I am going to tell you about my experience with a Bulgarian estate agent. They are called Bulgarian Properties. If you search on Google at least the first 4 pages are dedicated to this company, if not more. Since we dealt with them just over 12 months ago they have grown enormously. Their marketing campaign seems phenomenal.
Firstly Why Bulgaria? Why would any Brit want to live in Bulgaria? Why not?. It has a diverse landscape with ski resorts, beautiful scenery, historical towns, beaches. House prices are cheap and there is a large variety of properties in numerous situations to choose from. The cost of living is much cheaper than UK so it is a good choice of country to buy a property, take on a challenge, start a new life. Well that was our plan but it didn't quite work out like that. Read on..........
The story starts when we realised we had some extra cash in the bank. It wasn't a huge amount - I mean it wasn't enough to buy a property in UK but it was enough to buy one in Bulgaria or France. We wanted to invest it into something but wasn't quite sure what. We had looked at mobile home sites on the net, near Perpignan and actually spent a week visiting sites but we decided that wasn't for us. Although we love that part of France, it would be like living in a gold fish bowl. Anyway, one night afterwards we were sat watching one of those programmes were ex pats go to a country to buy another house and they always choose the one where you can sit on the terrace and have a nice glass of wine. Ridiculous - as if that would make your mind up. You can have a glass of wine anywhere you don't have to move house and country for one. Anyway, that particular night the programme featured Bulgaria. I was hooked immediately. The properties looked so huge with acres of land. I thought Yes this will do, we'll have one of these. Next day I was on the net searching for houses in Bulgaria and came acrooss the real estate site Bulgarian Properties.
I was very impressed with the site as it was packed with information and very well laid out. There is a side panel listing all the towns in Bulgaria. You click on the town of your choice and then it shows you all the properties for sale, description of the properties and land, and of course prices. Each town or area is described informing you of the local history, culture and facilities it has to offer. This company covers all aspects of house buying from legal advice, property management, travel arrangements, mortgages and the list goes on. All good stuff.
The area we liked the look of the most was around Plovdiv and Karlovo so we looked at hundreds of houses in both those areas and chose about 5 or 6 in the end that we were really interested in. We wanted a 3 bedroomed house with some land preferably not in a derelict condition. We then contacted Bulgarian Properties by e-mail and told them our requirements and that we had chosen certain properties and was it possible to arrange a viewing trip. All responses by e-mail were quick but as we were going independently I struggled to make them understand that we only needed a time and place to meet a representative. It seemed like they wanted to book flights, arrange taxis, and hotel accommodation. Obviously this is where they make a few bob but we always like to do things our own way but for some reason they couldn't understand this.
We then e-mailed the reference numbers of all properties we had chosen and asked if they were still available for sale. Yes they were. So that was fine. Next job was to book a flight. We were now ready to book a time and place with a Bulgarian property rep which we did and I checked several times before leaving for Bulgaria that all details were correct. I printed all e-mails with arrangements off with pictures of the properties and put them into a folder. We were told definitely that the rep would be in Karlovo outside a certain restaurant at 10 am on Tuesday 15th February. At this point I was sort of excited but a bit anxious but still convinced I wanted to buy a house in Bulgaria.
After having a good night's sleep in a rented room in Karlovo we woke up bright and breezy, walked into Karlovo town, had a coffee in a crowded, smoke filled cafe and then went to another cafe where we were to meet our estate agent. We stood outside this meeting place on time feeling very optimistic. Thirty minutes passed and there was no sign of any man who remotely looked like an estate agent. My husband went inside the cafe to see if he was sat inside. He didn't know what he looked like but my husband looks very English so if he had been there he would have surely said something to him. No he definitely wasn't there so we stood and waited another 30 minutes.
After waiting an hour we decided to ring the office. As we didn't have a mobile on us we had to use a call box but first we had to purchase a phone card. We eventually got through to the office and the girl on the other end said, 'we thought you were coming tomorrow - yes we have you down for a meeting tomorrow. Mr.........(can't remember his name) is with another client today. I could see smoke coming out of my husband's ears. The thing was we didn't want to hang around for another day as we were moving on to Plovdiv to look at properties there. So off we went to buy another phonecard and phoned back to say that we really did need to see Mr........ today - could it be arranged. After a few rants and raves the girl said yes he would be able to meet us at 3pm.
Now the wave of optimism was waning so we thought if we had some nourishment it might make us feel better. Lo and behold a McDonald's stood in the square so in we went and had cheeseburger and chips. Not very Bulgarian I know but when you have the urge to eat a burger then you have to eat one immediately
We felt better after that and decided to spend the rest of the morning and afternoon walking around the old town which is very interesting and beautiful.
Three o'clock struck and there we were stood outside waiting, waiting and waiting. Four o'clock and we were still waiting. By this time I thought - Oh let's go home!!! Then we decided to look in the cafe again and there he was sat down having a coffee and smoking like there was no tomorrow. Putting on our best smiles we shook hands and greeted him. He didn't look like any estate agent I had met. I know you shouldn't put people in boxes but he looked more like an accountant - a bit dreary, and I could sense that my husband was becoming very irritated with him. Why you might ask?
I think he was irritated because we showed him pictures of 5 properties we wanted to see and he dismissed them straight away. He had his own agenda and he was going to take us on a trip around the Bulgarian coutryside showing us properties we didn't want to see. The transport for this trip was a beaten up Opel with doors that didn't seal or shut property. In fact the rubber seal from the back door was hanging and flopping around all the time on the back seat next to me during the journey. It was annoying, and crumbs and food bags were littered all over the back seat. For this privilege of being driven to the various properties we had to pay him so much per kilometre. I can't remember how much now in Bulgarian currency but the whole trip all round cost £40. That wasn't a shock to us as we had been informed by e-mail.
Okay so now on to the properties. Very interesting indeed. The first house we looked at turned out to be one we had actually chosen. It was in a village in the middle of nowhere although it did have a shop and a health centre. The house itself was quite good structurally but made of three different sorts of building materials - bricks, stone and some sort of wattle and daub. People were actually living in the house and we were invited in for a hot blackcurrant drink, very strong coffee and some cake. The vendors were elderly and the reason for the sale was because they wanted to move into the big town to be near their family. Very friendly people but hard to hold a conversation as we didn't speak Bulgarian. After our light refreshments we were shown around the property. In a very old fashioned, quaint way the house was nice. Upstairs it had a huge attic but the rafters were open and the roof material which I think was terra cotta tiles hadn't been sealed. There were huge gaps in the roof so in Winter it would be freezing. This house had an outside summer kitchen which I liked and it led on to the garden which was an acre plot but there was a path that the neighbour had to use to get water. This meant that the two houses would share the water supply. This feature put me off as I am not one for having other people walk on my land or garden. We had both made our minds up that this wasn't our dream home although it was okay.
Off we went to the next village. We had only driven around the corner and Mr......'s mobile phone went off. He answered and carried on driving as there are no rules about driving and mobile phones in Bulgaria. After the conversation he said to us, 'If you are interested in putting an offer in for the house you need to do it straight away as I have just been told that another client has upped the price. I don't think so.
Without going into detail about every house we viewed I will just say that in structure all houses were very similar. We didn't view any detached properties or single properties out in the country. When asked why was that we were told that Bulgarian people don't like to live on the outside of villages or towns as they like to live as a community. All the villages we went to had a strange feeling. It was like walking round a village of the dead, silent but you knew somebody or thing was lurking there. A very odd feeling and a bit spooky.
By now we were thinking perhaps we really don't want to buy a house in Bulgaria but rather than just giving up on the idea we probed him about how we would go on regarding paying deposits and all the legal matters. Before you can purchase a property you have to set up a business in Bulagria. This is straightforward and the property company will do this for you. What you have to do is let hem set up a bank account for you and you then put a 10% deposit into the bank plus extras for admin and the signing of the business registration. Basically they are in charge of all transactions or they would be if you let them. They have authority to take the money out of the bank when the time comes to sign the contract. By now I think you can imagine my husband's thoughts on this idea. No way Jose - they aren't getting heir hands on my money or something along those lines. It might be okay and you can trust them with your cash as lots of people have bought properties in Bulgaria but somehow we didn't feel happy about this.
Mr....... semed convinced we were going to buy a house and he was ready to book us into a very expensive hotel in Karlovo for the night so we could meet up with him the next day to view more. He also tried to browbeat us into signing up for property management services. Unfortunately my husband was having none of this. I think you could say that they didn't hit it off so when we were leaving we paid him the £40 for petrol and said goodbye for ever. Going up the steps of our lodgings I said to my husband.' You're not keen then on any of the properties we've seen.' His reply was 'I am dying for a pee.' and he rushed upstairs to the loo. Sadly buying a property in Bulgaria has never been discussed again.