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When Communism came to an end in Eastern Europe in 1989, much of the attention was upon Romania, given the terrible conditions endured by the population at the hands of the Soviet-controlled dictatorship. Since then, the country has managed to rebuild itself following three years of severe recession, and has emerged as a full member of the European Union.
Formed in 1859 as the united independent regions of Wallachia and Moldavia which had separated from the Turkish Ottoman Empire and adding Transylvania in 1918, Romania has managed to stay complete and has not been tempted to split up as some of the countries around it did after the fall of Communism. The new regime in Romania had to adapt a manufacturing process and industrial base that was completely unsuited to the needs of the country as an independent nation. This change in the fabric of the economy of the country has brought Romania into a Europe that was in need of its exports, resulting in high growth up to and since accession in 2007.
With a coast on the Black Sea that has yet to be exploited as a holiday destination, mountain resorts in the rugged Carpathians to the north of the country, and a pretty capital in Bucharest, the interest of overseas property buyers is beginning to grow.
Romania's capital city, Bucharest is the sixth largest city in the EU, and as with many of the ‘emerging’ markets of Central and Eastern Europe, it has been the focus of the early stages of the overseas property industry in the country. It was the first place to receive flights from low-cost airlines, which has helped to bring it along on the minds of people heading away for long weekend breaks.
The city lies on the banks of the Dombovita River and is full of beautiful belle-époque architecture and characterised by wide, tree-lined boulevards. Even with the traditional features of the old town and many of the iconic buildings, Bucharest bears the traces of the many influences that have come to the city in recent decades. Many buildings were constructed in the post-war Communist period, and are rarely remarkable for their beauty. It is these parts of the city that are being regenerated into more superior-quality housing stock, and which is attracting the overseas property investment specialists.
New buildings and modern architecture are beginning to leave their marks on districts of the city, and this gentrification of Bucharest has been particularly prominent in the northern suburbs of the city and the residential developments are providing homes for middle- and upper-class Romanians in the capital.
The cultural scene in Bucharest is significant, ranging from museums to music festivals, and there is now a thriving café culture giving the city a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Renowned artists, orchestras and jazz musicians are regular visitors to the city for performances and showings. A large apartment in the city centre can be found in one of the new developments for around £160,000, for which there should be some significant rental return.
Outside of the capital, Brasov is one of the most important cities in Romania, due to the universities there that can supply knowledge and talent to industry and business. As well as being an important centre of commerce for Romania, Brasov is the gateway to much of the tourist and leisure activity in the country. From Brasov it is easy to get to the ski resorts of Busteni, Poiana Brasov, Azuga, Predeal and Sinaia which are accessible all year and great for both summer and winter sports.
Nearby, there is also the historic and tourist town of Bran which, as well as providing equally good access to the ski resorts, is home of the famous Dracula’s Castle, which attracts huge numbers of tourists each year.
The third area of interest for potential buyers of property in Romania to consider is the Black Sea coast. While this coastline is much shorter than that of Bulgaria, for example, it is far less-developed, and retains the potential to have some fantastic resorts and, as long as building is controlled effectively, could provide long-term growth and develop a strong tourist market of its own. The main town here is Constanta – to which one of the low-cost airlines has just announced its first route. If this route is a success, more can be expected to follow, and the development of the beautiful coastline can grow and spread. At present, front line apartments with sea views can be found for under £44,000, but these prices will not last long as the area comes to the attention of more and more buyers.
In many ways, the Black Sea Coast could be the growth area that propels Romania's property market into the spotlight of the overseas property investment world. The increase in access points to the area, the stability of the current government set-up and the opportunity for developers to create manageable and sympathetic projects having learned lessons from other resorts on the Black Sea coast could give this part of Romania the impetus to drive this new sector of the domestic economy.
As a new entrant into the EU, the rules governing owning a property in Romania are likely to undergo changes in the coming years to make them more transparent and to increase access to the property market for foreigners. One of the conditions of EU entry is that property must be available for all EU citizens to buy, but there are currently other restrictions in place that add a caveat to the process.
While is it possible for foreign individuals to buy property in the form of buildings, the purchase of land by private foreign individuals is currently prohibited. For buyers to be allowed to own the land on which their property is built, most agents recommend that the easiest way is to form a private company through which to purchase the land.
This is a relatively simple process, and will cost no more than €1,500 to set up, including a fee to set up a company bank account. This approach also means that you will need to keep proper company accounts and pay corporation tax every year, but with the help of a good accountant well-versed in the local tax laws, this shouldn’t cause too many problems.
Buying through a company offers the advantage of VAT savings as well, though the payment of corporation tax cancels out most of this benefit.
There is one situation by which a non-Romanian national is allowed to buy the land upon which their property is built. EU citizens are allowed to buy their land as well as their property if they are intending to use it as their primary residence. This will incur some tax domicile and residency issues, and there will have to be evidence that the property in going to be used as a primary residence to support your purchase.
The process for this law regarding the private ownership of land to change has been put in place already, with provision being made for freehold ownership of land by foreigners to be allowed five years following EU accession. This means the law will come into effect in January 2012.
It is recommended that all purchases of a property in Romania are overseen by an independent, expert, English-speaking lawyer in order to make sure that the contracts are properly assembled and that the correct steps are taken to register the purchase with the authorities.
When buying an older, resale property, buyers should always make sure that they have an independent survey carried out to highlight any structural issue that may be present, or occur in the future.
Once you have decided on the property that you want to buy, the process for making it your own is reasonably simple and straightforward. The most important thing to get organised, if you are looking to buy the land as well as the buildings of your property, is to make sure that you have your Romanian company set up and ready to go. The documents you need to do this are easy to get hold of and the process is a short one. You will need to supply a company address, which will usually be the address of the property you are buying, so the formalities may need to wait until you have found the property you wish to buy.
Once you have found the right property, you can go ahead with agreeing the final price with the vendor. From here you need to check the land and property title ownership which, dependent on the number of owners, could take some time. This is the stage at which to get a survey done so that you are aware of any problems there may be ahead of signing any final agreements and committing to the purchase price in writing.
The initial contract commits both parties to the sale, and removes the property from the market. It also sets out the terms of the rest of the contract, as well as the payment terms. Generally, there will either be a staged-payment system in place, which is more common for new properties, or the full balance will be paid upon signing the final contract of sale, as is more often the case with resale properties.
The final sale contract for the property is drawn up by an official notary and signed in the presence of both parties, at which time the notary will also present the appropriate documents to the authorities to register the buyer officially as the new owner of the property.
At this point the stamp duty and transfer costs of the sale become due to the government authorities.
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