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The Developer's View

Brendan Quinn, Executive Director of Pioneer Resort, talks to Quest Bulgaria about his views on the Bulgarian property market and his real estate development at Razlog. "I’ve now lived in Bulgaria for 9 years seeing a lot of changes in the country mostly good but as with all emerging economies there are also a lot of “growing pains”.

The country as a whole has benefitted from becoming one of the newest members of the European community. It has seen massive growth in many areas of business with foreign investment, particularly property and real estate, growing at an extremely large rate.

 

I have been involved in the design and construction of the Pioneer Resort for over 3 years. It took 2 years to acquire all the appropriate permissions to ensure we had all the boxes ticked as the location is in area of natural beauty and only 150m away from the Pirin National Park.

The property market has got a lot tougher and only high quality built products will move in such an environment. If you know anything about building, it’s all about building materials and methods used. The Pioneer Resort is built to standards deployed throughout Western Europe.

 

Investment Facts

As we all know the world has moved into a time of economic uncertainty, the many years of “fat cats” and large city bonuses being given to people whether they succeeded or failed is now well and truly over.

Looking at the stock markets recently I almost feel sorry for the people working on the floor of the investment houses, that’s until I remind myself of how much money they most probably made over the last 10 years.

If we have cash in banks and building societies is it now actually safe? One thing my father always told me was that there was never any safer investment than bricks and mortar - for example in Ireland an average house in Dublin in 1996 cost 75,000 euro, In August 2008- in the middle of this credit crunch the same house is valued at 271,000 euro’s - not a bad return over the ten years. OK recently world real estate markets have slowed; some have been affected more than others.

Ironically because Eastern Europe has only recently become part of the EU and now has access to similar financial products and services available in Western Europe for many years it has not been affected in the same way as say the UK or Ireland. Only 60-70% mortgages have been available over 10-15 years. Prices of property are a lot cheaper per square metre than those in Western Europe and are actually still rising as there is some equalisation between the East and West market prices. Believe it or not Bulgaria has been the world’s fastest growing market quarter on quarter since Q3 2007 according to the Knight Frank Global House price reports. The latest Q1 2008 figures shows Bulgaria still having the largest annualised price growth at 31.5% Knight Frank stating, “Bulgaria continues to confound market fears of oversupply and has so far proved immune to the deceleration seen in much of the continent.“

Even with such growth, property prices are still at relatively low levels compared with the rest of Europe, along with its fast-growing economy and the extensive inward investment it is attracting, they combine to make the Bulgarian housing market one of Europe’s most bullish opportunities.

However, it is not only the low prices that should make you think about Bulgaria as a good investment, the tourist potential indicates significant price growth in the future and so makes Bulgaria a compelling choice for the property investor. The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) describes Bulgaria as one of the most appealing ‘new faces’ in the tourism industry today. The WTO also makes bold predictions for tourism figures, predicting in excess of 20 million tourists annually visiting Bulgaria by 2010, making it one of the world’s greatest emerging markets. This has obvious positive repercussions for the investment market.

The increased exposure enjoyed by Bulgaria recently as a tourist destination is a significant advantage to its economy in its own right, and has led to a dramatic increase in visitor numbers. Statistics gathered by the National Statistical Institute (NSI) of Bulgaria shows that between 2000 and 2004 the country saw a 70% increase in foreign visitors (with a 90% increase from EU visitors. The most recent figures show a growth of 19% of foreign visitors coming into the Blagoevgrad (Bansko,Razlog) region year on year between Q1 2007 and Q1 2008.

Combined with the excellent long ski season, together with the increased number of low-cost airlines servicing Sofia and the new highway linking Sofia to Razlog means tourists have easier access to the ski resorts with transfer times now around 2 hours from the new international airport terminal in Sofia to the doorstep of the Pioneer Resort. Another surprising fact is that Razlog is only 2 ½ hours away from Thessaloniki, which is Greece’s second largest city with a population of around 1.7m people. Also, in February 2009, the ski resort will hold an event of the women’s world skiing cup which now puts it on the world map for excellent skiing conditions and can only bring even more tourism and revenue into the area.




The new pro European government set about overhauling the economic system and since then the economy has improved greatly. Economic growth remains stable, GDP growth reached 6.25% for the full year 2005 and 6.09% for 2006. In 2007 GDP growth was 6.4%, with the first Quarter of 2008 running at 7.1%.

Economic forecasts for the next few years predict continued growth in the Bulgarian economy, and this climate of growth is creating successful local businesses and attracting significant levels of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), bringing employment to the country and expansion to its real estate market. The period 2003 - 2006 was unprecedented in terms of the FDI attracted to Bulgaria. Bulgaria’s Central Bank registered record high FDI of €4,364 million in 2006, corresponding to 16% of GDP. According to preliminary data, FDI for the period January to August 2007 amounted to €3396.3 million, indicating a second consecutive year for strong foreign direct investment. Even in the ever increasing difficult market investment is still entering the market in 2008.

 

The location

The town of Razlog lies in the Razlog valley and is surrounded by three mountain ranges – Rila to the north, Pirin to the south and the Rhodopes. (The Pioneer Resort is located on the slopes of the Pirin Mountain, 3km from Razlog).

Razlog is mostly famous for its houses of the so-called “Razlog-Chepino” architectural style that spread during the Bulgarian Renaissance period. Some of these have been transformed into museums of history and ethnography.

In the vicinity of Razlog, one can take hiking tours to natural sights and archaeological remains. For instance, up in the slopes, one can visit the Iztoka and Krushe protected areas with mineral water springs and medieval remains, the Mechata Dupka and Propadnaloto caves.

In the slopes of Rila, interesting sights are the Stolovatets area for its remains of a Thracian sanctuary and the Katarino area with its mineral water.

 

Little History

Two Thracian tribes – ‘dii’ and ‘satri’ - were the first to settle in the area of present-day Razlog. In 847, Razlog was included in the territory of Bulgaria during the rule of Khan Pressian. Thereafter, the town shared the fate of other Bulgarian lands with the major exception being its non-inclusion in the liberated territories following the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878. Razlog was eventually liberated following desperate uprisings by its citizens and the population of neighbouring areas - namely the Kresna-Razlog (1878) and the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie (1903) uprisings of the Pirin region.

 

Winter activities

The ski areas are located in two main ski centres:

1. CHALIN VALOG (1100-1600 m)
2. SHILIGARNIKA (1700-2500 m).

They are approximately 10 km above the town on the northern slopes of Pirin, and are easily accessible in approximately 25 minutes ride on the Gondola lift which starts from Bansko. The total length of the marked pistes is around 70 kilometers. The resort has excellent snow conditions with great snow cover from late December the end of April. 44 Techno alpine snow cannons cover most of the slopes and make the ski season last longer. The maximum pleasure from the various ski pistes is guaranteed by 12 Kassbohrer slope maintenance vehicles. Thus the slopes offer runs and tracks for all types of skiers and will suit both beginners and experts.

Now there is a ski board fun park which has been constructed in the area, the first on the Balkans. Here extreme thrill seekers can build jumps suiting their taste and abilities. Every day skiers and snowboarders can take part in the competitions on the new piste on Shiligarnika.

As well as the 8-seats Gondola cabin lift by Dopplemayer there are five high speed squads of the latest Doppelmayer models, one 3-seat lift by Poma, 7 drags and 10 baby drags. The total length of the lift equipment in the resort is 26 kilometers. The whole area is managed using a swipe card id system with day week and season passes available.

There is Slalom and Giant slalom runs available, there is also a cross-country track with a total length of 5 km. There is also another large development commencing about 4km away from the Pioneer Resort to the West. About 30km of new ski piste are to be constructed with more to follow.

 

Summer activities

The snow disappears around the end of May in the area of the Pioneer Resort at around 1000m.

The peaks keep their snow for at least another month giving a great backdrop to the whole area. When the snow melts and the spring comes, new attractions will appeal to you to come to Razlog and the magnificent Pirin surroundings.

Hiking is the sport that is practiced by the majority of the tourists who love to explore unknown alpine territories and face challenges in the mountain.

The national park starts, literally at the entrance of the Pioneer Resort. Pony trekking and other outdoor activities can also be enjoyed whist the alpine peaks and scenic nature will tempt you to take a tour and admire the magnificent alpine lakes, alternating hills and other natural beauties.



To find out more about the development, visit the Pioneer Resort web site at www.pioneerresortbulgaria.com