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My Renovation

We have now joined the group of people who have bought second homes or more importantly a second home in Bulgaria. In May 2007 we went to Veliko Turnovo in Bulgaria, to visit Bill and Jane Watson who are friends of ours who had moved out there twelve months before to run a Bed and Breakfast. We had a 7 day holiday with them to catch up and see there new home and while we were there, out of curiosity, we had planned a day looking at houses in the area for sale.

 



We landed at Sofia and as we headed out in to the country were really surprised to see mountains, forests and glades with small villages; we could see why our friends had decided to move here. Bill and Jane live in a small village just outside Veliko Turnovo, close enough for city comforts but still in the country, they managed the renovation of their house themselves and have done an amazing job.

When our day of house hunting came around we had arranged to view 8 houses with REMAX estate agents in the Veliko Turnovo region, our criteria was quite specific - in the countryside, in a quiet location and with a small garden. We looked at a lot of different houses that day, most of which we wouldn’t entertain the idea of taking on and now we know what “out in the sticks” really means and no, Bulgaria doesn’t “do” small gardens. The second house we looked at fitted our spec exactly; in a small village 35k from Veliko Turnovo, near the Stambolyski Dam, with the house situated at the back of the village away from all the roads and a small bar – for him! The house was small 110 sq.m. and part renovated with new roof, 1,000 sq.m. of land in total with a good well kept garden, small newly planted orchard and a big barn. Quite a lot of work would be needed to get the house up to our living standards plus there was no inside stairs, it was on the market for 16,500 euros.

That evening we began to discuss the house with Bill and Jane, would they help us with the legal side of things and the renovation etc., what did we need to do and how would we go about it. They had recently branched out into the house renovation market using all the skills and contacts they obtained whilst doing their own house. I don’t think either of us thought we were actually going to go ahead with the idea. Two days later we took our friends back to the house to have a look and give an opinion. They agreed with us, it had great potential but it needed a lot of work to make it liveable all year round, structurally it was sound but everything else would have to be re-done including an extension for the internal stairs and walls knocked out in the basement. We went to lunch afterwards in Sevlievo and all I said to Paul was “its up to you”. He put an offer in for 16,000 euros plus on site building materials and it was accepted immediately. So now we had a house and were going back to the UK in 2 days, we didn’t have the money on us for the deposit just our passports and we spent two days running around like mad setting up the company, bank accounts, power of attorney for Bill and withdrawing money everywhere we could, then we came home. Two months later the sale went through and we now owned a falling down house the other side of Europe with no address!, or a Bill kept putting it “a small detached farmhouse with land”.

By the end of September Bill had found an architect, Lallev, who is Bulgarian and speaks good English, to design the renovations, and obtain quotes from the builders for the work. It was decided the work would start on the first of November and would last 8 weeks - which we all thought was a bit optimistic considering the Bulgarian winters. We went back in October for a visit and to see our house again, Paul thought it was smaller than he remembered but the garden was bigger and what are we going to do with all that space? But it was so quiet and peaceful you couldn’t help but love it, we didn’t plan on returning until all of the work had been finished. The work started on the 1st November, with Marin and his team of builders that had been recommended Lallev as he knew Marin's work and this was the first renovation job for them because they were from the coast and trying to break into the renovation market. The initial work quoted at £16,000 was to knock down the walls in the basement to make one large room, build the extension and wooden stairs, full rewire, central heating by way of a wood burning fire and 7 radiators, new kitchen and bathroom, build a new chimney stack, dig the basement floor up renew with damp proof membrane, re bared and concreted, tiled through out down stairs and in the bathroom, 3 RSJ’s put in to support the ceilings downstairs, all the internal walls plaster boarded and the bathroom slab replaced, new wooden doors upstairs, lay 3 new wood floors upstairs, double glazed uvpvc wood effect windows and front door, insulate the loft and the outside of the house, finally paint inside and outside.

The overall cost of the project didn’t spiral due to tight controls Bill put in place and our statement of “no more money” after the first request.

 



This is where the internet and digital cameras really helped. Twice a week Bill visited the site, once on his own and once with Lallev when he would take pictures of the work completed and send them to us. It became a bit of a ritual on a Monday looking at the work from the previous week, seeing the changes and how everything was taking shape. Paul found it especially hard as he would of like to be more involved with the day to day running of the project because he is in the building trade in the UK. We weren’t there, but could really get involved with the decisions being made, and as the project progressed it was great to see everything coming together. However I still don’t get the picture looking up the chimney!

Bill had organised the builders contract to include payments at work stages so we were confident it would all be completed competently. Problems, mainly due to weather, put the renovation back by 8 weeks as we had expected. In the end we paid in total an additional £2,000 for the extra work, which was really good considering the extra time involved, plus the builders wanted us to give them a good recommendation.

At the end of April this year I went out to Bulgaria to approve the final result and to buy the furniture, I even got Jane to make all the curtains for me. It was really strange walking around the rooms that I know from the pictures but were now real to me, it was totally amazing. In June Paul and I both went for our first holiday, he was totally speechless and just spent his time wandering around looking at the finishing of the job which he thought was excellent.

Our neighbours are really friendly, everybody brought us strawberries, (even though we've got a huge strawberry patch!), and with their help we’ve managed to sort out the basics like getting the bills paid and paying our municipality tax. I can say from one short visit we have made good friends already.

We are now in the process of getting the outside finished, which hopefully will be by September. Using Bill again at Natures View we are having the barn removed, walls built around the garden and a tool and wood shed built using part of the original barn structure.

We now have something that we never thought we would have and we couldn’t have done it without our friends and their help, it just goes to show you never know what is around the corner. Bill and Jane have made a good life for them selves in Bulgaria with their various business interests which in turn has helped us do something that gives us a much more fulfilled life.

Amanda and Paul Price