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Hot Tips for Renovations

Many people opt for doing up an old Bulgarian home; some because they believe it will be cheaper than buying or building new, others because they anticipate the gains to be made once the project is complete and many of us because we fall in love with the idea of owning a home full of Bulgarian charm and character.

One thing to bear in mind is that renovating a property in Bulgaria is far more than a quick paint job and a few plush soft furnishings. Most old buildings are bordering on dereliction. They have faced years without investment and improvements and consequently are often in need of major repair.



Get a Survey

It is not common to have a survey carried out on a property in Bulgaria and if you are buying a building which you intend to demolish, then it really isn’t necessary.

However, if you are buying a house to renovate, you would be well advised to organise a survey. Many Bulgarian houses look pretty but hide a multitude of sins; damp, rotten wood, dangerous electrics and old water pipes, the list is literally endless. Naturally if you have your potential house surveyed, you must expect it to come back with a list of problems, but ultimately what you must determine from this is whether it is structurally sound. If it isn’t then no amount of renovations are going to mask the underlying problems.

Secondly, when you receive your list of needy repairs, you need to estimate the cost of putting them right. Once you have your estimate prepared double it- your excitement to buy can often cloud your judgement!

A survey is the blueprint for the contract with your builder, should you intend to use one. It will avoid those old builder classics of “we’ve discovered some dodgy foundations and need a further twenty grand to fix the problem.”

Do not be hassled by commission hungry estate agents who may ask you to commit to buying the house before the survey is complete, but do bear in mind that you could lose the property to another buyer should the survey take a long time to organise. A good real estate agent should be able to help you find and communicate with a surveyor. You may also need the services of a registered translator to find out exactly what is written in the surveyors report – don’t just rely on a friend doing a rough verbal translation.

Permission to renovate.

Before you sign a final contract before a notary to buy your desired property, ensure that all checks for planning permission as well as the ownership titles are made by a qualified solicitor.

Do not rely on the word of the seller or agents alone. Many old Bulgarian houses do not have proper planning permission in the first place, so it is wiser to check and whilst you are doing so, check out whether further permission will be needed to conduct your renovation work.

Generally, if you build on the same footprint as the original build (providing this did indeed have planning permission in the first instance) you don’t need planning permission.

But do remember that the minute you go off the footprint – even if it is by a tiny amount, you will need a permit which can only be obtained by getting an architect to draw up plans of the whole building. If your house is in an historic area like one of the museum towns then you will be limited by law as to what you are allowed to change.

The watchword here is “check up”!


Doing It Yourself versus Contracting Out

If you intend to renovate the property yourself, be prepared for a lot of hard labour. Whilst you will have a greater degree of control over the work and the budget, renovations can be soul destroying as you lurch from one damp patch to the next.

However, when your renovation is finished the satisfaction you experience is wonderful and the savings you can make are phenomenal. Draw up a plan of work and stick to it. It is very easy to flit from one job to another without ever finishing one. A thing to bear in mind is that if you opt for the DIY approach, you will need to brush up on your Bulgarian as most builders’ merchants and labourers do not speak English.

If you are planning to oversee a renovation from the UK – beware! You need to draw up a legally binding contract outlining in detail all works to be undertaken with a time scale and penalty clauses included. You also need to include details of how much the renovation will cost, timelines and rules for payment as well as clauses to cover eventualities like what happens if things go wrong. Do not hand over money or work with a builder who is not prepared to do this. Nightmare tales in the media of those people who emigrated and found themselves parting with vast sums of cash, stem from the lack of legally binding contracts. Tony Bryce a customer of Danives Ltd, a company which specialises in renovating property says, “The best advice we can give is don't trust anyone unless you are sure they are worthy of your trust. Even then check and double check every step of the way. When someone says don't worry, then worry.”

Keep an eye on the budget

It is so easy to let your money slip through your fingers without carefully planning your costs. Whilst you are waiting for your ownership documentation or permits to come through, visit local builders merchants, electrical shops and DIY retail chains to make lists of prices. You will be surprised at how much they vary. A few leva difference here and there adds up in the long run especially if you are buying in large quantities. To keep on top of your budget it is wise to keep all of your receipts as well as keeping a log of your costs to date. This will come in handy if you decide to take on another project at a later date and if you come to resell to allay any capital gains tax due.

Get recycling!

Some items in your renovation may be useful for recycling either in the house itself or for use in the garden. It is wise to set aside an area or outbuilding on your site to store items which may come in useful later. Old stone is great for building walls and rockeries. Wooden planks can be used as shuttering when building paths, otherwise it makes great firewood to see you through the winter. Roof tiles may be useful for patching up out houses. Often Bulgarian Gypsies will call and ask if there is any unwanted metal, if you don’t need it, let them have it. It is a great way to clear your site and also helps people less fortunate than yourself. Many expats have found a wealth of Bulgarian treasures left behind by the previous owners – everything from old ceramic jars to oil lamps. Many of these items will be perfect to add a little authenticity to your interior.

Keep your site clean and safe

Bulgarian builders are renowned for leaving an almighty mess wherever they work, yet leaving bags of plaster, fiberglass, adhesive and other substances is dangerous to children and animals who may wander onto the site whilst you are not around. Be considerate to your neighbours; broken nails and shards of glass left close to the road could damage vehicles. Remember, you may want to live in your renovation afterwards; be socially responsible and your neighbours will love you for it.

Ask for help

If you are doing the renovation yourself then talk to builders and estate agents about what is in vogue. Keep up with local market trends and don’t tackle anything you are uncertain of. Don't mess with anything that looks remotely structural, such as beams and lintels unless you've had expert advice. You might end up compromising roof or wall strength which will make a small job huge.

Expect the unexpected, unless you have had a full survey you will find rotten wood, cracked walls, and other hidden nasties that need repairing. And most of all don’t give up!