Coliving Semkovo – community and collaboration in a scenic remote location

When I set foot in the building where I spent a crazy 8th of December student holiday a dozen years ago, plenty of memories started coming back (it is weird to have memories from student celebrations). But now we are visiting Semkovo for a different reason, to become a part of the Coliving Semkovo project. 

The project is a coliving space located in a remote, beautiful setting in a former hotel building. It is unique because it is run as a cooperative, with members owning a share in the operation. Additionally, members will own their apartment in the coliving space, giving them a sense of ownership and community. The project is being run by the founder of Coworking Bansko and Bansko Nomad Fest, Matthias Zeitler, who is looking to expand into coliving after seeing the potential for digital nomads and remote workers to live and work together.

So we decided to share some photos from our on-site visit and ask Matthias to tell us more about Coliving Semkovo. 

Coliving Semkovo, Bulgaria

How did you find Semkovo?

I have been thinking about coliving for quite a while. It is a great thing that we still have Coworking Bansko. Still, I also feel that in the future, people will want not only to work together, especially digital nomads and remote workers, but they will also want to live together. And I tried to do a coliving project here in Bansko, but it turned out to be pretty tricky. The first property where we wanted to live together was a smaller guesthouse, and we wanted to buy it. Still, Covid happened, so we ended the deal about a week or so before everything went into lockdown, which was quite good for us, but in the end, there was no coliving. 

Then I tried to convert a rough-in-stage building here in Bansko, but the Ukraine war happened, and the construction companies were all very worried about the construction cost going up and didn’t want to give us a fixed price for completing the building. But of course, in a model where people buy apartments, they usually want to know how much it will cost to buy an apartment. So we couldn’t make this project happen either.

And then I thought, “Why don’t we try to find a building in a location that’s more affordable than Bansko?”. Because what we do is to bring our community, it doesn’t depend on where it is, as long as it is big enough so we can do a lot of things in our community. And I was looking at many distant places and found some interesting places around Kyustendil and Stara Zagora, but they were not my vibe. I prefer the mountains. 

And then I came across Semkovo, and I thought Semkovo had massive potential for us because it has been in decline for multiple years, which means we can buy real estate at a very affordable price and don’t have to do construction. We have to do renovations. Of course, this is much less risky because the price to paint the wall and to replace the carpet is less dependent on any steal produce, for example.

So I’m pretty happy I found this building. The owners are a group of older gentlemen that were running different hotels. They initially bought hotel Rila to turn it into a 5-star hotel, but as they are getting older and their children are leaving and don’t want to be involved, the owners were really happy to find out we were interested in buying the building and transforming it into something.

Coliving Semkovo, Bulgaria

What three main aspects of Coliving Semkovo make it a super cool project?

The most significant unique aspect is that we will run this as a cooperative. This means that people will own the coliving operation together. We were trying to do this with Coworking Bansko, the community to have a part of the business, but once started, it is difficult. At Coliving Semkovo, I want to do this from the beginning of the project. It’s geared towards us owning it together. 

Another aspect is that people will own an apartment in this coliving space. There are more and more coliving spaces around the world, maybe also large. Still, those are run by big companies that create money on the stock market and have a very different view on what coliving is based on their real estate expectations, compared to what I want from a community perspective. So I think being able to own an apartment there is exciting. The project itself is pretty sizable. Having a 200-unit coliving space is a significant size. Most coliving spaces are smaller even though there are bigger ones in large cities like London, for example. What is remarkable is that we have about 50 percent communal areas on top of that, which means we have a lot of space for workspaces, a communal kitchen, a cinema, for doing all kinds of workshops, yoga, we have our gym and pool. So the property has a lot of amenities.

The third unique aspect is that it’s really remote. It’s in a location where there are no restaurants, shops, and gas stations. It’s 20 minutes from the next town (Belitsa). There are two university accommodations near where students come in winter, a hotel nearby, and little cabins in the forest, but generally, it’s a very remote place. This will be very helpful for us to build this community because the people who come to Coliving Semkovo will engage a lot with those people, unlike in a big city like Barcelona, where you have many things going on. It’s really difficult to make deep connections. Because of its remoteness, Semkovo kind of forces people to be close together, and I think this will create a particular type of community.

What are priority backers and why are they essential to Coliving Semkovo?

The idea is to do this project similar to crowdfunding, where we test the market to see if there’s enough interest in this idea. It’s always easy to fill out a form and say, “Yes, I want to buy an apartment in the future!” but often, later, life changes, ideas change, and some people don’t see this as a serious commitment. As we want to run this and not have a big investor that buys and renovates the apartments and then sells them with a hefty markup, we need to find out in the community if we have enough people who want to do it together. 

And for me, the priority backer model means that people put a little bit of money on the table now, and they don’t get this money back, so this is a real commitment, and it makes them think a bit more if they want to be part of this project. If they do, their contributions will help us now with the project development, meaning we have to put down a good-faith deposit to the seller and try to find buyers for the building. We also have to pay architects, technical inspectors, lawyers, and other administrators to determine how we can convert this building from its current hotel status to individual apartment units and how much it will cost to renovate it. Because people want to know how much it will cost to buy the apartment, including the renovation. We have some budget estimates on the website already in the correct range.

Another aspect of priority backing is that it helps us pay for marketing. We have hired someone for PR and media. We’re also looking to hire a marketing manager so we can find all the buyers and create some fuss around Semkovo. We want people to start going there while we’re renovating, so we open with a full house.

What is the process of becoming a priority backer?

You go to the website, fill out a form that allows you to express interest, you can sign up for the newsletter, or can go straight ahead and pay the non-refundable priority backer fee (which at the moment is 600 euros and will go up as the project progresses to reward the people who have been part of it earlier). 

Once you become a priority backer, that will give you the right to reserve an apartment. The earlier you back the project, the earlier you can select your apartment from the available floor plans. Backers will have a priority in the renovation process. We want to make everyone happy, but when we have to prioritize things, the priority backers come first.

What are the on-site visits to Semkovo?

Once a month, we do an on-site visit to Semkovo, which is limited to some extent to people who have put down a deposit. We provide free transportation, some food, a self-guided tour around the building, and a Q&A session. We are not too strict about it – we invite members of Coworking Bansko, media people – bloggers, journalists, etc. The son of the architect who designed the building joined us one time. It’s also open to people from the local community in Belitsa. They have a history with the building. Those connections will help us as we don’t exist in a vacuum. From the beginning, we want to make this very inviting. Anyone who wants to see the building while we’re there is welcome.

January 14th is the next planned visit. We will visit once a month until all the apartments are sold. I think it’s essential to come here and see the building, you can’t see in photos and videos how iconic and epic this building is. There you can start visualizing how we will use the space.

Coliving Semkovo, Bulgaria

What are the timelines of the project?

At the moment, we’re trying to get all the backers. We’re at 50+ people now. Once we have reached about 150 backers, we will also have a good understanding of the renovation cost (in about 2 months or so), so at this point, we will send out invites for people to reserve a specific apartment for a specific price. The prices vary depending on different specifics, e.g., some have small balconies, others have big windows, some have smaller windows, some are on lower floors, and some are on higher floors, so the pricing will be slightly different. People will be able to reserve a specific unit depending on their preferences. Once we have 125 apartments sold, the whole transaction with the seller of the building will start. 

Unfortunately, we have to change the designation of the building, which is currently a hotel, into residential apartments. There’s an administrative process around it; it has to be approved by the chief architect of Belitsa, and a few other state agencies have to approve this change. It would take about three months which takes us into early summer. At this point, the designation will be changed, and the cadastre will be split into individual apartments. 

Then we will go to the notary and do the real estate deals. This means that people will get their units, and then they can also decide if they want to renovate their units themselves or if they want the co-op to renovate for them. The co-op will renovate the common areas, this is already priced into the price of the individual apartments, but the inside of the apartment is up to the owners or the co-op.

We will do some popup events to create the fuss in late summer – maybe we could use some of the hotel’s common areas and have people camping outside or staying in the student accommodations. We want to create life in the building. I think we should be able to have the first 100 units ready for the next winter season. The building has two blocks – A and B. Block A is a bit more modern – e.g., the windows have been replaced with more modern windows. Block B is not renovated, so it needs more work.

We will have an official opening next winter if we find enough buyers in the next two to three months.

Coliving Semkovo, Bulgaria

How will Coliving Semkovo affect the locals?

There are many ways to engage with the locals and involve them. We want to include the local community as much as possible. On the one hand, this means the community of Belitsa. Many people were dancing and partying in the building or working there, and many people have fond memories and stories to tell. Some might even want to help us renovate and revitalize the building. 

On the other hand, the two universities nearby that have student accommodation in Semkovo – the Technical University of Sofia, which runs the ski are up there, and the University of architecture, geodesy, and civil engineering. I have already started the process to see what we can do with them. For example, we could run a competition for the architecture students to envision how we could do the common areas and what modern workspaces would look like from an architectural perspective. There’s an old heating system in the building, and the faculty of power systems and building automation can help here. Many modern technologies can be used, and the students can bring them. We can unleash a lot of creativity by engaging directly with the students.

Coliving Semkovo, Bulgaria

How will the governance of the cost structure work?

Once we have two hundred co-owners, we need to set up processes and tools where everyone can give their input while we’re not always in a deadlock of discussions. We want to make it easy for people to contribute ideas and participate in decision-making.

Coliving Semkovo, Bulgaria

We’d like to thank Matthias for the comprehensive answers! If you have more questions, feel free to contact Coliving Semkovo or comment on this post.

We are so happy to be part of the Coliving Semkovo project, which is set to provide a unique and rewarding living experience for its residents. The combination of community ownership, a scenic location, and a range of facilities and amenities make it an attractive option for digital nomads, remote workers, and people looking to live and work together in a supportive and collaborative environment.

Do you like this post?

Travel with us and share our journey on Instagram! Do you want to support us – learn how here!

Keep up with our latest travel adventures and projects!
Subscribe for our Traveletter!

4 Responses

  1. Oliver
    |

    As much as I enjoyed my experience at Coworking Bansko very much, this is not for me, for two reasons:
    – My motivation as a digital nomad lies on trying local food places, cafés, mingling with locals, visiting nice villages, etc. Staying in such a remote location would prevent all of this.
    – In my experience of hostels (I have yet to try coliving, for some reason everytime I looked they were extremely expensive), the bigger the harder to make genuine connections or connections at all in my case (introvert here). It quickly feels like being a number. So, based on the scale of the project, I doubt I would be comfortable.
    Sorry for the negativity. But hope this helps you to target your marketing efforts. Good luck for the impressive endeavour!

    • Hi Oliver! Thank you for sharing your opinion.

      We’re super excited about this project because it looks like it would give just the right mix of a feeling that you’re in a remote location (and if you visit the building there’s no way you miss that feeling) and the 20-minutes distance to the lovely town of Belitsa with all the local experiences and facilities.

      With regards to the hostels, we really hope coliving experience doesn’t have much to do with hostel experience. We’ve been to many hostels and yet to try coliving but it sounds exciting!

      Take care and hope to see you maybe somewhere in Bansko, as we’re becoming locals here! 🙂

  2. Ruby
    |

    Hello from NZ!
    I’ve just come across it in the last few days and I’m quite interested in becoming a backer and buying an apartment. It sounds like just the kind of crazy experiment I’d like to throw my life savings into haha. I love mountains also, and prefer living in remote areas though this does usually have the downside of not having much social interaction.. so it could be a good mix for me to have both.
    How do you feel like this project is tracking at the moment?
    Thanks for the additional photos and perspectives also. That looks like an overgrown bonfire pit you are standing next to outside?

    • Hi Ruby and hi to a favorite part of the world to us! It’s fascinating that people from the other end of the world are interested in Coliving Semkovo! The project is on track we believe, but it’s always better to follow for updates on the website (https://www.colivingsemkovo.com/) or even better on Facebook (https://m.facebook.com/100086931782909/). There are about 70 backers at the moment.

      And yes, this used to be e bonfire. The whole area, the building as well, has just so much potential. When we visited, our imagination went crazy with all the things that can be done there.

      So if you’re headed to Europe soon, we highly recomment joining on of the tours they make – it really makes the difference. 🙂