Good time to sell? Current status of Bulgaria’s property market

Is it a good time to sell?

The Bulgarian property market has a had a turbulent time over the past decade, the boom time of 2004-2008 felt short lived by comparison to the subsequent post-recession recovery, however market conditions are now far improved and prices are either increasing or stable as demand in most areas is happily consistent.

If you own a desirable property it can now be sold, the days of endless marketing at unheard of prices without any sign of a buyer are well and truly over.

The real progress has come from within Bulgaria, which has reported 7% growth this year, a global level achievement that is too often missed by mainstream media. Nevertheless, for those not resident or frequently travelling, the country’s advancement is plain for all to see and it benefits every owner, new or old, current or future.

Most foreign owners will still encounter a loss, although to what extend largely depends on when and where you purchased. There are some broad patterns that can be summarised as follows:

Sofia: prices are now at the same level as 2008, possibly slightly higher

Varna city: central city prices are 10-20% less than their peak

Varna region: prices are 30-40% less than their peak.

Sunny Beach: properties are now worth 40-50% less than what was paid in 2005-2008. Transactions are frequent, correctly prices assets are close to liquid with average time on the market being 8 weeks.

Golden Sands: properties are now worth 40% less than in 2005-2008, similar to Sunny Beach apartments at the market value sell within 2-3 months.

Kavarna & Balchik: these secondary coastal areas have suffered greatly, values are around 60% less and average time on the market is 12 months.

Bansko: values have climbed recently, now around 60% less than what was paid at the peak. At the market price properties are most liquid ahead of the ski season with most selling within 3-4 weeks in the autumn and within 3 months during the rest of the year.

Pamporovo and Borovets: both are in domestic demand, similar to Bansko around 60-70% less.

Countryside: enormously varied, see here for houses and here for plots.

 

I bought a house in the countryside, can I sell?

If you purchased in the countryside, more than 45 minutes drive from a major city or inland from the Black Sea by more than 15km (20min drive), we can classify your property as being ‘rural’. The demand for any rural property will vary according to its habitability, there is a vast quantity of available property stock that is not habitable, dilapidated and in need or repair. Many such properties are worth their land value only, sadly a failing structure is not worth too much with so many competing options. Typical cases see such properties retailing at 3-10,000 Euros, which are commonly only of interest to neighbours or businesses operating in the local area, who perhaps have a specific use for the property. It is rare for uninhabitable properties to sell to end users, outside investors or overseas buyers wanting a holiday home, it is often far cheaper to buy a finished habitable house than repair an existing one.

For renovated or dishevelled properties close enough to the Black Sea or a major city, the demand curve is very different. There has been an upsurge in interest, particularly around the Varna region, from Bulgarians and Romanians seeking the tranquillity of the countryside at an affordable price within a commutable driving distance. As mortgages have become more available to Bulgarians new interest in weekend properties from non-cash buyers has boomed. Prices are not exactly high, not nearly what was paid ten years ago, but consistent sales are happening and in some areas prices are creeping upward as stocks start to deplete.

If you have a house in any condition within easy driving distance of Varna or Bourgas, the market has turned in your in the past year or so. For those who tried to sell before and never attracted a buyer, it is worth trying again under the fresh market conditions.

 

Is it worth renovating my house to get it sold?

It’s a logical deduction to repair a dilapidated property to make it appeal to active buyers, however the cost in doing is frequently in excess of possible gains. At the moment a finished and furnished property is often worth less than the sum of its parts, essentially it would cost more the build it again than it would to buy an existing neighbouring house. The market isn’t likely to stay this way forever, all mature European markets have witnessed rising values beyond the cost of build or renovation, however Bulgaria is not there yet.

If you own a property in need of considerable renovation, you will probably find the most efficient solution is to sell as it is, particularly if in a region such as Varna or Bourgas where buyers are active. You are more likely to find a buyer faster by offering a renovated house, but far less likely to get your additional investment back.

 

I have a plot of land in Bulgaria, can I sell?

Urban plots:

If your land is within the city districts and urban planning zones of urban Sofia, Varna, Plovdiv or Bourgas then congratulations are in order, it is very likely that you can sell for at least what you paid (pre-recession) and more likely that you can make a tidy profit. Construction of residential property is booming, it is all domestic demand and domestic financing, so this time it is sustainable.

Sofia has grown by 10% since 2003, it is officially Europe’s 19th largest city with a declared population 1.4 million, however the consensus is that if all inhabitants of Sofia registered within the city limits rather than remaining registered where they come from, then the population would be reaching 1.8-2 million and closer to the size of Vienna. This growth has largely been at the cost of the countryside as young professionals fail to return to their home villages and flock to the major cities, typically working in the tech sector. This influx has driven up the cost and demand for any and all land within city limits.

Countryside plots:

For owners of plots in rural areas the story is quite different. Sadly the cost of land has hit rock bottom and most transactions are at the government minimum values designed for valuations in the post-communist era. Today, the fertility of land and its permissible crops are more essential for the valuation of large rural plots than their ability to be developed or what was paid for them before the crash. The cost of build is far beyond the price to buy finished products, as such there is practically no demand from developers and less demand from banks to support them. Much like dilapidated rural house the demand for any rural land almost always comes from locals and rarely from any outside buyers or end users. Work on 1-2 Euro / sqm and you will be in the ballpark.

Seaside plots:

The Black Sea coast is where we find a greater spectrum of prices and varying possibilities when selling land, unlike the countryside or the cities it is not possible to categorise most land as being either in demand or not. The reality on the coast is that if your plot is within walking distance of tourist attractions, restaurants, amenities or the coast itself then there is some demand at the market price. If your plot has a sea view but lacks connections, then it might simply not be valuable enough to develop. Apartment prices in tourist areas of the Black Sea start at 300 euros / sqm (finished and furnished), its costs 500-600 Euros to build. As such, unless the location is prime and the value of the resulting property at the very top end of the market (700-800 Eur /sqm), it is not just profitable for developers so plots remain available and unsold.

Land bankers:

All of the above is untrue if your plot is attractive to a speculative land banker. Few and far between and typically paying cheeky low amounts, land bankers are operating in Bulgaria and come in various shapes and size from private individuals to large scale Private Equity Real Estate Funds. Morlo Capital is one such operation: known to acquire assets on a long-term basis betting for price rising years ahead, this fund is approachable by members of the public who are looking to offload Bulgarian property assets quickly. ( www.morlocapital.com )

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