Almost everyday in the Media, almost every week well-attended seminars and exhibitions for would-be investors in foreign properties all round the UK... And the interest is growing by the day!
WELL, WHAT'S UP?The latest property hot-spot which is attracting thousands of ordinary British investors is Bulgaria. And the interest is growing by the day. It's phenomenal!
Bulgaria, once known to the wider public only as a satellite country of the Soviet bloc, is making its entry into the western world as a fully-fledged democracy with a vibrant free economy. A member of NATO since 2004, Bulgaria is due to enter the EU in 2007.
Now the world is discovering Bulgaria - a country of amazingly contrasting landscapes, ancient traditions reflecting its rich cultural heritage, an excellent climate - neither too hot, nor too cold - and the allurement of an incredibly low cost of living. And only a three-hour air flight from London. And the price of air tickets is tumbling…
Under such circumstances, Bulgaria has become more than a popular tourist destination. It is now THE CHOICE of many ordinary British people for their first home-abroad investment. Many have been attracted by the natura advantages of the Black Sea coast, always a prime holiday destination. Increasingly interest has turned to winter ski resorts like Bansko and Pamporovo. Of course, Bulgaria's capital Sofia also offers unique advantages for the property investor, with its chic suburbs like Boyana, Simeonovo and Dragalevtsi so close to the ski-slopes of Mount Vitosha.
THE RIGHT CHOICEApproaching the matter of first-time investing in a home-abroad in Bulgaria, means, in practice, approaching the right Real Estate agent, who can give the prospective investor, first of all, an objective assessment of the advantages of buying property in Bulgaria, but also what pitfalls to avoid. There are now thousands of agents promoting Bulgarian Property, some based in the UK, some in Bulgaria, some offering every kind of property, new and old, all over Bulgaria, some specialising in particular locations, and some dealing exclusively with so-called Off-Plan.
Unfortunately, many would be buyers are attracted only the fame of the incredibly low prices for acquiring a country cottage, somewhere within a 50-mile distance from the Black Sea coast, or in a mountain village an hour's drive from one of the renowned ski-resorts, or an apartment, "in need of some refurbishing", in a central location in Sofia. These are all traps for the unwary, as some have found out to their disappointment. Often, such houses are in a very poor state of repair, without running water or sanitary facilities. Some apartments of the Communist era and even before, may be very cheap, but structurally they have a short life. There may be a problem of legal ownership and, above all, it is still not possible for non-Bulgarians to own land, without creating a Bulgarian holding company.
In the vanguard of the numerous agencies promoting the booming Bulgarian property market, are those specialising exclusively in brand new, off-plan developments. They aim not simply to provide a "one-stop" service for anyone thinking seriously to invest in Bulgarian property, but they will see the prospective client through every stage of acquiring the property of his choice, getting a mortgage, assisting him also in the process of renting it in and out of season.
These companies, noted for their ethical, customer-friendly profile and their inside knowledge of the Bulgarian emerging market, pro-actively pursue the investors' interests, not only guaranteeing peace of mind for those who have recently discovered the astounding opportunities of buying property in Bulgaria, but above all by giving the best advice on every aspect of his investment. Mortgages and finance, insurance, property management on the clients' behalf, legal questions (should they arise) - nothing should be outside the orbit of service to the investor.
The partners of such companies will have built up an extensive network of associates in Bulgaria and are totally familiar with the local conditions, as well as the most recent developments in harmonising the country's economy, laws and institutions to EU norms. At the same time, every client's needs is treated with the serious attention to which he or she is fully entitled.
Visits are organised to Bulgaria for prospective clients, in close collaboration with the developers of the properties, in which they are interested. The "off-plan" specialist will be concerned to see that clients are regularly informed about the progress of their properties.
THE BLACK SEA COASTThere is a large and varied portfolio of "off-plan" properties to suit both the preferred location of each client and, of course, his budget. In the early stages of what has been referred to characteristically as "the Bulgarian Property Renaissance", the Black Sea coast resorts were especially in demand. They were hotly recommended as the new Costa del Sol. Several of these same developments are handled by different Real Estate companies in the UK, but not all of them have the required expertise in Bulgarian property promotion.
One-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, as well as studios, are on offer at various locations along the extensive, broad sandy beaches, around the highly-popular Sunny Beach, close to the UNESCO-protected medieval town of Nessebur, on its own peninsula. Here, between the principal coastal cities of Varna and Bourgas (both served by regular and charter flights in the summer season), there are a close-knit group of resorts, Byala, Obzor, Elenite, Sveti Vlas, Ravda, each having its own special atmosphere. North of Varna, towards Golden Sands, Albena, Balchik and Kavarna, where a number of new golf courses have been constructed, properties tend to be little more pricey, reflecting the more exclusive atmosphere of these Northern seaside resorts. At Rogachevo, for instance, close to stylish Albena, custom-designed villas, the utmost in fine taste, are in the final stages of completion. Again, to the south of Bourgas, close to the charming resort of Sozopol, a number of fantastic, but quite affordable studio, one- and two-bedroom seaside apartments await discerning buyers. Further south, where the Ropotamo river and Strandza mountain range of Bulgarian Thrace meet the sea, notably at Lozenetz and Tzarevo, there are some highly attractive "aparthotel" developments for those, who particularly like the environmental combination of mountain, sea and sun, as the perfect ambiance to relax.
THE SKI RESORTSBulgaria is fast becoming Europe's most popular winter sports destination, with ski-resorts like Bansko, which hopes to host the Winter Olympics in 2014, and Pamporovo, a purpose-built ski centre, the southern-most in Europe, with 120 days of guaranteed sunshine during a winter ski season of 5 months, and Borovetz, the original Bulgarian winter resort, founded by Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria in 1896.
In Bansko, which has become a great favourite with investors, a number of outstanding apartments, totally new developments, are appearing on the market. Here the ski resort grew up in an old market town, with many memorials of the Bulgarian National Revival. Old and new blend harmoniously to create an ideal, welcoming environment for lovers of winter sports.
Pamporovo, however, is also rapidly gaining popularity with British investors, with developments like the Orpheus Valley complex, a stunning gated community in two main blocks, very close to the ski-slopes, with many inclusive features. In both these resorts, there are several 4 and 5-star hotels, and a large variety of restaurants, clubs, pubs and fitness centres. During the summer, they become centres for mountaineering, walking and environmental tourism.
SOFIASofia has been a major city in the region of SE Europe, since Roman times. Then known as Serdica, it took its present name from the 5th century Church of St.Sophia, close to the more recent gold-domed Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevski, the pride of the Capital, since 1878, of the revived Bulgarian state. With its broad avenues and lush, green parks, its theatres, high-capacity 4 and 5-star hotels, cafes and restaurants, its fashionable boutiques and new shopping malls, Sofia has become, and continues to developing into, an elegant city, with an ever-growing attraction for Foreign business and residential investment. The continental climate is pleasant in summer and mild in winter.
But the joy of every Sofian is Mount Vitosha, which is itself a ski-resort and much more beside, a place of recreation for everyone. Just 10 minutes drive from Sofia city centre, the green suburb of Boyana provides an ideal base for the Capital and yet at the foot of the ski-slopes of Mount Vitosha. Next to Boyana, just off the Sofia City ring road, are two other very classy residential suburbs, Dragalevtsi and Simeonovo. Here also, Real Estate developers have custom-built villas and apartments, built to the most exacting European standards, which are particularly attractive to British and generally to foreign buyers, either as second homes or as buy-to-let investments, catering particularly to the needs of a growing foreign business community.
THE INVESTORIn the last two or three years, with Bulgaria characterised as an "emerging market" and "a hot property spot", an eclectic group of discerning investors has already signed contracts for off-plan properties in all the above-mentioned locations. The appreciation in property values has already gone up by as much as 30% in the past year. An increase of about 20% is quite likely within the next year, and so the success story continues. This speaks of itself and explains why Bulgaria has become the current favourite choice for property investors not only from the UK, but also Ireland, Germany, Greece and other EU countries, anxious to secure a base before the magic date of 2007, when Bulgaria joins the EU.
To learn more, please visit Bulgarian Property Renaissance (Sorry - Link dead 2012)
Written by Stelios Alex. Rigopoulos
Stelios Alex. Rigopoulos is a London-based independant Consultant on Investment in the emerging markets of SE Europe and writer on the political and economic aspects of EU-Balkan relations. He regularly visits Bulgaria, where he has a family home and supports Bulgarian Football club Levski. In Greece he's PAOK