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.
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.
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.”
“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
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?”
“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
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.
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1. Start Searching Online
Search houses for sale online for about five years, dreaming of a ‘maybe someday’ possibility. Villas with pools and frescoed ceilings to caves which once housed three families during harder times. Castles to crumbling trulli, anything is game.
Decide to make the move to Italy, life is too short to wait around. Or like us, when your country’s economy crashes and you loose your income and have your home repossessed by the bank, decide to move to a country you can actually afford to have a nice life in, our No.1 choice was Italy. Rent for a couple of years and then consider buying when you are back on your feet.
2. Filter Your Choices to Suit Your Budget
Become realistic and filter your search by the area you want. Try not to cry when you see that a modest three bedroom house in the town you love will cost about €420k. Try a different approach and filter your house search by price. You’re left with the caves and crumbling messes. Maybe with a lick of paint, they would be okay? … Go back to looking at the pretty ones in the area you want with a pool… or at least some windows.
3. Arrange Viewings
Take a leap and arrange some viewings. Just for the fun of it. Sure why not, it’s okay to dream and you have to start somewhere. Don’t disregard the houses the estate agent tries to talk you out of… ‘on the market for 10 years … ALOT of work to be done… I will send you photos of the interior… you still want to view it?? … Did you receive the photos?’
Remain open minded and visit the ones with pools and the one with cobwebs worthy of a starring role in a black and white Tarzan movie – the type of cobwebs the baddies got caught in just before they sank into the quick sand. Broken windows, tattered furniture left behind, scenic sky views through the roof, waist high grass that moves ahead of you. You’ve progressed from Tarzan movies to Jurassic Park. Your husband walking a few metres ahead pauses and shouts back casually ‘a snake just went over my foot’. It suddenly feels like you’re walking on Madusa’s head as the ground moves beneath your feet. You laugh hysterically and run towards the electric gate that is no longer electric.
4. Be Fooled By TV Programmes
Two weeks later be captivated by a new TV show, where a couple buy a chateau in France and do it up. She’s cutting wallpaper shapes and sticking them on the wall, they’re shining up copper pans and hanging them in the kitchen. They haven’t fixed the roof but that does not seem to matter. They’re laughing, having a great time.
“We could do that”. Your mind goes back to the house of cobwebs.
He knows what you are talking about, he hesitates but says it anyway. “It is a beautiful house.”
You may have renovated before and said “never again”. You may, like us, have renovated homes twice before and said “never, ever again”. It’s sort of like childbirth, you are screaming ‘Don’t you ever come near me again’ at your husband while doing the last push, but then something happens to your brain once the baby is born, you forget the pain of your body being ripped in half and something as simple as the smell of a new born baby’s head, has you all doe eyed again and saying, “Let’s have another”. It’s how the human race has continued to go on, and how old houses manage to get renovated apparently.
Cobwebs, snakes, we’ve got this. ‘It would be an amazing house.’
“Look at them”, you point at the TV, “they never renovated before, we have, look how happy they are”.
“We could do that.” You don’t realise you are basically smelling a baby’s head and forget that this is TV. The screaming arguments of assembling furniture together, sewerage splashing in your face, the despair as a ceiling collapses and the horror of never ending bills for work that is not even visible, such events have been edited out of the TV show. You’ve renovated before, it didn’t end well, how are you seeing this through rose tinted glasses? You find yourself texting the estate agent to arrange another viewing.
5. A Second Viewing
The estate agent is surprised at your choice, “not the cute one with the pool?”. She brings the senior boss, she is young and has never handled crazies before.
While you are waiting for the estate agent, a woman in her late 70s or early 80s wanders into the garden. The viewing begins, she tags along. You try to quietly say to the estate agent that she’s not with you, you think she’s just a nosy neighbour until half way through the viewing you find out she’s one of the owners. One of eight owners in fact. You are told her name is ‘Uncle Francesca’.
You’re left to look around the interior by ourselves. The second time around the cobwebs are not noticed, the light plays through the shutters highlighting possibilities of beauty to be recreated. Built in 1923 some of the original furniture is still there, you’ve never reupholstered anything but now you have a sudden urge to do so.
You return to the courtyard where ‘Uncle’ Francesca is collecting the caca fruit into an enamel po she has taken from the house. The estate agent is helping her with the fruit from the higher branches. He’s eating one of the orange fruits, which you know is similar to trying to eat a water balloon. Between slurps he points out the features he thinks you will be amazed by, the lake view … you can’t see it because the trees that have grown in the last 10 years block it, they are on public land so you know they will never be cut down but that is okay, a lake view was not the appeal, you know you can walk two minutes and be at the lake front.
There are two wells on the land and he quotes their amazing depth…. ah yes wells… the reason for many childhood nightmares and now possible death traps to your cats, they will be the first things covered up. You like the idea of your own water source but as you are not an Italian farmer, nor someone who has experienced massive drought, the appeal seems to have been lost on you.
Planning permission for another house. While this sounds like a great investment possibility you are not a property mogul, you are looking for a potential home. There are 21 rooms in the house, there are three of you, so why would we need to build another house?
He hasn’t grabbed you on any of his big sale points but what he doesn’t realise is the house has captivated you. As soon as you walked in you felt it was home. It wrapped it’s arms around you and made you feel safe … and happy. You wanted to linger. The ceiling mould and rising damp, is more beautifully labelled in Italy as ‘humidity’ invoking tropical tones of rainforest rather than rain, floods and cold, which the word ‘damp’ conjures up back in Ireland.
6. The Offer
You are told the asking price is €240k which is down by over 100k from the previous year. They are quick to state it’s negotiable. Uncle Francesca let it slip during the viewing that only one other person has come to view it in the three years it has been with this estate agent.
You judge that there is about €150k worth of work to be done to make the house a home. It’s a non-runner. The estate agent asks what price range are you looking in. You decide that this is a good time to practice saying numbers in Italian which you have just learnt in class this week. You say for a house needing work, you can afford €120k.
’Impossible!’ he laughs ‘the site with planning for the other house is worth that alone’.
What is he talking about? You were just telling him the price range of houses you are thinking about in the far off future, when you may decide to buy. You know the house when renovated would be worth close to half a million, but you do not have €250k to buy it and renovate it.
‘They can keep the site, we’ll just take the house,” states your husband to the estate agent.
You nod… Why are you nodding? Oh yeah you are just cheering him on in this unplanned game. It’s just a bit of fun.
The estate agent goes back to Uncle Francesca who is swatting a wasp from her face and running around the tree but then is distracted by a plump caca. The estate agent’s assistant is talking and you are trying to find a gap in the conversation so you say goodbye. You’re not listening to what she is saying as you are thinking about what to have for dinner.
The estate agent returns, “They will accept €150k”.
“No we can’t do, thanks anyway”.
“Arrivederci”. You wave at the old lady.
7. Offer Acceptance
While sitting in the car on the way home, you’re both laughing about the whole experience, but also talking about how amazing the potential is, it would be a fantastic space for someone to buy to host creative group retreats in Italy.
You stop into the supermarket to buy your dinner ingredients. On the wine aisle you get a text from the estate agent. “On Tuesday come to our office at 11am to sign the sale agreement.”
You catch up with your husband at the fruit and veg section. “Do we need bananas?” he asks, holding a bunch in his hand.
“Ehhh I think we’ve just bought a house?”
“I think they have accepted our offer on that house?”
“Did we put in an offer?”
“For how much?”
“I think I said €120k? I’m not sure I tried saying it in Italian.”
‘Ohhh… For just the house or the house and the field with planning permission?”
“I have no idea, but it seems we are signing for it on Tuesday?”
It’s a great house for that price. A steal! But… what would we do with such a big house?”
“Host creative groups who want a retreat in Italy?”
“That’s really not a bad idea … Did you say, if we needed bananas?”
You go back to the wine aisle and buy a bottle of Prosecco, unsure if it is to celebrate or to block out the confusion. Have you just decided to buy massive renovation project plus start a new business, in the space of time it takes to decide if you are short of bananas?
Apparently you have. It’s exciting but there’s also a creeping fear that there is quicksand ahead and not just a puddle, but a whole lake of it.
And that’s how you find a house in Italy the Rosie way. It’s all about being at one with bananas.
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