THE HOUSE IS OURS! PART 3 OF 3
I don’t even know where to begin this writing. Should I start at the VERY beginning, or should I just continue where I had previously left off? Buying a house in Italy was something that had never occurred to either of us. In fact, the idea of uprooting and retiring to Florida was fairly radical. It’s not that either Art or I aren’t adventurous, but I guess we all have a "comfort zone", and certain basic ideas that we may not even be aware of. For most people like us, you are born and die in the same place. Art had relocated to Louisville many years ago from Florida, so the idea of moving back to Florida would not have been that unusual. Once we realized and verbalized our desire, no, NEED to live in Italy, we set things in motion that assumed a life of their own. Along the way we have made many, many friends, lost a few too. We have agonized over the falling dollar, and celebrated the sale of our house…at least the first two times we sold it. When the third offer was accepted, I couldn’t find the strength to celebrate…I will save that for the day we actually sign the closing papers. We have struggled to learn as much as we could about the Italian real estate world, banking world, insurance world. It has been amazing to us to discover how differently things are done in Italy. Sometimes that has been a pleasant surprise, other times it has been a frustrating, expensive nightmare. Throughout all of this, we have happily discovered that we DO think alike on many issues. Our commitment to this move has been solid. Even though we have been married for thirteen years, it was still very reassuring to know that if all else were to fail, as long as we had each other everything would be fine.
After the failed attempt to close on the house in April, we returned home to try to correct the codice fiscale which had been issued, Italian style, in my maiden name. After speaking with the consulate in Detroit, and being told that it "must" be issued that way, I was going crazy trying to figure out how to get around this problem. Thanks to the SlowTrav message board (again), and Maria (again), we contacted an Italian immigration attorney, who contacted the consulate to educate them about the law concerning foreigners and codice fiscales. The new codice fiscale, this time carrying my married name, and matching the name on my passport, arrived by fax within 2 days. We thought that this would clear the way for the closing to take place by proxy. Boy, we were wrong!
Through our agents at La Porta Verde, we had applied for a mortgage. This process was begun in January, we were approved quickly, and were told that there would be no problem in closing before the end of April, as had been agreed upon. Dorrie was the "money person" for La Porta Verde, and as this process continued, we learned that the bank she had found for us was a German bank, and this was her first experience with them. As we would come to find out, we were the guinea pigs for many different aspects of this sale. Being Americans, not EU residents was a new and not so nice twist. Being unfamiliar with the insurance, residency requirements and remodeling were other areas that caused problems. More about those later. As for the bank, it wasn’t until after we had returned home and gotten the codice fiscale corrected that we discovered that the bank did not have the paperwork completed. We had assumed, incorrectly, that the codice fiscale was the holdup in April. What this bank was doing, or why it took so long, I still don’t know. Finally, on May 22, Dorrie emailed us to say the bank documents were ready, and that the closing would be the next Monday or Tuesday. Well, good news and bad news. For reasons that are not clear, we ended up declaring the full value of the house for taxes. This is not typical in Italy, where the national past-time is trying to give the government as little money as possible. Due to this fact, we were not sure what our taxes would be, and had no idea how much we would need for various closing costs. Only at this time did we realize that no one had ever told us how much we would need in April…we had a few estimates, and had brought several thousand dollars in cash, just to be sure. Now that we were paying taxes on the full value, we were even more afraid that our Italian bank account would not have sufficient funds to close, and we also knew that we would not be able to wire the money in time for a Monday or Tuesday closing. A word to the wise: allow about two full weeks for wire transfers. Although we have had money show up in two days, that is not something I would plan on!
We contacted Wendy, our proxy and guardian angel in Italy. She was able to talk to Dorrie and verify that we would indeed have the necessary funds to close. And so, Monday morning, May 26, everyone showed up for the closing….except for the bank documents, which were delayed or somehow held up until later that afternoon, causing scheduling problems for everyone. And then, it was done. The house was/is ours. A very anti-climatic moment for us. I think we felt more drained and relieved than elated.
I think this is definitely one of those experiences where one could say "I could write a book". I have maintained from the beginning that 99% of the "how to buy a house in Italy" articles and books are directed at the EU market, and that for Americans, there is very little good, current information. This complaint has proven much too true. With regard to La Porta Verde, I think their intentions were good, but the fact that they are English (EU residents) and the fact that we were the first Americans to obtain a mortgage caused many problems. When we inquired about the insurance for the house, we were only familiar with the way it’s done in the US. Although required for the closing, the insurance is purchased by the buyer, and then proof is sent for the closing. In Italy, apparently the bank provides some sort of insurance with the issuance of the mortgage, and this fulfills the legal requirements. Additional insurance may be purchased for the contents and possibly additional features, but these are things that were never explained to us.
Another area that seemed to cause problems was the fact that the 3% commission due to our agents, La Porta Verde, was paid at the time our deposit was made in January, when our offer was accepted. The level of service from La Porta Verde seems to have declined sharply after their fee was received. Maybe this is just our perception, but we felt as if we were begging to get basic information or updates. We decided to have the house inspected by a geomtra, and were very disappointed in his report. Again, what we are used to in the US is quite different from what is available in Italy. As I write this, a home inspector is at my home. The dishwasher is running, the bathtub is filling, lights are being turned on, windows are being opened, the heating and air conditioning is being checked. For the inspection in Italy, I could have told you everything that was in the report. When we expressed our dissatisfaction to Graham, he was quite upset…after all, he and the geometra had both spent time doing this inspection! When we asked specific questions like "does the refrigerator work" or "does the washing machine work?", the answer was "I didn’t look at them, but the realtor assures me that everything works".
La Porta Verde advertises on their home page that using their service costs no more than using a realtor, and that they will provide a more personal service, and a service tailored to non-Italians. We discovered, quite by accident, that this is NOT the case. La Porta Verde was going to charge us a 2% fee for finding us a mortgage. Initially, this fee was 3%, but was dropped to 2% when we complained, and later dropped completely when the bank failed to deliver on time. We did ask the bank to compensate us for their extreme delay, but they were not as accommodating. La Porta Verde also charged us 100 euro to receive the money for our deposit. The Italian bank charged approximately 23 euro to receive this money, and we assumed that the remaining 77 euro would be used to receive the balance. We later found out that an Italian real estate company would not have charged us this fee, nor would they have charged us for setting up the mortgage. And to add insult to injury, La Porta Verde would not accept the remainder of our deposit….they told us that due to anti-Mafia laws, their account could be closed if they received more than 10,000 euro. Being from the US, we were stunned….wasn’t this a business? Didn’t they have a special escrow-type account set up for just such monies? And later, we wondered why Wendy, our proxy, was able to receive the money into her account with no apparent problem. So La Porta Verde simply made an additional 77 euro, although I’m sure they feel as if they have earned it after dealing with us.
All in all, this has been an experience full of surprises, some good and some bad. As is to be expected, it took longer and cost more. Would we do it again? Yes! Could we have saved ourselves some headaches by being better prepared in some way? We don’t think so. Although we sometimes felt like we were in some bizarre Three Stooges routine, we think our problems were bad luck, bad timing, not really things we could have anticipated.
Now, if we can just get this house sold, we are hopeful that we can relax and begin to enjoy what is about to open up before us: our new life, in our new house, IN ITALY!