Renovating a House in Italy: Paul’s Story (Part One)
In the first part of this article, we speak to our friend and fellow ex-pat Paul, who together with his wife Michelle, rose to the challenge of following their dream of renovating a home in Italy, and making a permanent move to Le Marche.
What was it about Italy, in particular Le Marche, that made you want to move here?
I had been to Italy many times over the years, the first time being over 40 years ago. We had taken holidays, city breaks, visited for the Grand Prix and MotoGP and had always had a desire to buy and restore an old farmhouse or similar here at some point in the future.
Although I had been aware of different areas of Italy for a few years (usually tracking the Mille Miglia) we initially started looking seriously in Umbria around Lago Trasimeno but fairly quickly moved onto looking in Le Marche after seeing an article on the Region in the UK press.
We were immediately very impressed with Le Marche, especially the area around the Monti Sibillini National Park, the towns of Amandola and Sarnano and the city of Ascoli Piceno.
As beautiful as the other Italian regions are, it was the Marchigiani landscape, hills, mountains, colours, agriculture, culture, values, pace of life and of course the people we met along the way, that made it such a great journey – but remember things happen at local pace, you can’t and shouldn’t force it!
Why did you choose a renovation project over a fully completed house?
I had restored and converted three properties in the UK previously and had worked in construction all my life, so I didn’t find the prospect of restoration a concern at all. I have always had an interest in building (and indeed classic car) restoration – even a passion for it – so the goal was to bring a derelict structure or ruin with land back to life!
Did you do any research into how to buy and restore in Italy?
I felt my knowledge gaps were mostly about the actual purchase process and potential pitfalls, so I carried out quite a bit of research into buying a property in Italy as well as reading good books by experts as well as people who had had the experience.
How did you find your home?
Our search started and we viewed many ruins, piles of stones etc with various agents but after about two years of searching – and narrowly avoiding buying a house (the garden of which ended up slipping down a hillside!) – we were shown our eventual house by a real estate agent. It was an almost instant decision to buy it because of the location and panoramic views, as well as being quite an unusual house that I felt could be converted very interestingly and sympathetically.
What tips and advice can you give to other house-hunters?
Draw up a wish list, and be prepared to compromise! We had previously drawn up a 10 point list for our viewings, which included ‘Mountain views’, ‘Private road’, ‘some land’ etc & this house achieved most of the key items with the list.
Other tips we picked up along the way include: visit any prospective property at different times of day, different days and in all four seasons if possible, and a very useful tip was to go to the other side of the valley and look back at the property – it’s amazing, even frightening what you see doing that!
Finally, don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do in your own country, such as sign paperwork/documents or enter into financial transactions without professional advice.
Once you made the decision to buy your property, how did you find the process?
It actually took 18 months to finalise the purchase as it transpired that the previous sale of the property, some ten years earlier, had not been legally completed and indeed there was also a considerable mortgage settlement outstanding. These matters had been missed by the various Notaio, so thank goodness we hired an Italian property lawyer – something I recommend very highly.
Anyway, after many meetings all these issues were resolved and we finally owned the property .
The contract finalisation took place in the Notaio’s office one Saturday morning – the format of which reminded me a bit of the reading of a will! All very memorable, and we now had the keys!
And then you began the renovation?
Yes. At the same time three of my friends were on their way over to Italy for about 10 days to ‘enjoy’ what we called the ‘demolition holiday’. This began to give some shape to the interior of the property. I could then carry out a full dimensional survey to help me develop the design ideas I had in my head.
We wanted an external restoration style as near to the original as we could achieve and internally to have a contemporary and bright/airy solution and a goal of trying to minimise energy consumption. I certainly did not want to use oil or gas so chose a biomass based system using wood pellets or logs in conjunction with solar panels.
I drew these ideas up in the UK and returned to meet our Geometra, Massimo, who took on board my design then worked with the Comune (local council) to finalise the project.
How did you find the experts to oversee your project?
Our realtor introduced Massimo, who in turn introduced a three man building team, we satisfied ourselves after inspections of their previous projects and away we went.
A small team like that was ideal for us as we didn’t want to move to Italy for probably five to seven years and it suited our expenditure plan/budget.
I used to come over on working holidays and work with the builders, usually doing labouring work for them, eating lunch together and this also really helped me keep track of the restoration, manage change, make payments etc and not least of which helped me learn some basic Italian, albeit much was in dialect!
This was a great experience as over time the three guys have become good friends and the quality of their work was absolutely first class. I was amazed as at the end of every day everywhere had been swept clean and tidy, materials stacked/stored for the next day – certainly not an average building site!
It was important to us to use local suppliers and craftsmen as well, so with the exception of the kitchen, which we had made in the UK, everything else was sourced locally.
We would also come over to Italy on holiday and visit the house whilst the restoration was under way, and then go off visiting other regions such as Molise, Abruzzo, Puglia, Lazio and Campania. As lovely as all these areas are we always felt that we were coming home upon returning to Le Marche.
So in 2012, we finally made the big move after selling up in England…
In part two of Paul’s renovation story, see the transformation of the ruin, and read about how he found the transition of moving from the UK into a small Italian society.