Our house purchasing experience in Italy.
It would be a long 4 months until we would set eyes on the 'little white house' again. Buying a house in Piemonte, Italy, is straight forward, mostly. The offer had been accepted in November after paying a 10% deposit of the house price directly to the vendor, Giovanni, and the closing, after some delays, was in February. The whole process was painless and extremely straightforward. I can say that, without doubt, this smoothness is due to the wonderful advantage of not having to hire a solicitor/lawyer to handle each side of the proceedings. Quite a relief with a tight budget and a conveyancing system that I think would be an asset in Ireland and in the UK, the wonderful Notario (notary) takes care of everything in Italy. The notary is one person, who handles both sides in a property purchase. A notary is considered legally qualified in Italy to handle conveyancing. I was a bit perturbed initially on discovering this, as, with a law degree myself, and multiple house purchasing history, this seemed a big risk. I even flirted with the idea of hiring a lawyer, just in case, and got some extortionate quotes, one helpful solicitor said the value of the property was too low for them to take on and kindly pointed out that it was unnecessary to hire a solicitor anyway, as the Notario takes care of exactly the same conveyancing work that a solicitor would do in Italy, so it would only double up the effort. It seems, from my research, that if the property involves very large parcels, or multiple parcels of land, or buildings, then a solicitor may be useful, particularly if there are land disputes etc. In a straightforward house and land purchase, without disputes, and with all property legal search documents coming up clean, just the notary is used to close the transaction. Happy days! We did, pragmatically, organise a surveyor to look at the structure of the house and the walls, which produced a positive report. After that we left it all to the notary and sat back, expecting this to be closed in time for Christmas 2015 and envisaging ourselves sipping hot chocolate wrapped in blankets taking in the sunshine. Not! Of course this Christmas treat didn't occur, as the whole of the notary system shuts down for 5 weeks over the Christmas holiday festivities. Our purchase expectations of 6 weeks, normal for most times of the year, particularly with empty houses, became 3 months, then the translator was away skiing and another one wasn't available until February. Eventually, what seemed like a far off date, loomed up very fast.
The next step was the pre-contract meeting at the notary office, about a month before the final date. I had to fly over for the day and attend the meeting with the Notario. I absolutely love this legal process, how efficient. Accompanied by my fantastically helpful Immobiliare, Natascia and Marco, for a bit of translating help, we attended the formal meeting in the grand settings of the Notario's office in Acqui Terme, Piemonte. A wonderful dark mahogany strewn office with gargantuan desk and heaps of paperwork and a mustached, silver haired, Notario, which made me sit up a little taller, as we were placed before him to examine the paperwork. I presented my codice fiscale, a necessary tax code, which was ordered back in November, you can't get far in Italy without one in any contract situation, including getting a mobile phone, which was another necessity and the number was entered into the documentation for this meeting, I had a SIM only Italian phone number conveniently purchased round the corner from the Notario's office. He went through every document carefully, making sure nothing was amiss. Then, out of nowhere, he banged the desk and looked incredulously at Natascia, quizzing her in fast Italian something about 'vini culture' and the parcellette of land Andrew had superbly negotiated with Giovanni to buy, as we required some more land to grow our agri business plans on. A keen investment and purchased at a normal price for scrubbed land in the region. Natascia kept calm and was explaining something to him about this, but he still seemed apoplectic, eventually he stopped his rapid dialogue and motioned to Natascia to explain to me what was being said. Apparently, he thought the land price too low for the value of the land, as the land was designated for vini culture only, vine growing. We knew this, but there wasn't actually any vines growing on the land, so we had got it at the regular price. In the end, after a lot of huffing and puffing on his part, all was settled and we carried on with the document checks. This 'vini culture' designation would come to haunt us in the future but not in a bad way fortunately.
The final meeting to exchange and sign the deeds over was organised and we booked 5 days off work for it. Giovanni, our vendor, offered us the use of the 'little white house' for our stay, saying it would be ours 2 days into the trip, so it made no sense to stay elsewhere. I was getting very used to saying, 'where would you get it'? The hospitality of this Italian region was transcending my lifetime of travelling experiences, they just are not caught up on the vicious ownership trappings of our Western homeland. Can you imagine staying in the house you are buying before you have closed on it, certainly I can't imagine this happening in Ireland, or the UK, it's quite unthinkable. So we moved into the 'little white house'; again Giovanni had prepared the fire for us and the place was toasty in the cold depths of winter. We were invited to a pre-closing dinner at his Langhe Hills farm down the road, with his family, again 'where would you get it'? Sipping on his homemade red wine we ate a casserole of rabbit and bathed in the warmth of his family. Getting by in very broken Italian and becoming more and more tipsy with the wine and the new world we had entered. To top the night off Giovanni broke into 'cantare', into song, singing songs in a wonderful singing voice from his childhood in Sardinia and a few romantic ballads. Fantastico!
The next day, Giovanni had arranged to pick us up and to have breakfast at his before we all drove to the Notario's together. Arriving at the Notary's office I was introduced to the translator, an extremely impressive English speaking lady who would be sat next to me, on my left, during the closing and would translate everything said, this is a necessity and one the non Italian speaker pays for. It was a very formal meeting, a bit like a registry office wedding. Giovanni was sat to the right me, both of us sat one side of the mahogany desk, facing the notary. Our guests, Andrew and Giovanni's family and of course our trusty immobiliare, Natascia and Marco were sat behind us and to the sides. The Notary had the local Notary from the 'little white house's closest notary office in to officiate and there were multiple assistants bustling around. This time all went smoothly, until the bank drafts. Earlier that day, I had visited the bank, having set this account up in a bank close to the Notary, on the pre-contract visit day. I had all the bank drafts, one for the notary, the translator, the immobiliare and Giovanni and his wife Anna but one of the invoices was incorrect by a few euro's and the proceedings were interrupted, while I and Natascia legged it, in our high heels, to the bank to fix this and run back, as the Notary was under time pressure. All the financial payments have to be paid to the notary in draft form and then he passes them to the respective people in the room, keeping everything clean and above board. A very important point when buying a house in Italy, make sure to have a bank account set up in the bank near the notary's office that is handling the transaction.
Eventually, the signing took place and after signing my signature about 100 times on all the duplicated contracts it was done. The house was bought. We all hugged and clapped, just like a wedding and for good measure, I kid you not, we had a group photo taken of all of us in the room, including the notary and his team, before we all headed off for a celebratory lunch. Bizarrely amazing.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions on buying a house in Piemonte.
Next chapter in our Piemonte adventure
Racing to the estate agents to put the offer in to buy the house, was of course completely out of proportion to the urgency of house buying in the Piedmont region of Italy. There probably was no need to see the agent for weeks into the future, there was no race against time, as houses move so slowly here, the locals preferring to live in the towns and the, holiday home buying, tourists thin on the ground. But as an agent myself, albeit in recruitment, if I get a whiff of a competitor closing in on one of my clients, I up my game, determined not to lose out. I half expected the local town agent to be doing exactly this, calling everyone he knows to find a buyer for the beautiful, Langhe Hills, ‘little white house’, to make it up to his Mama and get back in her good books, or at least that is what I would do in his shoes. Looking back on it, with some distance, I think this was unlikely, after all, our house was one of the cheapest on his books, most of his houses were 3 or 4 times the value, would he really be bothering, or just write it off to complacency, who knows. We, competitive sales people that we are, were not taking the risk and we arranged to meet at Natascia’s Casa Futura’s office at 3pm, an agonising 6 hour wait, as she was busy until then, my creative imagination imagined her showing our house to other prospective buyers, (which she wasn't). After this painful wait, we eventually set off for Acqui Terme, pedal to the metal, as fast as the country roads would allow and the frustrating, 50kmph speed camera restriction, villages along the way would permit.
We, composing ourselves, entered her building, a lovely older, typical Acqui Terme office building, with ornate doors and, climbing, marble stairs, into her very large office. Herself and Marco, her husband greeted us warmly and we hurriedly explained that we wanted to make an offer on the house, so much for playing it cool! They were absolutely delighted, naturally, but genuinely seemed really excited for us. In Italy, it is important to know that a verbal offer is binding, you can’t play around with this process, we knew the house’s advertised price, but had read, via blogs, that 10% was the usual discount off the advertised price. We decided to put in an offer of 15% discount off the asking price, as a starting point, expecting negotiations to occur, particularly with our astute and wiley Giovanni, no fool he. Also, as much as we were tempted to go in with a cheeky 20% discount, Andrew made it clear that we didn’t want to be offensive, as Giovanni would be our neighbour, one we expected to be friendly with. Giovanni reminded me of the time I sold my first house, in my early twenties, I would put bread in the oven, half an hour before viewers came around, to make the place smell welcoming and inviting. Giovanni, had used his own little tricks with us, like demonstrating the freshness of the spring water out of the garden tap by cupping his hand under it and drinking it with lip smacking enticement, let alone the spotless presentation and unnecessarily warming wood fire he had lit that hot, autumn, day of our first viewing, we had spotted one of our own that day and loved him for it.
Marco, a friend, it turns out, of Giovanni, hence them getting the house on the books, rang Giovanni and started the proceedings off, as we sat rigid in the office chairs, tense with nerves and excitement. Marco paced this way and that, rapidly in Italian presenting the facts to Giovanni, strolling into an anti-chamber office and continuing the discussion, Natascia tried to engage us in conversation but we were so distracted, our minimal Italian was failing to recall with all the nerves. Eventually, after about 15 minutes, Marco came back in and said that Giovanni would accept a price at 10% discount, of course; we agreed but bizarrely and I really don’t know where this moment of inspiration came from, I agreed to the 10% discount, as long as we could have all the furniture, fixtures and fittings, the house was fully set up as a liveable house, with beds a plenty, rustic, wooden dining table and chairs and cupboards full of crockery, all of the vintage style that I adore. I had read, that Italians are notorious at stripping their houses of everything removable when they sell, including the lightbulbs! This must have made a big impression in my subconscious mind to pipe up with this request at the last second. Just in case you think I was being a 'meanie' by taking all of poor Giovanni's furniture and family heirlooms, fear not, the place was set up as a home but hadn't been lived in for 20 years (more on this strange story in future posts), though it looked spick and span, all the furniture and crockery belonged to the previous owner, before Giovanni had bought it. Marco went back on the phone and another 5 minutes, of fast Italian dialogue, passed, finally hanging up and coming back to tell us, happily, that Giovanni had agreed to include everything already in situ at the house. It was ours.
The excitement, and thrill of it all, sent all four of us out into the cool, Autumn night, aired town to celebrate, my mind a whir and every fibre of my being on an adrenaline and serotonin surge of joy. We headed to a little favourite bar of theirs and, just in time for aperitivo, opened a bottle of prosecco and we toasted the day. Where would you get this. I had never toasted anything with an estate agent before, it was a whole new and very pleasurable experience. We ate titbits from the platters spread out for aperitivo, all free, while we sipped our cool Prosecco and rambled incoherently to Natascia and Marco. Marco told us how happy Giovanni was to sell us the house, as we were a young couple and would be a great addition to the town. Giovanni had also promised to help us settle in and would show us the workings of the land. As we got ready to leave Marco presented us with a present, a white truffle the size of a large walnut shell that he had bought at the front deli part of the bar, how wonderful. Leaving them, high on life, with multiple kisses and promising to get the paperwork started on returning to Dublin, we knew we had made the right decision and relaxed into the last couple of days of our Piemonte trip, in our soon to be new world.
Next chapter about buying a house in Italy
Share our stories with your friends.