Wasted Journey? I'm home already!

Hi Friends,
This is just a catch up on my trip to Bulgaria. It's now 23:00 GMT on Tuesday and I am back home! All your advice was very much appreciated, however, we cannot control all of our life events, especially those which happen when we are not there but still affect us profoundly! I set off on Thursday morning at 6 am. All went well, I caught the ferry right on time and began my sojourn across Europe. However in my haste, I didn't realise I had asked the Sat Nav to plan the eco-route to save fuel! It took me through every town along the way pretty much via, Belgium, Netherland, German, Austria, Hungary, Romania and finally into Bulgaria. I paid to download the latest maps, but it's not until you are actually using them that you come to realise the lack of info! In Austria, it just gave up as I was heading across the sound of music set! Signal lost was all I got! 2 hrs later to my surprise having driven over many mountains it seemed in an effort to get back on Route is said, turn left! I nearly died of shock! It eventually took me until about 1.30 am on Monday to arrive in Furen!

I was woken by the street dogs at about 07:30. Some of the villagers had gotten curious and one came to say hello. I showed my deed for the house and once again a search began! Bearing in mind it had been December 2012 when I last checked the house was all okay! My visit was followed by nursing my beloved mum to her life's end and the subsequent  period of mourning her loss!

Eventually, the village sheriff showed up and he instantly recognised me and gave me a hug! He climbed into the van and directed me to my house! It was bolt croppers to open the lock, which had ceased. Then it became evident that 4 years had not been kind to my property! The roof of the barn had disintegrated and collapsed through to the ground taking out the ceilings of the annex which was now overgrown. I managed to get the main door to the house open and it was the same scenario. The roof had fallen in and the ceilings were hanging. I could see the sky through the roof!

My heartache was apparent as tears naturally flowed. I was gutted! I had fought my anxiety and driven all those miles for this. The lovely neighbour invited me to see her side of my house side and it was then I saw the Chimneys had fallen ripping out half the wall! They had taken out the roof of her chicken house. This she said was all the result of heavy snow!  So there was I with a van full of belongings 1900 miles from home, with a decision to make! There was only one sensible one , I asked the marshall to keep an eye on the place, said my goodbye's, got in the van and turned around to head all the way home again with the van still full!

Having experienced problems with prat nav I double checked everything and asked it to get me home via the fastest route avoiding tolls! This time, the route, took me through Serbia, then out into Romania, and into Austria where again prat nav got lost as its set route was blocked by loggers!  It struggled to find an alternative but did as I just drove!  As I left  Austria into Germany, the border guard insisted I empty the van to assure him no one was hiding beneath my heavy furniture, and belongings. what an A-hole! So I insisted he reload it as it was, and he did, though reluctantly! He felt foolish and apologised for his lack of faith. Once I had left the mountains behind and coped with the slowest part of The journey , things slowly improved and the journey through Germany was one complete dream ride. I got on a motorway within hours after I left the customs and got off the other end at Calais, only stopping to refuel, as one autobahn flowed into the next and no towns to negotiate. The road works were a pain but no hassle. All was well until the blizzard called a stop to the day at 23:00. An early start today saw me finally get back home, actual driving time, home,  was about 30 hrs. I covered 4100 miles for the round trip over 6 days.

Maybe it was a wasted trip but you learn a lot about what you are capable of when you complete a journey like that! So I'm now in a total mess because the stuff must now be stored , whilst I find the money and a trustworthy local builder to do a rebuild of the house and roof! Now I am going to sleep in a proper bed and recover! Good night and God Bless one and all.

A sad tail of lousy planning.
Still, we never learn anything unless we make mistakes.

Indeed a failure to plan is a plan to fail.

Not only a failure plan but also a lack of a contact person who can look after the property when he's not around.

My free advice: when you hire people to rebuild your house, supervision by you is a must, it means be there during the whole process.

When I bought the house I had a plan, it was meticulous!  However, it didn't include my Mum developing a terminal illness shortly after I purchased the house. It didn't include my being unable to move in due to the need to be there for my beloved 24/7 for two years until she died! It didn't include my falling into a very deep depression when she died which took a further two years to emerge from! So yes it is a reality that failure to plan is planning to fail. Though some things in life are out of our control! For no-one plans to become ill and no-one plans on their loved ones becoming terminally ill either!  The experience of the drive was a great achievement for a person suffering from anxiety, so I cannot chalk it up as a waste of time! It has set a good example for others, as to what can be achieved even with illness.

However for those who have only bad things to say , regarding my bad planning, I hope the above explains! It is never a good idea to judge another unless you have walked a mile in their shoes and are perfect yourself! Never express judgement  from a place of ignorance, as it makes you look foolish!

To the one who has more empathy and offered good advice, I am grateful!

The trip was the bad plan, not the rest.

I'd think Bruce could have avoided much of the trouble if he only had given a neighbor or friend in BG his phone number to let him know his place was in shambles.  I know I would do that if I was away from a property for an extended period.

Can't agree more wat was written by Fred and Romaniac but my deepest sympathy for your lost.

Maybe Bruce wasn't here long enough when he bought the house to get to know his neighbours or have friends nearby. I think his mistake was not realising how Bulgarian houses can deteriorate and not flying out before the road trip to check on the place.
Sorry Bruce, hope it all comes right in the end. You will need to be there though if you get someone to renovate for you. I left detailed instructions with the builder when I had to leave him to it for a couple of weeks and when I got back he had just done it his way, sacked very soon after  :)

Well you hit the skids! The next thing is to actually consider what to do renovate whats left or knock down and reconstruct I guess, in theory you still have the house and plot space, the structure maybe better to bring down, but it is not a job you had imagined so you need time to consider your options, the drive kind of worked and your determination got you the rest of the way, in itself that's an achievement that is admirable, give yourself time and look at it as the next challenge, it is down to you, and you only have to answer to yourself, stay optimistic, it may be that you can work on one section whilst staying onsite? Don't be dragged down by money issues if you suffer by anxiety this won't help, OK be realistic storage fee's petrol and transport fee's and then renovation or repairs will all add up but you could pitch up on your land? You should try and get a small group of friends that could help out? Where are you based in Bulgaria?

Sorry for your loss Bruce.

Perhaps another option would be to buy another property, as in 4 years I suspect more renovated property has come onto the market, and it could be a cheaper option than renovating an old run down house.

Good luck whatever you decide.

Leaving any old "kirpich" house unattended for 4 years is in Bulgaria is not a good idea... You have to count with the elements but also with unwanted visitors.... Having a housekeeper is a must !

Bruce chin up mate sorry to hear about the last few years.

Couple of things how bad is the house?
Is it worth repairing or cheaper to buy a house in the same village ?

I am a ex carpenter by trade and if you want a hand to put a new roof on your house will give you my time for tea/coffee and bacon sandwichs and lots of it for a week will drag my son to help out too.

Am sure we can get a few more people to help out well hope so!

Ps sent photos of you have them


Why not renting a house or appartment close to your property. You could had at least leave your belinging in a safe place and then make the next step.

Please consider to share your thoughts and plans here in advance to receive some feedback.

Also because reading at you I understand you may want to reconquest life but also doing it in a safe way, consider to buy a cheap insulated prefab home you can place in your garden to then start a rennovation of the house. There are  companies offering some nice and cheap prefab houses. Also consider very well if refurbishing your house is a good idea. It may cost you a lot for an overall poor result as the building may have serious issues.

Hi free2go,

do you have any info on these insulated prefab buildings like where they can be purchased and cost please?

Kind regards Terri

I feel sorry for what ever happened. Am sure similar stories everyone here has one.
The only mistake I believe you did it was that you didn't have a contact, someone in Bulgaria to visit the property every now and then and keep you informed. You wouldn't have to do the trip if you knew the situation of the house.

About the prefabs.
It really depends on your location but I've seen many in burgas region, plovdiv region etc.

Not sure if I can post links. But you can look in classified advertisements under properties. They usually put some example. I've seen a nice modern bungalows 27 sqm with bathroom in stealbuilding starting at 7000 euros. But there are a lot  of different companies and options.

Hi i was just reading your story, I feal for you, and it was a helpful read and learnt a few things from reading it, so thank you, I am also a painter and decorator so if you do decide to renovate i to will also offer my help for the price of tea as when i can as i am not over there yet but planning on doing so in the near future, keep your chip up buddie.

So very sorry to hear of your terrible experience with the BG house. That is just heartbreaking.

The only reason I’m writing to you, apart from expressing sympathy, is to say, forget contractors.

I lost my entire life savings plus more in Bulgaria, starting 2005. Did my research, found a job first (at the university, reneged on the contract after I had moved over to BG!) bought the house after being supposedly approved for the job. Paid a supposedly good contractor to renovate blah blah.

Basically, he trashed my property. He had the roof of my old (traditional house) sitting on half of a 4 x 4 which was propped up with smaller pieces of wood as it was too short!!!! And insisted it was normal. I caught him trying to remove all my dry stone from demolished buildings (very expensive to buy). I had to call the police to make him stop. When I fired him over the roof and dry stone, he left the property totally unlivable, where before I could have actually moved in as it stood.

Other Bulgarian and British contractors followed over the years. At this point, the property is still not at the standard I paid the original contractor for. And I’ve had to leave the country to work in places I hate, just to keep going.

A high up immigration police official once told me: ‘I’ve had the same trouble as you, and I’m the Police!’

And forget the law or your ‘contract’. It doesn’t work as in UK. You can, and likely will, lose, no matter what, after years of paying out and indemnifying the court. That mistake I didn’t make because a kindly lawyer told me she’d love to take my money but that, despite the evidence of contracts, eyes, photos, surveyors, etc, I would most likely lose in the end. And over the years it would drag, I’d be paying and paying . . . And she too, had had terrible problems with her roof contractor.

So far I’ve thrown at least 100,000 pounds at mine over the years and, as I said, it still is not completed to good standard. I started with non-leaking roof, solid walls, no damp, doors, windows. All of these have been replaced one way or another over time, due to incompetent and downright criminal ‘maisters’ who pretend to know the job. I will be lucky to get 25,000 for it, very lucky, looking at the market, though it’s in an excellent spot and now has underpinning, sewage, a road outside (all paid for by me) and many other good features.

Anyway, this year I’ve finally decided I can’t throw away any more money at that place and will have to pay a fortune to remove just some of my stuff to Istanbul, where I now live and work. I can’t afford to take all of my furniture and belongings.

Unfortunately, your property is in such a terrible state you will need a fortune as well as incredible luck to get it to a decent standard. 

When you are proudly shown the shower tray in your new ensuite, do not assume that the drainage pipe leads to anywhere other than the space under your house.  When the water fails to drain and your walls begin to crumble, it may take years, several contractors and new plasterings and walls finally to discover the answer to the problem. Oh yes, and your new sewage pipe in the wrong place may be sabotaged by a hole made by a pickaxe, too. Change ALL locks after each contractor who has had any possible access to any key whatsoever.

As for heating, do not be fooled by a fancy shopfront with supposed modern central heating systems and engineers. Mine never ever worked – I had three sets of ‘engineers’ on it in all. I thought I would  die of hypothermia my last winter; my poor dogs were shivering too. And interpreters, whom you pay to help you, they may then use your contact with a contractor to get payment from your contractor to help in duping you (pretending to check things, downright lying about work, costs, you name it).

My original contractor made death threats against me because I had sacked him and was checking into police, the mayor, lawyers etc. I used to sleep with a huge, sharp carving knife under my pillow. Some other families I contacted had also had threats from the same guy and were too scared to stand up to him and go to the police with me. I will not bore you with any other stories.

My advice is not to throw good money after bad, as I and many others have done. Many people have thought to have a decent life on British pension or savings, but only a lucky few have made it, as far as I can see. Those are people with excellent pensions and savings, who could probably be comfortable in UK. If you have a fat pension and can sit in a hotel and watch every move your contractors make, if you can find any, you may be OK, but otherwise, my advice is not to risk it.
The only other thing is if you are able to do a lot of the work yourself, and camp in the garden – I’ve known of a guy who did that.

Very best of luck to you and I hope you find some good solutions.

English Specialist, I am very sorry to read your story, that must have been heartbreaking for you to have to go through. However, thank fully it is very rare in the 11 years of living here to hear negative stories like this and so I want to say to anyone who has read your message, that there are many happy and satisfied people residing in Bulgaria who have been pleased with their choice in builders/heating etc and live here contentedly on their pensions.

You're right though, there is very little redress via the legal system here despite taking years to get through the courts. 

I do advise people to be here to oversee the work, though that's not always practical obviously, but that is why care has to be taken to use only someone who is qualified, and can prove their work by sight.

I think you have been extremely unlucky, which is such a shame as Bulgaria for the most part is a wonderful place to live.

What English Specialist faced is something you can experience everywhere in the world trough different degrees. In Bulgaria there is not good standard as reference so you need to be very specific in what you want and terms. And obviously constant supervision is mandatory. About the professionality of contractors...well you are just lucky to find someone willing to rip you off than a good contractor. Good ones mostly left the country. You may find good plasters, tilers and stone workers but if you need anything fundamental as statics, roofing, insulation,hydraulics and electrotechnic...good luck.
A safer approch is to be very honest to yourself evaluating an old property. Repearing a la bulgarski wont last long,not improving much and could cost you from a honest price to unbelivable inflated one.  Saving only the sound parts and relay on standard prefabricated pieces. They may cost more but you will save in countless hours of manual job with no certain result and nightmares.

Be very carefull and if you are not able to evaluate find someone you can REALLY trust to do it for you. No friendly neigbours or so called local field specialist.

Just to clarify, I saw two beautiful properties at Arbanasi, renovated by my first contractor, to which he had keys, took me to see, and had workers on site at both at the time. He instructed the workers, and Tsako Tsetsov Tsakov seemed in every way to be their bona fide boss and to know what he was doing. He pointed out various features and checked if I wanted the same, discussed options, the whole, seemingly professional deal.

I do have some idea about plumbing, electrics, painting and decorating, repairing air-conditioners, basic building needs, etc so I'm not a complete dunce,  as I've had to deal with many such things over the years, by my own hand.

There really isn't much you can do when someone decides they want to f- with you, frankly.

Probably, if other expats help out and are also there to give helpful advice and some friendly support, it could make a big difference. So if some of you guys are going to 'be there' for Bruce Lee he may have a better story than me.

I think guys get a lot more help/support/friendship than single, older women, to be honest. I've certainly read of some couples being very happy with the move to Bulgaria.

BTW, horrified to hear of the current price of wood for winter. Last time I bought it I paid 40 a cubit. So those on pensions, as I said, do need to note that prices may go up - as well as down (that's a joke). . . . never seen them go down.

I also seen contractors doing good jobs in some mob villa,their house, properties they were selling...and a total crap in my friends house. They frame you: how much they can make on you, how much they can put in their pokets by lower the standards and when is convenient to just pass the job to some desperate.

I feel for you English Specialist. Some time it's better to be present yourself as a "difficult client" so the ones who take the job know they will have hard time to do otherwise. Being a woman and a foreigner doesn't help either in this culture. When they want have their way they just tell you : this is Bulgaria...yep dear but my money is european. So back on track or leave.

But anyway. As things are now you need to beg even to be rip off as not many contractors are available.  Even bulgarians are on waiting lists...for months and years.

Some other basic yourself the material you want and never pay in advance any job. Define a price for job, not hour pay. Also split that price in if things aren't goin as they should, pay only for the completed portion of the job and send them away.

Redoing the roof  is the most critical part of a house renovation. A lot of things are involved and someone must be generous and expect to pay a lot of money for it. Things should be take into consideration is live load, snow load (if any at the area), type of roof tiles, water and heat insulation etc and all these control the type of wood to use, sizes of rafters and distance between them, supports etc.
Am civil engineer and I do these calculations my self. For my roof and the spans I had it was calculated that I should use 200 mm x 70 mm rafters every 450 mm distance. Been away from Bulgaria I have to use contractors to do it for me. One quotation I had from a British contractor insisted to use 100 mm x 50 mm rafters every 600 mm and that would be ok. No it wouldn't be ok! 
Now I am preparing plans with details and when I will come next July I will have appointment with 3 - 4 contractors to quote for me according to my plans and make contract. In the contract will say they will get paid according to the progress of the work by sending me progress photos on a daily basis.
Am even willing to pay a local trusted engineer to make sure that everything is build according to plans.
Ok am not trying to be clever here...i just giving some advice how things to my opinion should work.

Very good ideas . . . normally. I do mean that. But  . . . I bought my own expensive light switches and the  contractor put in cheap crap throughout and stole mine! I bought various glass lightshades and other items, all either stolen or broken and replaced by crap. They even stole my new aluminium garden buckets and replaced them with old holey ones full of concrete. They used my new garden wheelbarrow for concrete, without cleaning it.

You need to be there on top of them 24/7. Yes, if you can find one. I've been told that all the real ones have left for UK or Spain. Those left are the oily rags. So many times I've looked at a job and thought, if I didn't have to work full time I could have done it better myself - better than the maisters. The local voda meister put a shower fitment in upside down one time. He could hardly stand: 4 in the afternoon and already off his head.

Also, contractors left a big door with glass in, unbeknown to me, broken, down the end of the property and one dog cut a major vein on it. Only by great luck did I discover the blood and get the vet to go to his office at 23.30 at night to sew her up. Wonderful fellow was half-cut on wine, as he admitted, but he did a fantastic job and she healed up in no time. Charged me 20 Leva which included his taxi home.  He was the Govt vet, so not well paid, but a smashing bloke. I still remember his face when I gave him a bottle of Ballentynes next week (sp???)

Am sorry to hear all these. As you said the best way is to be there (may be the only way) while renovating

Wow sorry to hear what happened to you English Specialist, is has made me really double cheack every move i make when buying my house and land and to make sure i get reliable and trust worthy profesionals cheaking my paper work ect.., i will be doing most of the renovating work to my property myself and the bits i cant manage i will seek help from honest people i meet along the way, proof is in the pudding so to speake,  and the information by evan-hora is very handy, thank you.

Very best of luck. Even the lawyer of the housing agent who sold me the house turned out not to be a real one. Charged the real price, though.

I also have a certificate of guarantee for ten years for very expensive insulation job. Turned out the certificate was stolen and the real company knew nothing of my job. There's a trick for everything in Bulgaria.

Hopefully you can get some assistance from people already there. When I went it was 2005 and there wasn't even a Technomarket, Metro or other big DIY dealer such as are  present now.

Do wish you well finding genuinely skilled and or honest tradespeople.

Wow - just stumbled across these tales of woe and I'm somewhat gob-smacked!

It seems a little unwise to drive a couple of thousand worldly-goods-laden miles across Europe to a house that hadn't been visited for four years rather than doing a quick Wizzair recce beforehand, just to see what's what.  With the best will in the world, it's not easy to remember what needed doing after such a long absence and what needs to be lugged so far.  Are there any updates on the horizon, Bruce - or are you still looking at your options?

English Specialist certainly seems to have managed to experience all the problems that unwary foreigners can come across here (or anywhere else, for that matter) and in remarkably quick succession, by the sound of it.  I'm surprised to hear of the original lack of Metro and Technomarket in 2005, especially since they have both been in Bulgaria since 1999, with Praktiker's first Bulgarian DIY store opening in 2004 - which was 4 years after Mr Bricolage opened theirs.....

I'm sorry to hear of your troubles, both Bruce and English Specialist.
I 100% agree that nearly all the good "maistors" have either retired (it is a physically demanding job) or left for Germany/Holland/Spain/Italy etc. and the majority of what is left is the new generation, self taught scammers who are looking for someone to rip off.

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