A NEW development of apartments and houses on landscaped gardens in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia offers rental opportunities for investors in what has become the city's upmarket embassy belt.

Although aimed at more long-term lets of one to three years, because the development is so close to the ski lifts of Bulgaria's most important winter resort, Mount Vitosha, they carry extra potential for both rental and capital appreciation, according to the Cork and Londonbased selling agents Bulgaria Property Investments.

Work starts next month on the development, called Botanical Gardens, which is being built by one of Bulgaria's largest developers, GlavBulgar Stroy. It is located in the Boyana southside suburb of Sofia, near the Botanical Gardens, within 10 minutes of both the airport and the city centre. Completion is expected around August 2006.

Phase one of the 80 apartments is now on sale and, says David Howells, a director of Bulgaria Property Investments, most of them benefit from the best views of nearby Mount Vitosha, which is currently being developed in order to support a bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Sofia is the only capital city to have its own ski resort, and if it wins the Olympic bid, the economic boost will be enormous. The chairman of the Austrian Ski Federation has been brought in by the Bulgarian authorities to oversee a 20m-development of the ski facilities to increase the capital's chances of securing the Winter Games.

The apartments cost 65,000 for a 58sq m one-bed and 89,000 for a 8sq m twobed.

Rents for this area work out at roughly 8 per sq m.

"You can buy apartments in Sofia for less than this, " says Howells, "but this is very much the corporate, embassy, diplomatic end of the market.

"The president, prime minister, leader of the opposition and the country's economic and social elite all live in this part of the capital and the rents and the demand from overseas clients reflect this."

The development includes both houses and apartments . . . the houses have sold out, mainly to Bulgarians. The apartments and homes are situated on landscaped gardens within this mature garden suburb.

Howells says buying in Sofia is as straightforward as buying here. "You don't have to set up as a company.

You can buy as an individual.

Because entry to the EU is scheduled for 2007, the Bulgarian government is very happy to see investment from EU member states."

Expect to add on about 5% for legal and registry fees.

Management fees are 10% of gross rental.

"We always advise people to use a local independent lawyer before buying, " says Howells.

Investment in Sofia has been fast and furious in the past two years as the country gears up for EU entry.

Capital appreciation of property was 15% last year and there is a vast amount of commercial building going on, particularly of new office and retail parks.

Flights to Sofia are via Prague and are not cheap.

Daily flights go from Cork and Dublin from Czech airlines and take about four hours, generally costing around 400 return. There is talk of budget carriers going into Sofia but nothing firm as yet.

Bulgaria Property Investments is showing plans for these and other investment properties in Sofia at the Silver Springs Hotel in Cork on 31 October and in the Burlington Hotel in Dublin on 6 and 7 November.

Tel: 021 4369369 www. bulgarproperty. com