As we walked away from our first sighting of the town house we were about to buy in Casalbordino, Abruzzo, Italia, my wife, Arnna said ‘I think I need a drink!’
It didn’t help that we had done what every sane home buyer is told not to do!
We’d bought property online. Exclusive Property, ensconced in nearby Vasto, and more specifically – Romina and Mila - were the agents that had drawn us into the somewhat complicated web of Italian real estate. Before we'd met face to face we had sent the deposit!
To any NZ property speculator this would appear to be sheer lunacy. Were we actually raving mad? Was the frequent question.
The answer? No as it turns out. Mila and Romina are 2 of the most generous and humble people to enter our lives, and directly responsible, along with Tina and Richard our builders, in realising our Italian property dream.
Coda Fiscale, Tassa Riffuti, bank accounts, water and gas connections, you name it- they have helped carve the straight route through the Italian bureaucracy that can bog down even the savviest of international buyers.
The official house purchase day in June 2016 deserves its own story, but in summary, Exclusive Property arranged everything: Notary, Power of Attorney, English translation, eyewitnesses; 11 people in total, with the whole process taking a speedy, single hour. In true Italian style, we drove our agent to the sale venue! I was even complimented on how quickly I’d adopted the Italian driving nuances.
As the ‘before’ pictures will tell you, what had greeted us was not a pretty sight.
Black mould on the walls, a fuchsia pink and mint green colour scheme, and testimony from one of the workmen clearing out the mess from the previous tenants in broken English, “This could be character, or this could be s#$t!
The 125 m2 house that was advertised, was actually 250!
When we returned later that summer, the heating units and hot water cylinder had also gone in the clear out, leaving holes in the outside walls!
That said, Richard, our local builder had advised us well and came to the same conclusion as Exclusive Property. Our 400-year-old house, first built for the Bishop of Casalbordino, had good bones.
Every project he has undertaken for us (usually scribbled on the back of a train ticket printout!) has turned out amazingly.
Two new bathrooms, a kitchen/living area switchover, and currently a basement apartment, have all realised our vision of keeping the traditional Abruzzese style and marrying it with modern amenities.
After Richard’s major reno work, we have done all the renovating ourselves –abbiamo imparato molto!
Ask a local!
If there’s one piece of advice you should listen to, that would be it. And that extends from agents to hardware supplies. If they additionally speak English, as Richard, Tina and Romina do, even better.
Our decorating and hardware store owner, Marco, has advised us correctly on everything from paint on stone walls and ceilings, metal balcony rails, plaster, even clotheslines, with the additional bonus that we now use Google Translate less!
A family love affair with renovating has ensued. Arnna has found a particular passion for terracotta tile wax, which banishes that gritty underfoot feel for at least a year!
Mollie, Abbie and Elliot have all learnt the benefits of marine polyurethane over outside door stain and how it means no more touch ups each summer!
Me? Well, Arnna’s sense of style is amazing, so I just adopt the labourer role to whatever she wants- and proudly say, I love it! Thanks to our belief in Romina and Mila, our Italian dream has become a reality. Romina took this picture of us walking to our house for the first time as owners. What it conceals is that in Arnna's left hand she carries a picture of her mother (may she rest in peace), busy with the family laundry as she always was. It also conceals the silent tears that flowed just prior as Arnna recounted this story to our amazing agents. Maureen Rosa Myra Graham’s dream was to visit Italy. Placing that photo, albeit in a quiet cupboard at the time, fulfilled that dream. She now hangs surveying the scene in our airy, well-lit kitchen, smiling and approving of our Abruzzese choice. Romina e Mila infatti tutto il team Exclusive Property, tu sei il migliore!