Property in Bulgaria
Affordable skiing, beach resorts, an old-fashioned rural lifestyle lost to Britain long ago, property in Bulgaria costs as little as £5,000. We could be talking about Spain or France of 30 years ago.
Eastern Europe is still an unknown quantity for many British property hunters, but it shouldn’t be. Prince Charles was so bewitched he bought a couple of country homes just over the border in Romania a few years ago (paying a not very princely £12,000, apparently). Bulgaria is also an exciting choice for an inexpensive countryside property, or a ski apartment, or a real “getting away from it all” option, among exceptionally friendly people and with the lowest living costs in Europe.
There was a flurry of British interest in Bulgarian investment properties in the mid-2000s. Sadly, not many people made any money from it, but it left behind an infrastructure of English-speaking agents and property professionals to smooth your purchase now.
Bulgaria is a beautiful and vibrant country bursting with potential. The population of seven million lives in a country the size of England. In the west is the capital, Sofia, with a million people. Once described as a “shabby Vienna”, it’s not shabby any more but has wide leafy boulevards made of yellow cobbles and attractive czarist-era buildings. An hour or two’s drive from Sofia are the ski resorts of Bansko, Borovets, Plovdiv and Pamporovo. Go in summer and those mountain resorts are still open, but for golf, spa weekends, wine-tasting, hiking, cycling and climbing.
In Bulgaria’s hills you’ll come across a life largely unchanged for centuries: shepherds using huge dogs to guard their flocks from wolves; horses and donkeys a perfectly normal mode of transport. There’s fantastic wildlife too. You might hear wolves howling at night but don’t worry, along with the bears, wildcats and jackals, they stay well away. You’ll see pelicans roosting in rooftops, however, eagles and vultures above and beavers in the rivers.
In the east of Bulgaria is the Black Sea coast, several hundred kilometres between Turkey and Romania and including such well-known resorts as Sunny Beach, Golden Sands and Burgas. There’s more to the Black Sea than soft sand and warm sunshine (the climate here is a little less hot than southern Spain in summer), there are more bohemian towns like Sozopol and ancient ruins in classy, pricy Nesebar. Big resorts like Sunny Beach are packed in summer but the season is fairly short and they tend to close completely off-season, so for permanent relocation be careful to see it in winter.
There are year-round flights to Sofia and charter flights to the coast in summer.
Where to Buy Property in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is only 3 hours away from the UK by plane and there are regular flights available including most of the cheap carriers. The country benefits from four distinct seasons with lots of sunshine throughout the year. There is no capital gains tax for EU tax registered persons if having possessed the property for a minimum of three years. So where to buy?
British buyers have been primarily interested in three Bulgaria property markets – resorts on the Black Sea coast and the ski resorts, buy-to-let apartments in the capital Sofia, and rural houses in the countryside.
Sofia is leading the Bulgarian market recovery and has been targeted by overseas investors as well as wealthy domestic buyers. Prices there increased with 6 per cent in 2015 and the average price is around €800 per sqm (the prices in Varna being at similar level. Apartments for around the €50,000 mark are popular, or more deluxe examples from €150,000.
But it’s the Black Sea resorts that are also in demand and Russian and Ukrainian buyers are keeping prices stable – or even rising. Again, coastal properties with a sea view are relatively affordable to elsewhere - at €400 to €900 per square metre you can buy your own beach property from €20,000.
The summer season is a little short for investment buyers and travel options are limited off-season, but they are highly popular great resorts in the height of summer.
Varna, St Vlas, Sunny Beach, Lozenets and Burgas are the hotspots, and whilst you can get a small apartment from around £17,000, there are more expensive areas such as the Belle Époque Ambelits Beach in Lozenets where luxury apartments cost €55,000.
Swapping sun for snow, the three main ski resorts are at Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo. Borovets is the most accessible (from Sofia) and well-established resort and prices have remained firmer than in Bansko – it is around €650 per square metre. Pamporovo is the least developed in tourism and property market terms and weighs in at €350 per square metre, but Bansko is the best year-round resort, also offering golf and mountain-biking and it’s gradually returning the interest of the British buyers. Let’s also not forget the Greeks, Russians, Macedonians, Romanians, Serbian, Israeli, Turkish - yes, Bansko has really evolved into an international ski destination for all!
You can buy studio apartments in Bansko for €10,000 these days, but the average price is €25,000 which will get you a well-located two-bedrooms. On a luxury resort such as the Pirin Golf & Country Club you can pay up to €300,000 for a spacious and high-quality home.
With quite a few properties for sale lower down the price scale (many with British sellers), there’s less chance of hefty capital appreciation for a few years than on the coast or in the cities mentioned above. Also be wary of properties listed as “Bansko” that are actually in outlying areas and not walkable to the resort centre at all.
Elsewhere, a couple of other possibilities are worth noting: the medieval town of Veliko Tarnovo in North-Central Bulgaria that is the former capital of the country. Well-connected by highway to Sofia and Varna, this attractive town with high-speed broadband offers renovated traditional houses from €40,000.
Alternatively, the wine-making areas of Plovdiv and Stara Zagora in southern Bulgaria is even more affordable and can offer homes with a little vineyard for less than €20,000.
How to Buy Property in Bulgaria
Recent changes have made it easier for foreigners to buy but using a good independent lawyer is essential. Bulgarian law allows foreigners to buy property in the country. If you are a buyer from an EU state or the European Economic Area (EEA) you can also buy house with a garden or a plot of land in your own name. Non-members must do so via registering a Bulgarian company (this isn’t complicated and the cost for company registration are €300).
- When you have found the right property it needs to be reserved and taken off the market. After the unit is selected as a rule the buyer has to pay a deposit to the amount of €2,000. Only after that will the property be marked as reserved on agent listings and will be no longer available for sale.
- After paying the deposit a preliminary agreement with the owner is signed within 30 days. The agreement settles the basic conditions that will later be copied to the Notary Deed (or title deed). The conditions include a description of the property, price, conditions and terms of payment, and for off-plan properties – the term for finishing the property.
- The Notary Deed is drawn up by the local notary public in the presence of the buyer and the seller. The notary public certifies the deed and registers it with the Registry Agency. Final contracts and the remaining monies are exchanged.
- A week after receiving the Notary Deed the agent’s lawyer will enter the details of the buyer of the property in the system of the Bulgarian National Statistics Institute. The property owner will then receive a card with a unique BULSTAT number (ID number) under which all issues related to the property will be accounted. Within a two-month period the agent’s lawyers should also register the property and its new owner in the tax office.
These are relatively low, at around 8 per cent of the purchase price: agency commission of 3 per cent of the sales price plus notary fees and stamp duty tend add up to make between 6 and 8 per cent, depending on the region of Bulgaria.
* As mentioned above, do use your own independent lawyer to advise you through the purchase.
* Be wary of agents or sellers requesting cash (not bank transfer) payments or that they request a lower price is put on the title deed. Also make sure that you see in person that the property exactly matches that of the one referred to in the deeds. Don’t rely on merely photographs or plans.
Whether you seek a mountain, beach or country home, Bulgaria offers an affordability that is hard to beat and market stability has returned.
In 2007 Martin Smith moved from the Hebrides to Bulgaria, where he married and set about renovating an unloved 1930s house. He talks to us about life in Bulgaria.
It's still possible to bag a bargain property in Bulgaria, especially if you're looking for a longer-term investment.