WINTER RESORTS

by Stanislava Ciurinskiene

Buying into snowy landscapes may bring good returns

"Would I be happy about buying a holiday home right next to a ski run if I couldn't use it?" This is the question that people who want to invest in the top three Bulgarian winter resorts of Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo, are asking. Not that the ski runs in these resorts are bad, they are just as good as those in the Alps. The problem is that soon they are likely to be insufficient to meet the needs of the increased volume of tourists wanting to use them. For example, the ski runs in Bansko were planned and constructed to accommodate about 5,500 skiers at a time. After the Bansko building boom is over, the town will cater for some 20,000 tourists.

Just 10 years ago, Borovets, Bansko and Pamporovo, currently the top-spots for winter resort investors, were nice little towns with their own unique atmosphere. Now they look more like huge building sites. Still, this sight is not scaring investors away. On the contrary, they are buying more and more apartments, plots of land and hotels in these Bulgarian ski resorts. This is because there are very few good, cheap ski resorts in Europe. Prices will certainly continue to rise and after the end of the building boom the three resorts will look as nice and tidy as before. The authorities are already working on solving the infrastructure problems. For the time being it seems that infrastructure is an issue mostly in Bansko, at least when it comes to ski facilities.

Bansko is Bulgaria's newest winter resort and recently dethroned Borovets from its position as "king of the ski resorts". Or, more accurately, the few thousand British citizens who bought holiday homes in the town crowned it absolute leader of Bulgarian ski resorts. It was exactly the intensive interest from this group of investors that ignited the building boom in Bansko. Brits tend to buy property not only to use or rent, many of them have already moved in permanently.

The stunning beauty of the town and the surrounding mountains, the mixture of traditional and modern architecture and the low property prices attract not only Brits, but investors from all over the world.

Pamporovo and Borovets are no less popular, beautiful or worthwhile investment destinations. Pamporovo, located in the Rhodope mountains, has more than 30 km of ski runs and excellent ski facilities. The biggest problems there are shortage of parking space, sewerage and accessibility. Due to the fast growth of this resort some of the hotels were built in spots that are difficult to reach by car. The situation is similar in Borovets, Bulgaria's oldest ski resort, which is located in the Rila mountains. The good thing about Borovets is that most new building projects are carried out not in, but near the resort and visitors are spared the typical building site view.

The bad news is that one can no longer make a 150 percent profit from holiday homes in the three most popular Bulgarian ski resorts. Prices are still reasonably low, but they are rising every day and there isn't any more space for new buildings. The good news is, however, that there are a few small, as yet unknown Bulgarian towns, which are waiting for investors to turn them into modern, popular ski centres.

These resorts include Momchilovtsi, Dobrinishte and Chepelare. Even now these towns attract many Bulgarians who want to avoid crowds or who cannot afford a vacation in the more popular resorts.

Chepelare is a town near Pamporovo which can accommodate about 4,000 tourists at a time. Currently, it is neither luxurious nor popular among foreign investors, but property prices are three times lower than in the top resorts.

Momchilovtsi is a village in the Rhodope near Smolyan. It is very popular among Bulgarians but almost unknown to the rest of the world. Now this small resort can accommodate 280 guests, but it has the capacity to grow. Dobrinishte is located in Rila only six km from Bansko.

Dobrinishte is not yet a very well developed tourist destination, but its good ski runs and mineral water could soon earn it a name as a good ski and spa centre. Chepelare, Momchilovtsi and Dobrinishte would undoubtedly make excellent investment spots for those who want to go for high investment returns and are willing to wait a few years.

Trust your agent, but not too much: some real estate agents sell properties in towns and villages near the top ski resorts, presenting them as the actual resorts. Many clients have purchased apartments or land in Chepelare thinking they were buying a property inPamporovo. Or they are led to believe that their property is located in Bansko while it is actually in the nearby town of Razlog. Surprisingly enough, this "sellers' know-how" was invented not by Bulgarian, but by British real estate agents.

Your agent will probably tell you:

"The property you are interested in can be rented not only in winter but in summer too". This is not quite true. Although in the future Bulgarian winter resorts may start functioning as summer mountain tourism centres as well, at the moment they are popular only as ski resorts. Realistically, the best you can hope for at the moment is rental income from the ski season, about 130 days annually.

A reasonable price for a ski resort property is from 700-800 to 1400 euros per square metre, depending on the location. The closer it is to a ski run, the more expensive an apartment is. Foreign tourists and investors visit Bansko so often that the mayor of the local municipality recently suggested the town needed an airport. An American and a Canadian company immediately offered to invest in the Bansko airport project.

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