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Visit, Buy, Emigrate, Renovate

Retired couple sixty-six year old Alan Lowe and his wife, fifty-eight year old Carol, originate from Dundee. They are now happily living in a village, near Yambol. Carol talks about their real-life experience of buying their property in Bulgaria, moving and renovating.

"Before coming to our decision we researched Bulgaria as best we could - mainly using the internet for information. We felt it was important to look into as many aspects as possible of our chosen destination. Not just the country itself, but the regions of that country; with regard to climate, lay of the land, etc.

 

As both of us suffer from arthritis, neither of us can walk far for very long, although we both love to travel and explore as much as possible. The area in and around Yambol suits us well as it’s reasonably flat. Our village, although being just a small village of a few hundred inhabitants, is also under 12 kms from the town of Yambol, so is near enough for any emergencies such as hospital, doctor, dentist and so on.

It’s not a quick and easy decision to leave all the comforts of home, family and friends, especially when you’re that little bit older.

Approaching pensionable age makes you look a little bit harder at your way of life (or standard of living might be more appropriate), and let’s face it, being a pensioner in the UK isn’t all roses.

Having taken out a mortgage later in life meant that we would still have a mortgage to pay for another couple of years after Alan retired, along with the crippling council tax, expensive electricity and gas bills, not forgetting the fact that we are both smokers. Our pension certainly wouldn’t go far in the UK, well not as far as both our full time salaries had allowed us to go previously at any rate!

We spent roughly a year and a half looking into Bulgaria once we had actually decided on which country we were going to transplant ourselves to. At the end of the day, money had to be the deciding factor, and Bulgaria is the country which met our limited pension budget.

Then we had to decide, shall we take our own household goods or buy everything new? Although Bulgaria does have some really nice looking furniture, it’s not always the most comfortable, and beds, for example, are a different size so therefore is bed linen. We had to weigh up if it was worth the cost of transporting our things or getting everything new - it is nice to have your own things around you. We opted to bring it all with us, for which I will always be glad that we did. Maybe it’s an age thing I’m not sure.

During our extensive search for estate agents and properties, we were extremely lucky to find Bulgarian Real Estate Online.

 

Visit

For a few months we dealt with their company by e-mail having photos and information on various properties sent to us. Their prices included all costs - solicitors, notary, translation of documents, checking that the property was free to be sold, and so on. It’s amazing how all these incidentals can mount up if you try to do it on your own.

Eventually we decided it was time to make a trip to Bulgaria and view some of the properties we had only so far seen in photos. We narrowed our search down to about six properties, which wasn’t easy seeing as we had to think of it as being the last home move we were ever going to make. One of the houses came up for sale just two days before we left for Bulgaria. It was the most expensive one on our list, but also the one I had the strongest feeling for.

Our personal criteria had been relatively simple, it didn’t need to be a huge property in either house or land (after all there’s only the two of us), as long as there was space to put up relatives when they came to visit and enough of a garden area to keep us occupied.

We came over in May 2006, when Alan retired from his job as an ATM assembler for the US company NCR, to view the six properties which ranged in price from £12,000 to £20,000. They were in various villages within an 80 km radius of Yambol.

Viewing the properties came as quite a culture shock even though we thought we had prepared ourselves! We met lovely old couples who greeted us happily and were so proud of their homes and yet we, being from the UK and used to up-to-the-minute mod-cons, were horrified to find what these lovely people are living in.

Horrified, but at the same time humbled, as we had to remind ourselves just what were we expecting for this amount of money? We saw places which really, to satisfy our standards, would need to be completely demolished and re-built from the foundations up, all of which costs money, and although cheaper than in the UK, you have to keep in mind that once you come to live here in Bulgaria you are no longer a holidaymaker with money to burn, you are a local, living with local prices and your money only stretches so far.




Buy

The house I mentioned earlier was the second to last one we viewed and the minute I stepped over the threshold I remember saying to Alan "this is it, I want it, I want it". Call it ‘women’s intuition’ but you just know when something is right. Everything about it felt right.

I think you need to have a little madness in you to be doing this in the first place - this is mine, star signs - and when we saw a bridge with threee bull statues (Alan's star sign is Taurus), well, it just had to be. Obviously Alan being Alan (and a man), thinks about the important things like, "let’s just check this out", "let’s make sure the roof is OK, the walls are sound, and there are no cracks" - the boring, but important part, of looking at these properties.

The seller had put in a brand new Bulgarian style kitchen in my favourite kitchen colours of blue and yellow. We had a lovely drink of fresh fruit juice out on the patio, under the shade of the cherry trees (with a fantastic bowl of the same fruit on the table). On Alan’s inspection the house seemed sound enough, and the seller answered all Alan’s questions regarding the upstairs which was unfinished. The seller had to get back to work so, in all, a decision which was to change our lives was made in a matter of thirty minutes - crazy isn’t it? We are so cautious in the UK, yet we put so much trust in people here in Bulgaria, that they’ve answered our questions honestly, and we take things at face value, which we seldom do in the UK. The price of this house was £19,500 - wow!

This was the one for me, so it was into the office for the adventure to really begin. We had to pay the deposit, open a bank account, think of a company name, etc, etc. We managed to get it all done and dusted within three days, and finished off our holiday in Sveti Vlas before returning to Scotland to begin preparation for ‘The Move’.

 

Emigrate

This all happened before Bulgaria joined the EU, so we had all the visa paperwork to deal with, which you don't need now, as well as arranging the removal of our worldly goods. Quotes for removal costs varied between £3,000 and £6,000 (from Scotland).

I handed in my notice at the central heating company office which I ran, we sold our home in Dundee, said goodbye to family and friends, and finally moved to Bulgaria on 28 August 2006.

Our house, although in need of renovation, was in fact habitable on the ground floor, with a kitchen, living room, one bedroom, and shower room/toilet. The main work was the upper level. Nothing other than dividing walls existed, dividing the area into three bedrooms and a bathroom, along with a large veranda.

 

Renovate

The renovation consisted of the entire upstairs, with tiled floors, wood ceilings including the veranda. The veranda also had a wooden balustrade with fitted fly screens all around with a new two metre sliding door to replace the two small windows, and a door leading from our bedroom.

Double glazing and fly screens were fitted throughout (eight windows along with new back and front doors). We had a completely new bathroom with a bath/shower, a new UK style kitchen, a log burning central heating system with five radiators and two heated towel rails, all the walls were redone with plasterboard, plus an essential new septic tank (soak-away type) in the back garden. Not to mention a new reinforced floor in the garage along with the walls being re-plastered and new concrete roof. We had new metal garage doors and new driveway gates. The property and garage were also completely rewired.

Work started in September 2006 and was finished in March 2007, all carried out by BRE’s builder

A word of advice - keep in mind that any renovation is going to cost money and it’s by no means cheap, not even by UK standards. Remember too that you might come up against ‘dual pricing’ - a Bulgarian price and a British price, although this is not allowed. Our renovation came with a two year guarantee and cost us the equivalent of £15,000.

Living through the renovation was horrendous. The mess, the noise, the discomfort, all added up to enormous stress. The builders who did our renovation were wonderful, but they did work differently to UK workers. The work they do is every bit as good, but it just takes longer. They seemed to jump from bit to bit without ever finishing any one thing off. Then they had endless ‘discussions’ about something we thought was very minor and when we asked what the problem was we were told ‘nyama problem’ (there isn’t a problem). How frustrating!

Another piece of advice is - learn the language! The communication barrier is the biggest drawback to living here.

Our sons are coming for a holiday this month never having been to Bulgaria before. There will be a few culture shocks for them to get over, but then I’m sure like us, they will realise why we are so happy to have moved here."