House Hunter: 'Would Bulgaria suit two ski fanatics?'

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THE PROBLEM

THE PROBLEM

Jack Davis and Mike Hargreaves write: "We are both keen skiers and for some years have been thinking about buying a small property abroad which would allow us to enjoy our favourite pastime for longer periods, without spending lots of money on expensive accommodation. We also like the beach but realise that finding somewhere that fits both our requirements is probably out of the question.

"We have about £50,000 between us, and seem to have been priced out of the traditional areas where access to coast and skiing is possible. Areas such as the Pyrenees and Andorra are unfortunately becoming too expensive for us.

"One recent idea we've had is to go and look in a cheaper country such as Bulgaria, but we know very little about it, apart from the fact that property is cheap there. But does this also apply to the cost of living generally? We know that it is possible to ski there and are about to book a skiing holiday for this winter, but we don't know how many resorts there are, how high they are, what the season is like and how reliable the snow is.

We would like information on properties and also on how we would get there. We've heard about the beach resorts there and would also like property details and prices on these, but suspect that somewhere where we can ski will win out.

"We would like the option of being able to let the property while we're not there, mainly to cover costs, as we'd really hope to make full use of it ourselves."

THE ADVICE

Robin Barrasford replies: "Where Jack and Mike decide to buy depends on their exit strategy. If they intend selling within three years, they're better off buying on the coast, which is more established than the ski resorts. If they intend selling within five years, then the ski resorts offer a better long-term investment. Over seven years, buying in the capital, Sofia, is a better bet financially, as it will hold its own long after any boom-and-bust scenario.

About 80 per cent of our clients are pure investors and are buying in Bulgaria solely to make money. With Bulgaria scheduled to join the EU in 2007, there's a massive boom, especially as people turn away from Spain and Florida. Tourism is growing and this year saw thousands of British visitors.

There is a range of ski resorts; two I would recommend, as they have the best infrastructure, are Bransko and Pamporovo. Pamporovo is the southernmost ski resort in Europe and is also the sunniest Bulgarian mountain resort, with 120 days of sun during the ski period. Situated 1,650m above sea level, at the foot of the peak Snejanka, it is 240km from Dosia and 85km from Plovdic.

The ski season starts from mid-December and lasts until mid-April. The slopes are particularly suitable for beginners and there are more than 100 highly qualified ski instructors to teach beginners, intermediates and snowboarders. There are also difficult ski runs such as the Giant Slalom run, which offers a challenge even for the expert.

We're selling The Monastery there, which is near the five-star Pamporovo Hotel, and residents can use the hotel's indoor heated pool, as well as the restaurant, bar, whirlpool bath and sauna.

Bransko is more suitable for intermediate and advanced skiers and it's also a lovely old town, so it has more to it than just skiing. Borovets is the most developed of the resorts, but I feel it's suffering from overdevelopment, as are some of the coastal resorts, in particular Sunny Beach and Golden Sands, which are swamped.

We only sell new-build. Buyers should be aware that many older buildings will not be built to a safe standard, as for years there was little building control. Foreigners can't buy land or a property with a garden without forming a Bulgarian company, but there are no restrictions on buying apartments."

Robin Barrasford is the director of Barrasford & Bird: 01566 782624, www.barrasfordandbird.co.uk.

THE SOLUTION

Property one: The Monastery, Pamporovo.

Price: From £34,182

Agent's details: This development is in the heart of the Rhodopi Mountains, in the ski resort of Pamporovo. With views across the stunning range and surrounding woodland, the complex comprises a selection of one-, two- and three-bedroom fully furnished apartments, which have central heating, tiled flooring throughout and an open fire/log burner in the living room.

Property two: Lazur Complex, Dinevi resort, Black Sea coast.

Price: From £56,000.

Agent's details: A selection of two-bedroom, re-sale apartments. This development lies in front of the Stara Plannina mountain range beside the beautiful, non-tidal Black Sea. Buyers have access to a private sandy beach, communal pool, restaurant and bar, plus four other developments in Dinevi. The complex has 24-hour security.

Property three: The Monastery, Sofia.

Price: From £35,000.

Agent's details: Situated at the foot of the imposing Mount Vitosha, this imposing new development lies within an exclusive residential area only 10 minutes from the city and 70 metres from the Sofia ski-lift which services three ski runs. One-, two- and three-bedroom apartments all have stunning views and feature open-plan living/dining areas.

THE VERDICT

"We are very interested in some of these developments and like the sound of Pamporovo. This ski resort is probably better suited to beginners and intermediates and, as we are now fairly experienced, perhaps it might not be the best resort for us; but we like the sound of the potential for snowboarding and love the idea of being in the sunniest ski resort.

"The development sounds great, as you also have access to a sauna and swimming pool, which is always welcome after a hard day on the slopes. Letting the property through a reputable holiday company is an attraction for us. Bransko also sounds good and this might be more attractive to anyone wanting to rent.

"It's interesting that Robin thinks Borovets is overdeveloped. We are about to book a holiday there this winter and test it out for ourselves."

If you would like House Hunter's help, write to The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail: househunter@independent.co.uk

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