An Italian “Negotiation”

After we had seen the Casa Ideale property a second time, we felt that it was our top choice, though in our talks with Kevin and in our heads we were still considering the house near Pergola (Casa Col di Luce). We loved that house and property. Our concern there was purely location: could we get integrated at all in the local life from that location? We asked the seller’s agent to “sell” us on the area and its opportunities for us.

After more thinking, and no response to our request, we decided to proceed with the Ideale property. So it was time to try and reach a reasonable deal.

Arm wrestling to suggest negotiationThe “negotiation” to reach a preliminary purchase agreement proceeded differently than I expected. Despite being aware of the significant differences in the way the home search process works in Italy versus the US (see this post), I guess I thought negotiation on a price and terms would be a back and forth between us as the buyers and the seller, with the real estate agent, Kevin, in the middle.

Recall that there is only one agent involved here on the Ideale property. Kevin has the property listing, or the right to offer it the market and he has us, as potential buyers. (Neither of these relationships is exclusive.) This “dual agency”, with only agent involved who has brought buyer and seller together, is not legal in many parts of the US. But because of the structure of the Italian system, I think it’s the norm.

The property is listed for €79,500 on Kevin’s site. (I don’t know if this property is listed on other sites, but in the cases where I’ve seen the same property listed on multiple sites the price was always the same on all.) As part of the total project cost projection Kevin had given us, he said that he thought we could get the property for €62K-€65K.

Kevin asked me what we wanted to offer. My first thought was that I didn’t want to offend the seller, who I thought was one of the adjacent landowners. That would be getting started in the community on a very bad foot. Kevin told me it was someone else, and he really wanted to sell. It was an Italian who had bought the property intending to build a house for his daughter. She had no interest, so he thought he might make a quick buck selling to some foreigners.

As a starting number, I suggested €50K. Kevin told me he thought we’d meet near the middle and suggested €48K, so I agreed. I figured we’d hear back with a counter offer and we’d go from there.

When I talked to Kevin the next day, rather than asking for a counter, he said he had a deal at €62K. Did we want it? He had told the seller we didn’t want to go beyond €60K and had reached a somewhat complicated deal at €62K. So, after our original offer of €48K, our next step was to say yes or no to this deal at €62K. Nice and neat, right where we wanted to end up. I’m glad we followed his advise on our first bid.

Signing the preliminary agreement and any payment of deposit would happen after we checked some basics. In addition to the survey, land title, and related issues, we needed to have a “positive opinion” from the town planning official that we could build what we wanted on the property. Not a final approval, which would take some months, so this introduced a little twist: might we end up with a plot of land that couldn’t be built on?

Kevin assured us that approval had been given for a house on the property, just not one at the 20% larger size and with a pool. But even the larger house was still at or below the limit for the size of the house that should be allowed under the rules.

Risk and reward. After sorting through the proposed transaction, Anne and I decided it made sense to go forward. Now what?

Image source: License: CC0 Public domain. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.




House Hunting in Le Marche – Day 3

There were a couple of houses we were interested in that were listed by another agent, Richard, so on Day 3 we went to see them.

La Perla Segreta (The Secret Pearl)

La Perla SegredaOne of the nice features of this house was that it was walking distance to the town of Mogliani, while still being very private. It was a good-sized house, with five bedrooms and five baths and a pool. It also had 80 olive trees and a small vineyard, a plus from my point of view.

But it didn’t show well, as it was totally overgrown and it would be quite a big project to clear the property. But its biggest unfixable drawback was that the living room was rather small and was down a long, narrow hall on the opposite end of the house from the kitchen. We quickly decided to pass on this one.

Casa Tranquilla

Case Tranquilla, Le MarcheCasa Tranquilla sits below the town of Penna San Giovanni, but still high enough to have panoramic views of the whole valley. We were met by the owners Trud and Udo and their two dogs as we drove up the driveway, and they showed us around both the main house and the apartment in back, as well as the extensive grounds (about 7.5 acres).

Casa Tranquilla poolThe house itself was a charming country cottage that had been thoughtfully restored to maintain its character and vintage details. It had a wonderful loggia in front, where I could picture enjoying all our meals in good weather. Inside, the floor plan was a bit quirky and chopped up. The master suite was on the ground floor and there was another bedroom upstairs, but without a bath. The upstairs hallway had a door leading to the apartment, which could be closed off or left open and integrated into the main house. The apartment itself was great, and provided a Casa Tranquilla interiornice rental income in summer for Trudi and Udo. It had a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room, plus a large, partially covered terrazza with incredible views.

The property was awesome. Besides the pool and the views, it had lots of olive and fruit trees as well as a bocce court. There was also a barn in back, where Udo had his art studio and workshop.

It was hard not to love this place, but we decided the inside space was too awkward and didn’t have the right rooms in the right places, so it probably wouldn’t work for us.

Casa Ideale (Redux)

After we returned from seeing these two houses, we decided to go back to Casa Ideale (the ruin) to have another look at the property and discuss whether the option of building a new house was something we would really consider taking on.

The neighboring farmer had blocked the lane with his truck so we had to stop short of the property and trudge through the fields to get there. But what a view.

Ideale_view1      View from Casa Ideale, Marche

We discussed the size of the house we could build, how and where it might be sited to take advantage of the views, where the pool would go, etc. Most importantly, could we actually pull off building a house in Italy while living in Chicago. This would have been a non-starter if it were not for the fact that Kevin, in addition to being a real estate agent, also worked as a general contractor, overseeing restoration projects. He had a team of architects, builders and other tradespeople who could do this for us, and he would be in constant communication with us to give us progress updates and get our feedback. We were intrigued with the notion of building something to our own specifications and not having to live with awkward floor plans or someone else’s taste in interior finishes.

We also felt it was a plus that the property was close to two towns: Colmurano and Urbisaglia. We really want to get involved in local life, so this was important to us.

We had a lot to think about, and our decision was made all the more confusing by the fact that we were comparing apples, oranges and grapefruits when it came to what property to buy. We had two fully finished houses in contention, a couple of partially reconstructed houses and a ruin.

That night we had a long discussion over dinner, helped along by a couple of bottles of local wine.

Images: Copyright Our Big Italian Adventure

House Hunting in Le Marche – Day 2

We had only five properties to see on Day 2, but one of them was about an hour away from the others, so it was still going to be a full day of house hunting.

Casa Duetto

Casa Duetto in Le Marche

First we saw the close in houses, starting with Casa Duetto, a small compound of two buildings and a pool on 9.3 acres, with awesome views of snow-capped mountains. The smaller building, a 70 sq. meter cottage, was a perfect little guest house for 1-2 people. The only bad thing was the spiral staircase up to the 2nd floor. I couldn’t picture my older sister climbing that every night to get to her bedroom.

The key issue with the main house was you had to walk down a steep set of stone steps to get to the front door, as the house was built on a hillside. I would not look forward to schlepping my groceries down icey stairs in the dead of winter. Ed’s knees hurt just thinking of those steps. Plus, since it was built into the hillside, it was quite dark inside.

Casa Blu

Casa Blu, Le Marche

Kevin had nicknamed this house Casa Blu (Blue) since the doors, shutters and trim were all painted blue. At 350,000 Euro it was on the less expensive end of the spectrum, but it did need some work and we weren’t too wild about the mismatched IKEA kitchen and the power lines that were in view. Probably not a contender.

Casa Casale

Casa Casale, Le Marche

This was also a two building compound on a nice 2.5 acre property, but it needed a lot of upgrading, which would take the cost up to around 525 Euro. Emma didn’t like it at all and went so far as to say it was haunted. I guess that’s a no.

Casa Ideale

Casa Ideale, Le Marche, Italy

This was actually just a ruin on a little less than an acre of land. Literally a ruin: one wall and a pile of rubble. The owner already had provisional approval to build a 160 sq. meter house on the property. We wanted something bigger, with at least three bedrooms and an office/den and 2-3 baths. Kevin said we could build up to 190 sq. meters, based on the size of the original farmhouse. We were intrigued by this possibility because we could design the space the way we wanted and build with energy-efficient materials. Even with a rough plan of a house, Emma was having trouble visualizing what it would look like, and she was more in favor of getting a house that was already done, like Casa Ben Pensata or Casa Immersa from yesterday

Casa Col di Luce

Casa Col di Luce was the house that was an hour northwest of the others, near the town of Pergola.
We loved it immediately. It had a beautiful, 8 acre property with a gorgeous pool and knock-out views. The side of the house facing the pool had a shady loggia, and the interior of the house had just the right amount of space and just the right rooms. Everything was meticulously cared for. This was it, we thought! We had just had one question: what was around here? We had driven an hour and were not familiar with this area. Kevin was only able to say it was not as good a location as the other houses in terms of being near restaurants, shopping and things to do. That gave us pause. We would not like to move here and sit by ourselves in our house, no matter how lovely.

restored farmhouse with pool near Pergola Italy

Images: Copyright Our Big Italian Adventure

Le Marche? The Part of Italy You've Never Heard Of

Blank stares. That’s what we get when we tell people the area we’re looking at in Italy. Essentially, no one has heard of Le Marche or really knows where it is. Even my online Italian teachers were hard-pressed to tell me anything about it. So, let me fill you in.

The first three questions everyone has are, “Where is it?”, “Why does it have a strange name?” — in English, it’s often translated as The Marches — and, “Why not Tuscany?” Let’s deal with these.

A Geography Lesson

map of italy with marche highlighted

One of the 20 regions of Italy, it’s on the eastern side of the country, with a coastline on the Adriatic Sea and a western border along the top of the mountains that run down the center of the peninsula. North and south, it’s about in the middle. It’s northeast of Rome, about 3 1/2 hours by car, and southeast of Florence, again by 3 hours or so. The distances to these cities aren’t that big, but you have to cross the mountains to get to either.

The terrain is mostly rolling hills, plus the mountains, with a small sliver of flat land along the coast. There are a number of river valleys that run down to the sea, so traveling east-west in the valleys is a lot faster than going north-south through the mountains and hills.

marche provinces map
It’s divided into 5 provinces, named after the biggest city in each. With one possible exception, you’ve never heard of any of these places. North to south, they are Pesaro & Urbino, Ancona, Macerata, Fermo, and Ascoli Piceno. The exception might be Urbino, not a big town but the birthplace of the painter Raphael.

After my reconnaissance mission a year ago, we’ve decided to focus our search primarily on the Macerata province, in the farmlands around the towns of San Ginesio, Colmurano, Urbisaglia and Amandola. That will put us about 35-40 minutes from both mountains and sea.

A History and Language Lesson

In the Middle Ages, most of Italy was ruled by the Pope, but on the eastern fringe were the Marches of Ancona, Fermo, and Camerino. These were nominally part of the Papal States, but were in fact under the control of local rulers, called a marchese, or marquis in English.

The term march in English or marca in Italian, comes from the Latin word marco, meaning “margin” or “edge”, and because of their locations this area became known as Le Marche, the Italian plural of la marca. (The name “Denmark” comes from a similar derivation.)

An Economics Lesson

Tuscany is great: the art, the terrain, the wine, the women, the song. Tuscany is also bad: overrun by Americans, both for houses and summer visits, and home to high real estate prices. (Try visiting Cortona, made famous in one of those books about moving to Tuscany. If you hear anyone speaking Italian, you win a prize.)

Based on our extensive online searches and four days visiting about 15 houses, house prices, even on the far edges of Tuscany, are at least 30% higher than Le Marche. Look near Florence and, as they say, if you have to ask what it costs you can’t afford it.

Now, I hope your blank stare has turned into a wise look of recognition.

First map source: By Gigillo83 – Own work., Public Domain Second map source: Licensed: Copyright: lesniewski / 123RF Stock Photo