Buying In Bulgaria: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Dream From Turning Into a Nightmare!

Buying In Bulgaria: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Dream From Turning Into a Nightmare!

I have had many jobs, from labourer, furniture sales man, civil engineer, landscape gardener, 2 packer on pipelines, childrens play area builder, even done filling in pork pies on the night shift!

Anyway I started looking and buying cheap houses in Crewe, Cheshire. I was influenced by negative people, all saying I would have problems, lose money etc etc,.

Moved on to property in Stoke on Trent, these were being sold in auctions, you had to be very careful in Stoke-on-Trent, as it was a mining town, with all sorts of issues with pits shafts subsidence etc.

I spent about 3 months researching, and driving back and forth to Stoke-on-Trent, eventually picking out 5 properties, I went to the auction and they all went 20 to 30,000 over the book price (this was when property was going up rapidly) So I ended up not buying any of them, driving back the 20 odd miles from the auction. I was very deflated, as I figured out how much this had cost me, in time money and petrol.

The money I was using did not come to me easily, I had worked over 12 hours a day 7 days a week for 5 months, on one job and usually 6 days a week and all the overtime I could get on the others. I am used to hard work, and must admit thrive on it to some extent.

When I got back to my house, for some reason I went on to the internet, and I don’t know why but Bulgaria came up, I had never thought of buying abroad, I saw how cheap the houses where and thought my money would go much farther. With out really thinking I booked a flight, hotel and hire car. (anyone that knew me then, would know, that this was way out of my comfort zone).

The next day it started to sink in what I had done, I tried to get out of going but the flight was in 7 days, I tried to forget about it, but the day soon arrived, I decided that I was not going to waste anymore money so I went, organised NO!

Because in reality I didn’t think I would go, I hadn’t really thought about it. I arrived at the end of January in Sofia at approx 3 am. I walked out of the airport building, doors promptly shutting behind me. The taxi that I had booked to take me to the hotel, never arrived, I waited for over an hour.

Cold and a little apprehensive, I realised the taxi wasn’t coming, I also realised that I could not remember the name of the hotel I had booked, by this time I was freezing, very tired and frightened. There was no one about, the lights where off, and doors closed.

I walked to the road and eventually stopped a taxi, and asked him to take me to a hotel, after going around in circles, which I realised what he was doing, as I have a good sense of direction, we got to a hotel, however they wanted 150 euros a night, I didn’t want to pay that much as the night was nearly over.

I worked out through sign language that I wanted a cheap hotel, around and around we went again, by this time it was coming light. Finally I got to a hotel, paid the taxi driver way too much, and went into the hotel.

The guy in the hotel spoke a small amount of English, I told him what had happened, and went to bed. Approximately five hours later, I got up worrying what I was going to do next, I went down into the foyer and the guy said he had found my hotel and organised my hire car to come to this hotel, had enough time for breakfast, brilliant, (the guy got a generous tip)

The car arrived, and they did a scratch check with me, etc, I did notice a big scratch under the sill of the car, which was not down on the list, (didn’t know if this was going to be a problem or not) but he did grudgingly put it down.

So I was off, something I had done was maps for my route to Elhovo approximately six hours drive away. First stop was to get some petrol, I filled up, when I came to pay, I found out they didn’t take euros! That’s all I had, that’s what everyone told me to take. I had no choice but to pay in Euros, which I did not know at the time was double the price.

I set off being quite confident with all my maps and routes, I looked around for signs with my directions on, there was nothing, it was all in ephrillic, not the Bulgarian I had and no English, so started to ask, people tried to be helpful, but as I learned later Bulgarians are terrible at giving directions! Eventually I got to the outskirts of the city, still stopping and asking, sometimes the wrong people! As I found out later, I stopped and asked one very well dressed Bulgarian woman, she was what the Bulgarians call a butterfly (lady of the night) embarrassed I moved on quickly.

It was just going dusk, I went down a road that turned to cobbles, with big pot holes. Either side there were massive disused buildings, with windows smashed and fallen in. I started to worry, what had I done! Scaring myself I carried on, the place was derelict and there were no people about. It was getting dark, I saw a shop with a light on, so stopped and went in, no one spoke English so with trusted sign language I found out they had rooms next door, so I booked one, this took approximately two hours. So tired, hungry and scared I went to my room, I looked out of the window and saw empty streets, and just went to bed, wondering what on earth I was going to do.

In the morning I got up with trepidation, when I looked out of the window, I saw it was a beautiful day, and I noticed a woman sweeping the road, and kids wandering around, and I remember thinking oh it can’t be that bad. I took a walk, and went down what looked like a pedestrian area, there were a couple of shops, I went in one and bought some sort of bread, and a few sweets, and ate them greedily.

I had arranged to meet a guy who said he was an estate agent; he had only just started, and did not have an office yet. (there were no estate agents then in Elhovo) He was to be the owner of the biggest estate agency here, I got on with him well, and he took me around a few houses, I could not believe the prices, I bought three that day, or at least said yes, then found out I had to start a company etc.

I started to get more confidence and was starting to ask about places I saw as we where going past, bigger places and land etc, to his credit the guy was very good and found out about most of the places I asked about, and got prices for me. Then in the evening we went to a restaurant, where there were about eleven English couples, we chatted and they laughed at me buying so many, when they thought buying one was risky, I still know a few of those people and they are living in Bulgaria too.

The trip ended with me paying a hefty deposit on all I had bought, and opening a bank account with power of attorney to transfer the rest.

Then back to England….

My second trip, I flew to Bourgas, and stayed in a hotel there. I had brought a friend to invest and help me with painting one of my houses, we looked at houses around Bourgas, escorted by another Bulgarian, introduced to us by the first one. We met a couple of English guys who where also buying,. I bought a couple around there and then went back to Elhovo, we were staying in one of the houses I had bought, living rough! I bought a few more and my friend bought one too.

Back to England……..

While sorting out my houses in England, I was talking to Valentina a Bulgarian woman, who was a proper estate agent in a city called Ruse, in the north. I decided to drive to Bulgaria, to stay. Meanwhile the guy I had bought the properties through, had his secretary hassling me for more money, 17,000 to be precise, I could not get thought to her I had paid, and their was no way I owed that money, she was very demanding, I started to get ready for my drive, asking on the internet the best way to get there, I talked to a lorry driver, who was brilliant and told me the best way. As always I was not organised, I booked the ferry from Hull, the nearest port to me as I lived in Cheshire. I had a week to find a trailer and load it. Three days later I found a trailer on the internet, and went to get it, it was a three ton, twin axle with high side, excellent. I had bought it before auction ended as was in a hurry, and the next day found out the guy had put on the site “trailer stolen so auction ended” panicking I rang him thinking I would get pulled up going abroad with it, sorted that and started loading the trailer, I was taking two large fish tanks 9x3x3 6x4x2, these where very heavy and I had made a trolley to move them, loaded them up and preceded to put all my stuff in and around them, I took far too many tools, most of which have now disappeared, they are better than Bulgarian ones, so tend to walk, so it would have been cheaper to bring none, and buy here. I was also taking my dog Moose, great Dane x Dogue de Bordeaux and a three month old Rhodesian Ridge Back., Moose had all the paper work and injections etc, approximately 500 pounds worth! The Ridgeback I had only just got so had nothing, which I found out was okay, if she wasn’t coming back.

So the day arrives that I have to leave, I have problems with the trailer lights, so I was late setting off, as I got out of town I realised that I had overloaded the trailer, anything over 30mph and it started swaying badly, already running late I couldn’t stop, to fix it. I got onto the motorway and I had a blow out, luckly I had brought two spare wheels and tyres, I fixed it as fast as I could as now I was running very late. I got to Hull and pull into the ferry terminal, the custom officer, wanted me to turn into a holding area, so he can search me, I look where he told me to go and saw that I would have got stuck, the turning circle was terrible, he did not believe me, so in I went, took the widest sweep I could and got stuck! The embarrassed officer went and opened a big door at the far end and said just go, thank goodness!

So now to get to where you pick up the tickets, I mentioned the dogs, and the girl said, I can’t go with the pup with no passport etc. Arguing with her that defra had said it was ok, I was getting worried as the ferry was about to go, I asked for her boss who came quickly, thankfully and said yes I was right, so into the ferry I went. Then another guy comes up to me and told me that the dogs can’t stay in the van they have to go to kennels, which no one had told me. He was pleasant, and said I could come and visit them anytime during the voyage, so off to have something to eat. The meal was lovely and they had fabulous sweets, I had two! A few hours later I regretted it, as I started to feel sea sick, so did not have a good nights sleep.

I arrived at Zeebrugge early morning, I got off the ferry and straight on to the road my directions said, brilliant although I could only do 30mph. Eight hours later and still going with a few stop for the dogs, when I had another blow out and this would be my last spare. I tried to find a tyre place but they were all closed, so I kept going all night, and in the morning found a place, the tyre was a bit smaller but beggars cant be choosers, I carried on, and kept going all day again. Then just as it turned dark….. bang another blow out!

I could see a town to my right about a mile away, so turned off and headed for it. I stopped at a garage fuelled up and asked where I could get a tyre from, about an hour later found a guy who had a friend that could fix it, he disappeared for about three hours with my wheel, I was too tired to really worry about it, and was dozing when he came back. He had put a defective remould on it, and charged me a fortune. But I still had a spare, so set off again, a few hours later I came to a narrow mountain road, very steep I was in first and second gear only, it was pitch black and lorries were hurtling down the other way, when bang I another blow out. There was no where for me to pull over so I had to block the road, typical the blow out was on the lorries side, so I had to run for cover ever time a lorry came, it was about 1am and terrifying. I had been driving for about two days with very little sleep, just stopping and dozing with head on steering wheel, every now and then. I was on the home run.

I got to Romania where I was supposed to meet Valentina and a solicitor, to pick up my Bulgarian visa from the Romania embassy. This thanks to Valentina went well and we headed across the border to Bulgaria. We had a bit of an incident at the Bulgarian border they wanted to search the trailer. I found out he wanted money, but Valentina put a stop to that, I have heard though, they have got worse since. Phew made it, I was in Bulgaria in the city of Ruse. I needed to park the 4×4 in a secure place as their was a lot of stuff in it. Eventually I was shown an under ground car park, I walked down to have a look, I knew I would have a problem turning around in it, there were pillars everywhere. Being very tired and a crowd of Bulgarians saying I could do it, down I went, and promptly got stuck. Eventually I had to start to back out, by then all the Bulgarians had disappeared, reversing back up a steep incline the trailer went into a big hole, instantly burnt out the clutch and snapped the ball joint off! I got out trolley jack, pushed trailer back and left it there. Valentina got in touch with local dealers for a new clutch. I inspected the towing bracket and it had snapped of the whole bumper and towing bracket, the next day I managed to get it fixed and also a new clutch, it was fast, I didn’t expect that, Valentina was a great help.

After a few days of settling in, then off to the estate agents. They were still saying I owed 17,000. I could not really remember, so I started going back and doing things to try and remember. I went with an employee of an estate agents, to the bank and saw the manageress, she said that I had drawn the money out in cash and that was that. I was saying why would I draw out that much out cash, if it wasn’t to pay for something. Walking back the employee was in tears feeling sorry for me, saying my money had gone.

But I was not going to give up, I started to remember. I had gone into the bank, and was introduced to the manageress where we went into her office, the estate agent and his employee, and myself. We sat down around a coffee table, and worked out what I owed. Then we went out of the office and drew the money out, then back into the office and counted it out, I remember that bit vividly, as the coffee table was full of money.

I knew I would not have given all that money over with out a receipt, so I went back to the house to search, knowing that it was not in England as I had already looked there. In a pile of paperwork, I found a piece of paper on it was what I had paid and the date also signed by the estate agent. What a relief!

The next day I went into the office, and confronted the agent with my piece of paper, which he tried to take off me. There was no way I was letting him have it, he disappeared into his office. When he came out five minutes later, he said he had made a mistake, with no apology. As it happened one of the houses had fallen through that I bought, so they actually owed me money, which I demanded. They came up with all kinds of excuses, so I left. The next day I was back, demanding my money, and saying I was not leaving until I got it. Eventually they said they would get it, this was because there were English people coming in to buy and I was telling them, what had happened to me! Later that day the money arrived in euros, I counted it and it was short 2000 euros, this they said they would transfer into my bank account tomorrow.

Tomorrow came and went and no money, so I went in the next day and said I was not leaving until I get my money, they told me it was in my bank, so I went to check, it was but 100 euros short. I went back and told them, he turned around and said we were waiting for your money for so long that’s the charge for it! I was flabbergasted they where charging me, for waiting for money they already had, plus by now I had worked out that they where doubling their money and charging to do it. The house was selling for 10,000 euros, the real price was 10,000nb which is half the value, I walked out and never went back.

When I first came to Bulgaria their was one estate agent and he did not have an office, by the time I walked out of there, there was over 25 with offices, most selling for double the price. I did think of opening my own estate agency and do it properly and fairly, but then decided not to.

Trying to find so called masters, of their trade, people that are meant to be really good at one thing is a nightmare, because they all say they are masters.

All together I have employed over 129 Bulgarians, none of them where masters of anything though they all said they were, about 10 of them were reasonably adapt at building, and a few where okay at what they said they were good at.

You have to be there with them, all the time as, they can do some strange things. One example:- We were building a granite pillar, to replace the wooden structure, he had all the tools, cement etc. and the granite was in a huge pile round the corner of the house, he was quite adapt at building, so I thought I could leave him and go and get more materials. When I came back a few hours later, pillar was done and he had done a good job. But then I noticed, he had taken the granite from the patio wall, which was perfectly okay and I wanted it to stay, it now had a great big hole in it, his excuse, it was nearer, took a days extra work to put it back. Bulgarian logic at its best!

It seems that after they have been working for you for about three months, they start messing about and not working, and things start to disappear. I think I have been too generous, giving them more money, when they did well, lending them tools, giving them materials, helping them with their houses, etc etc, The best way, I know this sounds hard, but the best way is to pay what you pay don’t give them anything more, lend them anything, or even take them out for a beer, they don’t respect you for it, and start to use you, they also try to say things like he’s paying more down the road etc. etc.

The first Bulgarian worker I took on, was a notorious thief, I thought I could change him, I offered him things, paid him more etc etc, I kept catching him pinching and doubling materials, but more about him later…….

I kept a couple of workers that I liked for about 2 years, one was a young lad that was strong and willing to learn, the other a master that was quite good at many crafts. Between us we seemed to solve most problems, I was paying them the going rate, which was 15nb per worker 20nb a master a day, I also gave them a car, taxed and insured it and maintained it, the young lad could not drive so I paid for his lessons and for his car test, the other was a wheeler dealer sort, so he had all my scrape metal and quite a lot of other stuff, also use of my 4×4 and big trailer to weigh his scrap.

One day I was driving along and saw an English couple, by a broken down car, they were with a Bulgarian. So I stopped to help, they had just bought this car, and were driving to their house, the back shaft had gone, I also noticed that the wheel was held on with spark plugs with the heads snapped off, so talking to the Bulgarian through sign language and the bit of Bulgarian I had picked up, he wanted to go to a scrap yard which was about 20km away, so of I went with him, he seemed to know what he was doing. We got the part and brought him back, tried putting it on it was the wrong bit, so back again, a few hours after we got it moving. Though I did not trust it, so I said I would follow them another 20km approximately to their place to make sure they got there, they asked me if I wanted petrol money. I said no its okay, and hope someone does the favour back to me some day. A few days later they asked me to come to their house, they asked me what I would design and build etc, I was open and honest, also telling them to beware of how the Bulgarians build, anyway he asked for a sceptic tank to be built, I told him the going rate for one, and said I will do it for that, but also I would build a proper one, twin chamber reinforced etc, also told him where to put it, as he was putting it in the wrong place.

He got a cheaper quote and went with that, which was OK it was about 100nb cheaper, then about 33 pounds, they did a typical Bulgarian sceptic tank, which is really just a hole with concrete on top, they had not even reinforced the top, so it was going to collapse, so then heard he had electrics done which I also quoted for, he paid double what my quote was, WHY! Then he had double glazing paid double again, started complaining to me that it was dearer than England, kept telling him he was getting ripped off.

I then found out he was offering my master 5nb more to do work for him, but using my tools. If he wanted to pay more that is fair enough, but he was here approximately three weeks, then nothing for months, so the worker lost out My relationship with the master was always rocky as he was a bit of a chancer, but I liked him, things went missing as normal, but then he blew up the car, these things happen, but then I found out he was driving people about in it not just to the next village but to cities hundreds of kilometres away, it dropped a valve, he did not ring me and say it had, because he was so far away, so he drove it back, destroying the engine. He then told me it had gone just couple hundred yards away from his house, by this time, I had had enough, I took the car and left. I never saw the English couple again for quite sometime then met them one day in Elhovo the guy said hello, but the women just walked off and said nothing, I still to this day don’t know what I did to them, except go out of my way to help them. People a learning curve…..

I have started a few companies with people, some have been okay some did not do anything they said they would do, and expected me to pay for everything. Materials are one of the hardest things to get, they have been going up in leaps and bounds, I went into a building yard and as always asked prices, the woman turned round and asked why do I ask the price no one else does, I explain the reason for asking the price is that all the materials that I buy are for me, the reason the other builders etc, do not ask is they get them and then double the price on the them, so they don’t really care what price they are. This creates a huge problem because the owners of the shops keep putting their prices up, and they keep buying, it got ridiculous and prices were dearer than England. It is calming down a bit now, as even they started complaining.

Most Bulgarian business people are very difficult, prices can double and treble, you can do a deal and they will change it without telling you. I started buying from one shop, I talked to the owner about discounts etc, as I buy a lot, I was doing eight of my houses up, that week I bought 100 bags of cement from him. That was a big order, most have one maybe two, I sorted the deal, the next week went in another 100 bags and some other supplies, paid and when I was driving back, I thought hold on a minute that was a bit dear, I looked at the bill he had put the cement up, without telling me, so I went to all the other shops to look and he was now the dearest one. It’s like, I am selling a lot of that so I will put the price up, the reason he was selling a lot because I was buying it, I never went back. Early on in my time in Bulgaria, I met one of the local rogues, he spoke a little English so I started using him as a translator, and he got me workers etc, every one warned me about him, but I thought I could change him, I kept catching him pinching stuff, and kept telling him he will get more if I can trust him.

One deal I did was to buy marble, at the marble mine, I ended up buying half the mine, I had 12 tons of the stuff and got my translator to sort out transport, he charged me double, then he arranged a digger to unload it. The marble arrived at my house soon after this digger rolled up, I could see the digger was not big enough the pallets where 2 tons each, so I was now sitting with 12 tons of marble on the back of a lorry, the lorry driver wanted to tip it and go, this would smash it all, so we drove to Elhovo and found a mobile crane, when the translator told me the price, it was way too dear. I came back and got a load of village workers and started unloading it by hand, an hour or so later, not in a good mood still unloading, the crane driver arrives, he starts shouting and being very aggressive, wanting money for driving to the village, I said that I did not ask him to come. Luckly I was on the lorry as by now I was fuming, by the time I had jumped down, the crane driver had jumped in his crane and drove off, so back to unloading, it was dark by the time we had finished, I went to bed exhausted!