Buying A House in Italy – Part 7

Buying A House in Italy – Part 7

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
9 Missing Doors.
9 Missing Doors Who?
Who took them? I don’t care they’re back!!

We went to the house with the Estate Agent and Uncle Francesca and there they were, all neatly stacked with intact door frames still attached. I learn that they are what they call ‘Madonna’ Doors – the door frames attach to the wall and the doors hang from them. We were going to go down the route of charging them for getting the doors rehung but we have put up much more difficult doors in our years of house renovations (you could say we are well hung?) so we would rather do it ourselves and not involve them anymore and just move on.

As expected Uncle Francesca launches into a long story about the doors which Laura, the Estate agent’s assistant, is translating for us – It wasn’t cousin Marco as she first thought, it was Cousin Vincent! (well the Italian equivalent of the name which I am unsure of the spelling of so we’ll just call him Cousin Vinny). Like Cousin Marco, Cousin Vinny was out for revenge on Uncle Francesca over the dispute since the 1974 family inheritance incident. I now feel a bit bad that I had convicted Uncle Francesca for the door robbery without a proper trial. As we’re going to meet Cousin Vinny at the final signing, she couldn’t blame him without it being true. She’s very apologetic, I tell her not to worry, it’s water under the bridge, I jest that she give’s me Cousin Vinny’s number and I’ll sort him out.

After the door inspection we go to the Notary’s office to pay the deposit and get things moving to the final signing. I can see how there is a 45 year family dispute – Uncle Francesca, the little crumpled 4 foot 10 lady, causes arguments. At the office, she argues again about the document the notary asked her to get, which the only thing holding up the finalising the sale. The notary tries to keep calm and explains again and again and again what she needs to do to get the document and finally says she will write the document for Uncle Francesca to give to the judge to sign. Uncle tries but can’t seem to come with a decent objection to this.

Then Uncle Francesca disputes my request for the keys to be left with the notary, she wants to hold on to the keys, so that she can shame Cousin Vinny into returning the missing furniture also. The notary doesn’t want them and Marco, the estate agent, wants to give them to us. Marco ends up raising his voice at her, accompanied by flailing arms and lots of hand gestures. Basically he does not want to have to drive the hour from his office every time I need to have access to allow builders in to give us quotes on the work to be done and it was agreed at the last meeting with the owners that we would get the keys upon payment of deposit. We are given the keys.

On the way home we get a text from the Estate Agent to say Uncle Francesca will follow up about the furniture but here’s Cousin Vinny the thief’s, phone number just in case. Data protection really isn’t a thing here it seems. What do you think we should do with it?? Send him disturbing texts in the middle of the night? Songs by the Doors perhaps?

It’s early February and all we are waiting for is the Power of Attorney letter with the correct wording which Uncle Francesca needs to get redone in court in the next few weeks. So we find and fix a date that all eight owners (from Milan, Florence and Rome) can meet to sign over the house to us.

The date is set, the date our family history is to start a new chapter in Italy will be the 10th of March … but instead that date turned into a dark chapter of Italian history, it was the first day of the Covid Pandemic Lockdown. Everything was put on hold, not only the final signing meeting, but also all our summer wedding work which we had budgeted to pay for the renovations. Our world and the world around us suddenly became very wobbly.

Buying A House In Italy – Part 6

Buying A House In Italy – Part 6

I get a long email the night the doors go missing from two of the eight owners – a cousin and her mother who live in Milan, pleading with me not to back out of the sale, they have spoken to all the other parties involved and assured me none of them were thieves and how we must find a solution. The estate agent had told me that these two owners were very religious and would not lie. But at this point I don’t know who to trust, I’m also wondering how did she got my email address to write me a plea letter, data protection seems to have gone out the window or out nine empty doorways in this case.

I think about it and answer:

‘At the meeting last week we specified about the furniture – it is old but I can renovate it. When we visited the house on Sunday and saw how the doors had been ripped away we were very upset. We had began to feel the house was our home and it now felt like someone had ripped it’s heart out. It always looked abandoned but fixable with a bit of hard work and loving care and we had a nice feeling when in it, now it just looks and feels like a slum.

‘As it happened within 48 hours of us signing for the house, and after the house having been untouched for 10 years, we thought that one of the owners, felt it was their right to take what they felt was theirs from the house including the doors. We were not accusing anyone of being thieves, we just thought they misunderstood the agreement, and perhaps they thought we were going to get rid of the doors and replace with something modern and thought it would be okay.

‘We just want to get the doors back. However that does not seem possible now if it was not someone in the family. The doors are not really replaceable as they are all different sizes and made to measure. We were just so shocked.’

To us this seems similar to us offering to buy a car on a Friday and then arriving to collect it on the Monday and the owner says someone has stolen the engine but we are still expected to buy it.

‘A house is not a house without doors and to get doors the same as the ones that are left in the house will be impossible I think, so the only solution if the doors found, is to replace all 22 doors which are estimated at one thousand euro each and the price is deducted from the final balance.   

‘However, there is still a possibility the doors will be found, there are CCTV cameras in the town and we know the colour of the van and the time it was there so the police will find the number plate I am sure. Also my mother in Ireland is praying hard to St Anthony that the lost doors will be found, she has a very strong connection with the Almighty and also is very good at putting curses on those that do wrong.’ …

Yes, I have lied all the way through this email. I am in no doubt that it was one of the owners, I do not believe there was any misunderstanding, I don’t know if there are CCTV cameras in town and my mother is not praying to St Anthony nor is she a witch, but my thinking is that this email would be forwarded on to all the owners and whoever took the doors would see it. If the thought of getting a large chunk of the sale price reduced, or if the fear of the police didn’t scare them into returning the doors, then the fear of God or an Irish witch cursing them might? I was using all my bullets.

That evening I took out my Tarot cards and asked about the doors, I got The Magician and The Sun – so my interpretation of that is that the doors will ‘magically reappear’.

On Saturday nearly a week after the doors had been taken, I texted the estate agent and said, ‘if the doors are not coming back, I need to make an appointment for the carpenter to come out and measure up for new ones so the owners know how much they will be paying.’

Text response: ‘There is good news about the doors. I update you soon, Don’t make a carpenter appointment yet.’

Hmmmm. So I go to the Arezzo Antique Market the next day, with an aim of buying something for the house, anything at all, just something to make me feel it is still going to be ours. Without thinking I buy a set of Art Nouveau door handles for €20 … just as I pay for them, the estate agent texts me: ‘Great news! All nine doors were taken back to the house, they are on the ground floor.’

It’s a miracle! She wants me to go ‘visit’ the doors with Uncle Francesca on Wednesday. But I have said ‘no’, we’ll go see them next week when the estate agent is available. I want a translator there as I am dying to hear her explanation. Perhaps I should bring flowers and a ‘Welcome Home’ card?

If all is well, we will go to the notary, pay the deposit and the estate agent’s fee on the condition that the owners leave the keys with the notary, and the owners do not have access to the house once we pay the deposit – just incase they take a liking to the windows also. So it seems positive but I’m not believing until I see them. I wonder if it was the fear of God, the police or an Irish curse that did it?

Buying A House in Italy – Part 5

Buying A House in Italy – Part 5

I text the estate agent, my upset has turned to anger. To replace those doors will cost thousands as they are all slightly different sizes. I tell them that we need all doors returned or replaced and the furniture as agreed otherwise we will not be proceeding with the purchase. We are sure it must be Uncle Francesca and she may be intending to return for more as there were two other doors taken off their hinges. So she needs to be stopped before doing anymore damage to the house.

Within an hour they have spoken to Uncle Francesca  but she knows absolutely nothing. They have warned all the owners.  ‘Tomorrow we’ll find out who did this and get you back all the doors’.

The estate agents ask us to meet with them and the geomtera at house the following morning to look at the situation and find a solution. We agree, although, I’m not sure why we are meeting to look at the empty spaces where there used to be doors and I can’t think of a solution other than the doors be returned or replaced.

We meet the next day and Uncle Francesca is there too. She’s being very dramatic. She’s using the word ‘terrible’ a lot. The estate agents are looking very embarrassed, “This is not normal. This is not normal in Italy.”

We walk around the house all together slowly to look at the spaces where the missing doors had been, I’m still not sure why, maybe they are hoping they will miraculously reappear? The house looked sad before but now it looks like a slum.

Everyone other than us is denying it is a family member. The whole time Uncle Francesca doesn’t stop lamenting and talking.

Then she announces a neighbour saw a white van there on Sunday morning.

On the sofa in the hall there are piles of old books ready to go in the next collection. Romance novels mostly, Readers Digests from the 70s. A plastic sewing box with scraps of lace, two faded pictures from the wall and an old fake gold drinks trolley.

Our son notices a perfect cross shaped clean mark on the wall above the bed, a crucifix has been removed.

There’s also an old copy of a ‘Children of Fatima’ book on top of the romance novels. So we are guess the ‘thief’ is religious … the irony is not lost.   

I make the point that it has to be one of the owners – the house has not been touched for 10 years, who else would turn up with a van during daylight within 24 hours of us signing to buy it? She’s still talking a mile a minute, hands are going everywhere, she is re-enacting and piecing the whole crime scene together in front of our eyes.

And just like any good 70s crime series, her re-enactment gives her a sudden revelation, she concludes that it must have been the devil cousin Marco wanting to get his revenge on her about the dispute over the other inheritance. The neighbour’s description of the man with the van fits the  cousin’s description perfectly.

Up to this point I was still convinced it was Uncle Francesca in the kitchen with the crowbar but now I’m leaning towards Colonel Marco in the library with the candlestick.

“But why the piles of romance novels in the living room?” I ask. Uncle Francesca’s answer is very animated and high pitched. “He was searching for secret documents about the last inheritance,” Laura translates.

Of course!

Mario, who is nothing short of twiddling the end of a handlebar moustache he doesn’t have, makes a statement to Uncle Francesca, “I will NOW bring you to make a police report. Perhaps they have cc footage of the van in the village.” Uncle Francesca, is flapping about a bit, looking through the box of lace scraps. She looks at her watch. “Si si. We go now.”

They return shortly. The police station is closed for lunch.

Mick Kelly has turned up, he knows an artisan carpenter who can make doors from old wood that will replicate the others. We agree that the cost will be deducted from the amount we pay at the final signing.

… However, me thinks the doors will magically reappear.

Join us again next Monday for the next instalment of this game of Umbrian Cluedo and the case of the Missing Doors.

Buying a House in Italy – Part 4

Buying a House in Italy – Part 4

We file into the office to sign the Compromesso . There is ‘Uncle’ Francesca at the top of the table, and there are three middle aged cousins, Chiara and Paulo who are sister and brother and Marco who looks like he had a late night out on the town and just stopped by on his way home.

Also in the room there are the estate agents, the geometra, Lizzy the notary at the top of the table, and on our side of the table Laura, Ronan, me and our friend Lucia who is there to be our interpreter.   

So we are all ready. Lizzy begins to read the 20 page document. She gets half way through the first sentence and ‘Uncle’ Francesca pipes up with a protest. I catch Paulo looking at the ceiling and muttering ‘Mama Mia’. Lizzy’s lips are getting tighter, Uncle Francesca has a bunch of papers in her hand from her ever growing large file, she’s quite irate, Lizzy waits till Francesca burns out everything that she has to say and then calmly says something back. But it sets Francesca off ranting again. Marco’s phone is ringing, he takes the call.

All of a sudden Lucia, who is supposed to be here just to translate, is shouting at ‘Uncle’ Francesca. The estate agent is nodding in agreement.

I whisper loudly, “Lucia what the frock is going on?”

“She’s crazy, she thinks she knows better than the notary about getting the court document changed. No one knows more than the notary. That is why she studied for years, you don’t argue with the notary, it is like arguing with a judge you just do what they tell you to do. And that is what I told her.”

The notary continues to read, Marco continues his call. If Francesca is going to object to every sentence I can’t imagine how long this will take.

Twelve pages in and we have had no further interruptions just a few fact checks back and forth between the geometer and the notary. It was all going well until the part we came to about the buildings that need to be destroyed.

It’s a heated discussion, everyone except our side of the table is ranting. Sure I might as well join in. “Scusi” I shout, the room quietens, “Momento”, I’m quickly running out of all the Italian words I know.  “I need to know what is being said, so can you kindly wait until Lucia has time to translate for me.”

“They must agree to destroy the buildings before you can buy it.”

“Which buildings need to go?” I know the one at the end of the garden has to go but which of the two others, the garage or the side building? I point to the plans where both are called ‘Fondo’. “It is not these, these are okay they have the permissions. It is the attachment to the back.” She’s talking about the small ugly perspex porch at the back door. 

“That?! … That’s brutto,(ugly) I’d have that down by myself in an hour, we were getting rid of it anyway. We’ll take care of it. We’ll look after the destroying.”

The notary and geometer are looking at me a bit bewildered. “Si?”

“It’s Ronan’s birthday next week, I’ll buy him a sledge hammer.”

Lucia translates.

“But it’s a lot of work.”

“We are good at destroying things. If it speeds things up here, we’ll take the responsibility.”

“Okay then, if you are sure,” Lizzy scribbles notes in the margin.

By the time she is finished going through the document two hours have passed. Just as she is finished I say, “Can we note that it is sold as furnished?” I have done my research, I know that if you don’t state furnished in Italy then they can remove everything that is not screwed to the wall such as kitchens, light fittings, bulbs, sometimes bathroom suites and it’s important you note everything you want included in the sale. I’m thinking of the wrought iron bed, the marble table and the sofas I now want to upholster. There are also some nice light fittings.

The notary asks the three cousins, they are saying ‘si, si’ and shoulder shrugging, but I notice ‘Uncle’ Francesca looking flustered out the corner of my eye. “Okay?” asks the notary directly to Uncle. ‘Si’ she says, her hands lift off the table a little.

We’re now going to take a break, while the notary’s secretary makes the amendments to the deed.

Uncle is up on her feet, she takes her phone and explains she needs to go to the pharmacy. She’s gone out the door before we notice she has left her purse behind. Chiara runs after her with it.

Uncle Francesca is back quickly, the notary is still busy preparing the final document and Mario, Ronan and the geometer have gone outside for a cigarette.

Uncle sits and shuffles through her papers. Marco is looking at her, waiting for her to make eye contact, it’s not working so he says something to her. Silence falls in the room, I don’t know what he said but the atmosphere has shifted.  Within seconds their voices are raised at each other. I don’t know where to look, embarrassed for them having a full blown row here in front of strangers.

Paulo is on his laptop and his sister is scrolling through Facebook. She laughs and then shows Paulo a short video of a cat falling off a shelf, I know because she pushes it across the table to show me too, leaning under and avoiding Marco’s pointed finger at Francesca, “I have a cat like this!” she says loudly in Italian so that I can hear her above the shouting. Neither of them seem at all bothered that their cousin is shouting at their 78-year-old aunt and that she is alone in her fight back.

“What is happening?” I ask Laura.

“The cat missed the shelf.” she says laughing at the video.

“I mean with this.” I nod towards the war going on in the room that only I seem to be noticing.

“Ah, okay, they are arguing about a previous inheritance. He believes Uncle Francesca took more than she should have. It was in 1978 and their families have been arguing about this since then.”

I want to break into the theme tune of Frozen ‘Let it go’.

Chiara and Paulo are complaining of being starving. This quietens Marco and Uncle Francesca. If it is one thing Italians can mutually agree on is food, nothing interferes with their three hour lunch breaks. They are all agreeing that they are starving.

At last we get to sign the document and everyone leaves.

Two days later we stop by the house, I want to measure the shutters. Ronan tries the back door and it’s open, so we go in and walk around. Something doesn’t feel right, something has changed and I can’t put my finger on it. The house looks sadder, more derelict and I don’t know what it is. I notice a broken tile on the ground in the doorway of the kitchen and then I figure it out.

“Was there a door here before?”

We’re both standing staring at an empty doorway, wondering if there was a door there before. We walk through to the next room the door is off it’s hinges and lying against the wall.

“That’s odd… I think I would have remembered noticing that before.”

Ronan goes down the hallway. “There’s no door here either… There were doors, weren’t there?” We’re both doubting ourselves.

Then I remember that I took a walk through video on my phone, the last time we were here. I’m scrolling and eventually find it. I’m looking and looking and yes there it is, a door. There were definitely doors here and now they are gone!

I’m already running up the stairs. Three empty doorways, not just the doors gone but the frames also. And two more doors lie waiting against the wall waiting to be collected. The lock on the apartment has been busted open. We go to the next level, more doors and frames gone, plaster splattered on the floor from the walls where the frames have been prised from. All together there are nine doors gone and three more lined up to be taken.

Then I notice, the marble table and chairs and the wrought iron bed are also gone. “What the frock? No!”

I’m raging. I use Google translate and leave a scrawled note for Uncle Francesca. ‘Francesca, Return the doors and furniture or the deal is off.’

Come back next Monday for more 😉

If you missed Part 3 of Buying a House In Italy Click here to read it

Buying a House in Italy – part 3

Buying a House in Italy – part 3

Ten days later I’m at the supermarket and I get a call from Laura, “Good news, all the owners have signed the document to agree the offer price.”

“That is great news!”

“So today you need to come to the office to sign a document to acknowledge their signatures.”

“But your office is an hour away and I have gelato in my shopping trolly. I’ll come tomorrow.”

“Unfortunately that is not possible. It needs to be done within 10 days and today is the 10th day. You need to come today to sign that you agree.”

“What is it exactly that we need to sign … A document to say we accept, that they accept, the offer that we offered?”

“Yes that is correct.”

“How about I write a statement and email it to you to say I acknowledge, that they acknowledge the offer that we offered and email that to you today?”

She checks with the boss, “Yes that will do.”

I send it as soon as I get back while eating the gelato. Who said buying a house in Italy is difficult?

The next step for us is to elect a notary. These are scrupulous people who work on behalf of both sides of a property deal. My Italian friend says they spend longer studying and are more qualified than judges, as they have to keep updated with the ever changing property laws in Italy.

We found our notary, Elizabetta through Mick Kelly. ‘She is very, very, good.’ He has me at the second ‘very’. As soon as I meet her I like her, even though she didn’t smile once. She’s probably about 40, blonde, tanned, tall and thin. She’s wearing a Rolex. We rename her Lizzy for our own reference. 

A meeting is arranged at Lizzy’s office with the estate agents, Ronan, me and Uncle Francesca, who as always, has a large file of papers in front of her. Lizzy has done the legal checks of the documents with the town hall.

She opens the meeting with the statement; “There are buildings to be destroyed”.

I find Italians use the word ‘destroyed’ a lot when speaking in english, examples are; “I was working in the garden all day and now I am destroyed… I can’t come to dinner as I had three meetings today, I am destroyed.”

Everytime, I hear them describe themselves as being ‘destroyed’ I get an image of a Marvel character brought to their knees after being deprived of their energy source. Now my notary is saying buildings need to be destroyed, so I’m imagining spacecrafts dropping bombs in the garden as we speak. 

She is flicking through the plans and descriptions.

“Allora (a great word which means ‘so’), there are nine courtyards, four houses, a vineyard and three outbuildings – two of which need to be destroyed as they do not have the permissions.”

That word again. Cue evil laugh in my head before what she has just said reaches my brain.

“Wait, what did you just say about four houses and nine courtyards? … are we buying the village?”

Laura is quick to step in to explain. “The house is divided into four separate apartments.” She flashes some Italian at the notary and they are both laughing a little. “Apartments, NOT house buildings,” corrects Lizzy, smiling for the first time. She likes my joke about buying the village, which wasn’t meant as a joke.

“The family geometra will need to submit paperwork to get the house recognised as two units rather than four separate units. It can be considered two units for the sale, as one unit is not possible, after the sale your architect can submit it to be considered as one unit, one house. It is then possible.  Okay?”

I sort of get it but don’t.

“And what about the nine courtyards?… and vineyard?”

“Look.” Lizzy pushes the aerial view drawing outlining the property infront of me. The fenced garden has been sub divided into nine different sized quadrilaterals each with an assigned registry number. One which is in the middle of all the others is about three meters long and one meter wide.

“Why is it divided like this?” I ask.

Laura shrugs, “It is Italy. Often with inheritance things like this happen, each child is entitled to claim an equal amount of inheritance no matter what is written in the will. This is why we have property law professionals like Elizabetta who figure out inheritance property complications.”

“We need to ensure that all plots are listed during the sale” explains Lizzy in Italian, which I understand and so I explain to Ronan.

“Basically, it’s her job to ensure we are the owners of all the plots because otherwise the person who owns that central small plot, could come along, fence it off and be perfectly entitled to leave their savage rottweiler there.”

He’s looking impressed. “She said that and you understood?”

“Sort of.”

“What about the vineyard?”

“Perhaps there was a vineyard on the property at some point?”  says Laura.

My surprise expectation of owning the village has shrunk back down to reality.

Lizzy asks Uncle Francesca for the court document. She shuffles through her papers and hands a document over. The notary reads through it. She then is saying something factual to Uncle.

Uncle is responding sweetly smiling, lots of prayer like hand signals. They are both talking back and forth.

Laura translates, “Yes. Uncle Francesa has got the power of attorney document from the court to act on behalf of her aunt who has alzheimers who is also an owner, but the notary has told her she needs to go back to get it specified of the areas her aunt owns. Otherwise it could cause problems as now on the document it looks like she owns the whole property.”

Uncle Francesca’s sweetness and ‘I know-a nothing’ attitude while shuffling through papers is not going down well with the notary. She has stopped being sweet and is arguing back, but it’s not working, Lizzy is telling her firmly that she needs to go back and get it changed. I’ve a feeling Uncle Francesca up to something.

On the way home we stop at the house. The grass has been cut so we walk down the garden for the first time. Along the bottom boundary there is a shed built with yellow cement bricks, although they are difficult to see as most of the building is covered in thick ivy. The shed seems to be divided into four rooms. This is one of the buildings that needs to be DESTROYED. We peer through the ivy and can see cobwebbed shelves, old suitcases, boxes and possibly a barrel. We’ll need to come more prepared to get through the ivy.

In front of the shed that needs to be DESTROYED there is a path of concrete posts, used to hold up vines in old Italian vineyards. On the posts nearest the shed that needs to be DESTROYED, there are still five old vines, badly in need of pruning. “Ah here’s our vineyard!”

The estate agents have stopped by the house too, to meet the geometra and Uncle Francesca is there to let them in. She’s scurrying towards her car with a bag, she gives a little wave but seems to be looking guilty. We take the opportunity to look around inside again. Yes, we still want it, more than ever.

In the glass cabinet there are large neat clean dots in the beige dust. “Ah crap she has taken the champagne glasses!”

She has the two ceramic jelly moulds and some rosary beads are on the table near the door ready to go. She is one of the owners and perfectly entitled to take what she wants, I just wish she had cleared them out in the 10 years previous instead of waiting until I had seen them.

“Are you happy about the meeting today?” asks Laura.

“Yeah, we’re just wondering how long is the process all going to take?” she shrugs.

From previous experiences if you had buildings without planning in Ireland or had to change a building’s purpose, it would take months for the plans to be approved, and for a document to be approved in court you could be on a long waiting list. We needed to do all three of these and Italy is notorious for being very slow with all it’s bureaucracy. I’m beginning to rapidly loose hope of a quick sale.

“Perhaps two months” she says apologetically.

“Oh really? That quick?” I’m feeling hopeful again.

A few weeks later I get a text from Laura.

“We can proceed to the preliminary deed (Compromesso) next Friday, it is the date that all the owners can be there.” 

“All the owners will be there?”

“Yes it is law in Italy that all the owners must be present for the reading of the final deed. For the Compromesso next week, six of the owners will be there, for the final deed all eight will be there…”

Eight owners? I thought there were six.

“But I need to warn you,” Laura continues, “some of them do not get on with each other and no longer speak.”

I’m now looking forward to the meeting like a long awaited movie, will there be fist fights? I’m thinking of bringing popcorn.

If you missed PART 1 of Buying our House in Italy click here

If you missed PART 2 of Buying our House in Italy click here

Buying a House In Italy Part 2 – The Offer

Buying a House In Italy Part 2 – The Offer

We hadn’t really planned to find a house so early in our pre-preliminary-pre-search stage.

But here we were, going to an estate agent to sign something, about something to do with buying a house with a lot of potential if you squint.

We walked down the centre office aisle lined with five or six agents at their desks to a back glass partitioned office. I wasn’t imagining it, they were definitely staring at us with awe and big smiles. I was having my red carpet moment, I felt there was a strong possibility of a spondanious standing ovation. ‘Brava, BRAVA for buying the unsellable house, you are so brave … (or possibly stupid), but Brava anyway for taking it off our hands … you mad Irish.’

Mario the head Estate agent and Laura his assistant who also acts as translator, sits opposite us at the boardroom table.

First we established that we want to include the field with planning in the sale. I fancy the idea of having a big garden with no possibility of someone else coming along and leaving a half built house beside ours.

There is a four page standard, but very detailed, form produced by the estate agency to be completed, called the ‘Proposta Di Acquisto’ which means ‘Purchase Proposal’.  We are thankfully given an english version. He starts to ask us questions, name, date of birth, country of residency … I know all these answers we are doing well. He hands me the Italian version to check the details. In the area where it says we commit to buy the property, the price entered is 130k.

“This is incorrect” I say. Laura translates.

“We never offered 130, it was 120.”

“No it was 130”, he says via Laura.

“No it was definitely 120. I know it was 120, as I don’t know how to say 130 in Italian so I couldn’t have said it.” I think that was a fair argument.

“But with the field and the planning and the wells the property is worth much more than this, 130 is more than reasonable.”

“The property is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.” says the wise Ronan. “We understand that it is a great property but we are only prepared to offer 120.” I’m nodding, he’s so wise. Then he says, “Take it or leave it.” I stop nodding, I am screaming at him through telepathy “NO don’t say that!”

I’m holding my breath incase they say, “Leave it then”.

“Yes I agree,” Laura says nodding at Ronan. “It has great potential but there is A LOT of work.” The three of us are nodding now, like we’ve all suddenly developed Parkinson’s. Laura is lovely and honest and seems to forget she is there working for the company and not for us.

We’re now chatting about the potential of the house.

Mario interrupts, his voice is getting louder. He thinks Laura has been translating what he said and doesn’t realise that we have been just talking about claw footed baths.

Laura translates something we said, or is making up something we said, about the price staying at 120k. Mario’s voice is getting louder he is gesticulating with his hands, Laura is getting red blotches on her neck, I feel bad for her caught in the middle. Mario is talking a mile a minute. We have no idea what he is saying, but his hands are flying all over the place and he’s getting more and more animated. Every now and then he directs his litany at us forgetting that we don’t understand a word, I just sit smiling at him. What else can I do? It is difficult to interpret how Italians are feeling by their tone of voice alone. They could be saying ‘The weather is nice today, I think we’ll go for a picnic’ and it sounds like they are having a massive argument. The opposite also applies, they could be saying, ‘I will kill you and all your family’ and make it sound like an undiscovered melody.

Mario stands up suddenly and drops or throws, I don’t know which as I missed the movement, his pen on the table and walks out of the room.

“What’s happening?” Ronan mutters to me, he seems to think I have suddenly become fluent in Italian.

“I don’t know!… Did he drop or throw the pen on the table? …If he dropped it then perhaps he’s taking a toilet break, if he threw it, then perhaps he’s doing it for dramatic affect?”

“What is he doing?” I ask Laura.

She shrugs, “I don’t know.”

We watch Mario stomp towards the front door.

Not understanding Italian while house negotiating was in our favour. If we knew Italian,  we would have argued and then perhaps met in the middle or called him back to the room and caved just to calm him down, but at that moment we are unsure if he was trying to sneakily increase the agreed price by 10k on signing by way of a pretend tantrum at our preposterous offer, or if he has eaten a dodgy lasagne the night before.

By now he has reached the front door and is standing outside glancing in towards the room to see if we are coming to pacify him with a better offer, but we aren’t. He’s at a loss as to what to do, so he starts to pick at the plants in the window box.

“I am sorry you are stuck in the middle.” I say to the rattled Laura, I am afraid she will get the blame for not persuading us and loose her job.  “I have a solution, I will call Mick Kelly and get him to negotiate on our behalf.”

Mick Kelly is a local architect we had talked to about the house before the meeting. His name is ‘Michele’ which sounds like Mick Kelly, and a likely name to see on the side of a construction van in Ireland. Mick Kelly has a wonderful soft voice. Not in a sleazy smooth way but soft and calming. He’s like an Italian version of Jesus Christ, you feel you could trust him with anything.

Before Mario gets back to the room I have Mick Kelly on the phone and I have explained that there was a ‘misunderstanding’ of the price and could he talk to the upset Mario. I hand the phone to Mario who rants for a full five minutes to Mick Kelly and then hands the phone back to me.

“He said the price agreed with the owners is 130 thousand.”

“But we didn’t offer 130, that price was never mentioned, and we told him our limit was 120, that 10 will pay for alot of windows… Do you think we should go up in price?”

“I think we try to stick with 120 and see what happens.”

I hand the phone back to Mario, we can hear the soothing tones of Mick Kelly’s voice responding to Mario. I hear Mick Kelly mention the road, the train track, the 10 years of abandonment, the possibility of the house deteriorating into a ruin if left another winter. Mario is listening to his reasoning, drawing little invisible shapes on the table with his finger nail. Soon Mario is saying “Si… si…”

Then he laughs, Mick is sounding animated, but still in a soothing Jesus Christ way. “Si, si, si” says Mario, they are now talking like old buddies. If Mick Kelly was here Mario would be slapping him on the back.

Mario hangs up and the change in his humour is nothing short of miraculous. He talks directly to Laura for a minute and they both stand up. He is smiling and leaning over the table to shake our hands.

“It is agreed!” Laura says triumphantly.

“What is?”

“The price for 120.”

For the house and the land?”

“Yes!” she exclaims. Mario’s will call the six owners and get them to agree and then do up the new agreement which you will sign on Friday in your architect’s office after his appointment to see the house.”

We’re shaking hands and Mario is nothing short of cracking open the champagne.

Six owners? I thought there were three? Never mind.

The following Friday we are back in the house with Mario and Mick Kelly, who is impressed by the central staircase. The house is divided into four living quarters for the four families that once lived here; three similar apartments on each floor on the right side of the house and a two-up, two-down on the other with a walk in attic on the third floor on the left side of the house.

A lot of old Italian houses were purposely built divided into separate living spaces so that when children grew they would have a marital home to themselves. Often it resulted in four generations living under the same roof but in their own self-contained living space with separate entrance staircases on the exterior usually.

Mick Kelly likes the detail on the door surrounds, he dismisses the cracks in the stonework, it has stood for 100 years already. The roof will need to be completely replaced, not just repaired, so will the windows, electrics and plumbing. It’s on mains water, sewerage and natural gas.

I’m starting to notice the furniture that has been left. There’s a beautiful single wrought iron bed with an amber inset, that needs some TLC. There are about 20 saucer champagne glasses in a glass front 60s style-unit and a dusty bottle of champagne. There’s a mix mash of veneered bulky antique style furniture, several sofas and armchairs, a marble table and chairs, and a lot of cheap furniture that was popular in the 60s and 70s. One room still has books and papers piled on a drawer unit. And there is the spooky room – a walk in attic with no light source but we see outlines of objects, including a bath and what looks like an old gramophone stand perhaps. Like the TV show ‘Storage Wars’, there could be gold in there or a lot of stuff that will end up costing us money to get rid of, we’re buying it blind, only able to look in from the door but without the advantage of light.

We go to Mick Kelly’s office and sign the agreement. I learn that in Italy you must sign your full name and it must be legible. So if you have a doctor’s scrawl style signature which mine has sort of turned into, you need to develop a new signature in an instant. I revert to the one I spent days perfecting in 1982 when, as a 10-year-old,  I felt it was important to practice in preparation of becoming famous. It was an adaptation of my favourite celebrity’s signature – Miss Piggy. Luckily I still remembered how to do it, just this time without the love heart on the ‘i’ and not so many swirls.

This would be the first of many times that I use my Miss Piggy signature on the many pieces of paperwork involved when buying a house in Italy.

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