UP TO 50 Irish-owned apartments in Bulgaria have been bought by Russian property prospectors in the first six months of this year, a Dublin-based property business has said.
An estimated 30,000 Irish citizens currently sit on more than €1bn of bad property investments in Bulgaria.
Dylan Cullen, head of Appreciating Assets, said growing demand from the former Soviet country for the Bulgarian resorts means Irish people are finally able to offload their unwanted properties.
Since the peak of the Bulgarian property-buying frenzy, from 2005 to 2008, Black Sea prices have fallen by between 35pc and 45pc, depending on location. But the Russians and Ukrainians, the two biggest buyer groups, have formed a view that this market looks to be near the bottom. Buyers are back looking at the Black Sea for holiday homes.
"The Russians are becoming wealthier and as their middle class expands they want holiday homes," said Mr Cullen. We're talking about a country of almost 150 million people.
"To them the Black Sea is like Spain to the Irish and British. Unlike the Irish, however, the Russians are not so naive to buy off plans. They're looking for new -- or nearly new but tested -- apartments at fair market prices.
"As it happens, most of these are now owned by the British and the Irish, many of whom want to sell them. Prices have fallen hard in Bulgaria, but unlike Ireland, there are now plenty of willing buyers at current market prices."
Mr Cullen's company, which has an office in Dublin, London and two in Bulgaria, acts as a link between the Irish, British and a network of 1,500 estate agencies across Russia.
The agency charges 3pc to the buyer of the property, who will also typically be paying between 2pc and 10pc to the Russian estate agents.
The firms act for both British and Irish vendors, with his sales split almost evenly this year among both countries.
"In many ways the British are the Irish apartment owner's biggest competition. Sterling has strengthened significantly against the euro in recent years with the result that a British apartment owner can sell up at an overall loss in euros but can still make a profit in sterling.
"Most Irish buyers are selling at a loss, but some are breaking even. The real sea change we are witnessing is that Irish owners are realising the relative value of property at home. Some Irish apartments are selling for the same price as in Sofia. At 10pc, the yields are much more attractive at home.
"The interesting thing is that those who seemed somehow ashamed of buying in Bulgaria during the boom are now realising that they'd have lost a hell of a lot more had they bought a second home in Ireland."
Compared with an average loss of 40pc in Bulgaria, Irish investors would have lost 60pc at home and larger amounts, give that Irish properties were more expensive.
Separately, Mr Cullen's company is now seeking to open an office in Spain where property prices have fallen by 30pc so far and may end up shedding 50pc.
"We go wherever Russian demand goes and we're increasingly getting inquiries about Spain."
While the wealthiest of Russian oligarchs are busy buying up London's posh homes, so far Ireland's best streets don't even register. "They're not interested in Ireland at all," said Mr Cullen.