Tag Archives: Building and renovation of property in Bulgaria

Bulgarian Experiences: Running a Bar

Bulgarian Experiences: Running a Bar

This post was originally published in Stara Planina Properties newsletter on 14th November 2008.

I am a person who likes taking on different challenges and moving on in life so after a career in I.T., back in England, I came to Bulgaria a few years ago for a change of direction. After awhile kicking back and enjoying the gloriously long summers I decided I needed to actually do something productive with my time. Bulgaria has a great cafe bar culture and I’d always fancied myself as a bar owner so I thought I’d give it a go.

Whilst I love the bars in VT, one thing that was lacking was a student bar that played alternative/retro music. Armed with this niche, I set about finding some suitable premises. The place I found had been a bar before (and indeed a leather factory before that) but hadn’t operated for 6 years. It was located in the old town near the Hotel Yantra and oozed character with a high vaulted ceiling and a small garden with views over a church and the river below. Inside it was big enough for about 50 people and the garden outside again could take 50 people. The fact that it had operated as a bar beforehand was good news as I didn’t have to apply for change of use (which is long and bureaucratic procedure). The first hurdle was out of the way. However, because it hadn’t operated as a bar for 6 years, the license had been revoked and I would have to apply for a new one after jumping through the following hurdles:

  • Ventilation Inspection
  • Health & Safety Inspection
  • Health & Safety Sound Test
  • Fire Inspection
  • Building Inspection (Structure and Electrics)

Before embarking on any works it is advisable to ensure that the bar will meet the requirements of the above listed hurdles. If so, then the next step is the works. First you need to find a reputable designers to draw up your plans for the bar layout, electrical circuits and plumbing. Once these are done they need to be rubber stamped at the municipality. A point to note here is that if the building doesn’t already have 3 phase electricity then you’ll more than likely have to pay to upgrade it to handle ventilation and/or AC.

If you’ve renovated a property in Bulgaria before, or in the UK for that matter, then you know the rest. You need to coordinate an architect, builders, plumbers, electricians and joiners. If the architect is late, the electrician and plumber are late. If the electricians or plumbers are late then a builder can’t plaster a wall or concrete a floor. If the builders are late then the joiner can’t install the floor, wood panel the walls or install the bar. Unfortunately, delays are inevitable and every day costs you money in potential revenue. When the bar is, finally, finished you can bask in the glory of your achievement. Now it’s time to hold your breath and get the inspectors in.

Once the inspections are over, it’s time to pay a little more tax and get your license and permission. A great feeling as once you have this, it’s just a matter of paying a small fee each year for the alcohol license.

So you now have a legal bar, it’s time to solicit offers from bar suppliers, buy and register a cash till, buy an adequate sound system/ TV, fridges, ice machine, glasses, spoons and find a cleaner and bar staff. Getting the right staff is very important for a bar as they are the front end to the business. It’s important that the staff that you employ fit the mood of your bar because if they fit the mood then so will their friends and they will come to the bar. With this in mind, being a student bar, I advertised on the notice boards at the University. Once you have one or two staff, then it snow balls as they suggest friends and friends suggest friends etc.

After you’ve been running for a while, be prepared to make compromises. One of the biggest mistakes you can make in business is sticking steadfastly to your ideas and ignoring the wants of the customers. If I had my way, my bar would play alternative rock music every night but this is not what the students want. I compromised by playing just popular alternative rock along with Bulgarian rock (no Chalga thankfully!), Reggae, a little Hip-Hop and, of course, lots of Depeche Mode. Listen to your staff; they have a good idea of what music the locals like. They can make suggestions and you can see if it’s appropriate for your bar. This applies to all aspects of your bar, be it music, drinks, decor etc.

If your bar is successful then, if you have the space, you may also need to invest some or all of your profits into expansion. As the summer months approached, I created a paved area outside so we could have a beer garden with benches and chairs. I employed a local joiner to craft bespoke tables and chairs out of thick wood and tree stumps. The results were very impressive but my staff described them as Flintstone furniture! Take note that, unlike the Brits, Bulgarians don’t like sitting directly in the sun, so parasols or complete covering may be needed. So, after paving the whole garden, the winter months approached and I realised that the garden was going to waste, and the main bar was becoming too full. I had to compromise on the garden and build an extension over half of it to create an overflow for the main bar.

It’s a risky business, most bars close after their first year, but if you find the right niche, mood and staff you’ll have a great time and make some money. Da Da Bar is now the most popular student bar in town (not so difficult given there are over 10,000 students!) and also attracts a varied mix of internationals some of whom live locally and some who come from the many hostels located nearby.

‘Buying a Property – Bulgaria’ Book

‘Buying a Property – Bulgaria’ Book

Stephane Lambert, Director of Stara Planina Properties

We would just like to draw to your attention the release of our book Buying a Property – Bulgaria, Anderson and Lambert (2008, Cadogan Guides). The book uncovers the best places to buy, from the coast to the mountains to Sofia- gives the lowdown on visas, job-hunting and education – covers the details of finding a property: choosing types of accommodation, renovating and security – offers specialist advice on mortgages, taxes, surveys and conveyancing – helps with the challenges of settling-in: learning the language, the law and the culture.

By way of background both myself and Andy Anderson (directors of Stara Planina Properties) graduated from Oxford Brookes University in Urban Planning and worked in London and overseas before taking up posts with the United Nations in Bulgaria in 1998 as advisors to the Beautiful Bulgaria Project. The project was started to renovate historic buildings across the country and improve the urban environment through job creation. Later we set up the business Stara Planina Properties to help other Brits purchase and renovate houses in Bulgaria. Since then we appeared on Channel Four’s ‘A Place in the Sun’, ITV’s ‘I Want That House’, and Real Estate TV as experts in the Bulgarian property market. We have also contributed numerous articles to many leading newspapers and magazines.

It was a great pleasure and privilege to be afforded the opportunity to contribute to the understanding of the process of buying a property in Bulgaria but more importantly of day to day living both negative and positive.

Taking Care of Your Affairs in Bulgaria While Living Abroad

Taking Care of Your Affairs in Bulgaria While Living Abroad

Many foreigners have purchased property in Bulgaria during the last decade and most of them live in their home country and only visit for few weeks every year. Recently we have come to a number of cases when people have not had anyone to look after their affairs locally which resulted in problems for them when it came to selling property, transferring their company or in case of other events.

What are the issues related to your property and Bulgarian company which need attention regularly?

Checking property condition and normal maintenance. If you are not visiting for longer periods you may need someone to check your house or apartment, air it, check for leakages, cut the grass, etc. Properties which have been neglected are more likely to become target for criminals and are loosing some of their value even without incidents. You may engage a neighbour or a specialist company depending on the particular situation. There is always a way to find someone to look after your property and this is important in the long run. Security and alarm system can be one decision but again you have to have a local contact to react to the alarm and to communicate with the police or security company.

Insurance. It is essential to have a property insurance to cover your property for the basic risks. Insuring the property is easy especially if one has the information about the offers of the different companies. Some insurers are less cooperative than others and it is good to have this point in mind when choosing between the offers.

It is important to have someone to check your house regularly as insurance companies may not accept your claim if they are not informed about an insurance event within certain time after its occurrence. Remember that renewing the insurance is not done automatically.

In case of a robbery you have to have a authorised representative to file a complaint in the police and submit your documents to the insurance company. You need a protocol from the police in order to claim money from the insurance company for damages caused by a robbery. Bear in mind that most insurers will cover the risk of burglary if there is an alarm system installed.

Paying utility bills. You may need to pay bills whilst away and this can be done electronically (read more information here) or by a local representative. In any case it is a bad surprise to arrive during the weekend and find the electricity cut off for unpaid bills. Then it will take a few days from your holiday to sort the problem.

Paying annual property taxes. This is simple but takes time and has to be done each year by law. The taxes include annual council tax and garbage collection fee which is also paid to the local municipality. The payment has to be made either with one payment (deadline is 30 April and you will receive a 5% discount) or in four instalments (deadlines are 30 April, 30 June, 30 September and 30 November).

Company accounts. Those who have purchased their properties through a Bulgarian company must remember or have an appointed representative to look after their company affairs. Preparation of annual company accounts and submission of tax declaration, accounting and statistics report are the obligations you have no matter whether your company is trading or not. Some people say that filing a zero declaration is enough but this is not true. A company which has assets has depreciation costs as a minimum and most probably you will have other costs which may be deducted from your profit when selling one day. If the accounts are not prepared, it is likely for you to face problems with the tax authorities when it comes to selling your property or if they decide to check your accounts. The accounts have to be prepared and tax report submitted by 31 March each year for the period from 1 January till 31 December of the previous year.

According to the Bulgarian Accounting Law the annual report must be signed by a qualified accountant who is responsible for its contents together with the company managers.

There are cases when changes of legislation require submission of documents to the tax or municipal authorities within certain period. Having someone to have your company on the list and warn you if you need to complete some procedure (or, indeed, complete it for you) is valuable thing which will save you the worry.

We at Stara Planina Properties and our sister company Bulgarian Property Management have the dedication to take away from you the hassle which some of the above issues involve when you try to deal with them from abroad. Let us know if you wish to receive details on any of the above issues.

Planning and Building Permissions in Bulgaria

Planning and Building Permissions in Bulgaria

As in most countries, in Bulgaria there are strict rules governing what you can build on your land. In this article we will only discuss residential buildings as industrial and others are more complicated and require a different approach.

If you wish to repair an existing house or to construct a new residential building the starting point is to establish what is allowed in your area. In the first instance your plot needs to be regulated for residential purposes. Essentially this is land within village and town borders. If it is not then you will need to apply to have it regulated. This can be a long drawn-out process and you will need to employ the services of an expert. All regulated land has a definition of what activities can be carried out on it, together with what type of structures can be built. These definitions are described in the municipal plans. The plans describe what is actually on the plot and detail the density of construction, height restrictions and so forth.

If you are thinking of doing minor works (those which do not affect the structure of the existing buildings) you will not need a permission from the local municipality. If the works you intend to carry out involve significant changes to what already exists in the municipal plan for your plot you will have to apply to have the plan changed to correspond to what you intend to build. This procedure should be carried out by an expert. The neighbouring owners to your plot will have the right to object to the change within certain time. If this happens there are administrative procedures to follow but if they do not object there will be an official document issued by the municipality for the change of the plan.

Once the plan has been changed you will have to obtain a new plan of your property on which the chief architect of the municipality will mark the conditions you will have to follow such as density of construction, distance from the plot borders, etc. It is best if you disucss your intentions with an architect prior to this stage so that you know what to include in the application to the chief architect. The plan with the remarks and signature of the chief architect is called a ‘visa for preparation of designs’.

The architect you contract to prepare the designs will take the ‘visa’ as a base. Once all the elements of the designs are ready (including architectural, structural, electrical, water, ventilation and heating, landscaping) an application is made to the local authority for building permission. The designs will be approved and stamped if they comply with the regulations. Along with the design approval, contracts with the electrical and water companies need to be submitted (you may also require permission from other bodies such as the Fire Brigade or National Institute of the Monuments of Culture but this depends on the activities you intend to carry out). If your documents are in order you will receive the Permission to Build (Please note that the permission to build only last for 5 years and is specific to the projects submitted).

The architect, structural engineer and the other members of the team are required by law to sign off the works and the local municipality at the end of works has to sign off the project and issues a permission for use.

Our sister company Bulgarian Property Management is able to help with organising planning and building process as well as minor repairs, management and various other tasks.

Furnish Your Bulgarian Home

Furnish Your Bulgarian Home

If you are looking to furnish your house or apartment in Bulgaria there are three options from which you can choose depending on your budget, preferences and lifestyle.

Bulgaria has significant furniture production industry – both large scale and custom made. The country’s export of furniture grew significantly during the last ten years and the main markets are Benelux countries, Denmark and Sweden.

Option One: Buy directly from furniture showroom. Simply speaking this involves buying direct products seen inside the showroom and these would be delivered typically within 48 hours. In every city or town there are few big shops and many small ones. It is good to check both as the small shops usually have closer connections with particular producers and may offer lower prices whilst larger shops offer variety of options.

Shops are best for purchasing chairs, tables, beds and sofas. The prices of the chairs usually vary between 20 and 60 euros. A table would cost you between 100 and 300 euros. Sofas would be at least 200 euros and the most expensive ones exceed 1000 euros. A single bed with a mattress costs at least 100 euros and a double one – 225 euros.

Option Two: Buy made to order modules from furniture showrooms. This is mostly used when it comes to kitchens but can include fitted shelves/cupboards and wardrobes. The shops would usually have someone who can prepare the layout of your kitchen. Once you choose the arrangement of the modules, you can also choose between several colours and materials. Once you confirm the design they would require up to one month to supply and install the furniture. You may have to purchase some additional items such as taps, sink and plugs for your kitchen as well as all electrical appliances.

The prices may vary a lot as some of the brands are quite expensive. A typical kitchen may cost you around 1,000 euros without the appliances if you choose budget brands such as Aron. If you go for luxury furniture your kitchen may cost you 2 or 3 times more.

Most shops organise the transport of the furniture to your home but usually you would have to pay for it.

Option Three: Custom made furniture by joiners There are many excellent competent joiners who would come and measure the rooms and prepare designs for furnishing each room. You should bear in mind though that some of them are better than the others and it is best to rely on recommendations.

It is also possible to contact specialists in the local interior design studios and have them prepare the best suggestion for furnishing your home. Thus you may end up with unique furniture at affordable price.

The joiners who have better production facilities can produce anything for you – from fitted kitchen to chairs and garden furniture. They may design unique elements to make your home special and take advantage of the specific spaces that seem difficult to make use of.

With this wide choice you only need to summarise your requirements and to take advantage of the opportunities offered by your new home. Thus you will have an exciting and pleasant job to complete.

As a rule of thumb off the shelf furnishings are cheaper but joiners in our opinion offer better value for money because they are able to take into account the specific requirements of your space to be furnished.

It is always nice to do the furnishing yourselves but if you prefer to engage someone knowledgeable and capable to help you can contact our sister company Bulgarian Property Management who will be ready to offer good advice on the subject and will be happy to do the running around whilst you are away.