A Place in the Sun: Now is a great time to snap up a beach, ski or even country pad in Bulgaria
Well, what a difference a couple of years makes! In the final months of 2007 Bulgaria was topping Knight Frank's Global House Price Index with annual growth of 33 percent. But in the final throes of 2009, they were fourth from the bottom, with prices dropping 28 per cent within a year.
The fall has been rapid and dramatic, not so much driven by the country's credit problem - its lending culture has yet to evolve - but by the fallout of the global economic crisis, coupled with an oversupply of properties in an emerging market.
As the British buyers melted away, and the Eurozone went into recession, Bulgaria felt the hit belatedly and in 2009 vendors still refused to accept the boom was over. However, forced to face reality, prices are being lowered by up to 50 percent in former hotspots such as Sunny Beach and Bansko where values are now EUR 300-400 (GBP 273-384) per square metre.
As always, those in the best locations - frontline sea or ski lift - are faring better, with price reductions of 20-30 percent. These locations are also the strongest for rentals, according to www.holidaylettings.co.uk, which says that enquiries for Bulgaria were up 25 percent in 2009.
However, the market is now entirely lifestyle purchasers rather than investors. Needless to say, off plan is a dirty word and speculators are extinct. The domestic market within cities - especially Sofia - is a lot healthier than that of the resort areas in the mountains or along the Black Sea Coast, or in rural areas where price falls of 50 percent are also being seen.
With experts predicting that prices have nearly hit the bottom, the next few months will be the best time to buy for those backing Bulgaria in the long run.
Where to buy on a budget
In Bulgaria, 'budget' now really means less than EUR 30,000 (GBP 27K). For GBP 8,000-10,000 you can buy a wreck in most rural locations, but for EUR 20,000-30,000 (GBP 18K-27K) you have a number of choices.
For EUR 28,000 (GBP 25K) you could buy a ready-built one-bed apartment in one of Bansko’s operational complexes one kilometre from the ski lift. Bansko is Bulgaria's most famous ski resort, with the country's most extensive ski terrain, although much of it is far from fully developed yet.
Equally, you could also buy a one-bed in a fully finished complex - ideal for renting - 300 metres from the sea in the country's most popular coastal resort of Sunny Beach for EUR 22,000 (GBP 20K). This resort is geared to families and is lively enough for teens.
If you seek a quieter location, then you could also get a one-bed for around EUR 30,000 (GBP 27K) in the seaside resort of Kavarna on the northern Black Sea coast; or for something slightly different, a riverfront apartment on the Danube close to Vidin for EUR 22,000-EUR 28,000 (GBP 20K-GBP23K).
Where to buy a mid-range home
Anything above EUR 100,000 (GBP 91K) is currently viewed as expensive in Bulgaria, so below that threshold there's plenty of choice.
If rentals are a priority, EUR 30,000-80,000 (GBP 27К- GBP 45K) buys you a one-bed apartment in the capital Sofia - ideal for a local couple as the city's weekend-break appeal is still embryonic.
If you seek an affordable ski property, check out Borovets, which is a little more expensive than Bansko because it doesn't have oversupply issues and is popular with monied Sofians. Prices in the country's oldest resort have generally fallen by 20 percent. Borovets also has the big advantage of being only an hour from Sofia (Bansko is nearly three).
Here you can get a 50-square-metre studio apartment near the ski lift, ready for occupation, for EUR 75,000 (GBP 68K). Further plans for a “luxury” resort, Super Borovets, are currently on ice.
Plovdiv - based around the country's second largest city - is also a popular region with tourists. Here you could buy a rural house, renovated to a high standard by a fellow Brit, with at least three bedrooms. Culturally, the ancient town has a rich heritage, an attractive old quarter, and surrounding villages look towards the Rodopi Mountains.
For a classier beach proposition than Sunny Beach and its ilk, try Sozopol, the "St. Tropez" of Bulgaria, which is quieter but offers a better year-round location. You can buy a one-bed apartment in a beachfront complex for EUR 39,000 (GBP 3SK) - only 38 kilometres from Bourgas airport - or for EUR 68,000 (GBP 59K) a one-bed in a high-quality development on a stunning headland.
Have you heard of...?
Veliko Turnovo, an old medieval capital just north of the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina) in central Bulgaria. The ”Oxford” of Bulgaria has dreaming spires surrounded by beautiful countryside and a resident population of around 100 British expats, although it also appeals to second-home owners. A small old two/three-bedroom house ready to move into costs from EUR 30,000 (GBP 27K) - it would have cost EUR 50,000 (GBP 45K) two years ago. Or a two-bed apartment ideal for student rentals is GBP 35,000.
In the summer, the busiest air routes are those bearing charter flights to the Black Sea area - Varna catering for the north, and Bourgas, the busier of the two, for the south. Wizz Air now flies to both from Luton all year. Only ski-resort charters go to centrally located Plovdiv, but Sofia is the country's busiest airport, receiving services from easyJet, Wizz Air, British Airways (daily) and Bulgarian Air from the UK.
What to expect in 2010
“With Bulgaria’s finance minister predicting it will be May before the economy recovers, I don’t think we'll see prices rise until 2011,” states Bulgarian agent Polina Stoykova (www.BulgariaProperties.com).
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