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Vesela_IlievaAs managing partner of Bulgaria’s Unique Estates, Vesela Ilieva brings more than 16 years of marketing and leadership experience to the luxury real estate firm. Find out more about what’s driving home sales in this Balkan country, and how Unique Estates is seizing the opportunity.

Real Estate magazine: Please describe your firm.
Vesela Ilieva:
Unique Estates was established in 2006 as a specialized consulting company in Bulgaria. We work with clients and properties in the luxury and corporate segment. We have two offices situated in the heart of Sofia, the capital. Our team is comprised of more than 55 professionals with international and local experience. The company is part of AG Capital, a holding company specializing in construction and real estate investments. In 2016, Unique Estates became an exclusive partner of Luxury Portfolio International®, the luxury face of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®.

RE: Please describe your current housing market.
In the last year, we have become a seller’s market. Demand in the big cities is growing, alongside infrastructure development and new transportation lines in the capital. After almost five years of stagnation, Bulgaria’s housing prices are now rising rapidly, thanks to falling interest rates and a stable economy. In Q1 2017, demand for luxury properties remained primarily for residential purposes, but investment purchases gained momentum. Our data show that investment purchases accounted for about 40 percent of luxury property deals. In Q1 2017, prices in the luxury segment remained stable, with expectations for annual growth of around 5 percent.

RE: What has sparked this growth in your market?
Bulgaria is within one of the most stable macroeconomic parameters in the European Union (EU) and has one of the fastest-growing economies. In recent years, the country has become a major IT hub. Tourism is growing in double-digit percentages.

RE: Please describe the properties in your market.
Unique Estates works with all kinds of high-end quality properties on the Bulgarian market—from city apartments in the top urban districts to flats or single-family houses in gated complexes, houses in suburban areas, rural vacation homes, countryside mansions, and seaside and mountain resort villas. The biggest demand is for city apartments in prestigious districts and houses in suburban areas within close driving distance to the business centers of the cities. Sofia has the greatest demand for luxury property.

RE: How prevalent is new construction/development?
Bulgaria is experiencing a shortage of new construction of luxury properties. There are well-developed complexes or buildings in prestigious regions, but they do not meet the growing demand for such properties.

The main challenge the local market now faces is meeting the needs of the affluent in the so-called millennial generation—young people who have already accumulated capital from fast-growing fields such as information technology, banking and finance, investment and start-up businesses. Young, modern people are looking for technology and smart-home management systems, which are often missing in the luxury properties preferred by wealthy people aged 60-plus. The new 30-plus buyers in the luxury segment prefer to live in the dynamic urban environment. The market, not only in Bulgaria, but all over the world, is experiencing a serious shortage.

RE: Please tell us about the buyers you work with.
The primary driving force behind the real estate market in Bulgaria remains local entrepreneurs and high- and mid-level managers, as well as well-paid IT experts, and specialists in medicine and trade, mainly with families. Unique Estates has also identified a new group of buyers looking for an investment in residential buildings or a group of apartments to lease on a hotel basis. We have a healthy mix of foreign investors mainly from Europe—the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, as well as interest from Russian and Middle Eastern buyers.

RE: What are some of the most important trends in your market?
Fast-growing industries such as technology and finance have led to the emergence of a new generation of buyers in the luxury property market. New buyers want a modern home—a loft, a penthouse with a large terrace for parties or a house with contemporary architecture, lift, gym and indoor pool. They insist on smart technologies that allow them to manage their home remotely. They live a dynamic way of life, and want their home to match it.

RE: What are your biggest opportunities for growth?
The economic recovery, the improving lending conditions and the fact that Sofia and Bulgaria are becoming more recognizable tourist destinations are the key factors that have influenced the luxury property market in the first half of 2017.

By the end of 2016, the gross domestic product rose by 3.4 percent, a rate above the average in the EU. Incomes are increasing steadily, and unemployment has fallen by 7.6 percent, with significantly lower levels in Sofia. Meanwhile, interest rates on mortgage loans continue to fall, reaching 4.2 percent, according to data from the Bulgarian National Bank.

RE: What are some of your most successful strategies for promoting/marketing your business?
The modern client requires a new approach to the housing presentation. He or she needs quick access to all the necessary information, and the opportunity to view, choose and coordinate the desired property in a minimum amount of time. This is why Unique Estates offers virtual tours of top-quality properties, 360-degree photos of homes, videos that highlight architecture and interior design, an abundant gallery of photos and a detailed description of the property’s characteristics and its surrounding urban areas. Unique Estates also publishes a luxury magazine four times a year devoted to the high-class lifestyle. This has helped establish the company’s brand as a new way of thinking, living and enjoying the best of the best.

RE: How does being part of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® help advance your business?
Being part of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World® is an excellent opportunity to unleash the potential of Unique Estates internationally, thanks to the network of contacts and opportunities a partnership of this magnitude gives us. We really live the “We Are Local, We Are Global!” motto.

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