How to Buy a Property in Italy Without Diving into a Money Pit

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

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

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.

Seven years ago my husband and I bought a house in a small medieval hill town in Calabria, Southern Italy.

An entire year before we purchased, I researched the crap 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.

house hunters international
Pete capturing the surreal Calabrian sunset from our balcony

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 cafe 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 crap 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 seven 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. If is to be built or is a ruin with a renovation package, don’t buy it.

Rome Market
Roman Marketplace

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.

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

There is so much you have to find out. 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 building.

Ironically, in the 1980’s when there was a massive earthquake in Southern Italy, the newer buildings fell down and the medieval buildings 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 relatively small.

Piazza in Santa domenica Talao

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 no one is getting hoodwinked. Ours 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.

6. Understand that renovation estimates can be wild guesses

My friend Clive who owns Casa Cielo BnB in Scalea, Italy has become the resident counselor to those who have purchased and seen their renovations go wrong and spiral out of control.

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 are 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 have the house which is habitable and very nice and were able to enjoy it right away without waiting for renovations.

If you have your heart set on a total ruin renovation project, go ahead but budget twice 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 community is well rewarded with true and loyal friends.

Additionally, when you make the effort to speak and be understood in their language, 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.

Super Savvy
Priceless experience

8. 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 seven years now.

9. 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!

If you are interested in tips on making your whole life more beautiful, check out www.chasinglabellavita.com.

Take Rome Off Your Bucket List and Put It On Your To Do List

Italian Roman super savvy travelers
Via Veneto, Rome, Italy
Via Veneto, Rome, Italy

Why is Bella Roma so internationally loved?

Rome is wild, loud, beautiful, and always unpredictable. There is honestly so much to love about Rome that I am doing her a disservice listing only 5 things to be crazy about.

Go to Rome armed with these 5 things and make up your own list of favorites. 

Michelangelo's Pieta, Rome, Italy
Michelangelo’s Pieta, St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy

1) The Vatican Art Museums

Rome is a city filled to the eyeballs with art. It is everywhere. 

A trip to the Vatican Art Museums is a must when visiting Rome because it is the greatest collection of fine art in existence. Much of it is Renaissance Art.

The Vatican Museums were originated by Pope Julius II in 1506.

At that time, Michelangelo was working at the Vatican for Pope Julius and the pope had Michelangelo go and look at a sculpture that had just been found and unearthed in a roman vineyard.

Michelangelo confirmed that this sculpture was the original Laocoon and his sons which had been praised in the writings of Pliny the Elder centuries before.

Based on the recommendation of Michelangelo, Pope Julius purchased the statue and placed it on display in the Vatican.

Since that time, different popes have added art to the museums and have had to add new wings to accommodate it all.

A tour through the Vatican Museums is like taking an art bath. You see it, breathe it and take it in through your pores.

Like a perfect bath, it refreshes you and gives you new life. 

Make sure you avoid the lines and headaches by booking yourself a tour. I like Through Eternity Tours in Rome because their tour guides are well trained, personable, entertaining and professional.

Book months in advance because they fill up, especially in Summer.

The museum contains paintings by Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael and, the entire Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo between 1477 and 1480.

The museum tour includes a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica which contains the amazingly beautiful Pieta sculpture, sculpted by Michelangelo from white Carrera marble when he was only 24 years old.

Michelangelo was such a prolific artist and you will see many of his pieces on this tour. You will see why he is still the most beloved artist ever born and so cherished by Italians.

Cafe in Rome's Jewish Quarter Super Savvy Travelers
Cafe in Rome’s Jewish Quarter

2) Café

Or Café Macchiato or Café Latte, or Cappuccino.

When ordering coffee in Rome, understand that if you order coffee (or café) you will get a tiny cup filled with fiercely strong and biting espresso.

The Italians don’t fool around with their coffee. It is a source of pride.

If this is too much for you, you can order a café latte.  Don’t confuse a cafe latte at Starbucks with a cafe latte in Rome.

Both cafe latte and capuccino are perfectly blended combinations of milk, coffee and in cappuccino, chocolate. 

Don’t order a “latte” as we do here in the states or you will get a glass of milk.

Having heard that ordering coffee with milk in it after lunch was taboo all over Italy, I put this to the test in Cremona one afternoon.

My friends and I  entered a small café and a tiny Asian lady attended us.

My friends ordered their café and I looked at her and asked for a café latte. Her perfectly crafted eyebrows shot up into her hairline in surprise.

She covered it well and brought me my café latte but I am sure I was forever branded a tourist in that shop.

A café macchiato in Italy is espresso with a small amount of milk in it but still  strong. I have ordered this after lunch and the eyebrows rose minimally so I think it is ok.

If you like your coffee a little weaker, you can order a café lungo which is an espresso with a small amount of water in it.

The Italians, recognizing that Americans drink our coffee differently, have created a café Americano which is espresso with more water.

The coffee in Italy is, to my mind, the best in the world. Great care is taken to make it perfect and bar staffs are well trained.

Even the ground coffee you purchase in the supermarket is top notch even though it is inexpensive.

Order a cafe,  dump a packet of sugar in it and stir. You are rewarded with a couple mouthfuls of the sweetest, bitterest, most fragrant and coffee-est sip you can imagine.

You digest your food better and you are wide awake for several hours. 

Via Veneto, Rome, Italy
Via Veneto, Rome, Italy

3) Shopping

Rome has several fine shopping districts including the Via Veneto, which is a street dedicated to shopping and outdoor cafes.

It is a beautiful tree lined street and an afternoon spent in a sidewalk cafe watching the beautifully dressed Italian businessmen and women go by is a treat.

Italy is well known for fine Italian leather goods. Italian leather crafting goes back centuries. 

The Via Veneto has many fine leather emporiums however I have found that going a few streets over can save you money.

Aside from the shopping that you would normally expect from a large city, Roman streets are a riot of colorful outdoor markets.

Rome Outdoor Market
Rome Outdoor Market

Every day you can purchase fresh produce and other delectables at the Campo De Fiori  (literally, The Flower Market). This market has been going strong since medieval times.

Chicken, gravy and potatoes in Rome
Chicken, gravy and potatoes in Rome
Cornetto with Friends
Cornetto with Friends

 4) The Food!

The Italians have raised cooking to a fine art form and almost every restaurant I tried has been amazing! A similar meal here in California would be ruinously expensive.

I never go hungry in Rome. Even when I have just eaten I am eagerly looking forward to my next meal. 

Even those with dietary restrictions can relax as vegetarian cuisine is always available and I had no trouble finding gluten free meals that were unbelievable. 

Gluten Free Pizza in Rome
Gluten Free Pizza in Rome

Only once have I had a bad meal in Italy and that is when Pete and I unadvisedly ducked into a restaurant right next to Termini Station, the main train station in Rome.

Pete’s pizza was hard and burnt and my Roman artichokes hung their heads limply as if they had a severe case of erectile dysfunction.

It was sad.

Whenever possible, stay away from any eating establishment close to the train stations, the monuments or any of the touristy areas.

If you find yourself in a touristy area and you are hungry, walk a few streets away from the attraction and you will likely find a great place.

In my experience, you are not taking much of a chance as most restaurants are operated by people who have pride in what they serve you. I can guarantee you that when in Rome you will eat well if you look for restaurants not geared for tourists. 

Roman Ruins
Roman Ruins

5) The history!

Rome was the seat of the entire Roman empire which encompassed all of Europe, a big chunk of the Middle East and the United Kingdom and then some. It was HUGE and Rome was the center of it all.

Everywhere you look in Rome are ancient ruins dating from different times and civilizations in the past.

Sweeping your eyes from one side to another at any raised point in Rome presents a dizzying array of structures each with its own history, people and civilization.

Any of these magnificent structures generally has a tour associated with it. You can learn so much history here in a few days. And the history itself is standing right in front of you.

Italian Roman super savvy travelers
Wonderful Romans

6) Lastly and bestly, The Italians!

I know I promised you five great reasons but I am including my favorite one as a bonus reason.

The Italians I have met in my travels have been the most amazingly wonderful people. 

But what would we expect from the descendants of the greatest ancient empire in the world?

Go and visit them. Visit their cities and revel in their art. There is a reason that the great artists wound up in Italy. And Rome is where it all begins.

Start planning your trip to Rome.  Contact us. We have some of the most radical travel pros standing by and we can craft a perfect vacation for you. 

Vital Things You Must Not Forget When Traveling Overseas

Vital things you forget to pack

You just arrived at your destination. You have planned your trip for months and everything is supposed to be perfect.

You start unpacking and to your horror,  you forgot to pack something vital.

What should be the first day of a fabulous vacation is now spent desperately trying to find this item instead of relaxing on the beach, exploring a new city or even a well deserved nap.

Even the simplest of trips requires a ton of super savvy planning in order to make it smooth and enjoyable from start to finish.

In all the rush and planning, there are always certain things you forget.

Print this article and use it as a check list.

1. Prescription medication

I have to take thyroid meds every day or I turn all grey and go right to bed. If I do not have these it is vital that I get some right away. The same is true with many prescription meds for many people.

You never know exactly what medications are available in other countries and minimally, you would probably have to see a doctor in order to get them.

If you arrive on a weekend, that makes a couple of days without your prescription.

Make sure you have enough of your prescription meds to see you through your entire stay.

Put these in your carry on luggage in case your luggage takes a side trip to Rangoon.

2. Your passport

Sounds like a no brainer but I have gotten all the way to the airport and realized I left my passport on the nightstand at home.

There is nothing like the sinking feeling that occurs when you realize what you have done.

Save yourself some grief.

3. Your chargers

Add to this list, your phone charger, your computer charger, your tablet charger and anything else you can think of that requires a charger. You can probably replace them where you are going but again, it takes time.

4. An electrical transformer

In many countries, especially in Europe, the plugs are different and you will need a transformer to use your appliances. You will not be able to plug your blow dryer into a European outlet.

5. Your phone

Make sure you have it and call your provider to ensure that it will work where you are going. If you are traveling with others or meeting others at your destination, you need to ensure that you can call and text each other. This does not happen automatically. You have to set it up.

6. Money in the currency of your destination

Change your money before you go. If you change it in the airport when you arrive or in any of the money changing stores or kiosks near any of the monuments, you will get charged way more than you should.

Your bank will need some notice as many of them do not carry different currencies as a matter of course. At least two weeks prior to your trip, order some new currency from your bank and get as much as you need.

If you have to change money at a bank when you arrive, ensure that you bring your passport and plan to spend at least 45 minutes there.

Or you can use the ATM for smaller amounts but there is a limit for each day.

When using the ATM, make sure you know what the limit is in the currency of your destination. Your dollar limit means nothing to a foreign ATM.

7. An over-the-shoulder-travel bag with reinforced straps

In most cities with any amount of tourism, thievery is rampant. Thieves have many ways of distracting you, grabbing your bags and even cutting the straps of your bag in order to steal from you.

Remember, a thief’s job is to figure out more effective ways to steal from wary travelers and they work hard at it. The scams and tricks they have are numerous.

If you have a bag with reinforced straps that goes over your shoulder and preferably under your jacket, it could save you losing your bag with all it contents.

8. Your ATM PIN

In different countries, PIN numbers may be different. In Italy they have to be four digits. Make sure you find out what the requirements are in your destination country so that you don’t get there and find out that you can’t use your ATM card.

9. Advise your bank that you are traveling

If your bank detects activity in a different part of the world than you are normally, they may freeze your account as a fraud prevention measure. You can avoid this by advising them before you leave that you will be in another country and how long you will be gone.

10. Tickets and reservations for attractions

With most of the popular attractions in any city, they book up fast. For this reason you see people waiting in lines snaking back and forth and they look like they have been there for hours.

Vacation time in your destination is priceless. You only have a certain number of hours in any given city. You do not want to waste it by standing in line.

Decide in advance what attractions you want to see and reserve your place online before you go. Some of the attractions book up months in advance like Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan.

If there is something you simply must see, check it out way in advance to ensure you don’t miss it.

Additionally many cities with a lot of attractions have discounts and passes you can buy that will save you tons of money and sometimes allow you to skip the lines.

In Florence you can buy the Firenze Card which costs 72 Euros and allows you 72 hours to access the museums and exhibitions on the Firenze Card circuit. You also get priority access to some museums saving you more time and allowing you to get more for your Firenze Card buck.

Other cities may have similar offers so go online and check it out.

Now that you have packed all the vitals and made all your reservations, you are ready for a stress free trip to your dream vacation.

For future dream vacations, check out our limited time travel deals. Taking advantage of these will stretch your travel buck and make you an even more Super Savvy Traveler.

Have fun!