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Using a Translator

Many of you who have stayed in Bulgaria will know how funny it is to have a conversation with Bulgarian friends. You use your pigeon Bulgarian, they add their rudimentary English and sometimes-other languages to the

mix and with over a glass of Rakia, you seem to understand each other. Yet, when you ponder on the evening’s conversation, just how much was really said and how much did you actually pick up? Having a conversation with friends and neighbours is a great way to develop your language skills, but when it comes to buying a property here, you can no longer afford to dabble in the language; in fact it is absolutely crucial that you understand every document you sign and every conversation you have relating to your sale – after all you are parting with large amounts of your hard earned cash.


Consider this common scenario... You’ve come to Bulgaria on a viewing trip and you’re staying in an idyllic rural retreat, less than an hour from a low-cost airline destination. Then you discover a wonderful roomy, sunny house with acres of land for sale at a ridiculously low price by British standards and you know you’ve just got to have it. Under the blue skies and the hot sun, over an aperitif you come to an agreement with the seller and so the house is almost certainly yours. You don’t believe that you will get caught up in some complicated chain or gazumped, so there you are already planning your vegetable garden and counting all those chickens you’re going to have running free range on your land. It all looks perfect.

Stop! Before you go any further, just ask yourself one question. How will you know exactly what it is you are buying?

If that situation were in Britain you would automatically get hold of a surveyor and a solicitor. You would know that they would make a thorough check on the property and all the small print involved in the contract. Naturally, being in the UK, you would have a contract, which is written in English and you would understand every word even though some of it may be shrouded in legal terms.

But this is Bulgaria so all contracts and paperwork will of course be in Bulgarian. Now, even if you have very good Bulgarian friend, you will be vulnerable. There is every chance that there will be parts of the contract you will not understand, particularly with the legalese related to such things.

Surprisingly, a huge number of British buyers still do not know what it is they are really signing and what the details are. Many rely on the wrong people and it is difficult to understand why they would sign something they do not comprehend when they would not be willing to do so in their home country. Perhaps it’s something in the British, which doesn’t allow them to ask questions or admit they do not understand or maybe it’s just the insecurity of not being on home turf that makes them commit to signing things, which are in reality bewildering.

Numerous buyers say they were lucky because the agent spoke enough English and guided them through the process and dealt with all the legal stuff for them. Is this good enough? Would you allow an agent in Britain to do all your legal contracts for you?

There are lots of very helpful, genuine and friendly Bulgarian estate agents and a great number of them speak English, which is great when it comes to taking you on your viewing trip and selling you the benefits of a particular property. They of course understand the marketplace and have no problems with Bulgarian. However, is it really wise to rely exclusively on your agent whose aim is to sell you a house? Would it not be better if you obtained help and advice from an independent source?

If you do not speak fluent Bulgarian, then you should use a registered translator who has experience in the housing market. This will actually cost you less than you think at around 20 lv. an hour. It will not only give you peace of mind but allow you to pose questions to the vendor and agent directly.

Using a translator you can check all the small print of the contract and the “skitsa” (land registry plan) of the property to ensure you know where the boundaries are, the surrounds and the infrastructure. The translator can go to the local mayor with you, check out whether the house has any sewage system, talk to builders with you, check if there is an available internet connection possibility and numerous other things which will assist you in ensuring you have the right property for you.

One of the big differences with house purchases in Bulgaria compared to the UK is the notary. Many buyers make the mistake of thinking that the notary, who appears to act rather like a conveyancing solicitor in Britain, will protect their interests. However, the notary is not there to protect your interests and nor is the estate agent. The role of the notary is solely to act impartially between the vendor and the buyer. He is there to conclude the transaction on behalf of the state. The notary draws up the preliminary contract, which has general clauses relating to the legal aspects of the property transaction (and any clauses specific to you).

This preliminary contract is the basis of your purchase, so you must make sure you know exactly what it says and what you are signing before you can accept the contract in full and be committed to the purchase. Again, a registered translator is essential at this stage. Remember, you can’t re-negotiate the price later on if you suddenly discover something, which is just not to your liking.

At the final signing usually about four weeks later, you should where possible attend in person with your translator. The notary will read through the document and your translator will be given the opportunity to interpret what it means. At the end you will be required to sign to show that you have understood and agree the contract in its entirety. Although many notaries in Bulgaria speak some English and can help you with this final meeting there is inevitably plenty of opportunity for misunderstandings and things to be lost in translation.

At the end of the day, a registered translator is worth their weight in gold. They will leave you with no doubt as to what you are signing or what agreements have been made around the negotiating table and at the end of the day, a few pounds spent on a translator during the buying process could save you a fortune and ensure that nothing gets lost in translation.