I won’t deny it, living in Italy is a dream come true for someone like me. Sometimes I take it for granted because I’ve lived here long enough that I start complaining like a local about the small-town mentality, low salaries, corruption, bureaucracy, injustices, high taxes etc. But every time I drive up to my in-laws’ house in the vineyard-covered hills, I am reminded again of Italy’s beauty and charm. Not only am I living in this romantic country but my husband and I are about to build a house in the Italian countryside. Although the idea may sound romantic, the process leading up to it is not quite so.
At the moment, my husband and I rent a 100 sqm apartment in a small town called Broni, a 10-minute drive from the countryside. It is our first home together, our first home as a married couple, and our first home as new parents. We love it. It is the perfect size for our small family.
15 STEPS TO BUILD A HOUSE IN THE ITALIAN COUNTRYSIDE (+CHALLENGES)
For the last five years, we have been in the process of purchasing and planning our new home in the hills, close to where my in-laws live. The plan was to purchase an old villa and rebuild it. Based on our experience, this is how to build a house in the Italian countryside:
- Find a property in the desired location and find out if it is for sale.
Not all the properties in rural Italy will be listed on a well-organized website. A lot of the time, property sales happen because of a simple conversation between neighbours or family members. That’s what happened to us anyway. Three-quarters of an old villa were owned by my father-in-law’s cousins and are located right above my husband’s vineyards: a perfect place to build our forever house. After a few phone conversations, we were at the negotiating table.
- Negotiate a price for the sale of the property.
This took a lot longer than I had imagined. At one point, we almost gave up. The owners of the property were two siblings that don’t speak to each other because of an ancient family feud. Getting them to agree on a price was worse than pulling teeth, or as they say in Italian, “un parto,” like giving birth! Guess how many years it took for them to finally decide on a price? Five. Yup.
- Get the property plans from the town hall.
Fairly straightforward. It’s actually the only thing that went smoothly. Haha.
- Hire a notary public for the sale of the property.
We were so relieved when we finally signed that contract. At the same time, we were also signing for our first mortgage so it put a damper on things.
- Find an engineer/contractor that will lead the project.
Luckily, we have my father-in-law to depend on when it comes to connections in the construction industry. He has hired contractors and construction companies in the past to build and renovate old buildings.
- Decide whether to demolish and build from scratch or rebuild and renovate. The villa we purchased was in good enough shape to renovate but we did add an additional part to the house which is entirely new.
- Meet with the engineer to discuss options and have them create designs of the property layout.
We met with the contractor several times and made quite a few changes. It’s better to make all the changes in the beginning on paper rather than change your mind when you’re halfway through the construction.
- Once design plans are decided, request a quote from at least three construction companies to execute the demolition and renovation of the property structure.
Even though my father-in-law had connections in the construction industry, we still wanted second opinions for peace of mind.
- Negotiate with the chosen construction company.
With our second opinion quotes, we were able to negotiate better with our chosen construction company.
- Get approved for a mortgage from the bank.
There are mortgages just for house reconstruction and renovation to facilitate new homeowners. After months of more paperwork, we were finally given the green light on our second mortgage.
- Hire a consultant to inspect the house under construction to approve the mortgage.
You have no choice here. Every time this consultant comes to carry out an inspection, you pay. That was a surprise to me. So far, he’s been to our construction site twice and his two invoices are totaling around 1000 Euros. Surprise!
- Get an idea of the style of house you are looking for.
Create a shared Pinterest Board or an album on Houzz.com to gather ideas about the kind of styles you want to see in your kitchen, bath, living room and bedrooms. Put a priority on the design and functionality of your kitchen and bath.
- Get quotes for tiling and flooring.
With your style ideas in mind, you will be able to better communicate what kind of materials you are looking for and the quotes received will be more realistic.
- Get quotes for electrical and heating systems.
Italy offers tax deductions of 65% of the cost of renewable and energy-efficient systems that can be reimbursed in a 10-year period. The details change every year so it’s important to stay up to date on how to redeem the cost of your heating and electrical installation.
- Find an interior designer or furniture company to design and execute the plans for the kitchen and baths.
Any kitchen, bath and furniture store will have a designer that will provide a detailed layout and quotation for you. Some will do it free of charge, others will do it for a fee. Fortunately, we have an interior designer friend that drew up the plans for us so all we had to do was take the plans to these stores and have them quoted.
- Be ready for unexpected changes.
Again, it is super important that you deal with all the changes on paper before construction begins. Especially with a rebuilding and renovation of an old villa, expect to find some obstacles that might only be noticed during the demolition and construction phase. We just discovered that our top floor cannot be leveled unless we want to fork out another four thousand Euros. Surprise!
As a general tip, double and triple check that you understand all the information being thrown at you when it comes to your contractor’s payment terms and fees, notary public fees, regulations for ownership, mortgage and payment procedures to name a few. We ran into some hiccups with regards to our contractor and the notary public because of misunderstandings and we ended up having to spend several thousand euros to fix it. Let that be a lesson to anyone investing into big projects in Italy or elsewhere!
So far, with the way I’m writing this blog post, it doesn’t seem like rebuilding an old Italian villa is as romantic as it sounds, right? Stress, frustration, time and a lot of money is involved, but what is it all for? Our dream home, or better yet, our forever house in the romantic hilly wine region of Oltrepò Pavese where I can raise my kids and live happily ever after.
Is the process of buying and renovating a house in your country quite similar?