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Renovation Projects: Just Child's Play?

With financial doom and gloom urging us to hang on to our cash, Bulgaria’s low cost village property is once again attracting British buyers.

There are still some great property buys on the market with old single storey houses on sale for as little as 2,000 Euros and on top of this the cost of building materials has dropped by around 30%, but before you ‘buy it now’ on your Paypal account make sure that you are totally aware of what you are letting yourself in for.

In Need of Renovation

Bargain buys are not for the faint-hearted and if you are planning on doing most of the renovation yourself be prepared to work extremely hard. In Bulgaria, property in need of renovation at the bottom end of the price scale often means that the property needs demolishing. However that is not the case with every bargain property on the market; there are still many properties, which represent exceptional value for money. If you take on such a project be sure to budget for an indoor bathroom – old properties still have a hut in the garden for a toilet, a new kitchen – in an old house there will be an old sink, with a draining board attached to the wall, new windows and doors, a new roof, complete re-plastering and re-rendering, insulating and a damp proof course. Additionally you need to consider access to your property; many old houses are located off the beaten track making it difficult for delivery trucks to get there and with a renovation you are going to need lots of deliveries from cement trucks to JCB’s.

Financial Benefits

Once renovated, an old property with all of its original character and charm can provide purchasers with a comfortable holiday home or permanent base. In addition to a pleasant lifestyle it will also bring good capital appreciation in the long term. The resale market is still in its infancy in Bulgaria, so this is not a project to take on with the idea of making a fast buck. You can still get a mortgage on such property and if you are a young person struggling to get a foothold on the UK property ladder then a rural retreat in Bulgaria could offer you more than just cheap holidays.

Property Prices

On the market at the moment you can still find properties between 2,000 and 5,000 Euros; they are all located in rural backwaters in the middle of the country in rural villages close to places like Varbitsa, Veliki Preslav, Provadiya and Elhovo and around 50 - 70 km from a large town. They all provide around 50 sq m maximum of living space and large, wild gardens of 1,000 sq m plus. If you move further up the price scale to property costing 20,000 to 30,000 Euros you will find that the properties are in slightly better locations and it is possible to buy something around 25 km from the coast. Such properties are still in small villages and Bulgarian villages rarely contain more than a local shop or two, but these houses often need far less work and offer larger living accommodation of around 100 sq m. Many of these properties have undergone some renovation already, but do not be lured by the estate agents exterior picture, some have just been re-rendered on the outside and left in the usual run down state inside.

Points to Consider

Before signing on the dotted line, realistically work out how much you need to spend on the renovation before you commit your life’s savings – some properties require complicated building procedures to make sure the house is structurally sound. Secondly, check out utilities are already supplied to the house; if there is no electricity, you will have to hook up to the nearest point and this may be some distance from your property and here, the electricity company will charge by the metre for new installations. Choose a builder very carefully and make sure that you draw up a legally binding contract with him. Don’t rely on forum recommendations. Many people use these to ‘hook’ naïve foreign buyers. Check with the local municipality regarding planning permission. If you do not intend to alter the original foot print of the house, then you don’t need it, but if you want to extend you will have to apply. Buying a property with the idea of renovation or extension and then finding out the local council does not allow you to do what you want would be disastrous. You should also check that your property has a ‘legal footprint’ in the first place and this should be done by your lawyer before you buy the property.

Finding a property to renovate in that perfect spot is great fun! Bulgaria has a huge number of old buildings in various states of decay which are ideal for renovating to get that dream place at next to nothing. Just don’t be fooled by first impressions under the blue skies and sunshine!

Our Renovation Tips

Quest Bulgaria member, Bill Watson, purchased a renovation project a couple of years ago and shares some tips for a successful renovation. ‘Renovation at the start seems simple enough when looking at plans but it is after this that the work really starts. Building techniques here in Bulgaria are far different from those you expect in the UK: some builders are no more than reasonable DIY-ers. Finding the right people for the job is imperative. Recommendations from people you trust are a must and viewing a builder’s work, preferably with the owners present are also essential. This way the owners can confirm it was all the builders work and that there have been no underlying problems.’ Bill offers more tips, ‘Make sure there is only one person dealing with the builders because the ‘Jane said or Bill said’ will confuse the issue and will mean stress between you all. Never ever accept poor quality; if you are not happy make it known and don’t rely on pigeon Bulgarian or their pigeon English. Use an interpreter who understands building terms and knows what you mean when you say bricks, plasterboard and plaster. It sounds silly I know but how many schools teach building terminology in their language classes?’ Bill’s renovation in Veliko Tarnovo was a great success, but he urges readers to always ensure you have the necessary permission to carry out conversions. For example, a barn is an agricultural animal dwelling and you must seek permission to change its use. The house may be sat there but did it really have planning in the first place? Finally, Bill says, ‘Always be prepared to go at least 10% over budget – sometimes even this is not enough but try to keep the extravagances to a minimum and if it all gets too much, go for a walk and kick a tree.”