Some years ago in a movie, Under The Tuscan Sun, a divorced California teacher on a gay Italian tour bus suddenly had a thought to buy an old house in Tuscany. She had a lightning moment, jumped off the bus and in one scene later signed the papers and to complete the deal. What a romantic story that was! (Ok, the music helped a lot) How twisted the facts of obtaining a home in Italy! I always wonder how many people, after viewing that movie, decided to act on their romantic dream to buy a house in Italy but were beaten down by the process. I have read stories of more than a few.
Hollywood made it look so easy to buy, sign the papers and the very next day pick up the key. What happened to all that Italian bureaucracy! Paperwork pushed around, titles rubber stamped with a bang, bank wirings, notarizings, lawyers, it goes on and on. You just don’t immediately move in.
Let’s say you get the bug, somehow obtain a visa to allow you to stay longer than three months and you decide to unload your bank account and buy a house. What happens, how do you start?
The Big Sell
Before I begin to explain the reality, let me explain the comparison between America and Italy by telling you how my home in Northern California was sold a few years ago. I have readers from many countries and I need to compare selling in America to how it is done in Italy.
In order to sell our house in California our agent told us that we needed “stage” our home, and during two weekends they would serve munchies and wine while attracting other agents and possible buyers. He brought in a professional “stager” who also brought some special furnishing to spruce up the home. We had to move some furnishings around or to the garage and the result made our home look more like it came out of a magazine. I have to admit it worked like a charm and our agent got a bigger chunk of our sale in the process. It sold the first weekend. Now let’s compare this to how Italy does it.
Your Hunt Is On
You begin your fishing expedition to find the Italian house of your dreams by visiting a real estate office. My village has one and once in awhile I see an old fellow, resembling a short Rodney Dangerfield, hunched over a desk. He’s not there every day. Luckily he is there sitting and dreaming of the last sale he made more than 6 months ago. (Homes have not sold well here for the past 6 years.) He sees you, a sheep to be sheared, and hoping that your window shopping will bring him luck.
In The Window
|The Real Photo|
In Italy, when you visit a real estate office you will see only one or at the most two photos of the home offered. There is no finesse in this. The photos show an empty room, a window view, or the front of the home. You see one discouraging photo, no furnishings, nothing proudly displayed in Home and Gardens. You realize you are going to be groping in the dark to have any idea of what is available. It’s very difficult to imagine yourself vicariously living in quiet comfort in that photo when you see that cold empty room. You are going to have to drive to a lot of places to narrow down the possibilities find your ideal home.
I have to admit I do not understand this approach. Sellers are clearly not interested in attracting your interest with a extra photos of reality. There is no bait to catch you, the big fish, no photo book showing each room, front and back of the house and yard. This astounds me! That old guy sitting behind that desk will make no effort to earn his commission. Actually, I am not sure they work by commission as everyone in Italy is salaried. For example, my car salesman never moved from his desk, and he admitted he was not on commission, hence he had no desire to move sales along. (another story)
However, what is more difficult to comprehend is the condition in which the homes are sold.
You park your car, and your agent is opening the front door. You walk in and there is nothing but walls, a ceiling and a floor. Total emptiness. The wires hanging from the ceiling explain the lack of lighting. There is nothing irresistibly charming. What is striking is that you notice that Italian homes are built with fewer and smaller windows saving construction costs, which makes the house feel quite dark small. (My neighbor, where I live below me, has only one window!)
You want to see the kitchen, of course, and you walk in and there is nothing, no countertops, no stove, no oven, no heater, no shelves, no window, no sink, no cabinets! The previous owner took them with him. Your moving in costs just shot through the roof. This is a reason that IKEA is very popular in Europe. They sell all the things you will need, complete with delivery and you can also have them build the furnishings for you. (Not an ad for IKEA but we used them for just about everything.)
Checking out the bedroom you find there are no built in closets, that Italians have to buy a wardrobe in which to place their clothes. IKEA again!. This wardrobe takes up some space in the bedroom, and must I tell you that Italian rooms are much smaller! All rooms are smaller. Bathrooms are smaller. Closets are unheard of here. Wires hang from the ceiling where light fixtures will be needed. You will see no carpet. This is not just an Italian thing, my friends who moved to Holland found that the previous owner had ripped the carpet from the floor and taken it with him. This buying of a completely empty home is not just an Italian thing.
And Then The Paperwork
I like the Tuscan movie, it has real charm and I think that with the movies we are making nowadays we need more like this one. I just wish they would come a little closer to the truth. I experienced the truth, and now you have a glimpse of my life in Italy. Ciao!