Target Region: Le Marche

During the spring of 2015, when we got geared up on our house search, we identified a list of 91 potential houses. These were selected from hundreds online, based on our initial “wish list” of must-have/nice-to-have features. From this list, on my exploratory trip in May 2015, I saw 39 houses. These were in four regions — Marche, Abruzzo, Umbria, Tuscany — and involved 9 real estate agents Based on the trip, I formed two conclusions: I knew much better just what we wanted and might be able to get, and Marche offered the best potential to find it.

Let me say a few words about, “Why Marche?” I’ll also share our revised “wish list” for 2016.

Why Le Marche?

When reading about Italian regions, either to visit or live, you’ll often see Marche described as “Italy’s secret region” or “Italy’s little known gem.” Those descriptions are at least 10 years out-of-date, at least among property seekers, but they do indicate that Marche is seen as a bit out of the mainstream.

question mark symbolI found Marche appealing because of the terrain, the multitude of small — many hilltop — towns and villages, its location relative to the rest of Italy and places we might want to visit, the relative ease of getting to both the beach and mountains, and what I perceived as a good balance of house quality and price. And I like “out of the mainstream.”

Each of the other regions has its strengths on these measures: Abruzzo offers a lot of house for your money, Tuscany is perfectly located, and Umbria has a great location within Italy and is less expensive than Tuscany. But each also has weaknesses: Abruzzo’s terrain is a bit stark, Tuscany is expensive and overrun with foreigners, and Umbria, as the only region of Italy without a sea coast … far from the beach. And overrun.

I came out of the trip “thumbs up” on Marche. I could see living there.

What Kind of House We Want to Find

clipboard checklistI also came away with a fairly detailed specification list to work from in 2016. I’ll copy it here just as we sent it to three agents this spring. They each had some Marche properties, and, interestingly, were the only ones of the 9 agents to keep in-touch after the first trip.

It will be interesting to compare our list to how we sort out in 2016.

Specification/Wish List, Based on Last Year’s Trip

General thinking

  • Must haves are those fixed elements that can’t be addressed with a reasonable amount of time and money. This includes location relative to roads and services, setting, and basic interior layout
  • Are willing and expecting to make some upgrades/updates
  • Specific house more important than the region/province/specific nearby towns, but need to be in place that isn’t just foreigners and tourists

Here’s what the ideal house should have, once all needed improvements are made. If some items are exceptionally good, we may be able to make some trade offs on price or features.

Price, including key upgrades and improvements: pool, kitchen and bathrooms, landscape. When all costs, including transaction costs, are counted, probably should be under 600,000 euro, ideally under 550,000.

Layout/interior: items that are impossible/harder/more expensive to fix

  • Existence of guest suite or at least bedroom and private/designated bathroom in main house or outbuilding. Kitchen not needed as part of guest space.
  • Master bedroom suite
  • Minimum of two additional bedrooms, counting guest bedroom
  • Office/studio space (which could be also used as a bedroom)
  • Minimum of one additional bathroom for each two other bedrooms, with this bathroom on same level
  • Good flow of public spaces (LR, DR, kitchen) on main floor. Not too separate or connected poorly, property that is currently multiple apartments is unlikely to work (except guest apartment OK)
  • Good flow of bedroom spaces. No awkward stairway placement or room connections
  • At least a half bath on main floor
  • Interior stairways between levels
  • Open, bright, airy feel

Layout/interior: likely fixable. Issue is cost

  • Good quality of windows, doors, flooring
  • Good quality and appearance of kitchen and bathrooms
  • High quality, fast broadband connection

Exterior/Location: mostly impossible/harder/more expensive to fix

  • Outside appearance: stone and/or brick exterior. Stone preferred
  • Property/land: needs to feel private. Owned property minimum about 4000-5000m2. Larger unless surrounded by agricultural land.
  • Convenient location relative to a village with basic services (5-10 minutes) and a town with full services (15-30 minutes)
  • Access from paved road that is relatively easy and short
  • Ability to drive to and park next to house, without a long walk from car to house
  • Good location for pool

Exterior/location: fixable

  • Pool
  • Olive and fruit trees, vines, but mature would be preferred
  • Nice landscaping
  • Pergola (could be loggia or portico if exists), ideally something on multiple sides (east, south, west)

Other factors/critical

  • Annual operating costs, including utilities, maintenance, gardening/land upkeep

Other less important factors

  • View type: hills, mountains, lake, etc.
  • View “quality”
  • Rental potential

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How Our Big Italian Adventure Began Deciding to Buy a House in Italy

“Wow, the Euro’s really weak. If ever there was a good time to buy a house in Italy, now would be it,” said my husband, Ed, completely out of the blue one morning as he was reading the news on his iPad.

And so began our Big Italian Adventure. Within a month, Ed was on a plane to Italy in search of a house. Over a two week period he saw a total of 39 houses spread across the regions of Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo and Le Marche.

He came home empty-handed, having seen only one house that seemed to be a legitimate possibility. The one clear decision coming out of that first trip was that we should concentrate our search on Le Marche. It was beautiful and, while not undiscovered, it certainly was not overrun with foreigners as Tuscany and Umbria seemed to be. And it was definitely more affordable.

After that, we were so consumed with work, our daughter’s hockey schedule and other commitments that a whole year passed before we could find the time to go back to Italy to continue our house hunt.  But we still were getting property alerts from various web sites in Italy and we would pour over the photos and descriptions looking for our dream house.

Finally it looked like we had 10 days open for a trip, so we booked our flights and scheduled a house hunting tour with our agent, and some sightseeing for our daughter’s benefit.

A Little Back Story

Ed and I first fell in love with Italy way back before we had kids. Originally Ed had no burning desire to go to Italy, but I wanted an Italian vacation, so he agreed to go if I planned the trip.  On that first trip we visited Tuscany (Florence, Siena, Lucca, Pisa and San Gimignano) as well as Positano and Paestum on the Amalfi Coast.

Ed, who had never been to Italy before, was smitten immediately. As soon as we returned home he wanted to learn to speak Italian. We signed up for a class at the New Trier Extension and listened to Berlitz tapes in the car as we drove around town doing errands on Saturdays.

The Italian class turned out to be pretty lame. The teacher was living proof that just because you can do something (i.e. speak Italian) doesn’t mean you can teach someone else to do it. If any of her students didn’t understand something the first time she explained it, she would just repeat it louder and in a more annoyed tone until people just gave up asking questions.

After the course ended Ed carried on by himself, studying grammar books and listening to tapes. I kind of lost interest and decided to rely on my Spanish to get by on the next trip.

That next time we went to Rome and Umbria. I had a business trip – we were shooting three commercials in Rome for my job, so Ed decided to join me. I’d be busy working the first week but we would stay a second week as vacation.

Since I was working long days and nights,  Ed was left to his own devices, sightseeing by himself and trying to practice his Italian on impatient Roman waiters.

Once our shoot was over (disastrous, as it turned out, since it rained every day), Ed and I left Rome and spent another week touring around the hill towns of Umbria: Orvieto, Perugia, Spoleto, Todi.

We went on our third trip with another couple while I was pregnant with Jack and our friend was pregnant with her youngest daughter. This time we flew into Milan and visited the Lombardy region (Bergamo, Lake Como, Lake Garda, Verona) and Venice,  and then continued down to Emilia-Romagna (Ravenna, Forli, Bologna and Parma).

By this time, Ed was fairly proficient with his Italian and would take every opportunity to converse with the natives. They, in turn, really appreciated his efforts, since it is fairly unusual to find an American tourist who can do more than order pasta and wine and ask for the bathroom. The fact that I was pregnant seemed to make us even more attractive to the locals, and we were adopted by strangers everywhere we went, with offers to show us around their village and invitations to join them for a drink in their wine cellars. (Italians don’t seem to think a little wine enjoyed by a pregnant woman is at all harmful to a baby).

Until Ed’s first house hunting trip in 2015 we had not been back to Italy since 1997 when we visited Sicily to celebrate our 10th anniversary. But all that time we had fantasized about buying a place in Central or Northern Italy one day.

Ed’s comment about the Euro initiated a discussion about life being short and if we really wanted to do this Italy thing, we’d better go ahead and do it before it was too late. “One day” was here.

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