Thursday, 25 March 2010

Property Porn

I love me a good Property porn moment. You know those shows when people buy a wreck in the depths of some foreign countryside and then have do it up (with inevitable dramas) to a beautiful house and then proceed to live the good life with their peach orchards and free range chickens. Grand Designs is one of my favourite shows of all time, but any of them will do really.

Since we've been in Bosnia I've been approached by countless TV companies and journalists all wanting to do a similar show in Bosnia. Because, in case you've missed it, Bosnia is apparently the latest property hot spot. Bargains a-plenty to be had. Don't balk at the Balkans as a recent Sunday Times Property section article had it.

Now Bosnia is a wonderful country. It is beautiful, spectacularly so. There are snow-capped mountains, with great skiing and cool, emerald green rivers. There are untouched forests, river gorges, wonderful hiking and mountain biking opportunities (if you are interested in taking a holiday here then have a look at GreenVisions who organise excellent tours). It is very close to the Adriatic Sea and even has its own 12km stretch of coast line near Dubrovnik. The legacies of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires have left some very attractive cities, full of culture. The people are fabulous; funny, irreverent, generous to a fault and full of life. The weather is great, hot, dry summers full of swimming in lakes, barbeques and outside activities. Proper, cold winters with snow, skiing, ice-skating and excellent hot chocolate. It is the perfect place for a Property Porn style programme.

Except it isn't. I wouldn't buy a property in Bosnia. I love the country, I love the people. I've been to a few of this type of house and they are wonderful. But there are many, many factors which would stop me from investing huge amounts of my personal money into a stone farmhouse ruin of a dream.

1. The political situation. Headlines from British Newspapers saying that Bosnia is on the brink of war are probably overblown. Certainly no one I know here seriously expects that the country is going to descend into full-scale conflict again. But, the political situation is here is tense. Very tense. They have been quiet over the winter, but with elections later this year and the nationalists gearing up to try and scare the local population into voting for them, I certainly wouldn't say that it was stable. There is a very real possibility of some isolated violence over the next couple of months.

2. The Bureaucracy: Regular readers of this blog will know how much time, energy and pure levels of pain is taken up dealing with the Bosnian bureaucracy. Really, it is the true definition of purgatory. The extent of the Catch 22 that ensnares unsuspecting victims is jaw dropping. Not to mention expensive. For example, to temporarily import our car we have had to put up a £3000 bank guarantee. This is to ensure that we don't sell it whilst we are here. If we wanted to permanently import it, we would have to pay that amount of money. You can't buy a car here unless you have a residency visa. The police are cracking down on foreigners who live here on their tourist visas, just popping over the border every three months to keep in current. They need to; it is an obligation for them to do so if they want to continue along the road of EU membership.

3. Mines: Landmines were a common feature of the Bosnian war. There have been many areas that have been cleared. Many areas have not. Many of the areas that would be most attractive for potential property buyers (e.g. the areas close to the Croatian coast line) were extensively mined during the war. As a totally random aside, apparently the mines, which have meant that many of the forests and wilder areas of the country have been totally untouched for the past 20 years or so, have been brilliant for the wildlife. Whilst the odd bear or wolf may get blown up, the total lack of mans interference in these areas has led to real benefits for these creatures. I find that fascinating.

4. Planning: Planning has not really been a big feature of the Bosnian development of cities and industry so far. This is changing (Tuzla being very proud of the fact that it has recently bought in some form of planning system to try and create zones for industry rather than the hotch potch that is prevalent now). But, as it stands, a factory can be built almost anywhere. Someone can build a house right on the border line of their property, over looking gardens, looking straight into windows. No one here blinks an eye at that, but coming from a good English 'my home is my castle', I find it a touch unnerving.  I should probably also mention that even if planning laws were implemented, it probably wouldn't stop someone who had the right connections and enough money from totally circumventing them if they wanted to, respect for the rule of law not being what it ought to be at all levels. So, I would be very worried that my Bosnian dream property might find itself right next to a cement factory and there would be nothing that I could do about it.

5. Property Title: As mentioned above, respect for the rule of law isn't as strong in Bosnia as it might be. The issue of property title is also relevant. During the latest war, half the population were displaced. Some have returned. Some haven't. There was a fairly rigorous return of property programme, but I'd not have total confidence that no one else would have claim to that property that was being sold. It is also worth remembering that Bosnia used to be a Communist country, and title to property was not always clear cut.



There are a number of other things that I would worry about. I do find it particularly telling that most of these Property Porn programmes, so keen to sell Bosnia as the next property hotspot, have never actually been to the country. I also find it very revealing that most of the people who have bought here are married to Bosnians or, at the very least, speak the language.

I feel a bit let down. I'll never be able to see their articles and programmes in the same way now I know the type of issues that they have concealed. What am I going to dream about now, in those idle moments when I envisage myself wafting around in a white floaty dress in a lavender field carrying a wicker basket before heading back to my stone farmhouse with its enormous kitchen, big wooden table with never ending sunshine and beautifully behaved children?  Maybe I'll just aim for having children that aren't dismantling the house. Probably more realistic.

18 comments:

Trish @ Mum's Gone to... said...

As always, B in B, I love these posts as they educate me about a situation of which I have no understanding - neither, it would seem, have these property programme producers!

Glowstars said...

Perhaps what they should be producing is a program on why it's a really bad idea to live in certain countries...

London City Mum said...

FM - as solace you can look forward to seeing the gorgeous architect George Clarke help people restore 'historic wrecks' (punchline for the show) around the UK on Sunday evenings.

Conveniently titled 'Restoration Man'.

LCM x

Michelloui said...

Thats a really interesting article!! Ive not been to Bosnia, but yes, I have certainly heard the 'advice' to buy there. It is fascinating to have a more informed viewpoint. And I agree that the result of the presence of mines in wildlife areas is really interesting!!

I too love Grand Designs. Even my 12 yo is an enthusiastic fan! But when my dad visits from the States he cant watch it as it makes him far too stressed--reminds him of his own DIY house project I guess.

nappy valley girl said...

You should send your blog post to those property show producers. Or to Kevin McCloud!

Tanya (Bump2Basics) said...

NVG took the words out of my mouth about replying with this post next time you are approached by a property show!

Really interesting post....shows the dirty side of property porn for sure. Yet another example of how things in the media are often skewed.

Gappy said...

Really interesting post. How terrifying that some areas are still so heavily mined.

I have to admit that one of my guilty pleasures is 25 Beautiful Homes. It's a magazine that provides photographic guided tours round peoples houses - and I absolutely love it. It always feels a bit nosy which just adds to the pleasure!

muummmmeeeeee...... said...

Great post and really interesting. I think the dangers of bureaucracy would make more nervous than the mines!

By the way, if you ever work out a way to make children not dismantle houses, could you pass it on. Valuable advice. Worth a fortune...

Expat mum said...

Wow - you should explore the possibility of writing this for a UK overseas property web site (if there is one.)

hampshireflyer said...

How gobsmacking! I was amazed at the number of buy-a-villa-in-Croatia shows that were coming out over here even as Croatia was trying to chuck out most of the expats who really had sold up and bought one....

Chic Mama said...

Thanks, that was really interesting.
It is worrying how easily we are misled by programmes like that isn't it.
So awful about all those mines but fascinating that the animals have a care-free life off the back of it.

planb said...

You can't tell me that that stuff isn't real! That's why I'm moving out of London! I'm never going to wear anything other than white linen again, and I'm going to carry a wicker basket overflowing with seasonal flowers everywhere I go. Because that's what happens in the country isn't it?

More seriously. Really interesting post. My sis works in tv so I know that bit's made up, but the stuff about Bosnia was all new. Thank you.

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Trish - scary isn't it. I think it is actually pretty irresponsible.

Glowstars - a pitfalls of moving abroad. It could make compelling viewing!

LCM - Goodie. Will get into that as soon as we get back.

Michelloui - who are these experts? Really, they need to make sure they give the whole picture, not just the glossy mag option. Going to the country they are writing about would be a start...

NVG - Is it bad to have a secret crush on Kevin?

Tanya - I think I will. They lose interest as soon as we say that we are renting. I've told a few of them already, they aren't interested though, gets in the way of their story.

Gappy - there were a lot of mines here. They are doing a good job demining, but it is difficult, especially in forests etc.

Mummmeeee - at least you tend to know where the minefields are. The bureaucracy one doesn't have such helpful signs up!

Expat Mum - I don't know if there is one either.

Hampshire Flyer - exactly, and Croatia had loads of problems with the issue of property title etc. Scary stuff

Chic Mama - The odd bear meets a sticky end, but apparently their population is flourishing!

Plan B - A picture of country living. Scary how much of TV and journalism is very distorted.

Muddling Along Mummy said...

Interesting point about the mines - nice that something so awful has had something positive come out of it

My parents had a similar list of issues when the Dubai property boom started, they resisted getting involved because of issues over title and the actual value, felt they'd missed out on something big for a long time and now feel hugely relieved that they didn't sink money into something they couldn't now recover

Nishant said...

it would seem, have these property programme producers!
home based data entry

diney said...

as usual, media distort for viewing figures and to sensationalize whatever they can. it was a very interesting post and i learned much about the situation in Bosnia. I do love watching location, location etc - am fairly addicted to all of them to be honest - odd when I am an estate agent!! Hope your move goes well and yes, in the country we do wear floaty white dresses and run through fields of lavender - but only on midsummer's night

Anonymous said...

Sounds it is tempting

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