Why NOT to buy BG

Pancakes with Stefan & Poli
My post about buying property in Bulgaria, Why buy BG, seems to have collected more "hits" than any of the other pages of my blog. In the interests of fairness, I am therefore going to write a few lines about why you should NOT buy a property in Bulgaria. I will try to be as objective as possible. Yes, I love my adopted land, but even a Bulgarophile like me has to admit that this country does have its downsides. 

An abandoned house in Kalotina

If you buy a property anywhere outside the capital, Sofia, then it is not going to appreciate in value. Silly Brits have this idea that buying a house is always a good idea because it must go up in value and this is not true in BG. A country house in Bulgaria is simply NOT a good investment. It will not go up in value and, if you do try to sell it, then you probably will not be able to get back what you paid for it. (That is, of course, assuming that you can find a buyer at all!) 

There are a lot of abandoned houses in our village of Kalotina and the reason for this is quite simple: the declining population in Bulgaria, especially in the rural areas. My guess is that this situation is going to get worse before it gets any better and a few expats buying houses in the countryside are not going to make much of a difference. The population used to be about 9 million, but now it is down to 7 and some experts think that it might get as low as 4 or even 3 million over the next twenty or thirty years. For a country that is about the same size as England, this is catastrophic depopulation. It is strange to think that there are more than twice as many people living in the city of Shenzhen as there are in all of Bulgaria.

Irena and I know several Bulgarian couples, like Stefan and Poli, whose sons and daughters have left Bulgaria for elsewhere in Europe, the US, Canada and wherever they can find a well-paid job. As for our friend Ivo in Veliko Tarnovo, he is always travelling abroad to work. Sometimes Ivo works in Sofia and recently he has been working in Kuwait.

And she's a good shot with a snowball.
She looks so sexy in that hat!

Bulgarian winters are cold and I mean seriously cold. The winters are mercifully short, but the temperatures can plunge and one Christmas it was minus 25C at night, so the water in the pipes froze. (We had to collect snow from the garden and melt it on the stove, in order to flush the toilet.) Although the major roads will usually be kept clear for traffic, the minor roads soon become impassable when the snow comes. Power cuts in rural areas can be quite common, as the snow brings down the power lines.  

How good is your suspension?
On the whole, the transport infrastructure in Bulgaria is bad. Yes, the main Belgrade - Sofia road, linking Bulgaria with the rest of Europe, has been upgraded and the ring road around Sofia was almost finished when we were there in the summer. However, a lot of smaller roads in the countryside are appalling and they are getting worse, with more potholes than tarmac. Yes, they sometimes get repaired in a cheap and patchy fashion, but it does not last long.

You need a garage!

Note the graffiti on the side of the carriage

You could say that Bulgarian railways are cheap and cheerful or maybe they are just cheap and nasty. Last summer, a return ticket from Dragoman to Sofia was six leva. That is about 3 euros or £2.50, for a round trip of at least 100 km. The main station in Sofia has had a facelift, courtesy of EU funding. However, there are a lot old carriages and grotty stations (Dragoman has to be one of the worst).

Irisha and Zlatka, our next-door neighbour

Another abandoned house
Crime is a problem in the countryside, not just in the cities. Our villa has not been robbed and this is probably because of the security cameras that our next-door neighbour Zlatka has put on the outside of her house. SOT is the security company that looks after our house and having their stickers on the doors and windows probably deters some would-be thieves. On the other hand, a brass water-tap was taken from our garden. It is unpleasant to think that strangers are coming into our garden to steal whatever they can find. The sacks of sand under the garage were deliberately slashed open, just in case we were hiding something in them. Then there was the muddy footprint on top of the gate, leading to the Secret Garden. Someone had climbed over the gate, hoping to steal our new lawnmower.

The Lions' Bridge in Sofia
In Bulgaria, what language do the locals speak? Yes, Bulgarian. As I wrote in my previous post, this can be a bit of a headache if you really do not want to learn the local lingo. After my unfortunate and unsuccessful attempts to learn Mandarin, I feel quite positive about learning Bulgarian. It will be an interesting little hobby in my old age and learning a new language is supposed to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. 

Once you have got over the shock of the Cyrillic alphabet, it is not such a hard language and in fact it is probably no harder than French or Spanish. Knowing a bit of Russian is certainly a big help. (As she is Russian, Irisha can read Bulgarian with no difficulties, but sometimes she finds it a bit hard to understand the spoken language, especially if the locals are speaking quickly or with a strong accent.) And yes, it is true that more and more young people in Bulgaria are learning English and you will hear it more in Sofia these days. 

The synagogue in Sofia
Once you have bought your property, what do you do with it? Some Brits seem to be very keen on gardening and goats, while others become experts on making (and drinking) a lot of cider. If you can work online, then living in BG is quite feasible. 

For those of us who are receiving or who are going to receive a UK-based a pension or pensions, then the pound's slide in value against the euro means that we are probably not going to get the comfortable retirement that we were hoping for, although the upside is that our pension will go a lot further in Bulgaria than it will in Good Old Blighty. (We used to pay £160 each month in Council Tax when we were living near Newbury, but in Kalotina we pay about £20 a year.) And what does the local council do with our 40 BGN? Well, not much. The country roads are dreadful and there seem to be no end of buildings that should have been demolished, but it is cheaper to just let them fall down.     
Dragoman, our nearest town
And what about estate agents? Yes, in some ways it is easy to pretend that they are the bogeymen and maybe their colleagues in Bulgaria are no better than the ones in the UK. Some of the comments that others have left on my blog have been very critical of Bulgarian estate agents. But can we please try to be fair? Do you really expect English-speaking lawyers in Bulgaria to work for peanuts? Yes, in theory it might be possible to do without an estate agent's services in Bulgaria, if you could speak the language and you knew what you were doing, but for most expats that simply is not the case.

So was buying a property in Bulgaria really a bad idea? Did we make a mistake? Or rather two mistakes, as we also bought the apartment in VT? 

When you buy a house in a foreign country, you are not just purchasing the property, the bricks, tiles and concrete. You are also purchasing the economy, the climate, the society, the culture and the language. And do you really think that you could be happy in BG, even if you were to be snowed in for a month or more during the winter? Well, it would give me some time to practise my snowball-throwing technique!


Popular posts from this blog

Back in the UK

Hi Hippo

Veliko Tina