The Unstoppable Rise of the Bulgarian Property Market

What is it about Bulgaria that has attracted thousands of property investors to commit to the country?

Why does the Bulgarian real estate sector appeal so greatly to so many people?

And what is causing the continuous flow of new investment into the country?

These are all questions that those external to the unstoppable Bulgarian real estate market need answering!

Well, the reasons for the popularity of Bulgaria’s property market are manifold and this article will guide you to an understanding of the main factors driving the ongoing success of the Bulgarian real estate sector.

Bulgaria is on track for EU accession – that means that it is about to gain full membership of the European Union either in 2007 or 2008. When the country is a member it will benefit from freer trading rights, it will easily attract more foreign direct investment, more companies will set up offices and bases in the country and as a result employment opportunities will increase and overall the local Bulgarian economy will benefit positively.

Because Bulgaria is not yet in the EU however, many investors are buying property in Bulgaria now to benefit from the economic improvements that the country will enjoy once it does become a member. These economic improvements will likely translate into higher property prices in the real estate sector, therefore those who buy now believe that they will benefit from the greatest price gains and make the maximum profits and enjoy the longest period of growth.

Until Bulgaria does join the EU its property ownership laws are not in line with those of other EU countries which means that there is an element of risk to the whole property buying process which artificially keeps real estate prices low – as with any type of investment, the greater the potential risk the greater the potential profit. Therefore those who are not risk averse can see that the artificially deflated prices present them with even more opportunity for profit over the medium term.

Finally, property prices in Bulgaria may be artificially deflated but they are starting from a low position anyway because the country is just beginning to emerge into a first world country with first world infrastructure – as and when it joins the EU it will most likely make further leaps forward in terms of its development and this will make the country more attractive to more people which will increase the demand for real estate which will push up the prices for property and those who buy before this predicted boom will be able to reap the greatest rewards! And that is why the appeal of Bulgarian real estate market is so intense with property investors right now.

The Bulgarian Property Renaissance

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 natural 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 CHOICE

Approaching 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 COAST

There 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 RESORTS

Bulgaria 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.

SOFIA

Sofia 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 INVESTOR

In 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 about investing in Bulgarian Property Renaissance visit Allure Estates’ web site at www.allure-estates.co.uk [http://www.allure-estates.co.uk/whybulgaria.php], e-mail your query to [email protected] or call on 0044 845 2577 057

Written by Stelios Alex. Rigopoulos

What is the Reality of the Spanish Property Market? Are Banks the Best Source For Cheap Deals?

Spanish house price falls seem to range between: 50% since the 2007 peak, to the official statistics of -7%. Both extremes cannot be correct. So which is the correct figure? Latest figures from the Ministry for Housing show National average prices have fallen 8% over 12 months, from EUR1,780 m2 to EUR1,634.7 m2 today (September ’09 vs ’08).

This seems a modest property price decrease, given latest quarterly house price data from Knight Frank, which shows the USA officially declined -15.4% and the UK -11.7%, Bulgaria -21.9%. Many expected to see double digit falls and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts bigger falls than is being reported. Agents on the ground believe prices in some instances have declined up to 50%. That isn’t to say that is the case with all property, it may be in pockets and where properties have been priced unrealistically, to begin with.

So why is there this discrepancy in figures? Well official figures are not always that comprehensive and because of the way the Spanish conveyancing system has worked in the past, not all transactions may have been captured at the most accurate price. So what is the truth about the price dynamics? It lies somewhere in between officialdom and anecdote, as ever. Coastal properties have suffered more, based on anecdotal evidence, as this is where a lot of housing stock is, whereas inland properties appear to have suffered less as a generalisation.

So what is the best source of cheap deals?

Are Banks the best source of cheap property?

Spanish lenders acquired at least EUR20 billion ($29 billion) of property in the past 18 months, according to data compiled by analysts at Zurich-based Credit Suisse Group AG.

Some buyers assume that the surest way to secure a cheap Spanish property is to access repossessed properties direct from the bank. However, there are downsides to this approach. Repossession in Spain is slow – sometimes more than 12 months. So properties promoted today as ‘repossessed’, may have been around and available for 18 months or so. So it may have been the case that the “bargain” property had already failed to find a buyer for at least a year, maybe longer.

The second drawback is intrinsically related to this point. Due to the length of time it takes to repossess a property, banks will want to pass this cost of effort on. So prices could be inflated to take account of the repossession process. What about developers, sellers and agents as a competitive source for discounted property?

Many bargain properties are still available direct from sellers, developers and agents. It does not cost more to buy through an agent, than it does to go directly to a developer. Pricing will already be based on selling through multiple channels. Agents are a valuable source of advice and guidance through some of these nuances. Many developers and sellers are aware of the market dynamics and have already adjusted prices accordingly. Just because you hear the word repossessions, does not automatically mean there are cheaper properties available.

So what is the outlook for Spain?

Buying into Spain now, while prices are keen, is surely attractive for many who may have found Spanish prices unaffordable in the past. This assumes finance is available to those wishing to do so. Whilst the economic outlook is still uncertain, it remains a favourite among buyers because of its climate, lifestyle and beauty. It is a great time to be getting into the market, if a medium to long term outlook, is taken.

And whilst property price declines have been more accentuated on the coast, inland prices have held up. So if you are feeling uncertain about the prospects and not sure whether more price falls are likely, an option would be to look inland, where prices and values have held up more and are likely to be less volatile in the future.

Sources: Bloomberg, OPP, Economist, RR de Acuna, IMF, Investors Chronicle, Credit Suisse, SPI, Knight Frank