We first met Ray and Caroline in April 2010; they were searching for a "traditional Italian country house, under €100,000, prepared to undertake a small amount of work."
Once we had helped them to find their home, we steered them through the buying process and then, afterwards, we followed them as they carried out some work to their new home. They didn't want to spend a huge amount on renovations, and were also keen to restore rather than replace, to maintain the character of the house. They wanted to use local craftsmen and also to do some of the work themselves. Using the words and photos of Ray and Caroline, we are able to illustrate just how easy it can be to turn your dreams into reality, on a relatively small budget. And have lots of fun on the way…
"Having visited our dear friends in Abruzzo and stayed in their beautiful home, we decided this was the region we would love for our holiday home. We scoured the internet and found a few properties we wanted to view, with three separate agents. Having seen what the first two agents had to offer, we decided that the properties were not for us, so fingers crossed for better luck with the last agent…"
8th April 2010 - Finding L'Oliveto
Today we met Tracey and her colleague, Vincenzo, and already feel sure that they are to be the ones with whom we want to do business. Having shown us around a couple of properties near Muraglie, we wound our way up to the adorable town of Montefino. We popped into the local bar and had coffee and cake. It was from this viewing point that the next house we would be visiting was pointed out, in the Fino Valley, below. We both felt really excited as we made our way down the winding road that led to our holiday home to be. The road undulated and meandered past farm houses and small holdings. We stopped momentarily on the apex of a bend in the road and abruptly turned off to make our way down a stony track. There, we had the first tantalizing elevated glimpse through an olive grove, of a lichen covered, tiled roof. We climbed the outside staircase and investigated the interior. There is a lot to do, but the little house already has our hearts. We have asked for a second viewing tomorrow….
9th April 2010 - Second Viewing
We are hooked! We went back today with B & J, and they fell in love with it too! We have explained to Tracey how much we want to pay and she has assured us that they will talk to the owners and keep us informed of progress. This afternoon we signed a form to authorize Tracey to go to get our ‘codice fiscales’ for us. Tomorrow we fly back to England. We already feel excited and apprehensive, as we await news….
15th April 2010 - Offer accepted
We've been home for less than a week and the vendor has said "yes" to our offer! Tracey emailed this evening with the good news. It strikes us that Vincenzo is a pretty cool negotiator! We are very impressed by his speed of operation. What a remarkable feeling, we are both wearing silly grins. Tracey was true to her word, with daily messages of progress about the negotiations, and she also told us today that she has our codice fiscales. Time to celebrate….
18th April 2010 - Paying the deposit
Today, we received an electronic version of a document: it's a kind of short compromesso, which Vincenzo has drawn up for us. Tracey has translated it for us beautifully. As well as the information about the sale, it contains the bank details of the owner, the amount of deposit required and the remaining sum payable at the signing. We are concerned that we are being a bit pushy and painful about detail; they are more concerned that we feel secure and well-supported. We instruct our bank to forward one seventh of the asking price to the vendors bank account. The vendor should see her money by the end of the week.
20th April 2010 - Shopping lists and plans
Now we've begun bombarding Tracey with emailed requests for sources for workmen. Our initial nerves have turned into excitement and the adrenaline is flowing. Tracey has to be our 'buyer' from 1,200 miles and she doesn't disappoint. We have drawn up our list of proposed works and she is providing us with names of craftsmen: electricians, plumbers, builders, as well as names and websites of shops for kitchens and furnishings.
25th April 2010 - 'Christening' the house and a stufa called 'Rosa'
My deposit has arrived safely and a 'signing' date is provisionally booked for around the beginning of June. We have a 'bee in our bonnet' about getting a wood burning stove, or a 'stufa' to an Italian. Tracey knows an iron mongers and emails us with examples and prices. She's a good'un. We decide on a stufa called 'Rosa' - it's the right price and has all the 'bells and 'whistles' we need.
We've pondered on a few random names for the house but 'L'Oliveto' keeps coming up favourite - snuggled into a gentle, south-facing hillside, in the midst of 150 olive trees, the name fits well.
30th April 2010 - Learning to walk before we can run
We do not want to upset the apple cart by contravening the rules of the Comune. We must walk before we can run, but we are keen to get going with the works as soon as possible. Would outside wall lights upset anyone, we wonder?
Vincenzo confirms that we can proceed with wiring, plumbing and basic fittings which do not affect the outside appearance. The doors and windows will be restored rather than replaced. We are pleased to take advice on all of these things.
4th May 2010 - Star Wars Day
The signing appointment is confirmed as 1st June - I'll be there! Tracey will arrange as many craftsmen appointments as possible for the days before and after. Two days shared between them all sounds eminently sensible. I envisage the possibility of it all being a bit of a circus! Mind you, I don't get over anxious - Tracey will be doing all the translating! I'm going to book the flights now and hire car and hotel. A million new questions are flying through our heads. May the fourth be with us!
15th May 2010 - Money advice
We now need to move some significant sums of money. Tracey has provided us with a phone number and direct email address for a currency broker, and has made all the arrangements to set up a temporary Italian account for me. I deal with the broker and our dealing process is underway. The button is pressed and our money is winging its way to Abruzzo.
20th May 2010 - A bit hot under the collar
Our bit of England has just begun to warm up, in more ways than one: both with respect to the weather and our body temperatures and pulses. Monies have been transferred and the sun is shining. Our nerves are a little bit tense but we know/hope we are in safe hands.
30th May 2010 - the 11th hour after 50 days!
Well, I'm just about to get in my car, to drive down to Stansted....it's a 3 and a half hour run and I fly at 5pm. Last check....spectacles, passport, watch and wallet....
If all this goes to plan, we shall have moved from first viewing to completion in 7 weeks! Not bad going, either at home or abroad!
1st June 2010 - Final signing and other stories
I was greeted at the local bank on a bright summer morning. The bank manager had all the papers prepared and all transfers had been successful. With Tracey as my aid and translator, we all presented ourselves at the Notary’s office in Pescara by mid morning.
Upon arrival we met the vendor and members of her family; it was quite an event. The notary had a unique and idiosyncratic style, but was friendly. The deeds of transfer had been prepared in both Italian and English and the notary read both versions out loud. All relevant parties signed two copies and were witnessed. I handed over the payment for the property and cash payment to the notary for his services. After much hand-shaking, the business was done. Outdoors, in the bright sunshine once more, I phoned home!
Within an hour we had snacked and returned to our house, I met up with a series of tradesmen and Tracey stayed to translate, which was invaluable. After a lot of note taking and conferring, they said they would draw up their estimates and forward them to me electronically. Fab!
Next stop – the kitchen. Tracey and I toured the aisles until we found the kitchen Caroline had chosen. A very efficient young man drew my kitchen to scale and superimposed a CAD design on his screen. With a little tweaking, the job was done. The kitchen would be delivered and fitted in my absence. Tracey would greet the delivery. Job done.
In my hotel, I call home again..We giggle childishly, muse over whether or not we’ve done the right thing, then chortle again.
2nd June 2010 - Leaving all my money behind
I drove down to the estate agents’ office for an 8.30 meeting, to finalize a few details and leave requests for jobs I should like Tracey to undertake on our behalf. I was early and whilst waiting, I watched an elderly lady across the street. Wearing a full pinafore over her black clothing, she proceeded to pick cherries from her tree which overhung the pavement. As she filled the bowl with her dewy harvest, she conversed earnestly with her neighbour who was ferreting under the bonnet of his truck. I was perspiring. Was that nerves?
Tracey and Vincenzo soon arrived and we retired to the cool interior of the office. I paid my share of the estate agents fee, which had been worth every penny. I left all my remaining Euros and my Italian cheque book in Tracey’s care; after all, it would be of little use to me at home. I signed several cheques, in order that she might pay workmen and purchase items from our shopping list. I left a list of instructions which she was happy to undertake on our behalf. I was assured that I would soon receive the deeds and they would be forwarded to me in due course.
I joked nervously that in the last 24 hours, I had left several large quantities of money in the hands of relative strangers, in a foreign country, without a single receipt, who as soon I leave for England could quite easily disappear off around the world! They laughed too.
We shook hands and I left. I was perspiring as I reached to turn the starter. I don’t think I dare tell anyone at home. They would never believe how trusting I’d been. On more than occasion on my way home, I reflected on the significant cultural differences there had been in doing business in this manner. Whatever had I been thinking?
The frenetic nature of airport procedure distracted me. As the plane leaves the tarmac, I sit back and try to relax because I knew I can trust those with whom I have done business.
I close my eyes and wonder how soon it will be before we‘d taste our own olive oil?
June 2010 - Shopping frenzy
We embark upon a series of rapid email exchanges which involve us sending Tracey shopping lists, enabling her to purchase all our bathroom fittings, lighting, and secure the delivery of our chosen stufa.
In a few short weeks, the geometra, plumber, electrician and bathroom fitter are all given the go ahead to start work in early July.
July 2010 - Work commences
Tracey oversees the removal and refurbishment of the bathroom and the windows and shutters. She liaises with electrician and plumber, constantly updating us on progress and conveying to the contractors any fickle changes of design or fitment.
1st August 2010 - Italian road trip
We drive down to Italy with a car load of tools and belongings. At this stage the little house probably looks its saddest but we remain undaunted. The windows have been completely removed and taken away to be restored. The electrician has chased out the walls for the rewire. The old bathroom suite has been removed and a heap of rubble adorns the terrace. With no power or water, there is little we can do apart from measure up and use our imaginations. Italy is on holiday, so we stay with our good friends and take a road trip together…
1st September - 12th October 2010 - L'Oliveto transformation
During the next six weeks L’Oliveto undergoes a transformation. Italy (and we) go back to work after the summer. Electric power is established. Boiler, radiators, mosquito nets are fitted. The refurbished windows, shutters and doors secure the house and give it a completely new air. We welcome emailed pictures of proceedings.
The chased out walls are all re-plastered and the bathroom is tiled. Tracey helps decorate the house throughout. The whole first floor is fresh and smart to receive our new furniture and kitchen.
Tracey meets and greets the new kitchen and stufa deliveries and oversees their fitting. She negotiates the delivery of bedroom and lounge furniture; which we had chosen during our visit the previous August. L’oliveto is made bright, clean and habitable for our visit at the end of October.
21st October 2010 - Half-term hols
We fly this time and hire a car which we load with goods from IKEA. A local friend greets us at the store in Ancona with his large white van and ships the flat packs of all shapes and sizes, that we can’t possibly fit into the car.
There is most definitely an Italian ‘tempo’. It is crucial that we learn to adopt the gentler pace of work and life, otherwise we’ll knock ourselves out! Tracey is a fabulous barometer and balances our strident march with the more temperate, Abruzzese ‘stroll’.
The exterior is still rather shabby but the interior is shaping up very nicely indeed. Our Italian house has undergone a significant make-over and our dreams are becoming an Abruzzo reality. We’re delighted.
We gaze across the Fino valley from our terrace in glorious autumn sunshine. It seems as though the whole of Abruzzo is outdoors, harvesting olives. We only have a week and just don’t have the time or energy to harvest our own this time. “Next year,” we vow…
26th October 2010 – Exteriors: Meeting with Fausto the geometra
In less than 5 months of ownership, the first floor has been renovated pretty much as we want it. Barring the odd piece of furniture and ornament, we’re pretty much finished up stairs.
Now our attention turns to other items on our “to do” list. Half the ground floor was once a byre for cattle; manger and all. The ceiling is in a poor state, possibly in need of some structural attention. We have decided that this space is going to become a summer kitchen. The other half of the ground floor is split into two good sized rooms, albeit a little damp and airless. These will be a large guest bedroom and en-suite, respectively.
Tracey arranges Fausto, the geometra to meet up at the house to define precisely how we should proceed. Whilst we have our own very clear ideas for resolving the work, we must screw on our “Italian heads” and pay close attention to the geometra’s advice.
Whatever works are undertaken to improve structure, choice of materials etc. these must all receive his blessing, be recorded on plans and drawings and be submitted to the Comune. The “certificated” contractor will also be obliged to liaise with the geometra as works progress, to ensure that regulations are adhered to.
Our week is up, so we must return home to the UK. Tracey agrees to secure some tenders for the work, which we want to start in the Spring.
17th January 2011 - Flooding the neighbourhood
We had considered a second, smaller wood burning stove for the sitting room but realize that to have another radiator fitted would make better sense. We let Tracey know and she tells our plumber. He thinks we’re fickle but he’ll do the job.
Tracey has found us a building contractor and after lengthy negotiations, she secures a price for each stage/phase of the work and a start date is agreed.
Being ignorant English, we fail to lag the water meter, which is out doors and whilst accessible to the meter reader it is also exposed to severe falls in temperature! Unbeknown to anyone at this time, our meter succumbs to 4 degrees of frost. The meter bursts and gently pumps 200,000 litres of water into the surrounding fields. This makes the new ‘English neighbours’ rather unpopular because all surrounding farms and homesteads are without water until the location of the burst is identified. Suffice it to say, the new meter will be well-lagged!
Tracey has trawled ceramics showrooms and found sufficient tiles to skirt our walls. They are reasonably priced and not only does she acquire them but she sticks them on; beautifully. She finds the right tiles for the splash back too.
11th February 2011 - Post problems
Tracey emails to inform us of a small but significant discovery. We have not been getting bills, or any mail because the post office has our address as being in the neighbouring Comune. She straightens this out and is now better able to retrieve our bills and pay them on time. Service!
31st March 2011 - Spring springs
Tracey has been emailing regularly and has warned us that the gloriously warm and humid spring is making our grass grow at a rate of knots. She recommends the services of a local farmer to mow the land, prune and feed the olive trees and tame the bamboo canes (which invades everyone’s land around these parts).
20th April 2011 Easter hols
We arrive in our little car. What a treat! Whilst the builders are still on site, they have almost finished all the necessary work outdoors and erected a dividing wall in the summer kitchen. The exterior is transformed. The plaster gleams and the outdoor staircase has undergone a complete makeover. Extra wiring has been undertaken on the ground floor and preparations for a washing machine are all done.
The land is in good order and the olive trees are all pruned into the pre-requisite goblet shapes. They have also been fed, in readiness for the flowers setting.
Easter is very warm and but wet. Italy gets April Showers, too. In the short time we’re there, we tidy up the land, clear the sheds, reorganize storage and shop for coping stones for the terrace wall. We discover that size matters! We buy a washer and big fridge freezer and install them. We watch the Royal Wedding from 1200 miles.