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Independent: Bulgaria enchants Britons

Date: 18.03.2006

Ginetta Vedrickas
Independent

Investment has been the incentive for most buyers in Bulgaria, with off-plan apartments forming the bulk of sales. But a new trend is emerging as a growing number of Brits encounter the charms of this diverse country and opt to move there permanently.

Sunny Beach on the Black Sea Coast has so far drawn the most buyers, and signs of development are everywhere in this buzzing resort. But head further along the coast, or just a few miles inland, and you find a totally different Bulgaria where property prices are still low.

Pauline Scrace of property specialists Bulgarian Horizons says the tide of UK buyers often opt for period properties in small villages. "Many buyers come from the north of England, they may be on lower incomes and leading stressful lives, so they opt to go and live where the cost of living is so much cheaper."

Some buyers are now letting their UK properties and finding they can live well in Bulgaria on the rental income - "For the rental income from a two bedroom flat you can live like a king over there," she said.

With Bulgaria's EU membership scheduled for 2007, the number of Brits relocating is likely to increase, said Avatar International's Amar Sodhi. "Bulgaria has high unemployment and some of the lowest wages in Europe, around ?200 per month, and this alone will attract companies to base themselves there, resulting in many more British employees being relocated."

So what can buyers expect to find? Prices on the coast have risen significantly in the last few years, many agents reporting year-on-year rises of 25 per cent in most resorts and even 100 per cent in certain hotspots but, while investors are attracted to the coastline, people moving permanently often prefer to be based inland.

Halfway between Sofia and the Black Sea Coast, Veliko Turnovo, the former capital of Bulgaria, is one of the country's most ancient cities and attracts people who come here for period architecture and a cosmopolitan lifestyle. The old city itself is situated on four hills and on the banks of the Yantra River. Here, prices are lower than the coast, typically starting from GBP 10,000, although it is still possible to find cheaper homes, but renovation costs can add a further GBP 15,000.

Many Brits are buying in this region, in surrounding villages such as Kapinovo, Mindia, Pchelishte, Ressen and Hotnitsa. To the west, villages such as Gostilitsa and Kereka have lovely south-facing views over the Stara Planina Mountains and attract British buyers who find that they can still pick up traditional stone and wooden houses for under GBP 20,000.

Stephane Lambert is based in Bulgaria, where he runs Stara Planina Properties, and he has noticed a growth both in retirees who discover that they can make pensions stretch much further, and in younger people who find Bulgaria offers many business opportunities, often catering to the needs of British buyers such as architects and builders.

"We are even seeing first time buyers who can't get on to the property ladder in the UK, so they decide to buy out here, use the property for a few years themselves and then cash in on the equity." Lambert moved to Bulgaria eight years ago while working for the UN, and has noticed a recent increase in bars and restaurants catering to the influx of foreigners. "Years ago, apart from a few language teachers, there were no other nationalities but now I know of around thirty British people living in Veliko Turnovo permanently."

Julie Freeman, 52, from the West Midlands, recently bought a large farmhouse in a village 30km from Veliko Turnovo, which she plans to run as a small guesthouse. "The house does need renovating and I expect to spend about GBP 15,000 doing it up. Once it's done I'm hoping to be able to have my B&B, and hopefully cater to other British buyers who are looking around here." The property itself cost GBP 20,000.

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