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Living the Dream

Genya and David Johnson from Rotherham love travelling, meeting new people and exploring. At every opportunity they would take off to far flung places around the world including Thailand, Turkey and India. With their great sense of adventure they started to consider investing in property abroad, they had both lived in Thailand and noticed that Bulgaria was getting lots of media coverage as a booming real estate market, Genya explains,” I suppose it was the bug for travelling that got us both interested in looking at properties oversees. We had watched lots of travel programmes on TV, and had spent hours looking on the internet in the hope of finding our dream holiday. We started looking for a new home in beautiful Bulgaria.”



The Johnsons knew very little about the country, but kept abreast of developments by reading property magazines, numerous articles and checking out internet sites offering property and advice. Soon they were hooked on investing here and started to search for property in earnest. At first they looked for houses on or near the coast, but Genya was put off by the surrounding landscapes and the flat lands. The couple did not give up their search and when they looked at older inland property they began to get excited particularly when they explored more on the history, landscape the scenery of the central regions; Genya continues, “It was then that we both fell in love with an old house, in the village of Ritya near Dryanovo in the foothills of the Stara Planina Mountains. We contacted the agents, started asking questions and trawled the internet for other properties in the same area. Within a couple of weeks we had a folder full of potential properties and although there were so many we liked, we still felt we were getting no where. There was only one way to find out. We knew we had to go to Bulgaria.”

In October 2007 they flew to Bulgaria with the intention of buying a cheap house to renovate as a possible investment. Still bewitched by the old house they had seen on the internet in Ritya, they headed for Veliko Tarnovo by bus the trip was not all plain sailing, “We couldn’t speak the language, couldn’t read Cyrillic and hadn’t a clue what to do next. We sat outside a coffee shop, looked at the map we had brought with us and just felt helpless. After several cups of coffee, Dave my husband decided to ring the estate agent he had been speaking to from England and within half an hour we were on the road to Ritya.” The journey was a real eye-opener for the Johnsons, the road to Ritya is more of a long and winding dirt track surrounded by wild flowers, woodlands, fruit trees and wildlife but their arrival in the village confirmed that they had done the right thing in following their instincts, “Ritya is an amazing village. It has no shops or other facilities, just 15 very old, beautiful houses with views of the surrounding mountains and countryside.”

They were met by their real estate agent who informed them that he had two properties for sale here. The first property they viewed had been partly renovated and as the agent opened the gates to the house Genya just stood there stunned. The house was a beautiful, old house, enormous in size, which had been partially renovated and included an established garden, a swimming pool, some old barns and around three acres of land. The price tag was a mere £70,000. Inside, the house still needed lots of work, but had huge potential. Whilst Genya fell in love with the house immediately, it did not fit her budget and so they decided to take a look at the house they had spotted on the internet. Genya recalls, “This house was amazing too and it felt really strange to be standing there in front of it after thinking about it for so many weeks.
Even though it needed totally renovating I knew it was love at first sight.” Still not wishing to be too hasty the couple spent the following days looking at other property and exploring the historic and natural sights in the surrounding areas. The couple were welcomed with typical Bulgarian hospitality, “It was an amazing experience. Every time we looked at one of the older type village houses, friends and neighbours would join us and we would end up drinking squash - my preference to Rakia and eating fruit and sweets. Everyone was really friendly. As the week passed I realised I was beginning to fall in love with the landscape, the villages, the people, the wildlife, the countryside and everything this area had to offer and I realised that this was where I wanted to be; I had fallen in love with this wonderful country.”

As the couple reminisced about life back in the UK, they realised that whilst they owned a beautiful house there they had very little time to enjoy life. Genya’s work commitments running a music charity for children and young people meant that she was often working 60 hours a week and even though David worked alongside her, the couple felt they had very little quality time together. Their home was more of a base rather than a place they could enjoy together and when they were there, there seemed to be an endless stream of jobs to do especially in the garden.

With only two days left in Bulgaria the couple decided to put an offer of £67,500 in on the first house they saw and when their offer was accepted they were delighted. They arranged a mortgage over the ’phone with their bank in the UK, opened a Bulgarian company and committed themselves to spending as much time as possible in Bulgaria. Problems arose due to the government’s proposed re-planning of the area, which meant that they couldn’t purchase the house until all the plans had been done. The couple decided to return to the UK and complete the transactions once all of these issues had been ironed out.

Back home in England, the couple decided that visiting Bulgaria for the occasional holiday was not enough and so they put their house on the market. Despite negative media attention about the stagnant housing market, the Johnson’s found a buyer after only three months and the buyers had already sold their property and were committed to moving into the Johnson’s home August. This cast a whole new light on the potential move to Bulgaria, Genya explained, “Within two weeks, we packed all our things and had everything taken over to our new home in Ritya. Whilst we were still on holiday our sale went through and the new owners moved in.”

The couple still had some business to attend to in the UK, but no home to live in so they purchased a mobile home – something that may come in handy as they complete the renovations on their Bulgarian property. The couple intend to earn a living in Bulgaria by buying another property so that David can use his DIY skills and renovate this house to sell. Genya who is a passionate writer with three published children’s books under her belt intends to concentrate on her writing by focusing on travel writing and magazine journalism, perhaps she sums up her mood best of all, “Bulgaria is a beautiful country and I can’t think of a better place to write.”