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Snagging an Off-Plan Development in Sofia (Part 1: Hard & Soft Landscaping)

It would be so much shorter to tell you all the good things about Bulgarian off-plan developments for residential use.

As follows is a brief summary:

''.................errr!'' (silent pause for dramatic effect, mid-west dust bowl effect!)

Hard Landscape Subsiding

Hard landscaping subsiding!

...OK! Now let's look at starting a checklist of snag items you will need to bear in mind before you sign-off on final handover and acceptance of your off-plan property in Bulgaria!

Most such developments were conceived in the halcyon days at the tail end of the boom.  They tend to be engineered to meet the budgets of foreign investors remortgaging their property back-home to invest abroad. This led to a glut of 1 & 2 bed properties flooding the market, with properties typically ranging from 55m2 upto around 110 m2.



Of course there are bigger properties but they are rarer as Developers knew that overseas buyers could afford to spend generally between 60,000 - 90,000 pounds sterling!

The irony is that as a result if you had the extra cash and bought a large 150m2+ 3 bed property in a prime location you made a good buy as scarcity keeps them in demand. One beds are also letting/selling whilst the middle market of bog standard 2 beds is decimated with price convergence as a result between one and two bed properties!

Architects were charged with maximising every possible square inch of saleable space, hence you find properties squeezed into the eaves with awkward shear columns in strange places on the upper floor!

When the law was amended to allow Developer's to count terraces as being part of the GFA their size increased exponentially as it allowed Developers to sell you air at the same price as internal living space! A nice little earner and another way for Developers to cash in!  Indeed until recently it was not obligatory to have a parking space for each apartment and Developers often charged extortionate rates for 'optional' parking spaces as add on extras!

Your road madam

Your road madam!

Soft & Hard Landscaping:

Getting down to the nitty-gritty of snagging where does on begin?  I suggest we start with zoning, infrastructure, traffic management plans, hard and soft landscaping and access rights.  In future posts in this series on snagging we will move onto what to look out for on the external elevation and interior.

These key end-use issues which impact value and whole life cost of the built environment were often considered only as an after-thought in the frenzy to build high and fast. This has left a lot of properties literally stranded in a no man's land in suburbs such as Ovcha kupel, Monastirski Livadi, Vitosha, Dragichevo & Poligona. You can find brand new high-end developments without infrastructure in the middle of a brown field site surrounded by half completed shells cut short at the tail end of the boom!  With no asphalt roads to your completed development or worse still just a rutted boggy mud track, like some Spielberg re-make of The Battle of The Somme!

This stems from lax planning approval and bungs at the Municipality, when they should have quite clearly left many projects on the drawing board rather than giving them the go ahead.   But of course in true short-termist style back then it was a license to print money or so they thought getting on gravy train until it ran out leaving a responsibility vacuum in its wake!  With Developers pleading poverty from their Porsche Cayennes whilst the Municipality looks on and shrugs its shoulders, as if to say ''not me guv'', whilst the mud piles up and nobody runs an access road in.  The excuse from the Municipality and the Developer is that if they put down tarmac it will only get ripped up when building starts again on the row of unfinished developments, on what would often have been a green field site back in 2004!

In theory when new developments are finally completed (i.e. when the trucks have stopped trundling in with materials and out with site waste), Developers should chip in their share for infrastructure costs and the council should lay the necessary course of tarmac and facilities to make the area habitable. But in practice the pretty CGI (Computer Generated Image) of your off-plan property are all too often just an artistic whimsy!

Sadly as developments got behind schedule, banks foreclosed, foreign investors pulled out on final installments and Developers had spent the down payments many projects are left unfinished and the infrastructure with it! There are even mausoleums to Developers and investors fevered fantasies dotted around the outer suburbs of Sofia as testament to hasty development, short term thinking and poor planning!

Indeed in one case I know of in Ovcha Kupel the foreign and local owners have clubbed together to chip in their share of 500 Euros to lay an aggregate track so that they can  drive a car up to their block, use their expensive underground parking and get in without dragging their muddy boots behind them like some parody of that famous rugger veteran Fran Cotton!

Nice Dead Shrub

Nice (dead) Shrub!

Hard landscaping around the development is all too often poorly laid without proper fixing, paving laid on a sand bed with little in the way of jointing.  In such an extreme climate with temperature variations from +38 degrees down to -20 degrees the heave from freeze-thaw action soon does the rest!

As for soft landscaping, (you know those green bits you saw on the CGI's), if existent is often neglected by handover as it has taken so long to get Act 16 and there is no FM in place.  It is thus not uncommon to get a few withered shrubs as owners and developer squabble over onerous Block Management fees which were as much as 9 Euros-12 Euros / m2 per year!  (but that's another story, see previous article!).

Often the hard landscaping around the building perimeter is laid above the underground parking facility.  In some cases the roof of the underground parking lacks the structural integrity it should have so you need to look for differential settlement at he interface between the external elevation and ground zero.  Cars have often been parked on the paving above the underground parking dislodging them and even causing leaks to the underground parking.  Not to mention poor rainwater management systems with insufficient drainage and down-pipes running directly into the underground parking facility! least then you get the water feature you were denied on the CGI!

Sofia Casa

We strongly recommend that you get an experienced professional property consultant to do the necessary due diligence before you buy and if you have already bought to carry out a thorough site survey and inspection for defects, before you make your final stage payment.  That way you stand a chance of getting the Developer to do remedial works before final handover on completion. Contact us at Sofia Casa for this service.

TAGS: Sofia Property, Bulgaria Property

James Flint

James Flint

Director & Owner of Real Estate service SofiaCasa, JamesFlint (BA Hons., MA, MSc) is based in the Bulgarian capital full time.

Having worked hard to invest wisely & understanding local business culture in Bulgaria, James’s inside knowledge & expertise regularly helps clients with their property investments in Sofia where he provides facilities & property management, project management, refurbishment & interior design.


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