online businesses: www.MumAbroad.com and www.intoBarcelona.com. The couple had two children, Poppy and Bertie, now eight and six, and rented a house.
“When we first arrived we lived in the centre of Barcelona, ideal for a couple of thirtysomethings,” says Carrie. “When Poppy was born we wanted somewhere close to the city with outside space and stumbled across Maresme, the pretty wine-growing region to the north. After six years there we decided it was the place to buy and so, this year, I put my London flat on the market.”
The flat sold for £440,000 and last month Carrie and Tom completed on a Sixties five-bedroom house in Cabrils in Maresme for £465,000. The house has a mature garden with a pool and fabulous mountain and sea views. At 4,197sq ft it is more than 10 times the size of her London flat.
“The house needs a bit of a facelift, but is in a prestigious residential area,” says Carrie. “Cabrils appeals to international buyers because you get so much more for your money than in Barcelona.”
Their Maresme house is 25 minutes from Barcelona, 10 minutes from Poppy and Bertie’s international school and three minutes from the beach.
Carrie and Tom took full advantage of strong exchange rates and were cash buyers. The process of getting a mortgage in Spain remains challenging, says Carrie, because although banks are lending again their conditions are very strict.
What there is to buy: Maresme, Spain
The Maresme coast, seven miles north of Barcelona, is a wine-growing area with more than 30 miles of sandy beaches.
The stretch from Alella to Montalt, with the villages of Sant Andreu de Llavaneres, Cabrils and Premià de Dalt, is within 30 minutes of Barcelona and is a hit with wealthy Catalans for main and second homes.
“For years the Maresme has been a sought-after area among local wealthy buyers, but it is only in the past five years that the region has made a name for itself with international buyers,” says Alex Vaughan of Spanish property specialists Lucas Fox.
“It offers everything you would expect from a Mediterranean destination with a superb year-round climate, sandy beaches, marinas, sports clubs and restaurants. All within reach of a major city.”
Lucas Fox has four-bedroom villas in Maresme with sea views from £426,000. A five-bedroom, 10,760sq ft house built in 2000 in Cabrils is £493,000 and a four-bedroom house five minutes walk from the beach has recently been reduced to £700,000.