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Analysis of the Bulgarian Property Market 2Q 2011

In contrast to 2010, when property prices dropped by about 10%, in 2011 we are witnessing an average decrease of 5% in the prices of different property types. The good news in the last few months

is the increase in the number of concluded deals which is the first long-awaited positive signal for the beginning of the recovery of the Bulgarian property market.

In the first half of 2011 the most dynamic markets were those in the capital Sofia and along the Southern Black Sea coast. The market in Sofia is driven solely by Bulgarian buyers and the seaside market - almost entirely by Russian buyers. According to BULGARIAN PROPERTIES' data sales in these two areas make up 40% of the total number of sales in the country, which makes them the trend-setters on the residential market and in the holiday home segment.

Highlights of the last quarter

• An increase in the number of concluded deals in Sofia, a 5% drop in the prices of apartments sold in the capital year-on-year and a 2.5% increase in prices compared to the previous quarter
• A more dynamic holiday home market focused mainly in and around the resort of Sunny Beach and deals with apartments priced between 450 and 850 EUR/sq.m. mainly with Russian buyers
• Almost no interest in the ski resorts and a continuing price drop of Bansko properties
• A decrease in the prices of rural properties of 6% compared to the previous quarter

1. Sofia

The dynamic sales in the capital Sofia from the first quarter of 2011 continued in the second quarter which makes 2011 more successful for the Sofia property market than 2010. The latest data shows that in the last couple of months there is a trend for buying cheaper apartments in Sofia - between 30,000 and 45,000 Euros and the market of luxury properties slowed down with the beginning of the summer season.

According to BULGARIAN PROPERTIES' data in 2011 there is a considerable increase in sales in Sofia compared to 2010, on the background of about a 10% increase in the number of deals around the country for the first half of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010.

The average price of the deals concluded in Sofia in 2Q 2011 is 850 Euro as in the 1Q 2011 it was 830 Euro (a small increase of 2.5%), while compared to the same quarter of 2010 there is a decrease of about 5% (from 870 EUR/sq.m.). In the last year property prices in Sofia are between 830-870 EUR/sq.m. (except for the last quarter of 2010 when they were 930 EUR/sq.m. due to the more deals in the higher price segment) so in general the market hasn't changed much in the last year.

Based on the asking prices on the BULGARIAN PROPERTIES site the average price per sq.m. in Sofia has decreased in the second quarter of 2011 by 5% compared to the first quarter and has reached a value similar to that from the end of 2005/beginning of 2006 - 945 EUR/sq.m. It can be seen that average asking prices in Sofia are still higher than the prices at which deals are concluded and deals are concluded after a discount in the price. However, the gap between the asking price and the price at which deals are concluded is getting smaller and smaller.

2. Holiday homes

The more dynamic market in the beach holiday home segment, especially in the area of the resort of Sunny Beach, which we have been witnessing since the summer of 2010 has considerable positive effect on the real estate market in Bulgaria.

2.1 Beach resorts

Most deals are concluded along the southern Black Sea coast the main reasons for that being the decrease in property prices and the big supply. Data shows that it is properties priced under or close to their cost price are those that sell. With resales it is often the case that sellers agree to part with their property at a price up to 60% lower than the one they paid in the property boom years (2006-2008).

The number of deals increased with the beginning of the summer season and we expect the interest in the Bulgarian Black Sea coast to remain stable in the next few months, especially during the high season. The number of concluded deals has increased by about 50% compared to the same period in 2010 and the average price of deals with apartments is 31,720 Euro in 2Q 2011. Sales are made mainly in the area of the resort of Sunny Beach.

Sold apartments are priced between 450 and 850 EUR/sq.m. The cheapest apartments sold are priced at about 450 EUR/sq.m and in most cases they are unfurnished apartments in finished developments set far from the beach. Apartments closer to the beach (300-500 m) are sold for between 480 and 650 EUR/sq.m. - they are fully furnished and in functioning developments. Apartments set on first line from the sea are sold at about 850 EUR/sq.m.

According to BULGARIAN PROPERTIES' data more than half of the deals are with apartments in the lowest price segment and over 95% of the sales in the area of Sunny Beach are concluded with Russian-speaking clients. This shows that the focus of interest of the Russian buyers has shifted from the area they traditionally like best - the region of Varna, to the south mostly due to the lack of flexibility of the sellers in the region of Varna. The reasons for this lack of flexibility are various but the most important one is the lack of such over development in this area compared to the area of Sunny Beach.

Interest in the resorts along the northern Black Sea coast is lower as deals with holiday apartments are concluded at prices up to 30,000 Euro. In the last few months there are more sales of rural houses close to Varna.

2.2. Ski resorts

The summer season means a standstill on the property market in the Bulgarian ski resorts but that said it should also be mentioned that in 2011 the winter season was also not very dynamic in terms of property deals. The number of concluded deals in Bansko and the area remains low and the number of sales is similar to that in the previous quarter and last year. The average price of apartments sold in the last three months in Bansko is 27,000 Euro as the average price per sq.m. is 460 Euro. These are fully furnished apartments in functioning developments. Just to compare, during the previous quarter deals in Bansko were concluded at about 585 EUR/sq.m., which makes a drop in prices of 20% based on actual concluded deals.

Although prices are extremely low there is almost no interest and is focuses on really undervalued properties which are sold at unrealistically low prices and whose owners are ready to sell at a big loss of up to 60% of the price paid before the crisis.

Sales in the resort of Borovets are concluded at 950 EUR/sq.m., the average purchase price being 37,000 Euro. These are the lowest asking prices in the resort. In the last few months there is almost no interest in holiday properties in the resort of Pamporovo.

3. Rural houses

The number of sales of rural properties is the same as in 1Q 2011 and in 2Q 2010. There aren't great fluctuations in prices either - the average price of sold rural houses in 2Q 2011 is 16,200 Euro, while in 1Q 2011 it was 17,200 Euro, which means a decrease of about 6%.

Most deals with rural properties are concluded in Central Bulgaria - around Plovdiv and Stara Zagora, as Bulgarian buyers are also interested in these areas. Rural houses in which buyers are most interested are priced up to 15,000 Euro or are in a very good condition and are ready to live in with prices between 25,000 and 40,000 Euro.

Average prices of sold rural properties as per region:

• Region of Bourgas - 20,000 Euro
• Region of Varna and Dobrich - 12,750 Euro
• Region of Yambol - 10,440 Euro
• Region of Stara Zagora - 15,300 Euro
• Region of Plovdiv - 13,770 Euro
• Region of Veliko Tarnovo - 14,250 Euro
• Region of Pleven - 6,350 Euro

4. Buyers as per nationality

The buyers driving the market are mainly Bulgarians and Russians - this trend was established in the last few quarters. The nationalities of the potential buyers are not so diverse now and at present it is Russians and Bulgarians who are the most active on the property market. Deals with British buyers are rare and they are focused mainly on the cheapest properties - mainly rural houses. There are some deals with buyers from other nationalities, but they are random and cannot be called a trend.

Russian buyers mostly look for beach apartments. They want to have a holiday home with all the necessary amenities, close to shops, restaurants, etc. That is also the reason they prefer furnished apartments in functioning holiday developments. They are not very active in the Bulgarian ski resorts, but find the spa resorts more attractive although there isn't big supply in the established spa resorts in Bulgaria and what is offered on the market are more expensive properties, while at present Russian buyers look for cheaper offers. Russian buyers look for rural properties that are close to amenities, easy to access and fit to live in. The price range in which Russian buyers conclude deals is between 10,000 and 50,000 Euro depending on the property type. Most deals are for beach apartments at prices between 20,000 and 40,000 Euro.

5. Forecast

The economic growth in Bulgaria as well as the big discount of property prices in the last couple of years led to an increase in the number of property deals, which is the first positive signal for the Bulgarian real estate market.

However, the negative factors are still prevailing and they influence the market in the short run: after a growth in the beginning of the year the number of granted loans decreased compared to 2010, foreign investments continue to decrease, as well as the issued permits for building new residential buildings. Other negative factors include the general insecurity for coming out of the crisis of the EU states, the deepening sovereign debt crisis, as well as the overall state of the global economy.

Our forecast for 2011 was the number of deals to increase (which is already a fact) and upon a positive development of the economy and a realization of the forecasts of about 3% economic growth (initial data showing it is also a fact) property prices to start increasing at the end of 2011 until the spring of 2012. Taking into consideration the difficult situation with the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and the greater insecurity related to the economic recovery, the more realistic scenario is 2011 to end with a minimal decrease of average property prices of about 2%.

Article written by Polina Stoykova, Chief Operations Manager, BULGARIAN PROPERTIES