Renting in Bulgaria is not what it used to be just two years ago. It is easier, but watch out for pitfalls
Whereas, in the past, you may have had to compromise on some of your creature comforts while renting in Bulgaria, the plethora of new builds and renovations now available in Sofia and many of Bulgaria's other cities mean that you should be able to find your perfect pad without too much effort.
Depending on how hands-on you're prepared to be, finding an apartment for rent in Bulgaria can be either a nightmare or a doddle. If you're single, then obviously you only have yourself to please and things will undoubtedly be a little easier, but when you have to consider your partner's preferences as well as suitability issues for children, then the whole process can seem a lot more complicated.
If you would rather leave the initial search to an agent, make sure you contact one of the bigger agencies that operate in many Bulgaria in cities, such as Address, Imoti BG, Olimp, Discover Bulgaria or Mirela. These should all have English-speaking agents on-hand to assist you with your search and the subsequent contract. The idea is that your agent will draw up a shortlist of suitable viewings for you to save you the trouble of trailing round and seeing everything yourself, but in order for them to do this effectively they will need a detailed brief of what you are looking for. In drawing up your wishlist, make sure you are clear about what you consider acceptable factors - both in terms of desirable facilities and the condition of a building. If you do go to view a few apartments and they are completely wrong, point this out clearly rather than just politely stating that it's "not for you". Rather than sounding rude, this will help your agent get a better idea of what's going to work for you.
It's a great idea to have a good look around a city or town before you start your search. Sample the atmosphere for yourself and decide on the right areas for you, rather than relying on your agent's opinion. In Sofia, for example, you have the choice of a bustling city centre, the mountain air and suburban feel of Dragalevtsi, or the leafy streets of Lozenets. All are well within reach of a central office, so you don't have to sacrifice a quieter way of life in order to get home from work at a decent hour.
According to Rumi Benova, a property consultant with Discover Bulgaria Properties, some people are lucky enough to want the first apartment they see whereas, for others, the process can take more than two or three months. "People have to be prepared to see many apartments before they find the one they like most," she states. When looking for an apartment, Benova recommends that you prioritise the following: the neighbourhood, which must correspond to your requirements (near the centre, in the outskirts, noisy streets, heavy traffic) and the building, which should be well-maintained (electric or mechanical locks on the main door, recent repairs to the staircase or the lift). The view may be a factor, but security is the most important thing.
If you're after a renovation rather than a new build you have to be prepared to put up with shabby communal areas, as this is par for the course in a residential building where maintenance funds are scarce.
As a rule of thumb, renovations tend to be larger apartments with high ceilings, but are unlikely to offer much security or up-to-date wiring. New builds generally come in the form of one or two-bedroom apartments with newly installed utilities. Many feature a security guard and underground parking facilities.
Signing a Contract
Once you have found the right apartment for you, you need to sign a rental agreement. According to Benova, the following represents normal practice. The day you sign the contract with the landlord you pay rent for the current month and a deposit of the same amount.
This deposit will be kept by the landlord for the term of the contract and for a month after the expiry date, to protect the landlord's interest (pending bills, damage). It is refundable if everything is okay.
If you opt for an unfurnished apartment, you need to be prepared to buy your own white goods - sometimes this can even include the kitchen sink! However, if you're not keen on the idea of this, talk to your property agent. Everything is open to negotiation and this is something that can usually be worked out between the tenant and the landlord.
As always, a foreigner in Bulgaria should take the same precautions they would in their own country, so make sure you read the contract agreement thoroughly. In order to keep up to speed on all the contractual points, insist on an English-language version and ask for a breakdown (plus receipts) of all the bills you will be expected to pay.
Security is always paramount so change the locks when you move into an apartment and keep key holders to a minimum.
The price you pay for your apartment will depend on a number of factors: the city or town, area location, size of the apartment/house and whether it is furnished. As a general rule you should be looking to pay around 120-180 euros per month for a studio flat with kitchen; between 190-300 for a one-bedroom place with a kitchen and a sitting room; and from 350 euros up to 800 euros for a two-bedroom apartment in Sofia, depending on the neighbourhood.