Guide to renting property in Sofia, Bulgaria
High-end commuter belt living is found in Dragalevtsi, Boyana, Bistritca, Simeonovo, Kniajevo (Vladaya is not bad either), Pancharevo (a personal favourite), near the reservior. Living in Boyana, Dragalevtsi etc.. incurs crossing the dreaded ring road and congested transport arteries to get into the town centre. It is also in the shadow of the mountain being North facing and tends to miss out on late afternoon sunshine in the Summer months as a result. It is also handy to have a Jeep or 4x4 if you live up on the Mountain as in winter there can be icy snowy conditions and the melt water tends to leave potholes in its wake despite annual attempts to re-patch the roads! Some parts of this residential area still do not have mains sewerage and you will be required to foot the bill for septic tank collection this is a relic of when it used to be a Summer Vila zone for the well heeled apparatchiks.
If you choose downtown living it comes with all the lack of parking and over loaded infrastructure & air quality issues that figure large in central Sofia but provides an opportunity for easy access to cultural historical and entertainment sites restaurants clubs and bars. The best areas are considered to be Lozenets, Ivan Vazov (both the aforementioned near to S.Park), Iztok (has a contingency of Embassies & new Metro links), anywhere in central Sofia from the NDK to the Radisson Hotel and the Cathedral & bordering Vitosha St. (the expensive Oxford St. of Sofia!). Dr.Garden is an area Bulgarian brokers seem to have earmarked for foreigners, it is centrally located but tends to be a bit overrated and over-priced in my view. There are emerging areas with a lot of new developments such as Borovo with relatively good access along Blvd. Bulgaria. Vitosha district suffers from the same traffic problems if as Boyana & Dragalevtsi if you are making the daily commute into the centre.
I always thought this word sounded rather profane and it certainly leaves an indelible mark when you get a cold blast from the shower early on a Monday morning, as the unsuspecting foreigner unaware that the municipal central heating authority has closed off the local sub-station to perform annual maintenance on the hot water pipes! This occurs depending on the district from the end of July to end of August and is a good reason to make sure your rented property has a back up electric boiler, if you intend to be in Sofia during these months!
Be ready for the Toplifikatzia (central heating) bill in the winter months, this arcane and inefficient system has in the past been plagued by corruption scandals at Directorial level & tends to eat heavily into household budgets, much to the chagrin of locals and ex-pats alike, with prices topping those found in the more affluent West ranging anything from 60 to 110 Euros per month! Electric radiators may provide an alternative to the expensive Municipal central heating system. Water & electricity are thankfully still reasonably priced compared to the West.
Communal charges for cleaning the so called common areas of an apartment block range from as little as 4 leva per month to more than 50 leva per month depending on whether you have a lift, gated security, landscaping & porter.
LAN Cable TV & internet packages are relatively affordable at around 23 Euros per month, whilst BTK the local telephone company tends to offer more costly alternatives, though maybe more reliable.
Generally not welcome in rented properties. Noisy neighbours?Watch out for neighbours doing so called remonts (renovation work) this can entail more jaw-jarring drilling and banging than a trip to the dentists or a hip replacement!
To Air-Con or not, that is the question?!
I have never found this an essential part of Sofia living, with no more than a few days/weeks per year being unbearably sticky, temperatures tend to be fairly manageable if you are not running around town on-foot.
Of course this is down to personal heat tolerance and as an added luxury it allows you to regulate the temperature without opening windows to potential traffic fumes and noise. It does markedly increase your electricity bill though if you crank it up on a regular basis!
Fully serviced & hotel-apartments
This is an option it is expensive but obviously saves you dealing personally with local bureaucracy and may be a price you consider worth every penny to preserve your sanity during your time in Sofia!
Dont be surprised to turn up to viewings crowded out by these creatures, I have been on viewings with upto 4 brokers, translators and varied assistants crowding out a modest apartment, whilst the potential tenant c cowers apoplectic in the corner! The brokers as cash hungry as vultures to carve up the deal make sure you have no chance of direct contact with the owner & heaven forbid exchange business cards!
Please note that with a few notable exceptions many brokers represent themselves first and last, despite claims to objectively represent your best interests as their client at all times!
Dont forget that brokers can often represent both the owner and the potential tenant, but may deem this to be of minor importance and not worth mentioning.
Expect to pay a standard 50% (EX-Vat) of the Gross monthly rental fee. Colliers and Unique Estates charge a full months rent to both sides .nice work if you can get it!
Terms and conditions & Contracts shmontracts!
Bulgarians, like many former Soviet satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe, have a love of contracts and stamps in all their guises, this maybe a hangover from before the changes and can come as shock to new arrivals! Rental contracts are generally fairly standard, expect to pay up to 2 months equivalent rent as a deposit depending on the size of the monthly rental fee and how well the apartment has been fitted out. Landlords letting to a company or apartments with lower rents may ask you to pay the rent quarterly in advance giving them some security whilst reducing the administrative burden to all parties. The owner should insure the property against third party fire and theft & pay the annual property tax, barring the garbage collection tax, which can be passed onto the tenant, who is also expected to foot the bill for the common area charges.
As with everything, if you are lucky, it is all down to reasonable negotiation!
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