After years of talks, Bulgaria and Romania will join the EU in January under strict conditions. For Britons, among the many areas of life which will undoubtedly be changed by this, is the property market. Thousands of Britons have already bought homes in these countries - but will many more now join them? Bulgaria and Romania have "gone through a remarkable transformation", said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso announcing their EU accession. The two countries, which were the poorest of the former Soviet satellite states of Central and Eastern Europe, made changes such as tackling organised crime and corruption, and introducing farming reforms. And while this has been happening, British investors, property speculators and those just wanting a holiday home have been buying up houses.
Paul Owen, chief executive of the Association of International Property Professionals (AIPP), said of Bulgaria: "A lot of people have already bought there. For an emerging market, it's quite a well established emerging market." Some of the buyers were agents, while others were individuals, he said. As the country takes on the rights and obligations of EU membership, it is expected to boost the number of Britons. Mr Owen said accession gave a "greater confidence" for the business and consumer world, but that it was just the next stage in a long development for both countries. "In Bulgaria a lot still needs to happen in terms of the infrastructure, it is still a long way off from what Western people would be used to."
Jain Goodall, who runs property magazine Quest Bulgaria with her husband Chris, estimated more than 3,000 Britons lived in Bulgaria, and at least five times that figure had holiday homes there. Many of those who had bought there had "taken a risk hoping for extremely high returns" on their investment. Mrs Goodall said many of the magazine's readers lived in Ireland. "The Irish market did extremely well out of joining Europe and people have learned from this," she said. She believes the numerous reasons why Britons would seek a second home in Bulgaria include high UK property prices and worries over affording retirement. "We have a large number of young readers, who may have no pension in place," she said. "They might be in their 30s and 40s basically looking for places elsewhere and thinking of their retirement."
Mrs Goodall said her magazine received an average 70 new requests per month but on the day of Bulgaria's EU approval it was around that in one day. "I think that speaks for itself," she said. "People feel they can come here now. It was a risk before, but not now." However, she said living in Bulgaria had not been without problems. "In Sofia, the pavements are so bad you want to walk on the roads, and there's a lot of bureaucracy, which feels worse when you can't speak the language fluently." But she added the infrastructure was improving, especially in the past two years.