ARTICLES 
Elhovo: On the edge of the forest
Article with CEO of Bulgarian Properties Mr. Chobanov, by Kerin Hope, Financial Times, 12th November 2005

Drive into Elhovo, a small town set among rolling pasture land in south-east Bulgaria, and you enter a time warp. Weathered concrete buildings, sagging tiles and grass verges thick with dandelions hark back to communist days when the town, less than an hours drive from Turkey and Greece, was part of a Warsaw Pact military zone. But a buzz of Saturday-morning activity in the main square points to a more lively future.

Elhovo is an unlikely hot-spot in Bulgarias property boom. British couples throng the cafés and half-a-dozen estate agents offices, which advertise properties in 20-odd villages in the surrounding area, provide an informal meeting-place for new residents.
Almost 300 British families have bought homes around Elhovo. Another 300 properties in the district are for sale, according to Mihail Chobanov, founder of London-based Bulgarian Properties, who takes credit for making his native region a destination for European second home-buyers.

A lawyer-turned-property-consultant, Chobanov started by promoting developments in Black Sea coastal resorts. Two years ago he posted details of a few village homes near Elhovo on his companys website as an experiment, but with the hope that a few people would be interested.

To my surprise they were snapped up at once, and we started receiving a stream of e-mails asking about village properties, he says. Its clear the market is no longer confined to the Black Sea and mountain ski resorts.
Bulgarias picturesque former capital Veliko Tirnavo has attracted foreigners looking for 19th-century townhouses to renovate as holiday homes. Vidin, a historic Danube river port close to the site of a new bridge that will link Bulgaria and Romania, is also becoming popular. So are the villages around Varna, the main Black Sea port, which is becoming a business centre for the region.

The market in Elhovo is price-driven, Chobanov says. Prices start at Lv10,000-Lv16,000 (£3,500-£5,500) for a single-story brick-built village home and rise to Lv30,000-Lv40,000 for a two-storey house with enough land to add a patio or terrace and plant a vegetable garden and fruit trees. Prices in Veliko Tarnovo or Vidin are higher, reaching Lv160,000-Lv200,000 for a two-storey house in good condition on a 1,000 sq metre plot.

The Elhovo houses are solid, but they lack modern amenities, Chobanov says. You have to invest as much again as the purchase price in order to fix them up.
Local builders install modern interior bathrooms to replace a privy at the bottom of the garden and lay concrete and tiles over beaten-earth floors. Carpenters fit made-to-measure doors and cupboards. Gardeners double as caretakers, handling maintenance while owners are away.

Chobanovs team in Elhovo guides buyers through the (slow but consistent) Bulgarian bureaucracy, helps new owners find a building company and gives advice on buying a car or joining a Bulgarian-language class.

Dimitar Dimitrov, the mayor, says the influx of foreigners is welcome in Elhovo, a town of 10,000 that suffered high unemployment after the Bulgarian armed forces were downsized in the mid 1990s. Many young people left in search of a more vibrant lifestyle in Sofia. Village properties were put up for sale as pensioners moved out to join their families in the capital.
We lost about 20 per cent of the population in the 1990s, but now the situation has stabilised, Dimitrov says. After Bulgarians and Roma, the British are the third biggest community in terms of numbers, and were beginning to get inquiries from Dutch and Germans.

Bulgaria is poised to join the European Union in 2007 or 2008. Increasing numbers of foreigners from other EU member states are exploring possibilities for setting up small businesses in tourism and services.

Elhovo is less isolated than it appears, Dimitrov says. The Black Sea port of Burgas, with regular charter flights during the summer, is an hours drive away. Thanks to a new border crossing with Turkey, opened earlier this year, the Ottoman-era city of Edirne on the highway to Istanbul is almost as easy to reach.
Attractions in the area include rod-fishing in a local lake and hiking in some of Europes last primeval forests, where the communist elite hunted deer and wild boar.

One downside is that not many villagers speak English, so new arrivals are advised to learn the Cyrillic alphabet and bring conversation tapes and a copy of Colloquial Bulgarian, a chunky language handbook. But British residents say there are plenty of skills to be learned from their Bulgarian neighbours from planting a vineyard to distilling rakia, a 40 per cent proof Balkan firewater usually made from grapes or plums. Another project that requires help from local experts is butchering a pig a village familys source of meat for the winter.
Mike and Bev Wray, who ran a martial arts school in the UK, were thinking about relocating to Canada before they saw Bulgaria featured on the UK television show A Place in the Sun. They bought three houses on adjoining properties to make a spacious smallholding at the edge of the village of Lesovo, 17km from Elhovo on the road to the Turkish border. The view stretches across undulating fields to a forest on the horizon. A horse, just acquired from a Roma dealer, grazes in the meadow behind the main house.

The couple is offering bed-and-breakfast accommodation and has set up an eco-tourism business Bulgarian Eco Holidays, focused on fishing and hiking trips. They have refurbished and enlarged the main house, adding a kitchen-dining room along its full length, with a fireplace and timbered roof and large raised patio. One of the two smaller houses, each with two bedrooms, has already been converted for guests.

Theres been so much work to do on the property that weve provided steady employment for a team of 10 or so builders, Mike says. Weve also learned a lot from the local people. They have an impressive range of skills.

It takes a pioneering spirit to survive the Elhovo winter, however. There were definitely some moments when we wondered whether wed made the right decision to settle here, Bev says. We were snowed in for several days after one particularly heavy fall and the village was cut off for a week.

Other new residents have opted to settle in more gradually. Rona and Tony Stephens, from greater Manchester, spend part of the summer refurbishing their home in the village of Knyajevo, with a view to retiring there.

We come over whenever we can afford it and get on with the next stage of the job, says Tony, who works has a business as a self-employed builder. We rely on friendly neighbours to give us advice it could be planting peppers or telling us where to buy curtains and cushions.

BULGARIA PROPERTY ARTICLES
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11
 
Dominique Perrault to design the new City of Sofia
International, News Bg 4/30/2009
Open mall constructed in Burgas for 30 million Euro
Stefan Nikolov, News Bg 11/12/2008
The Bulgarian Real Estate Market Still Major for Investors
Stefan Nikolov, News Bg 10/2/2008
Russians Once Again on the Bulgarian Real Estate Market
Stefan Nikolov, News Bg 9/5/2008
Peak Moment in Bulgarian Real Estate Market
Stefan Nikolov, News Bg 7/22/2008
Golf playground near Ravno pole, Bulgaria
Kristalina Ilieva, News Bg 7/2/2008
Bulgaria Ranks 4th In Construction Growth in EU
Olga Yoncheva, News Bg 6/19/2008
Why Investing in Bulgaria Worths?
Financial Mirror, News Bg 5/22/2008
Equest Sells Hotel “Serdika” in Sofia
Sgrada.com, News Bg 5/16/2008
Russians Invest 30 M EUR Close to Golden Sands Resort
International, News Bg 4/7/2008
Independent: Bulgaria Enchants Britons
Independent: Bulgaria Enchants Britons
Brits Fall for Bulgarian Charms
Brits Fall for Bulgarian Charms
Bulgaria: a darling of the property market
Bulgaria: a darling of the property market
Ski season in Bulgaria’s Pamporovo
Ski season in Bulgaria’s Pamporovo
Snow show with Miss Bulgaria
Snow show with Miss Bulgaria
Bulgarian Ski Resort Property Boom
Bulgarian Ski Resort Property Boom
Backstory: Can you say pied-a-terre in Bulgarian?
Backstory: Can you say pied-a-terre in Bulgarian?
Rogge And Bulgaria’s Prime Minister To Cooperate On Sofia 2014
Rogge And Bulgaria’s Prime Minister To Cooperate On Sofia 2014
Further Plans for Bulgaria's Winter Olympics Host Application
Further Plans for Bulgaria's Winter Olympics Host Application
Bulgaria maps out infrastructure priorities until 2013
Bulgaria maps out infrastructure priorities until 2013
High-Speed Motorway Construction Underway
High-Speed Motorway Construction Underway
Construction in Bansko Resort Limited
Construction in Bansko Resort Limited
Bulgaria increases transit options
Bulgaria increases transit options
Bulgaria hopes to join the single European currency, the euro, in 2009
Bulgaria hopes to join the single European currency, the euro, in 2009
Bulgaria joins Budget Travel catalogue
Bulgaria joins Budget Travel catalogue
Bulgarian Ski Resort Property Boom
Bulgarian Ski Resort Property Boom
Bansko Introduces Online Avalanche Alert
Bansko Introduces Online Avalanche Alert
Tourism Authority Lands Hand to Sofia 2014
Tourism Authority Lands Hand to Sofia 2014
A Glimpse Upon the History of Stara Zagora
A Glimpse Upon the History of Stara Zagora
Bulgaria seen as attractive ski destination
Bulgaria seen as attractive ski destination
Ski home bargains in Bulgaria
Ski home bargains in Bulgaria
A little place on the piste
A little place on the piste
Sofia 2014 Queues in Bids Power Index
Sofia 2014 Queues in Bids Power Index
Bulgarian Property appeals to sports enthusiasts
Bulgarian Property appeals to sports enthusiasts
International company to invest 90 mln euro in golf course near Kavarna
International company to invest 90 mln euro in golf course near Kavarna
Buying Real Estate in Bulgaria is a Super Bargain
Buying Real Estate in Bulgaria is a Super Bargain
Bulgaria to Impose New Bank Account Numbers by March 1
Bulgaria to Impose New Bank Account Numbers by March 1
Price of Farmland Will Go up by 40% Because of Bulgaria's EU Accession
Price of Farmland Will Go up by 40% Because of Bulgaria's EU Accession
Bulgaria offers attractive property
Bulgaria offers attractive property
Interest toward Bulgarian agriculture sector
Interest toward Bulgarian agriculture sector

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11