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Although many people dream of owning a rural farmhouse in the Hungarian countryside and/or cheap apartment in Budapest, many potential property owners visit their desired country, city, town or village at the wrong time of the year. They tend to visit during the hot tourist season and fall romantically in love with the place, which is fine if they are thinking of buying a property to rent out to tourists in the summer months, but many have those dreams get shattered in the winter months; when reality kicks in.
Below I have explained some of things to take into consideration when looking for a property in Hungary, in the summer months and winter months.
Take TWO TRIPS to Hungary, if not more, in order to gauge the realities of each potential property you view and its area’s leisure activities and tourism season. One trip in the summer and one trip in the winter, especially if you are looking for a property to rent out to tourists or all year round tenants.
Have a look around in WINTER, when many towns, villages and even cities are deserted, not just to see 'how dead' a place is in the winter but also to check properties for damp and other water related problems that may have been, temporarily, covered up.
It is not unusual for a property seller to paint in the summer to cover up damp, replaster water damaged walls, replace roof tiles and so on from the previous winter problems; making everything look too nice in the summer! So have a good look at neighbouring properties for similar problems and cover ups and, if need be, get a surveyor to look at your potential property.
An old clay wall property whose wall is beginning to crumble and fall apart
With spa/Lake districts such as Balaton, Bük, Harkany, Hévíz and Sárvár they usually have tourists all year round, but other areas may close between September and May or at least not be fully open all day/week long. A quick look at their websites should give seasonal opening times and perhaps a list of 'time limited' events/activities that happen in the winter season.
Have a look around in SUMMER, especially if it is a tourist/spa/lake district, not just to see 'how lively' a place is in the summer but also to check for problems with insects (i.e. mosquitoes) and plants (i.e. ragweed, if you suffer from hay fever type allergies). Check with locals, the council and estate agents to see how they treat insect (mosquito) and plant (hay fever) problems. And check if lakes in the area are filled with fish that eat mosquito larvae for example and the regulations that property owners have to follow with regards to overgrown plants and public front garden/trench area.
Also check how dry the land becomes, if street water wells and public area water fountains are switched on all year round and what leisure activities and recreational centres are open during the summer only.
Know the Hungarian geography in terms of its counties, regions and terrains. Eger for example is known for its mountains, hills, national park and castle whereas Lake Balaton is known for its thermal spa regions and lake. Szeged, Pécs and Debrecen are known as university cities with surrounding villages/farmlands.
Debrecen in particular is known as a cultural centre while Szeged is known for its medical and science university departments. Pécs on the other hand is known as a multicultural hub. So depending on what kind of lifestyle you want for yourself and/or your potential tenants, visiting the sights, researching the history and looking at what leisure activities and facilities are available for all age groups in a certain region is my recommendation; especially if children are to be entertained.
Do NOT expect expat communities everywhere. As of 2016 there are only an estimated 6,700 British people living in Hungary. This means you will not find British communities in every single village, town and city; especially if you consider many of them will not be resident all year long. Therefore, you need to mingle with the locals as much as possible, if you are going to need their help.
If you are thinking of purchasing a property in the countryside, for rental purposes or not, you should check what transport links are available to the main airport and train station(s). In many villages access to the main train station and airport could mean having to use a, private, car or take an expensive taxi; or at best, wait for an hourly bus. Either way, transport routes should be something to consider and plan for.
Have a look at the number of local grocery shops in the area, their prices, their opening times and whether or not they have a house delivery service. Also check the local D.I.Y shops and builders’ merchants. Enter as many of these shops as possible to see if they speak English. Also check if the locals speak English.
Clay Properties - Although old clay houses, farm houses and barns can look romantic and quaint from the outside, on the inside their clay walls may be drying out, crumbling and/or be damp. The problems in the photo above are an example.
Although clay walls tend to keep a room cool in the summer and warm in the summer, rainfall can cause them damp problems if the property was built on earth only - When it rains the water (rain) gets into the ground soil and travels upwards and into the clay walls, causing damp and possible foundation problems in the years to come.....not to mention health problems.
Another problem with clay properties is that they have small windows and thick walls (i.e. 50cm depth), which means lack of light and therefore rooms that are too dark even in the summer. In turn, higher electricity bills.
Utilities - A traditional farmhouse might not have central heating, insulated windows and doors (i.e. double glazing), a gas supply coming from the street, an electric supply, telephone line and/or running water whereby the owner uses wood for fire/central heating, a gas bottle for a gas supply and a man-made well for water (usually piped into the house). They might use a mobile phone, if a signal is available in their area, instead of a landline.
A recently installed (unfinished) street connected gas pipe in a village house
Community Tax - In many villages around Hungary the local council has the right to charge a council tax. However, many do not as they prefer to charge a minimal community tax (Helyi Adó) instead; which can be as little as 2,000 HUF per month.
Electrics – Always inspect the electrics in an older property as they tend to have very old wiring and a very old fuse box system. Many newer properties, built in the last 40 years, have the old fuse box system. So if you have an electric shock you get hurt simply because there is no immediate cut-off system; which means these older systems are a Health & Safety hazard.
Electricity in Budapest is 220 Volts / 50W. The standard round shaped plug sockets take the rounded 2 Pin plugs. These are okay for Hungarian appliances, which I recommend you buy/use whenever possible, but if you are going to use (import) English appliances and then use european plug adaptors/converters you may find they do not fit well on a low wall socket. In other words, you will either have to reposition your Hungarian plug sockets higher up the walls or replace them with UK-Friendly sockets that have side-pins.
Left: Standard 'Horizontal' 2 Pin Socket - Right: Double Socket with 'Side-Pins'
Another thing to note is with the Electric Cooker. The problem is that the standard electricity supply is 32 Amp whereby just the electric rings/hobs on a fully electric cooker will use up around 7kW (about 30 Amp). If you then switch on the fan-oven you will certainly blow the electricity fuse box; especially with other appliances switched on too.
In that scenario you are better off using a combination cooker (gas hobs with electric fan-oven). Alternatively, upgrade your fuse box and wiring. Having a new fuse fitted should cost around 50,000 HUF (£133) maximum with labor included. And to rewire a whole apartment of 48 Square Meters for example, including labor and materials (fuse box, switches, bulbs, wires, etc), should cost a maximum of 450,000 HUF (£1,200).
In the countryside remote villagers with a farmhouse often buy ready-made chopped wood (or logs that need to be chopped later) to heat their house during the cold months, and rely on large gas bottles for cooking purposes. 1 cubic metre of already-chopped wood might cost around 15,000 HUF (£40) whereas 1 cubic metre of logs (unchopped wood) might cost 5,000 HUF (£13.33) when they need chopping up.
In these modern times (since the 1990s) many farmhouse owners have since been using a gas supply, coming from the street (gas company), but still use old gas convector heaters (radiators) to heat up their rooms; something to consider when looking at potential countryside/village properties. Especially if you are going to rent out to "Foreigners". Are they going to be happy without "proper" central heating? Also, what would be the renovation costs to convert to a greener, more energy efficient, central heating system?
A Sewage Holding Tank is a container in the garden, buried underground with its lid sticking out of the ground, that holds sewage (pee, poo and dirty washing machine water for example) coming from the house and into the container via an undergriund pipe. Its capacity can normally hold a year's worth of solid waste due to the water waste being allowed to escape/flow into the earth via holes on the outside of the container.
Once a year the council contractor comes around to your village property to empty (suck out) the container (solid waste). The cost varies but 10,000 HUF (£26.66) is a guideline.
The above is describing the old sewage system, still found in a few smaller/isolated villages that perhaps cannot afford a modern-day sewage system. In today's age (after 2000) most village properties have since had a modern street-outlet sewage system installed, thanks to EU funding, whereby their sewage now flows from their house and into the street sewage system via underground drainage pipes leading onto the street gutters; therefore cutting out the need for, and cost of, a sewage holding tank.