The latest investment property headline is this: Popular and well trodden markets such as France and Spain are out, Bansko is in.
Bansko, Bulgaria. Fast becoming one of Europe's hottest ski resorts and showing no signs of slowing down for beginners, Bansko is where the smart money is being invested. From as little as £30,000 you can own a 1 bedroom apartment in the heart of Bulgaria's trendiest ski resort, at the base of the imposing Pirin Mountain range. It sounds impressive but is it just a flash in the pan or a serious investment opportunity promising high rental yields and real capital growth?
The skiing is first class, that much is not in doubt. The high peaks offer powder white snow for up to 5 months of the year and the summer season continues for another 2, providing a wonderful holiday home for ski enthusiasts and great returns for buy-to-let investors. Plenty of money has been pumped into facilities and the ski school ensures that beginners and experts alike are catered for. There are plans to double the length of the runs at Bansko over the next 10 years so whilst this is a relatively new ski resort; it is certainly a progressive and well maintained one.
A very old town full of character, situated just 150km south of Sofia, Bansko is about 2 hours from the nearest Bulgarian airport. It lies at the base of Vihren, the highest mountain in the Pirin range at almost 3000m. Bansko is interestingly placed geographically, close to the border with Greece and Macedonia and there is the planned Greek-Thessalonic Highway that will connect Bansko to Greece by road. It is said that on a fine day you can see all the way to the Aegean from the Pirin Mountains. In theory, when you finish skiing in Bansko in April you could drive to Greece for a dip in the Aegean.
The cobbled streets of the town itself are clean and well lit. Amongst the obligatory ‘après ski’ styled bars and night-clubs are the mehanas, underground taverns offering local cuisine and live music. Currently the town is representative of a building site with scaffolding and cement mixers a plenty. Looking beyond the production equipment, one can quite quickly see that the ends will justify the means. Bansko has clearly been the subject of considerable investment into an improved infrastructure. Certainly more so than competing, better known towns such as Borovets or Pamporovo.
Non-skiers are catered for with beautiful walks, historic Roman ruins, volcanic mineral spring water public baths, equestrian activities and plans for at least one 18 hole golf course. The environment itself is protected by UNESCO and is Bulgaria's largest national park, ensuring that overdevelopment should not rear its ugly head, or at least, limit it's impact.
So what do you really need to know?
There have been a few negative stories floating around in the press and on TV, but as with all things most of these issues could have been easily curtailed with a little good advice and lots of homework. It is important to remember that you are dealing with an emerging market; by it's very nature not as predictable as the currently stagnating Costa-del-everyman. Having said this it seems that these warning signs pertain to properties on the Black Sea Coast rather than ski resorts. The ski season in Bansko is considerably longer than the coastal season and the mayor of Bansko is attempting to restrict Bansko to just 8000 beds, ensuring that the region does not become overdeveloped and saturated.
Regardless of what you chose to do, it is very important to seek independent legal advice. No matter how seductive the sales patter, you need to know that planning permission has been granted, the land title ratified, and that there is no outstanding mortgage on the land and so on.
Always be wary of developers who want you to agree to a different price on the notary deed. This can adversely affect your capital gains tax when you come to sell.
Always enquire about added costs such as maintenance charges you might be expected to pay above and beyond the purchase price and be aware that not all agents provide refundable deposits.
So is Bansko a good bet for the future?
Yes. A long ski season is great for buy-to-let investors and it is already a proven, popular destination for skiers. Lots of money is being spent on improving infrastructures and facilities and with accession into the EU for Bulgaria in 2007, significant capital growth can be expected. One of the most important factors will be access, and with several budget airlines currently looking to add Bulgaria to their list of destinations - Bansko should enjoy a huge increase in demand.
If you're reading this then you're already using the internet to research Bulgarian property investment issues. Another great way to figure out what's going on is to seek the opinions of those who have already bought: Check out www.talkbasko.com
Emerging property markets are exciting and potentially very profitable. Just go in with your eyes open and armed with as much independent information as you can.
James Wittering is the marketing manager for Exclusive Properties International who help their clients to build investment property portfolios from all corners of the globe. They also have property for sale in Bulgaria .