Baulking at the Balkans-a different kind of property investment.

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“Mum” said the footloose daughter in a Skype call. “I am in a ski resort in Bulgaria, Bansko and I am buying a flat, any advice?”

Woah! Serious intake of breath.

Well to start, me and Bulgaria have history. Back in the noughties  I travelled the length and breadth of Bulgaria, in the back of blacked out Land Cruisers – with increasingly scary Russian ex-Majors and Bulgarian Oligarchs. I was being shown building plots and off plan apartments to flog as investments. It still brings me out in a rash. But hey, thats for another night. This is family and property investment alarm bell territory.

I throw the usual questions. Got a good lawyer? “Yeah, the estate agent recommended one” Argh.

The estate agent is apparently a very nice man from Bournemouth – but still. Argh.

Have you checked how long the lease is? The service charge? Ownership rights? Freeholders? Apparently the lawyer has said it’s all in order – and as it’s in Cyrillic, she just has to roll with it. Argh.

Now I should say that my daughter isn’t dim. After ten years in Australia, bored of it’s cultural limitations and distance from family she has designed a globe trotting life for herself doing very clever and creative digital stuff. Years of copy writing and digital marketing has resulted in skills that provide an ongoing online income that keeps her in decent Sauvignon Blanc and clean sheets. This is the world of the Digital Nomad. And whilst she can do it from anywhere (that was the point) she hankers after a home – somewhere to use as a base, leave her gear, decorate and have her own kitchen. Plus, as a property owner after six months she becomes a Bulgarian resident, subject to Bulgarian income tax – and guess what, that comes with EU residency too.

But Bulgaria! Argh.

Why Bansko? She tells me that Bansko is a hub for ‘Digital nomads’ like herself. A community of like minded clever and energised young people (not kids) all making their livings through their wits, with skills generally honed through years of corporate grind. Brought together by a ‘co-working’ centre where an international community taps away on crypto currency, travel journalism and weird stuff us oldies don’t know exists as a work form. Sharing ideas and giving each other support and company. They have gravitated here because of the now internationally acclaimed (in their world) co-working space and the incredibly cheap cost of living. (a one bed flat can be rented for five euros a night).

Anyhow, Mother’s due diligence attempts aside, she buys it. Of course. The paperwork is done in two weeks but it won’t be legally hers for another fortnight. The Agent throws her the keys anyway. It comes with all the furniture, bedding, TV’s and teaspoons so he tells her she might as well enjoy, “save you spending on rent”. Novel.

With my property investment head at the fore I ask “I assume you will be able to rent it out for an income when you’re not there?” “Nah”, she says, “it’s swimming in property here, so not worth it..” Marvellous.

So this summer I dragged the husband out on a visit. He showed more enthusiasm on being posted to Kandahar.

Glossing over the hair raising three hour drive from Sofia, courtesy of Lurch’s less developed cousin. (we did start discussing burial or cremation to keep our spirits up). We arrived at the daughters apartment – she had the wine on ice.. good girl.

The apartment consists of two big bedrooms and two bathrooms, it was two penthouse flats knocked into one so daughters bedroom was an entire studio with a deep balcony overlooking the communal pool and the soaring ski slopes.IMG_0262 The sitting room has a bank of picture windows overlooking another mountain range. It needs ‘un-Bulgarianising’, it is all a bit brown but that’s half the fun- poring over Pinterest and Ikea delivery options. But, it was cosy and nice, surprisingly nice.

Daughter had a tight schedule arranged for us, determined to showcase the lifestyle, starting with a mountain bootcamp for the husband the next morning, run by ex-pat Brits.  Trouble with being in the Army is everyone thinks they want to beast themselves all the time (reader, they do). I of course stayed home and prepped the contraband ‘British’ bacon I’d been ordered to smuggle.

That day a picturesque trip up the cable car to high into the mountains, there’s a terrific restaurant, serving hearty portions, surrounded by adventurous activities including the longest water slide in Europe. Husband and the boyfriend partook – apparently it is less fun than water boarding, seems every orifice received a high pressure power wash. They needed medicinal beer.

An overnight trip to the stunning Greek coast close to Thessaloniki, just three hours drive meant delicious practically twitching grilled sardines and octopus alongside azure seas.

A surprise night booked for us in the local five star spa hotel The Kempinski with an awesome spa (no really) and equally awesome breakfast spread was a very unexpected luxury treat from the daughter and frankly unexpected luxury in Bansko.

There was also mountain quad biking, daughter and I were well up for it- until the men folk opted for the ‘hard ride’ tour and we realised neither of us could reach the pedals. We went shopping.

And a few hours girly time in the local beauty parlour for ‘very good value’ eyelash extensions. Little tip ladies – if you want to look like Aunt Sally meets drag artiste, ask for ‘natural’. I did. Three weeks later and I am still seeing the world through two hairy caterpillars.

There were properly delicious lunches and dinners in sylvan glades and town taverns with wood fired ovens. Whole grilled trouts for five euros, meat and potatoes fifty different Bulgarian ways and Shopska salad,  which became a must have healthy choice (with cheesy chips mind). Evenings in the town square with regular free concerts and jugs of very drinkable red wine for the price of a Heston services flat white. The vibrant and bustling cobbled streets and traditional taverns all with boulders of stone, wooden benches and bright red traditional table cloths is oddly intoxicating and really very jolly.IMG_1478

This is summer, in Winter I am told it’s a heaving snowy wonderland, much busier and full of skiers looking for a cheap European destination, with a buzzing apres-ski nightlife.

But Bansko obviously has it’s negatives. Many half built or unsold apartment complexes. Pavements, merely rubble in parts and Romanys towing cows in their horse drawn carts, rooting through bins. All are testament to an extremely impoverished Soviet past and extreme over-building more recently. And you can’t get an avocado for love nor money.

As I lazed on the balcony, sun setting over soaring mountains, daughter bustling around her own kitchen preparing a Bulgarian hot pot in a traditional clay pot. (layered meat, veg, spice, cheese, then bake). I mused on how dumb this all should be in the grand scheme of all things property investment.IMG_1618

But here’s the rub, she paid €39,000. No I haven’t missed a nought off. Service charge a couple of hundred euros, internet included. And becoming a Bulgarian tax payer means she now pays 8% income tax on her worldwide earnings – a 32% saving on her Australian tax.  It will have paid for itself in three months from tax savings alone. Plus she will have EU citizenship, dodging the Brexit bullet.

Will she ever be able to sell it? With difficulty.

Rent it out for decent money? No.

Will it appreciate? in decades, maybe.

So by every measure of a good property investment, it’s not… It’s cleverer.

In a property world oft guilty of knowing the cost of everything but the value of nothing,  it’s a timely reminder that sometimes it’s just a home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Property market predictions for 2017, I guess?

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I read a little piece by Graham Norwood in Estate Agent Today where he touched upon property pundits such as myself and the far more esteemed spending the last few weeks of the year making property predictions. With a lightness of touch he also suggested that this might be a slightly trickier job than us pundits make out. In fact, I could almost make out a sote voce suggestion that we might all possibly be guessing. Guessing!

Oh Really?

Well I’m hurt. Frankly we are all immersed in the property market and talk to vendors and buyers all day long. We have seen it all, been there, done that. Some of us even have qualifications, (not many). Rest assured, what goes around, comes around, the past, as everyone knows dictates the future and we have some whopping crystal balls that we are brilliant at swinging around.

But maybe he has a microscopic point because in order to predict the future one  probably should have ‘been there before’ (I checked, I haven’t) and also one probably has to be a little bit certain about something. Just something.

And there’s the rub. Brexit, of exactly what can we be certain?

Will it be a soft Brexit? (a definite maybe but what does that mean anyway)

Will it be a hard Brexit? (Ooh, I hope not, really don’t like the sound of that)

Will they cancel Brexit? (don’t get me excited)

Will we just pretend we have Brexited? (that’s a thought, I can keep a straight face)

Will Boris Johnson be inappropriate with Madam President and screw all future US trade agreements? (hey ho, who needs ’em, the US will be so uncool without Obama anyway)

Will Liam Fox slip too many buddies into Cobra meetings and Putin gets the nuclear codes? (Army wives really, really shouldn’t joke about that stuff)

Will all our financial institutions flee to Frankfurt? (a little sob from me as all those potential Chelsea townhouse sales tumble).

Will the pound plummet so far that all our overseas holidays terminate at the Isle of Wight?

Will Mascarpone and Parma ham get slashed from the Waitrose Essentials range?

So many questions, however, the big question, the one that constantly chases me down the street, across the social media strata and in the queue at Waitrose is as always, what are house prices going to do?

Well that depends.

It depends on Brexit, it depends on the pound, it depends on people thinking they will have a job next week, it depends on whether they think houses will be worth more or less next year. It depends on how confident people are of their future. It depends on prices at the pump and on the supermarket shelves. And It depends on whether Brussels are feeling really, really vindictive. Above all it depends on our ruling politicians having the slightest slightest clue – and frankly I am not depending on that.

So grudgingly I have to admit that Graham may have a point, I think perhaps there will be a little bit of guesswork going on. Nay, quite a lot, nay, probs wouldn’t trust any of us. Especially the ones who shouted ” Brexit is having NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER”, on July 1st 2016 (oh yes, I remember you).

However, humour me.. I do have one surefire, rock solid, safe as houses property guess for 2017 (but please don’t get excited if you’re outside of Zone1)

In 2017 more foreigners will buy property in the UK than in 2016…

Stick that in your Cuban cigar and smoke it Nige.