This year we bought a house in Bulgaria. Whilst the buying process was relatively straightforward, living there has been more challenging. These are the 10 things that we wished we’d known before buying a house there.
Lots of things have gone wrong for us, they haven’t jaded us (because things do go wrong) but when the snow came and those temperatures started to drop to minus 10, we knew we couldn’t stay in Bulgaria without heating or a proper kitchen or bathroom.
Living in a house whilst you’re trying to renovate it is difficult enough but renovating a house in the snow and cold is a big challenge. We can overcome these challenges but realistically only when the sunshine returns.
Bulgaria as a country
Bulgaria has seen an immense amount of change in the last thirty years since communism has fallen. It continues to strive towards modernity but it has some serious problems, especially with inequality.
The wealth of the coastal regions dwarfs that of rural areas that don’t benefit from tourism. We chose to live in an area that didn’t have tourists, we wanted to see the real Bulgaria. Living in a very poor region has been our biggest short-term downfall; the roads are terrible; people are very poor and choice is limited.
Not all areas in Bulgaria are poor (far from it), choice is not always limited and sometimes the roads can be good (although there’s still only a few motorways that are of adequate standards) but you must be aware that different regions in Bulgaria are incredibly contrasting. It also doesn’t help that corruption with local mayors is still high and apathy towards change can be high.
If you’re planning on living on the south-east coast, many of these problems will not be relevant to you.
Here’s 10 things we wished we’d known before buying a house in Bulgaria
Some people have said this list is too negative. You cN balance this post with twenty very positive things we’ve learned since moving to Bulgaria.
- Houses in parts of Bulgaria are very cheap, in some cases just a few thousand pounds. This is mostly because the houses are falling down, large proportions of houses will not have had planning permission, have not been registered for tax purposes or have been built to a good specification. The majority of rural houses do not benefit from internal staircases and some do not have internal toilets. Sewage is left to flow out into rivers and Bulgarians just shrug their shoulders at their supposed responsibility to sort this out. If you buy a house without a sewage tank, it is your responsibility to put one in and it’s been the law since 2012!
- The infrastructure can be very hit and miss and we cannot go a few days without having a loss of water, electricity or mobile signal for a prolonged period of time. Single phase electricity is the norm and power outages can last as long as seventeen hours (that’s been our longest so far). For this reason most people install ‘petchkas’ in their kitchen (wood fired stoves for cooking on) so they can still heat a room and feed themselves when the electricity goes out. If you’re looking round houses and see a weird number of beds in the kitchen, this is the reason why! The water is regularly turned off with no explanation and if a village is reliant upon an electric pump for sourcing the water, it could be a long time off, especially during winter. You can update the electricity to three phase but I’d recommend you employ a British or German electrician to do this.
- It is impossible to open a joint back account with most banks. A few banks will offer a joint account for a business account but it is not common. This means a husband and wife will need at least two bank accounts although it’s not uncommon for banks to push people to open four, both current and savings.
- The inheritance law discriminates against women (so do not put the house in a man’s name alone) because inheritance law states it will go to the nearest male, family member – not a female. If there is a dispute there is a long history of courts siding with the male not the female spouse or partner.
- It helps enormously if you can find a representative who speaks Bulgarian & understands the culture. Someone you can trust and who will help you settle in. The language is difficult but not impossible and life is currently similar to 1950s Britain. This has its benefits but it can be a challenge if you want to adopt modern approaches, particularly to renovation.
- Money & employing people can be challenging. People are friendly (both Bulgarians and UK immigrants) until money comes into the equation and then undoubtedly they’ll try to rip you off. Most Bulgarians have never left Bulgaria and therefore they think all foreigners are rich and throw money around. It can make life very tiresome because you always have to be on your guard.
- Pay cheap pay thrice. If you pay cheap, you’ll pay once for the product/service, twice to repair it and then three times to replace it. Regardless of whether it’s a product or a service, don’t do anything on the cheap as it’ll come back to bite you.
- Good, quality tools can be hard to source. Some examples have been saws, jigs, screws, toilet macerator and taps although this list is ever-growing. We ended up importing our free-standing bath as it was much cheaper and a better quality.
- All paperwork is done by hand and in person which makes it unnecessarily slow and time-consuming. It’s a ridiculous method which dates back to the communist times when everybody had to have a job just for the sake of having a job. If you need any government stamp, allow all day for the process because you’ll need to pay in a different office to the one you apply in, then they’ll close for lunch and then you’ll need to collect something from another different office… You cannot phone anybody or complete anything over the phone or on the internet. It must all be in person. This includes transfering the electricity and water bills into your own name.
- I’d advise that you don’t tell people you believe in human or animal rights otherwise you’ll be ridiculed. Gay marriage is not recognised, being gay is not encouraged, racism is prevalent, violence is high and animal rights do not exist.
What’s the point of this post?
Bulgaria can be a rewarding country IF you know what you’re letting yourself in for. With any immigration comes big change and Bulgaria is by far the most different country we’ve tried to live in. The biggest surprise has been how undeveloped it is in parts, especially in comparison to the money on the Black Sea Coast.
I am not trying to discourage you or anybody from buying a house in Bulgaria. There’s a gazillion houses out there for sale, and some of them are just a few thousand pounds.
I’m sure there’s a perfect house for you however I am trying to provide some insight before buying a house that it often isn’t as easy as you think it’ll be.
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