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Bulgarian Bodger Builders

With spring in the air, this is the time for renovations to your Bulgarian property. For many people, a beautiful old country property in Bulgaria would be their dream come true but what can you do to guarantee success for those renovation and building works that need doing?

If you’re in any doubt about being able to do the job yourself on your property in Bulgarian, then it’s best to leave it to the professionals. Doing a bad job of it and then calling in someone else to sort it out is often more expensive in the long run than calling in a professional to do the job properly in the first place. Improving your home doesn’t have to end in chaos but you do need to follow a few simple steps to get the best out of your builder and achieve the results you really want.

Find your builder

The builder you choose may be spending several weeks or more working in your home so you need to be comfortable and confident in their ability to do the work.

First of all check out the builder and do your research. Find out how long the builder has been in business; longevity in the business is a good sign of happy customers. You should ask the builder for customer references, if they are a good professional outfit they should be happy to do this. Then get several detailed written quotes. Any decent builder will prefer this anyway as it makes things much clearer between them and the client and really specifies the job to be done.

In Bulgaria, you may find that you have to pay to have a quotation. This has become more uncommon recently and really large companies shouldn’t charge you for this service. Be careful of  builders recommended by real estate agents. Some agents receive a kick-back from builders just so that they place clients' business with them. Always get more than one quotation. Ask the builder what warranties he gives and also what is and is not included in the warranty.

Be aware of any legal requirements such as planning permissions and involve an architect to do detailed plans for you if necessary. It’s not the simplest process in Bulgaria to go through planning permissions and paying an architect to do this for you will probably be well worthwhile. The work involved in putting in the required documents to get planning permission makes it worth the money you will spend. They will often act as project managers for you, supervising the whole of the works from start to finish. Although their services may seem expensive, they are worth considering, especially if you will not be on hand to oversee the works yourself.


Work together

Once you’ve decided on your builder get a written contract drawn up. Include a timetable that you are both happy with and include penalty clauses for delays.  Work with the builder to let him know exactly what you want, show him pictures from magazines.

Talk straight! Many projects which go wrong are often because the customer wasn’t precise and clear about what he wanted in the first place - builders are not mind readers, so tell them exactly what you want them to achieve. Get it spelled out to the last detail. Ensure the contract includes staged payments upon completed works.

One tip is to remember to talk to the builder about how they are going to remove any rubble, open bags of cement, etc. So many people have forgotten this and found it has been left lying around their home and is impossible for them to clear.

Check with the builder whether there will be any guarantee of the work they do for you and make sure they have the appropriate level of public liability insurance for work they do at your home.


Monitor the work

Make sure you completely understand every step and keep tabs on how the work is going.

Arrange regular meetings with your builder if you can. If you are monitoring the work from a distance, then get regular e-mails sent to you with pictures (although do watch out as even pictures do not always tell the full story). Even better, get someone locally whom you trust to monitor the work on your behalf - if you don’t know anyone like this in your area, there are many independent property management companies who will undertake this job for you.



If you encounter any difficulties, talk straight away to the main person. Talking to his sub-contractors or workers will not only cause problems but will also confuse them. Keep calm, keep talking with your builder and keep everything friendly!


Case Study

This is an unfortunate example of what can go wrong. Gary wrote to us explaining what happened to him.

"I chose a builder off the internet and went with them as they advertised themselves as being based in the UK with expertise in Bulgaria.

The quote came to 20,000 euros.The work was to be guaranteed and payment agreed to be made by instalments. A contract was drawn up which was signed by our (then) solicitor, as we had given him a Power of Attorney and payments were to be made through him. He also agreed to check the works although the building company had their own project manager.

It was agreed that at each stage photos would be sent to us before we released funds. Our solicitor also agreed to check the works although the building company had their own project manager. Before we went back over to Bulgaria ourselves, we had already paid approximately 15,000 euros for the works to date.

We discovered the problems when we visited. The only amount remaining was the final instalment which, as agreed, would be paid after all works were finished. There were many problems such as the doors they had put in the ensuites would not close, the showers had been wired incorrectly, they hadn’t painted the rooms properly, they had forgot the stained the wooden roof surround, the guttering was pouring water from many places, the new patio they built was crumbling.

One of the owners of the company became defensive when I pointed out these problems but did fix some things herself. She kept asking for final payment but I refused saying that the work had to be completed. Her comment was that the work was under guarantee so what did it matter if they fixed things now or later. I wasn’t sure they would honour the guarantee and so when we returned home I sent her a list of things in the contract which hadn’t been done or done badly. I am an honest and reasonable person and asked them nicely to help us but they refused.

After several communications they said they would not finish and their e-mails just tried to brush off the whole thing. At this stage I contacted an independent property management company, Pride Property Management, and asked them to visit the property and provide me with a detailed report."

Quest Bulgaria spoke to Richard Slater of Pride Property Management who had visited the property and told us, "This isn’t the worst building job I have seen by any stretch, but it is finished cheaply, especially the floor tiles and the bathrooms. The doors are pretty ugly too. I think Gary’s comments are all fair and the responses he had from the builder were flippant and bound to aggravate the situation. Gary hasn’t mentioned the quality of materials used. Aside from the workmanship, for me the disappointment would have been finding cheap doors, tiles, windows, and  wondering how it all added up to 15,000 euros!"

Gary went on to say "I hoped to use this independent report to arbitrate with the builders but their reply was just a threatening email from their solicitor. We talked to our solicitor who advised us that we had no option but to agree no final payment and no work finished."

Quest Bulgaria contacted the building company concerned and spoke to one of the partners for his comments. He told us "I’m not interested to put my side of the story. I’ve spent too much time and effort on this case and it’s not worth putting in more effort. I’m fed up with the whole thing. The whole thing went to the solicitors and it was resolved with no finishing and no final payment."

He went on to add "We have amended our contracts now. It’s happened two or three times that clients are relying on getting compensation at the end. They set out to do this and decide they will get money back before they even start. My impression is that in their calculations of what they have to spend they include getting something back at the end. It’s difficult to get good builders in Bulgaria because the perception of what is good from foreigners and what is good to a Bulgarian builder is different - it’s a culture thing."


In Hindsight

Gary commented in hindsight, "I think it went wrong because we were too trusting and naive. We trusted the builder when they said all problems would be sorted and we had very bad legal advice.

I also thought as the company had a base in the UK they would be more reliable. I think picking a builder over the internet was a bad idea.

Their site manager did not monitor or supervise enough and the solicitor did not visit often to check their work.

That is why the roof surrounds were not stained as per the contract and the workers removed the scaffolding without this being done. They did not want to put scaffolding up again due to the cost. They did however guarantee this would not affect the preservation of the wood (although it is rotting already) - so again it was down to trust.

My tips would be:

Get someone who has been recommended and ask to see examples of their work. I would say ask for a guarantee but we had that and they did not honour this. You need to get their guarantee in writing and check how long the builder has been in business. Ensure the final payment is a good amount, at least 15%.

Most importantly get a good lawyer as we were very badly advised. If possible visit the site as it progresses and never pay the final payment until satisfied."