Boom or Bust in Borovets?

Before setting off for Bulgaria, I had been told that despite the country’s reputation for crumbling  cement apartment blocks, ex-communist monuments and crushing poverty, a land that’s alternatively beautiful and ripe for both economic and property development awaits.
And I wasn’t disappointed. As my plane touched down at Sofia airport, there to greet me were the hulking grey buildings and battered old taxis I had expected to see – and on the night I arrived, all wrapped in a moist blanket of freezing fog.
But once you’ve cleared the capital’s architecturally-challenged airport (which is about to finish a £150-million revamp) and negotiated a £3 ride to your hotel in central Sofia, a country of immense beauty and charm is there to be seen – full of people who, despite earning just £100 a month, beam as they take your money over cafe, restaurant, shop and hotel counters.

borovets
Driving around Bulgaria is not for the faint hearted. Few road or shop signs are in English and the country has yet to embrace mass tourism so at the moment British buyers visit on inspection trips, organised by the handful of UK based property firms operating here.
To get a flavour of this experience and to see Bulgaria with my own eyes, I hooked up with Property Growth Dynamics, a Liverpool-based firm that ferries small groups of buyers to Bulgaria on a regular basis and has sold approximately 250 properties in the two years it has been operating there. Several other companies offer similar trips including Bulgarian Dreams and Barrasford & Bird.
I had heard on the grapevine that Borovets, a small ski resort about an hour and a half by car from the capital Sofia is the ‘next big thing’ and so I joined a group of three couples making their way there to be shown new homes being built in and around Borovets.
The resort has a rich history – it was established by the royal family as a hunting lodge and in communist days was the main skiing hub before the redevelopment and expansion of Bansko in more recent times.
Property boom: even the quiet high street of quiet villages feature adverts for new-build developments (above and below) while signs of western influence within Borovets are easy to spot (below); buying ski boots, Bulgarian-style; remants of a former, horse-drawn history still scatter the Bulgarian countryside the plain below Borovets), and the resort will swallow up several of the surrounding villages including Beli Iskar and Madzhare. At 1,100m will be Low Borovets, a development of hotels and apartment blocks aimed at budget skiers. Above it will be the existing Borovets, which is already being redeveloped and expanded, plus an upmarket resort of five-star hotels and properties above it at 1,600m.

ski chalet
The resort is also to get plenty of new equipment including two cable cars, one connecting Samokov directly to the mid-level runs, plus dozens of new drags and lifts and several new pistes, one of which will enable skiers to run all the way back to Samokov.
There was a feverish run of excitement recently when Bulgaria made a bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, and the Super Borovets scheme was a major plank in its strategy, although Bulgaria’s three other resorts (Vitosha, Bankso and Pamporovo) had roles to play too.
But the bid didn’t succeed – although the publicity generated by it helped raise the profile of these Balkan mountains – and there’s already talk of a bid for the 2018 Olympics.
“Borovets already rivals Bansko for skiing -with a better snow record – and will evolve into Eastern Europe’s most sophisticated ski resort,” says Simon Freek of Property Growth Dynamics.
“As soon as all the infrastructure improvements have been completed and skiers wake up to its potential, property prices here will lift off – and speculation about Super Borovets has already impacted on the local property market.” Building work has already begun. The main road up from Samokov is being widened and construction on the first lot of new cable cars has started, but it is going to take a further three years before they are completed.
I  New homes with views

With this in mind, I was taken to see four developments being built both inside and outside the Super Borovets area.The first of these was Mountain View, a clutch of 12 properties just outside the centre of Relyovo, a village 10 miles from Borovets. The name of the development refers to the incredible views of the Rila Mountains to be seen from it, but the chocolate-box houses are a long way off being completed – most of the site is still a field. But the developer says they will be ready by the end of the year and will include one- and two-bedroom apartments as well as three-bedroom terraced villas – plus a swimming pool and restaurant. Flats start at £31,000 for a studio rising to £48,000 for a two-bedroom flat and £65,000 for a villa.

borovets surrounding
These extraordinarily low prices reflect the gamble buyers here will be taking if they’re in the investment game – rather than merely buying a holiday home.
One day the development will be just five minutes from the new gondola being built up to Borovets from Samokov, and there are also plans – but only plans – for more golf courses in the local countryside which on a sunny day resembles a Baltic take on Tuscany.

But despite this, there are enough buyers around prepared to take the plunge – just nine of the properties within Mountain View remain for sale. The village features a gloriously pretty Greek Orthodox church, a beautiful but deserted school (that’s to become a hotel) plus a motley collection of horses, chickens and dogs wandering its streets. On the day we visited, a man in his seventies was energetically chopping a vast mound of timber into firewood – to add to the rural feel of the place.
I worried that we would only be seeing undeveloped, off-plan sites, but soon we were on our way up the mountain to Madzhare, a small but picture-postcard village 10 minutes by car from Borovets.

Mini ski village

The chalets and apartments being finished off here at the Pine Ridge development (see right) would pass muster in any French or Italian alpine valley and from the west-facing windows owners will enjoy some of the best views in the region over the village and up to the snowcapped mountains soaring up above.

This picturesque and lofty valley is also a lucrative place to buy. When Pine Ridge went on sale 18 months ago, the one-bedroom apartments within it cost £35,000 – but now that it is almost complete, these are now being resold by some of the owners for £55,000.

It must be stressed that the resale market for new-build properties is still at an early stage and the crescendo of interest in Bulgarian property is only two years old so many of the properties first announced back then, like Pine Ridge, are only now coming onto the market. Although they are being snapped up by a bewildering range of nationalities, there is no track record yet for resales.

But the signs are promising and if the number of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche 4x4s zipping around are anything to go by then the claims about Bulgaria’s emerging economy must be at least partially true.
Another positive sign is that prices for old rural houses are also increasing – even though it’s a completely different market more suited to buyers prepared to do them up. In and around Borovets they go for between £60,000 and £75,000 depending on how close they are to the ski lifts – but they offer far more room inside (and land outside) than the new-builds. However, in order to bring them up to British standards usually requires another £20,000 plus plenty of project management time and effort – which for some people is ideal.

Off-plan gated resort

If, however, it isn’t then around the corner is The Bear, a mini-resort of one- and two-bedroom apartments being built just off the Borovets-Madzhare road overlooking a wooded river valley framed by a soaring mountain top.

Like Pine Ridge, it will be just a short walk from one of the new ski lifts being put in by the Super Borovets developers, and the gated development will include two tennis courts, a swimming pool, gym and a bistro/restaurant.

Prices are similar to Mountain View, with one-bedroom apartments starting at £38,000 and two-bedroom flats kicking off at £62,000 – the most expensive property is a duplex rooftop apartment at £80,000.

spa complex

Off-plan spa homes

My final destination was an as-yet unannounced residential resort to be built overlooking the Dolnya Banya golf course, 10 miles outside Borovets.This is typical of the’spa’ developments being built in Bulgaria and is within a wide, sweeping plain that rolls down from the Rila mountains and shoots out across the Bulgarian countryside, broken only by the occasional road and farmhouse.

Risky business

Overall, my visit showed me the wide range of properties on offer here including city-centre new-builds in Sofia (which I haven’t covered in this feature), ski-resort chalets peeping out from under the snow, unconverted farmhouses and barns waiting for a lick of paint, green-field spa resorts and of course beachside properties on the Black Coast – all available for less than £100,000 in many cases.
But is Bulgaria a wise place to invest? After returning from Sofia, some of my friends wrinkled their noses and said anyone buying there would be mad. But there is more to this undiscovered country than meets their eyes.

Its economy is at the beginning of a revival that will take another decade to bear fruit -which means anyone investing in Bulgaria is not going to see a substantial return for at least five or six years. Overall Bulgaria still looks and feels like an ex-communist country struggling to emerge from decades of neglect and, although a minority seem to be profiting, wages and living standards are low so renting your property out to a local isn’t going to make your rich.

So the gamble is this – Bulgaria may soon become a major tourist attraction for western Europeans (and affluent Russians) looking for budget skiing, beach holidays and rural tourism in one of Europe’s most picturesque and unspoilt countries.
If you agree with this upbeat forecast and think that Bulgaria is a higher-risk investment than other more established property markets (such as Portugal, Greece or Spain), then it’s worth considering.

4 Responses to “Boom or Bust in Borovets?”

  1. I like the sound of the development you mention below (mountain view) can you confirm if any of these have been completed yet or can you provide me with the name of the developer.

  2. I am not sure about the name of the developer of this complex, but if you are interested in properties in Borovets and the area you can have a look here : https://www.bestbgproperties.com/Borovets_property.html

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