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Passport to Bulgaria

The Times, February 26, 2003

Why buy in Bulgaria?
Low property prices, beautiful countryside, historic towns and unchanged rural traditions. The cost of living is also surprisingly low and makes Turkey look expensive. The food is good and a meal out costs £5, a beer 50p, and an espresso 15p. And if Bulgaria joins the EU, there is the possibility that property prices could take off, rewarding early buyers.

Why not?
There are still restrictions on foreigners buying properties with land, which includes anything with a garden. The way round this is to set up a company, which can be arranged by agents. Such restrictions are expected to be removed as part of Bulgaria's preparation for joining the EU but there is some opposition, caused by fears that foreign buyers will snap up agricultural land. Bulgaria has problems with crime and corruption and although is more politically stable under the current Prime Minister, the former king Simeon II, there are some who are less enthusiastic about the reforms required to meet the standards set for EU membership.

What do the Bulgarians think of foreign buyers?
It would be understandable if Bulgarians have mixed views about overseas buyers regarding the country as good for cheap property. Houses for £20,000 may look like a bargain to UK buyers, but it is worth remembering that the average annual income in Bulgaria is about £1,000. Agents say that most people, however, welcome the foreign investment.

What are the costs?
Both buyers and sellers pay commission to estate agents, with charges ranging from 3 per cent to 6 per cent. There is also a form of stamp duty equivalent to about 2 per cent of the price. Balkan Ski Chalets charges 10 per cent of the purchase price, which includes agency fees, legal and translation costs but excludes stamp duty and survey costs. For properties with land the charge is 12 per cent, which covers the cost of setting up a company to buy the property. Stara Planina Properties levies a 10 per cent charge to cover fees and legal costs, with a minimum charge of £1,500.

What's on the market?
Properties come in a wide variety of prices. For anyone seeking rustic solitude a four-room house near Veliko Turnovo, in need of work and without water, could be yours for £5,000. Also available through Stara Planina Properties are assorted seafront properties - a new villa at Varna, where there is an airport, will cost you £49,000. A luxury, architect-designed seafront villa with a heated pool is offered at £172,000. For skiing enthusiasts Balkan Ski Chalets has new flats in Bansko from £12,000, while a five-bedroom house in the town is priced at £46,000. Flats in the new golf resort on the Black Sea are priced from £30,000.

Getting there
There are direct flights year round from the UK to Sofia, with the Black Sea served by airports at Varna and Burgas. Out of season, however, when the charter flights from the UK are not operating, visitors to the Black Sea will need to fly to Sofia and take an internal flight. For the best offers on flights you should try tour operators that offer flight-only deals, such as Balkan Holidays.

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