Sofia Office Construction: The Beat Goes On (For Now)

Written by Yasen Georgiev and Dragomir Belchev, EPI – EECFA Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s non-residential construction is set to grow in 2019 and 2020. The positive figures in the latest EECFA Bulgaria Construction Forecast Report are backed by, among others, the accelerated growth in office construction which is to witness the completion of many big projects in 2019-2021. The question is not on whether their delivery will impact the segment, but on how.

NV Tower, Balkan Business Center (left), Sky Fort (middle), Synergy Tower, Sofia Tech One,  Advance Business Center (right); Sources: www.markan.bg, www.advancecenter.bg, www.capital.bg, http://www.aaa.bg

As shown by the 2019 Summer EECFA Bulgaria Construction Forecast Report (which can be purchased here), non-residential construction in the country is to be on a growth path in 2019 and 2020, a major driver being office construction. After bouncing back in 2017, and keeping the momentum in 2018, it is relishing a real revival and is predicted to increase by over 10% on average in 2019-2021.

Office-related construction is mainly concentrated in Sofia where all major projects are located. The city is an attractive destination for companies that benefit from a favorable mix of skilled young population, competitive labor costs and rent levels to establish and expand in spheres linked to Information Technology, business process outsourcing and shared services. Companies in these sectors are active in relocations, often driven by their expansion plans and/or the rising preference of their employees for modern office premises.

Existing office space in Sofia totaled 2mln sqm at the end of 2018. In H1 2019 it witnessed the delivery of 100 000sqm and now looks forward to another 400 000sqm with an expected completion till 2021.

These dynamics are fueled by the peak in permitted office space registered in H2 2018 – an all-time high performance that by far exceeded the pre-crisis record of H1 2008 (265 065sqm).

In H1 2019 another 129 545sqm were permitted, which is still a rise of more than 90% y-o-y. It remains to be seen whether this data on permitted floor space will translate into the size of started office premises and, later on, in the number and volume of completed ones. H2 2015 recorded the peak in terms of started office floor space so far and if it is to be outperformed, H2 2019 and H1 2020 seem to be the perfect timing.

Against the backdrop of the latest development, the question is not on whether the delivery of all projects in the active pipeline will impact the segment, but on how. Demand is awaited to see logical limitations in the future because of skilled labor shortage being on the rise, the increased application of AI solutions and the changing behavior of office employees in favor of more flexible and remote work.

This altogether should keep the present rent levels in Sofia, or even put them under pressure. Rents did not considerably change over the last years and even now continue to be among the lowest in the CEE region. Thus, provided that all projects are delivered, office yields will be questioned. This scenario seems increasingly possible unless a new wave of major restructuring and cost-cutting takes place in countries with higher labor costs.

Residential construction in Bulgaria – Growth goes on, challenges remain

Rises in employment and income in Bulgaria, combined with low interest rates both on deposits and housing loans, are pushing residential construction as well as the property market upwards. The rise in profit margin increasingly attracts investors in the sector. However, aging multi-family buildings and the growing number of uninhabited properties remain as major challenges ahead of the housing stock in the country.

Written by Yasen Georgiev and Dragomir Belchev, EPI – EECFA Bulgaria

Varna Wave ongoing residential project in Varna, Bulgaria – Source: varnawave.bg

Residential construction and the real estate market in Bulgaria continue to be in the focus of investors and developers. The turning point was in 2016 when the sector registered a growth of 31.1% and it is expected to increase in double-digit terms in the period up to 2019. These developments have a direct correlation with improved living conditions as in 2017 the Bulgarian GDP grew by 3.6%. According to European Commission forecasts, there are no signs for pessimism as they prognosticate a further growth of 3.8% in 2018 and 3.7% in 2019.

The economic development is accompanied by low rates of unemployment and an increased disposable income. Major cities in Bulgaria such as Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna and Burgas are getting more and more attractive, which leads to the concentration of the population and creates a strong demand in the residential sector. Consumer preferences are also changing in favour of quality properties (larger ones and with better location) that are lacking in the market. At the moment supply is still lagging behind, unable to catch up with demand. In H1 2018 completed newly-built residential buildings were 9.1% more than in the same period in 2017. In terms of dwellings, there is a drop of 10.3%, which is a proof of the completion of bigger-scale projects.

As a result, currently over 50% of the deals are made while dwellings are still under construction. Continue reading Residential construction in Bulgaria – Growth goes on, challenges remain

Dealing with construction permits in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania

The World Bank has prepared its first Subnational Doing Business report on Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania entitled Doing Business in the European Union 2017: Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. The report is based on the surveys conducted last year by involving respondents from 6 cities in Bulgaria, 7 cities in Hungary and 9 cities in Romania, measuring 5 indicators: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property and enforcing contracts.

Source of table: World Bank. 2017. Doing Business in the European Union 2017: Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. Washington, DC: World Bank. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO.

In this subnational research in Hungary, Ebuild Hungary (the parent company of Ebuild Romania, EECFA’ s Romanian member) was responsible for choosing the respondents from the private sector in Hungary on 2 of the 5 Doing Business indicators: dealing with construction permits and getting electricity. EECFA Research, Buildecon, was responsible for coordinating the project on these 2 indicators in the private sector in Hungary. Buildecon also completes the World Bank’s National Doing Business survey on dealing with construction permits in Hungary every year; a survey regarded as a benchmark for investors.

Here we are going to take a look at the key findings on the dealing with construction permits indicator* in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, what regional variations are, how the processes could be improved according to the report, why Germany is so efficient in getting building permits and how Hungary is trying to follow suit.

Key findings on getting construction permits

It has been concluded that overall, it is in Hungary where it is the easiest to obtain a construction permit for a warehouse (18 procedures) compared to Bulgaria (19 procedures) and Romania (26 procedures). However, all countries are lagging behind the EU average of 13 procedures.

In terms of the length of the permitting process, it is in Bulgaria where the process is the quickest: on average 141 days, and it is in Romania where it takes the longest time: 256 days. In Hungary it is 164 days, though it is better than the relative EU average of 169 days. There are 2 EU member states, the Slovak Republic and Cyprus, where the process is very long – 286 days and 507 days, respectively.

As far as costs of the construction permit are concerned, it is in Hungary where it is the cheapest to get a permit (0.5% of the warehouse value) and it is in Romania where it is the most expensive (3.4%). Bulgaria is only slightly cheaper (3.2%). By comparison, the EU average is 2.0%.

All three countries have been found to make building regulations available online and clearly specify the requirements for a building permit. Also, it has been concluded that all three countries have strong building quality control mechanisms and strict qualification requirements for professionals responsible for permitting approvals.

On the other hand, in comparison with the EU, the report has found that in all three countries the construction permit procedure is much more burdensome than in most other EU member states. Continue reading Dealing with construction permits in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania

Game of Towers – Sofia’s New Dynamics in Office Construction

Demand for offices in Sofia is boosting a huge activity in office building and mixed-use projects, and growing land prices trigger the construction of higher and higher such buildings and office towers. The game of towers has generated a public debate on whether to designate zones where these buildings are to be concentrated.

Written by Yasen Georgiev and Dragomir Belchev, EPI – EECFA Bulgaria

BLU Offices, City Tower, Millenium Center (upper row), Capital Fort (lower row). Sources: http://www.novinite.bg, http://www.blu-offices.com, http://www.capitalfort.com, http://www.icon-bulgaria.com

In 2016 the Bulgarian economy registered a growth of 3.4%, driven mainly by increasing household consumption and export volumes. Forecast for 2017 and 2018 suggests that the country’s GDP will register a further expansion between 3% and 3.5%, reflecting the positive signs from the labor market and their implications on individual demand.

These trends support EECFA’s latest summer forecast for an increase in the overall construction market by more than 5% in 2017 and over 3% in 2018. Building construction is set to grow even at a higher pace, thus reaching an annual increase of around 8% for 2017-2019. Beside the accelerated growth of residential construction, it is the non-residential sub-sector that shows increased dynamics after a year of negative growth.

According to the EECFA 2017 Bulgaria summer report, office construction is expected to rise and reach an average growth of 4.7% over the 2017-2019 period. This forecast is supported not only by the announcement of a number of projects due to start in 2017-2018, but also by the increase in permitted floor spaces of office and administrative buildings in 2016 on an annual basis, as well as by the scale of started projects in Q12017 compared to Q12016.

In this regard, Sofia remains the most economically active city in the country. Despite the emerging demand for contemporary office space in secondary cities, in terms of floor space, 77% of all permitted office and administrative buildings in 2016 are located in the capital city, similarly to the share of started office and administrative buildings in Sofia, in a nationwide comparison accounting for 74%.

What stands behind is demand coming from outsourcing and IT companies that either seek to expand or to offer more appealing office facilities to their employees Continue reading Game of Towers – Sofia’s New Dynamics in Office Construction

EECFA 2017 Summer Construction Forecast and Revision

We have released our summer construction forecast on 16 June 2017 on Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey and Ukraine. This post intends to summarize the most important projections for these construction markets for the years 2017-2019. These are our main findings; for a deeper understanding, please consult our reports. You can contact us on eecfa.com.

Outlook for the EECFA regions

The highly optimistic outlook for South East Europe is maintained by EECFA. Leaving behind the transitory 2016, when the absorption of funds available in the new EU programming period (2014-2020) was still at a low level, the upcoming years are characterized by a bigger expansion of the construction market than that of GDP. Building construction is predicted to well outperform the total market, with a yearly average rate of 9% over the horizon. The small growth in the region’s total civil engineering market is attributed to the negative expectations in Romania.

Sideway moves, no further market expansion on the horizon are what we consider the most probable scenario for the 3 East European markets together. Turkey and Russia, being far the two biggest markets we cover in EECFA, is expected to show some similarities. In both countries our forecasts are moderately optimistic in the civil engineering market. While in the building construction market the outlook is clearly negative for Russia and neutral for Turkey. In Ukraine, the recovery experienced in 2016 is predicted to be sustained until 2019. Both building construction and civil engineering could expand further with a relatively good pace. Continue reading EECFA 2017 Summer Construction Forecast and Revision