This piece was originally e-mailed to friends in April 2006.
Like many people we had fallen in love with Italy after holidaying in Tuscany and Umbria. Two of our daughters already had lives of their own and we had been thinking about downsizing for a while and moving somewhere truly interesting, with semi-retirement in mind. My wife C found our ‘dream’ home on the internet after 15 months of searching. It was located in the Marche region – an area we weren’t familiar with. But we came twice on extended recces and fell in love with the house and the region. So began the roller-coaster process to buy the house and move to Italy. It was to prove a dramatic experience…..
The house was located close to the lovely little town of Servigliano, bounded on one side by the stunning Sibillini montains and on the other by the Adriatic coastline. The house seemed ideal – a fully restored old farmhouse with its own small olive grove and great swimming pool. There was a decent airport at Ancona and even broadband access – both essential for my work – as I would still be working in London and, for a while at least, doing a lot of commuting.
The vendors were actually English speaking (which helped enormously) and likable and the price was about right for us. We weren’t in a major hurry as our own home was not at this stage on the market (what a saga that was to become). However another potential buyer was also interested and further down the track in terms of negotiations. We decided to give it our all and moved quickly to appoint a local lawyer, the excellent Fabio Puccarelli (check out his website http://www.domuslex.com or click on the link on the blogroll on the right hand side of this site). After some truly generous help from our oldest friends we managed to get the substantial deposit sorted swiftly and were first to sign the compromesso. This is equivalent to a statement of intent to complete on the deal. It is brutally efficient in preventing time-wasting too. If we subsequently walked away the deposit is lost; if the vendor pulls out, an amount double the deposit is payable in the reverse direction. So we were committed now.
However as the process rolled on we got into difficult conversations with the vendors regarding valuations for tax purposes. It is a complex area compared with UK conveyancing and we were so relieved to have appointed a lawyer as solid as Fabio. To cut a long and increasingly fractious story short, we edged towards final completion with a number of key issues still unresolved. The date was set for the meeting before the Notario to finalise all the legal, tax and financial issues. We were miles apart on critical points but Fabio advised us to maintain our position and refuse to be cowed into accepting unreasonable terms. Fabio was by then handling all communications with the vendors.
Our house wasn’t sold though we had to proceed with the removal arrangements, but gave ourselves two days head start on them to get down to Italy to either complete the process, difficult as it may be, or to see it all fall apart. If the latter were to happen then at least we’d have a chance to warn the guys not to set off with all our worldy goods. Nightmare scenario.
We drove like crazy down through France, Switzerland and n. Italy reaching Milan around 9pm, really tired. But there was a major event on in the city at the time, we couldn’t find a hotel room anywhere so we ploughed on along the A1 autostrada looking for a place to stay. We eventually found a hotel with rooms near Parma. It was around 10.30pm and we’d been driving since crack of dawn. We just checked in and crashed out. We were scheduled to meet our lawyer Fabio at 10am next morning in Communanza – about a 5 hour drive away still. So it was another really early start and maybe it was my imagination but the Italian drivers seemed to be at their tail-gating worst that morning. Anyway we met Fabio bang on 10am. We were already feeling pretty wretched but he was positive and reassuring (thank goodness we chose him to represent us). He bought us coffee and croissants which tasted just fantastic. We reviewed all the key points, agreed a way forward and shook hands knowing that we’d meet again later at 4pm for the notario’s meeting. Fabio told us that this was likely to take several hours to complete all the procedures. Bloody hell.
Anyway we went and opened a bank account and did a bit of shopping and just killed time for the rest of the day. At 4pm we gathered at Fabio’s office: C and I, the vendors who we hadn’t spoken to in weeks, representatives from the bank, estate agents (in Italy both the vendor and the buyers pay a substantial fee to the estate agent – another major issue for us), Fabio and his staff and the notario. It was all conducted in a serious atmosphere with all issues being addressed in Italian and then English and it went on for ages. Every sticking point was resolved painstakingly, item by item. I really liked the notario though, he was very tough on the vendor and just refused to allow him to be unreasonable. It is quite a process to sit through but by 7.30pm we were done. We were elated but emotionally and physically quite drained . We were also several 100’s of thousands of euros lighter in the pocket. Everyone has to be paid at this meeting and we left it with no more than a few hundred euros in our pockets. But we had a (very big as it happens) key to our very own home in Italy at last. We thanked Fabio and promised him a slap up meal for his efforts (we still owe him!).
The house was around 30 minutes drive away and it was already dark when we set off. We were getting more and more tired as the adrenalin rush was wearing off. The house looked fine as we approached. We smiled before unlocking the big front door for the first time but inside it was really chilly and the vendors had taken most the the light fittings and bulbs with them. I didn’t have a torch and couldn’t see well enough to get the central heating to work, nor could I find any kindling to get a fire going. I could see C was feeling low so i suggested that we head back to Servigliano, 10km back down thre road we’d just come along, to check into the local hotel for the night. Everything would look better in the morning.
So off we headed. We pulled up at the entrance only to find that it was closed on Thursdays. Bloody hell. I couldn’t help but wonder what happens if someone checks in for a week… do they get kicked out on Thursdays? It was well after 9pm by now and everything in the town looked closed. Welcome to Italy. I then remembered that our local village – about 15 minutes beyond where the house is – had a pizzeria ristorante. I suggested we just go there, get warm and fed and crack a bottle or two of wine. At least we’d feel better, C agreed and off we sped back in the direction of the house/village. It was 10pm-ish when we got there. Maybe there were one or two other people in there and it was probably on the cusp of closing. We ordered pizzas naturally, only for Gianni – now a good friend – to inform us that they don’t do pizzas on Thursdays. Of course not. How could I forget that Thursday isn’t a consumer-friendly day in Italy…Feeling slightly frazzled by now I think I just snappily asked him to bring us anything available – pasta, meat dishes, whatever. He didn’t disappoint: we had course after course of the tastiest local dishes and a fair bit of the region’s verdicchio. Gianni was just a great host and we go there most weeks and with all our guests now.
But that night we had to head back to the house. Grabbing the bedding we’d taken there in the car, we made up one of the beds we’d bought from the vendors, by moonlight. We sat in front of the lit gas oven just trying to get warm for a while. I think we both wondered whether we’d done the right thing to be honest. It had seemed such an anti-climax after all that anxiety, travelling and financial commitment. We collapsed into bed, weary and pretty miserable.
We woke the next morning to the most beautiful sunrise, the rays blasting through our open-shuttered window like arc lights. As they say in the best Hovis ads, it was better than any alarm clock. It wasn’t yet 6am but C and I were on our balcony taking in this wonderful panorama of a rolling valley and tiny hilltop villages shrouded in early morning mist. We spent a whole hour just staring and pointing things out to each other (we still do it most mornings, taking in these majestic scenes which never lose their majesty). It just felt that this was the house’s own way of saying ‘ benvenuto a l’italia’ and it felt so good. This beautiful country just has a way of being awkward when you least need it but entrancing you when you need it most. Maybe that’s why they call it la dolce vita.