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.
“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.