How You Can Buy Your House In Italy Without Diving Into A Money Pit

Chris Renovation
Chris Renovation
Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO PURCHASE PROPERTY IN ITALY YOU NEED KNOWLEDGE AND YOU NEED OUR ONLINE COURSE! FIND THE DETAILS HERE.

 

Admit it. You have been watching House Hunters International and a part of you is yearning for the golden hills, the ecstacy inducing food and the and glorious beaches of Italy.

Secretly you have been exploring the property pages on Italian Immobilare websites and dreaming big dreams.

And you feel yourself inching closer to the big plunge but are afraid because you could make a huge and costly mistake.

If you have mentioned this idea to friends or relatives, I am sure you have been told that you are crazy to even think about it.

And yet you continue to dream.

Several years ago my husband and I bought a house in a tiny ancient hill town in Calabria, Southern Italy.

An entire year before we purchased, I researched the heck out of the project and the result was a smooth transition of property and good feelings on all sides.

And we have been loving it beyond our wildest dreams each time we go.

Diamante
Diamante, Calabria

There is nothing like the sound of church bells waking you up in the morning with the sun slanting in your window and the smell of caffe coming from the bar in the piazza to make you realize how lucky you are to be in Italy.

But there are several things you should know and do before taking diving in.

1. Research the Heck out of it.

I was lucky to find a great book that covered everything I had questions about. It is called Buying a House in Italy by Gordon Neale.

Additionally I sought out and got onto several forums written and administered by people who had purchased in Italy and many of whom also lived there full time.

The forum was the most important research tool. I learned about some shady deals that I was able to steer clear of because I read the unfortunate stories about people who had purchased off plan houses (to be built) and once the money was paid, no work was ever done.

One off plan project that was offered to us when we were looking to purchase several years ago still has not been built. Had I trusted someone and bought one I would have sunk a lot of money and likely never had anything to show for it but expensive legal bills.

I have read horror stories not only about property purchases in Italy but also Spain that would curl your toes.

My most important piece of advice is never buy anything that you can’t see in front of you. Make sure you know and trust your architect before taking on a renovation project. 

SDT
Santa Domenica Talao

2. Visit different areas before you make your choice.

Unless you have already visited a town or village and fallen in love with it, I recommend that you visit several areas and rent Air BNB’s there for a few weeks.

Fall into the rhythm of the town and decide whether you can see yourself living there.

Italy House
Italy House

3. Once you have found your dream town, research the heck out of that too.

There is so much you have to find out. Jus tone example is that our trash pickup is so complicated we need a special calendar to keep track of what is picked up when.

Additionally Italy has earthquakes as we have seen recently. Research where the faults are and find data on the strength of your buildings.

Ironically, in the 1980’s when there was a massive earthquake in Southern Italy, some of the newer buildings fell down and the old buildings in the historic center are still standing.

The buildings in the historic centers are built all shoved together so they support each other.

The buildings that fell had large parking structures underneath and therefore were not structurally sound in an earthquake zone which much of Italy is.

Our area near Scalea, Calabria, Italy is one of the few areas that is between faults so the danger of a catastrophic earthquake is there but is  relatively small. In the last 20 years there have been shakers but not the massive ones such as we have seen in California.

Scalea
Scalea

4. Understand that property purchases there are not like they are here.

It is not unheard of to make an offer, have it accepted and then find out that the downstairs storage area is actually owned by someone else or that the fixtures are not included.

Many times in Italy, the kitchen is considered personal property and does not stay when you purchase. The owners simply pack it up and take it with them.

In Italy the inheritences are such that you may want to buy a property that is listed for sale but then have to convince 20 cousins that they want to sell.

This can make certain properties almost impossible to purchase and you may not know that until you have fallen in love with it.

5. Know that there will be delays.

Purchasing property in Italy is a process and it goes how it goes. That said, I was very impressed by the time and care the local Notiao took to ensure that everything was fair and equitable.

The Notaio is charged with the task of ensuring that the sale is conducted in alignment with Italian real estate law.. Our notaio was extremely careful and took great pains to ensure that we understood everything about the contract.

However an illness may cause delays as your Notaio may be the only one for miles.

Stairs
Renovations

6. Understand that renovation estimates can, at times, be wild guesses.

My friend in Scalea has become the resident counselor to those who have purchased and seen their renovations go wrong and spiral out of control. (Note, I have never seen this in Santa Domenica Talao where we personally know the architect and builder.)

A ruin in Italy is likely several centuries old and those of us who live in America which has very few old buildings don’t always understand the true meaning of the word “ruin”.

I have heard of properties having to be taken apart brick by brick and rebuilt.

My advice if you don’t know a contractor, is to purchase something habitable that perhaps needs floors and finishes.

We purchased our house and the attached ruin. We were willing to take it on as we have worked with the builder on several other house projects and he is good and trustworthy.

Additionally the structural work had already been done so it is just the interior that needs finishing.

Meanwhile, we had the house which was habitable and very nice and were able to enjoy it right away without waiting for renovations. The renovations are now complete and they are truly spectacular.

If you have your heart set on a total ruin renovation project, go ahead but budget over the amount you are quoted.

7. Treat everyone with courtesy and respect

There is no nightmare quite as complete as buying a property somewhere and being ostrasized by everyone in the town.

These villages and towns have survived because they are like a large family. Courtesy goes a very long way and an effort to get along and become a part of the village is accepted with open arms.

Volterra
Volterra

8. Learn the language

You will not be expected to read and understand the contracts in Italian as an interpreter is present if you don’t speak the language.

Nonetheless, when you make the effort to speak and be understood, you earn the respect of your new neighbors. They are way more willing to overlook any social gaffs made out of ignorance of local customs.

Chris in Ostia Antica, Rome

9. Don’t consider it an investment in anything but experience.

When I was getting ready to make my purchase, several people asked me with horror in their voices, “Aren’t you afraid you will lose money?” as if that were the greatest sin I could ever commit.

The answer was, who cares what the market does after I buy? If I buy a property and I love it and it gives me joy and I can afford it, it is a good purchase. End of story. The property market gyrations would never make it worth any less in my eyes.

You are buying a dream. Dreams do not come with a price tag. It is whatever you are willing to pay for it that gives it its value.

There is a person who was looking at buying at the same time we were. She asked me all manner of questions like the above. She had so many “What if’s” that I gave up answering them.

Needless to say, she has not purchased and we have been enjoying our property for many years now.

10. Once you have purchased don’t let anyone kill the love you have for your beautiful new home.

I don’t know why people do this but some have to tell you what a huge mistake you have made.

They have to prove to you that you have been foolish and normally it comes down to money that in their opinion you should not have spent.

These are the people who never do anything big in their lives. Listening to them is destructive.

In the end you will have done your homework, you will have experienced the ins and outs of a foreign property purchase and will have many, many years of beautiful experiences to enjoy as a result.

Buying property in Italy is absolutely worth the effort and the money.

If money is tight, look in Southern Italy. Calabria is stunning and the prices are so good you could almost put it on a credit card.

I’ll see you in Italy!

Check out our YouTube channel under Super Savvy Travelers, LLC

The Vampire of San Nicola Arcella

Vampiress
Photo Credit DeeDee51
Vampiress
Photo Credit DeeDee51

Cio Belli!

I love a great vampire story. There is something terrifyingly romantic about the undead roaming around seducing unsuspecting innocents into having their life blood sucked out.

It doesn’t hurt to have sexy vampires like Frank Langella, Christopher Lee, the amazingly talented and compelling Gary Oldman (my favorite) and even George Hamilton. These guys turning up at my bedside at night might make me start thinking that the afterlife could be an acceptable lifestyle change for a gal like me!

I also love our area in the Riviera Dei Cedri. So imagine my delight when I found out that there was a vampire in San Nicola Arcella!

Well this vampire doesn’t really live (or not live) there but she has been immortalized by American writer Francis Marion Crawford who lived in San Nicola in the 1800’s and rented the lookout tower that is now named for him, as a quiet place to write.

Crawford Tower is one of a network of lookout towers dotting the coastline of Southern Italy from which warnings were raised at the first sight of Saracen and Ottoman pirates and brigands back in the day when these things were a serious threat to anyone living along the coast.

When sighting invaders, the lookouts in the tower lit fires to send a signal to the other towers along the coast and to the towns, that invaders were coming and advising them to retire to their protected places until the threat was gone.

These towers were used for centuries up until the 1800’s when they were demilitarized and no longer used. Each town that has one now features it as an attraction like the Talao Tower in Scalea.

Talao tower
Talao Tower, Scalea
Talao Tower Scalea from the Centro Storico

And one of these towers remains on a rocky promontory in San Nicola Arcella.

It was there that Francis Marion Crawford fell in love with it one day, left for a time and returned to his beach party with the keys to the tower in his hands, having rented it for his own use.

Crawford Tower, San Nicola Arcella
Crawford Tower San Nicola Arcella

And it is in this tower that the story “For the Blood is the Life” was written in which the glorious vampire appears and just happens to be named Cristina.

Yes, this vampiress and I share a name but I swear that my teeth are ridiculously inadequate for blood sucking making it inefficient and extremely messy unless I am grappling with an underdone steak and the proper cutlery.

I am not “that” Cristina.

Vampire
Not Me!

Cristina was a peasant girl who fell afoul of robbers. She subsequently haunted the area just outside of Crawford Tower sipping the life energy from anyone who happened to go near her.

The story is creepy but in his descriptions of the scenery and the people, Crawford gives an amazingly vivid account of life in Calabria in the 1800’s.

While “For the Blood is the Life” is a fascinating read, Crawford also wrote the story for the movie I saw as a teen that caused me to endure many sleepless nights. The story and the movie were called “The Screaming Skull”.

In this story Crawford details actual, real gaslighting at its most extreme but (spoiler alert) justice prevails. I won’t tell you how. This is still one of the scariest/creepiest movies I have ever seen.

Creepy stories aside, Crawford wrote many stories and novels based in Italy and gave readers glimpse after glimpse of life in Italy in the 1800’s as he was uniquely familiar with the social, political and cultural aspects of life all over Italy.

Beach San Nicola Arcella
The Sea at San Nicola Arcella

If you want to read some of Crawford’s amazingly vivid stories, you can fined them on the Gutenberg Project website, They are now in the public domain so you can download them for free. What better way to while away the time lounging on the beach in San Nicola Arcella this Summer?

For more great content, check out our Youtube channel!

See you in Italy!

 

Autumn in Calabria, Food, Culture and Wine

AUTUMN IN CALABRIA
Autumn in Santa Domenica Talao
AUTUMN IN CALABRIA
Autumn in Santa Domenica Talao

There is something uniquely magic about Autumn in Calabria.

Gone is the white hot afternoon where La Pausa, our afternoon siesta, rescues us from the brutal sun of the Mezzogiorno creating a womb of dark, relative cool where no one expects you until evening.

In its place is the honey colored light that slants in sideways and bathes everything in a golden glow which gives our hilltop village an air of peace and magic around every corner.

Our village, Santa Domenica Talao goes from the quasi frenetic July/August tourist/service pace to instantly more relaxed as though life moved from Allegro to Andante the minute the calendar page turned over.

Santa Domenica Flower Shop
Santa Domenica Talao Flower Shop

The village is turned back over to its residents while the evenings remain warm and long, and the magic light turns its houses gold.

After a long flight from San Francisco then a direct jump onto the train and a stop in Praia Mare to pick up my rental car, I finally alighted in Santa Domenica Talao.

Normally I stop off in Rome for a night to catch my breath but just prior to booking I had received an email from our architect, Antonello advising me that there was a grand festa happening which included several days of discussion about how to spread the beauty and flavors of Calabrian cooking far and wide. This news propelled me to Santa Domenica in record time as I am never one to miss a spectacular meal.

Santa Domenica in Autumn
Santa Domenica in Autumn

 

Calabria has really been moving forward in its quest to become an actual destination rather than a foot note in a guidebook which skips Southern Italy with barely a mention and takes up again in Sicily as though almost half of Italy, with all its culture, cuisine, wine and Produtti Tipici don’t even exist.

And one of the speakers last night brought up the fact that the fault of this has been lack of PR and marketing. He was right, How could you have all this wealth of amazing products including the freshest and most amazing seafood, the cedro, that misshapen citrus fruit which only grows here, and the Calabrian black truffles, and still go unnoticed.

In any case, the region has made a decision that the world needs to know about Calabria and her treasures and they have set out with a vengeance to ensure that the world is brought to our door.

Rinaldi
Ristorante Rinaldi Da Vittorio

Calabria has 380 unique products typical to the region. And its cuisine is second to none in terms of creativity and sheer deliciousness. Cucina Povera (Poor cuisine) originated here and celebrates the creativity needed to create the nourishing and delicious dishes with only a handful of the ingredients that they had available at the time.

You see, Calabria, despite her wealth of typical products, has not been considered a wealthy region for a very long time. Long ago Calabria was part of the Magna Grecia or Great Greece. It was a region of learning and culture before the days of the Roman Empire.

Somewhere between then and now, her grand Greek heritage had become somewhat lost and poverty took over.

Many Americans don’t realize it but the majority of Italian dishes that we consider “Italian food” originated here in Calabria. It was the Southern Italians who fled their homelands back in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s to find a life where survival was easier and where one did not have to battle the environmental extremes in order to eke out a living. And they brought their recipes with them.

Lunch!
Lunch!

The first night before I arrived in Santa Domenica Talao, there was a cooking competition. The judge was a local chef, Vincenzo Grisolia who has made a name for himself with his restaurant, Vigri, down in Scalea.

Scalea is right on the coast and perfectly perched to pull the freshest of fish from the sea and serve it to you immediately. Vncenzo’s restaurant, Vigri. is well known for local seafood and it is the place that I first tasted the most perfectly prepared, fat, sweet shrimp that I have ever experienced.

Chef Vincenzo Grisolia has spent his career presenting Calabrian cuisine to the world and had come to our beautiful village to work with others to spread the word.

During the forum held last night on our communal terrace that overlooks the Lao plain and the Mediterranean, we were treated to discussion about all the cuisine of Calabria and exhortations to not only preserve these amazing dishes, many of which are unique to each tiny hill town that grace the mountain crest of the region, but to disseminate them.

Calabria is a rich cornucopia of natural resources. Wild fennel grows everywhere, Cedros are plentiful and ONLY grow here, and the aforementioned black truffles fetch a fierce price in the markets all across Europe.

Antipasti
Antipasti

There was much discussion among the panel about the famous Pepperoncini festival in Diamante where you can buy peppers that are said to cure anxiety, cancer and even impotence.

The pepperoncino festival is one of the most widely attended in Europe and is a local success story that could be duplicated with other products and in other areas.

When Pete and I first started looking at property here in 2010, things were very different. There were relatively few public works that ever got started much less completed. Some of the areas around our village had an air of seediness to it that try as they might, the locals could not overcome.

Most recently the Italian government has seen the potential of this and other Southern Italian regions as a tourist destinations and has decided to handle the barriers that stood in the way. As a result, our mayor has been able to secure funding for projects that will create a demand for everything Calabria has to offer and it is all starting.

And Pete and I are so lucky to be in on the ground floor and see it all roll out before our eyes.

Our BNB
Our BNB

Last Winter we purchased a grand old building in our village just up from the piazza.  We are working with the architect and builder here to turn it into a spectacular and luxurious BNB. From the moment we arrived here the first time we looked at Calabria and our village and decided it was a no-brainer to invest time and treasure to help push this vision forward.

This afternoon, I met my friend Bonnie for lunch at the Bella Vista restaurant. I ordered my favorite, Antipasti di Stagione (Antipasti of the season) which means you never know what treats will show up on your table.

Plate after plate arrived with fresh vegetable dishes, Patate e Pippi (potatoes and peppers), Fritatta, and lots of little stuffed and baked or fried things that I cannot name but are delicious little surprises that explode in your mouth with a flood of flavors.

For 12 Euros, we ate our fill and we both took the rest home for dinner.

It was a tiny microcosm, an analogy of our beautiful region and all that it has to offer.

Watch this site for culinary, wine and  photography tours of the Riviera Dei Cedri, our beautiful area of Calabria. Pete and I can’t wait to take you round to all the best restaurants and wineries and for you to sit out on the roof terrace with your glass of Ciro watching while the village goes from gold to the pink of sunset and back to gold as the lights come up illuminating this amazing little place that is somehow stopped in time.

It is a place whose time has come.

And you will want to be the first to experience it.