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Buying Listed Property

Research indicates that overseas buyers are increasingly focusing on the important lifestyle issues like climate, culture and food - as well as practical issues such as affordable authentic property and cheap cost of living, thus turning to countries like Bulgaria.

 

With more and more bland new build developments springing up on the Black Sea coast, in the mountain resorts and the capital city, concern is growing that Bulgaria’s ‘green gold’, its cultural and natural heritage, is being sacrificed. Current buyers are not only concentrating on lifestyle but many buyers are now also preferring authentic properties in unique surroundings, rather than high rise blocks and over-development.

For those seeking these important lifestyle elements, combined with architecturally interesting houses, the question is where to buy safely? Where can the ‘green gold’ still be found?

The answer could be - in a ‘museum’ town or village - ticking all those lifestyle boxes plus location, location, location. Where the wealthier locals are also buying.

 

What is a museum town?

There are fourteen Museum Towns in Bulgaria which are ‘showcases’ for houses built in the National Revival style of the 18th and 19th Century. Yes, there are many ‘revival’ style houses dotted all over the country, but these are not in protected towns or villages. With Museum Towns, either the whole town or a particular designated part of it is protected from further and unsuitable construction containing special listed buildings and houses.

These are towns where the past seems to come alive and are full of beauty and architectural style. It is very strange how they have come to be called ‘Museum Towns’ as this would suggest a cheerless, colourless and dull atmosphere whereas this could not be further from the truth. The towns are lively, active and
inspiring places, full of life.

Narrow cobblestone lanes flanked by high stone walls surrounding the gardens of the houses are one of the things which you notice first when you arrive in a Museum Town. Most or all of the properties in these towns are classified as local monuments of culture, which is similar to the listed buildings status in England.

 

Heritage

Some fifty years ago the National Institute for Monuments of Culture was established to look after and protect this heritage for future generations. Currently there are around 40,000 monuments of culture, with one half being archeological monuments and the other half being buildings, houses, architectural and artistic monuments. Most of these historic buildings are in private ownership.

Over the last decade the main threat to these wonderful properties has been the dramatic lack of necessary funds to maintain them, be that by the municipality or the private owner.

Most of these listed buildings are located in the very centre of small towns. There has been financial pressure to change the size, height and appearance of them, although such amendments are not permitted. Most of the problems are due to neglect and lack of maintenance of such wonderful buildings and the majority of properties to be found for sale in the Museum Towns need sympathetic renovation.

 

Style

With regard to the architectural style, generally those listed properties which date from the earlier part of the National Revival period are single storey buildings made of wood. Later ones are usually two storeys high (some even three or four) and often stone at the base, then wood or adobe on the first and later floors. More often than not they are set in gardens surrounded by high stone walls with large heavy double gates. Having said this, each Museum Town has it’s own particular charm. The old quarter of Plovdiv for example (above) has symmetrical houses with colourful painted facades, bay and lattice windows, whereas Zheravna has predominantly wooden houses with huge eaves spreading like giant wings.

These houses were built by the emminent craftsmen of their time and each preserves its own spirit, carrying more than just the mark of an original architectural phenomenon as they present the history of a nation.


 

 

Investment

Whilst, as one would expect, prices tend to be a little higher than much country property, these houses reflect remarkable value for money.

Prices start from as little as 30,000 euros for an authentic listed National Revival house which requires renovation. Bear in mind that there may be restrictions on what you can do with this kind of property, however, these can be worth it to own a property with such kudos.

Listed buildings are not museum pieces frozen in time and can be updated with modern kitchens and bathrooms, rewiring and plumbing. However, any works to the exterior must not harm the historic or architectural character of the building.

Many of these buildings have been altered over the years. Some, however, do not lend themselves to alterations. Special care needs to be taken when considering altering or extending as it is important to protect the very reason why the building was considered worthy of listing in the first place. If all the small scale historic buildings are extended with each generation there will be none left.

Stricter controls are often exercised in respect of garages, swimming pools and so on to protect the setting of the building. Before you buy a listed property that does not meet your specific requirements talk to the municipality before buying about whether your proposal is likely to receive support.

 

Prices Up

An excellent indicator to note is that property prices in Museum Towns are already sustained by the local market of affluent Bulgarian buyers. This bodes well for the future as prices are not being solely affected by foreigners: where there is local demand it is always worth following.

In 2007 property prices in Revival villages went up 45% compared with an average 25% increase across the property board in Bulgaria.

It isn’t by chance that an ever increasing number of tourists from western Europe have been coming to Bulgaria to discover the culture and historical buildings of one of the most ancient places in Europe. Bulgaria has been marketed for a long time as a mass tourism, cheap destination but during that time, through ineffective advertising, tourists had no idea of the culture or heritage available for them to experience. Recently a number of special tours have sprung up offering possibilities to visit the ancient Museum Towns full of the atmosphere of the 18th and 19th Centuries and these are emerging as key attractions for foreign visitors.

 

Where to buy

Apart from the listed 14 Museum Towns, investment should also be seriously considered in villages which are protected and towns which have a protected listed quarter, such as Kotel and Lovech. The villages which have listed houses offer a step back into the past and are excellent for holiday homes, allowing the owner to maximise return based on the special location.

The towns with a designated historic quarter give not only protection against massive construction alongside them but also have a nearby part of town where all modern facilities are available, giving the best of both worlds.

Museum Towns and protected villages are our tip for the future and we recommend lovers of architecture, style and heritage to take a look at the houses available.

With visitor numbers on the increase for cultural tourism and the average budget available from property buyers looking for architectural interest on the up, it is inevitable that demand will outstrip supply and thus increase prices dramatically - after all, they are a dwindling resource which cannot be replaced.

 

Pros and Cons:

Pros:
Owning is a pleasure
No unsuitable construction permitted
Future investment - demand will outstrip supply
History and heritage
Property kudos
Surrounded by other properties of similar style
EU funding is already earmarked for cultural tourism

Cons:
Owning is a responsibility
Can feel like you really are living in a museum in tourist season
Extensions, alterations and development are rarely permitted
Generally small gardens
Parking can be difficult as many houses do not have direct car access into a driveway
Must be kept in a good state of repair