BUYING THE HOUSE IN ITALY - PART 2 OF 3
Here we are in the middle of preparing for our move to Italy. We are emailing to Italy every day; checking for emails FROM Italy about four times a day. We are still not certain how we will get our money to Italy. We do not yet have a bank account in Italy, and it is impossible for our bank to wire money to the bank itself to hold for our arrival. Our bank here says it must have an account number, and we agree that even if we could make this transfer without an account number, it’s a little scary to send the money and HOPE they receive it, or that they acknowledge it…what would we do if they just said they never received the money? So…we are still trying to figure out the best way, the safest way, the least complicated way, and also the cheapest way of doing this. Due to somewhat recent "anti-Mafia" laws, any bank account that receives large sums of money into it is under suspicion. The account could be frozen, closed, confiscated, who knows what? Bringing cash seemed to be the best bet, then we found out what the exchange rate was, and quickly changed our minds. A "eurocheque" was mentioned, to be drawn on an Italian bank, but we can’t be sure that this would be any more efficient. We need to be able to write checks immediately, and the transfer from one Italian bank to another is no faster than a transfer from the US, and that can take 10 to 14 days, although it has been posted in as few a three days. But of course, you can never be sure. The age of the internet and electronic banking is definitely here, but things don’t always work quite as smoothly or quickly as we would hope for. The rapid and dramatic decline of the dollar has us scared and crazy. Should we move money now? Wait a week? A month? Rob a bank? Buy a lottery ticket? Nine months ago we bought euro for 92 cents. Today a euro cost $1.10. Our house would cost $87,400 at the old rate. Today it costs $104,500.
Where did we go wrong? We think we have figured out a few mistakes we have made along the way, and will share them with you. Maybe they will help someone else avoid the same mistakes, or at least be aware of the complications that may arise. As I said earlier, we do not have a bank account in Italy. We thought about opening one on our last visit, but our friend talked us out of it, saying that it was such a quick and simple process, certainly not worth bothering with until we needed it. In retrospect, this one quick and simple process would have saved us hours of headaches and worry. We would have had an account to send our money to. We could have (hopefully) made arrangements to avoid being flagged as possible criminals. And it would have been one less thing to do once we return to Italy to close on our house. We have found out that not every bank will open an account for people without a permesso di soggiorno, as we are. You do need a codice fiscale, but this can be applied for online at the Italian consulate’s website. I think it took less than two weeks to receive ours, although we are still waiting, three months later, for the official cards. The important thing is that we have the numbers, and a letter from the consulate verifying their validity. Should you even be thinking about buying a house in Italy, this would be the first thing I would recommend. It’s an easy process, free, and if you never need it, so what? The next thing to do would be to open a bank account. It may take some research to discover which banks will let you open and account, and the restrictions that may apply, but if you do need to transfer money for a deposit or down payment, the account will be ready to accept your money.
As some of you may remember, when we scheduled our trip for last November, it was really just to look at towns and villages, areas, accessibility, livability, ambiance. We never expected or planned to actually find a house on that trip, so of course we did! Had we known then what we know now, I’m not sure what we would have done, but proving the saying that "ignorance is bliss", we made an offer on the house, and it was accepted! The fun had begun, but we didn’t know it.
Our original plans had Art retiring in October 2003. We planned to sell our house in the spring of 2003, sell all our furniture, put the stuff we would take to Italy in someone’s basement, and rent a furnished apartment with a short term lease. This way, when we DID return to Italy to find and buy a house, we would be ready, financially , physically, and hopefully mentally. Once Art retired, we would know what his retirement would net us each month. We would have time to set up the automatic transfer of the TSP funds we planned to use for our mortgage payment. We would request his pension check from his other job. We would have the financial resources to know what we could afford, to make an immediate deposit, to provide accurate, up-to-date information about our future income for a mortgage application. We would be unencumbered by a house, only needing 30 days notice to be on our way once we were ready. Finding our house unexpectedly was the good news AND the bad news.
Separate from the money and banking issues, we now have to sell our house, return to Italy to close on the new house, get rid of all our furniture, move to an apartment, and we STILL have to wait until the fall of 2003 to move! Of course we tell ourselves that finding the house when we did was just serendipity. And it will all work out one way or the other. And, ultimately, we will live in Italy. Perhaps if we had followed the "perfect" plan we would not have found the right house at the right price. We may have had the freedom to move without having a house to move TO. We just have to believe that everything happened the way it did for a reason, hopefully a good one, but if we had to do it all over again, I think we might have made all of the arrangements FIRST, so that when something came up, we could move without hesitation. But, if YOU are thinking about buying a house in Italy, consider the delays and frustrations that may occur, and plan accordingly!