"Knowledge is power", Sir Francis Bacon once stated, admittedly without Bulgaria in mind at the time, although anyone buying a property will no doubt agree with him.
Like any country, Bulgaria has its share of dodgy characters looking to profit from naivety. Whether this is simply by charging outrageous prices for property or services, or via shadier methods, your personal and financial savvy will be invaluable.
Arm yourself with an overview of the buying process - but above all, apply the same common sense you would to the same situation back home. You may be lucky enough to come across a string of reputable people, but you should never count on it. Word of mouth recommendations are always the best way to find lawyers and agents, but it's also a good idea to conduct your own research. In addition to reading magazine articles and watching television programmes, visit some of the Bulgaria-specific Internet forums such as My Bulgaria or Expat Focus and read relevant threads. You will find plenty of information and recommendations concerning lawyers and agents, as well as a rundown on the buying process - including the murky subject of under-declaring prices on deeds.
Bar-registered Bulgarian lawyers are listed in English on the Bulgarian Law Portal website at www.lex.bg. Their registration is no guarantee of good practice, but it's a good place for you to start. Make sure you get a feel for land prices on the Black Sea Coast or the true state of the rental market in Bansko, and don't just swallow everything an agent tells you. Armed with this knowledge, you stand to get a much better deal.
If you do not speak Bulgarian, your agent or lawyer will be representing you during any discussions or negotiations. Don't be a bystander in these situations - ask your own questions. Any miscommunication will be much harder to resolve further down the line, so make sure you understand and agree with everything going on.
All your property documents should be officially translated. Never sign a document that has not been translated into your native language - no reputable lawyer or agent should ask you to. This point is especially pertinent when it comes to your Power of Attorney. Unless you're a complete masochist and plan to accompany your lawyer everywhere, you will need you to assign them representation rights. Use a bit of common sense here: if someone is going to be setting up a company bank account for you, make sure you only empower them to deposit the capital.
If all goes well, you should be in possession of your property in no time (unless you're buying off-plan and the completion date is 2008 of course!). However, before you put your cerebral feet up, ensure your apartment or house is secure in your absence. Even if you do have adequate security installed, you may not be the sole key holder. To prevent anyone accessing your property without your knowledge you should change the locks as soon as you take possession. Leave a key with your lawyer or another trustworthy individual and insist that any emergency access only takes place with their supervision.
Finally, keep a close eye on your company paperwork, deeds and spare keys by storing them in a safety deposit box. Most banks offer this facility, with a year's storage available for around 120 leva. They're easy to set up and can only be accessed by you. A common sense approach is your key to successful property buying and stress-free ownership.