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HOW TO BUY A PROPERTY IN UMBRIA or even ITALYPart 2 of several
By John Tunstill - "The Man Who Invented Umbria"
So, you've bought the house, your geometra (surveyor) has the plans approved, and together you have chosen a builder. Ah, but do you have a written agreement, or contract, that you, and the builder, have signed? Is it in English, or Italian, and do both parties understand their full duties and responsibilities? Is your command of the Italian language sufficient for you to comprehend what you are about to agree to? Probably not, then do not pass "Go", but go straight back to the geometra that you were going to employ, sack him, and find someone who can not only speak to you in English but understands your language well enough for him to become your intermediary. If this new geometra is any good he should be able to explain to you, and the builder, what is to be agreed, and he should be able to write a simple contract for agreement between you both. Beware of the contracts incorporating huge screeds of text taken from the regional guide for builder's prices and building practice, you won't understand what they are saying, neither will the builder, and the geometra's explanations will leave you equally confused. Spend some time now on agreeing a short, easy, understandable contract for the first part of the work, the floors, walls and roof, and avoid tears, and expensive mistakes, in six month's time.
OK, we'll start again, drawings and proposals are approved, and here again, beware, don't get pulled into the trap of getting full planning permission if you are only rebuilding an existing house, all you probably need is a "D I A", a Declaration of the Inizialization of the Activity. The local authority have to advise you if you can't go ahead within a set number of days after this application is made. Ask your surveyor why he is suggesting a full building permission request rather than a DIA, and if he can't give a really convincing answer, then sack him, as it is obvious that he is trying to create much more unnecessary work for himself, that you eventually will have to pay for.
If you ask a geometra, for a costing of a job, whether or not he undertakes the supervision of the contract, you will have to pay his fees for any work carried out by anyone, that corresponds to any of the work for which he has provided an estimate. Go to three geometras and you'll end up with three fees even though none of them was awarded a contract or has done any further work! We have an 18 page contract, defined and refined over the last twenty-five years, written in plain and straightforward English.
So, how do you get this estimate, that you can agree with a builder, which can then be supervised by your tame geometra? Who sold you the house? Do they speak English? Do they have any restoration experience? And, when it comes to experience, ask the geometra to show you houses he is working on, do they reflect the style and taste that you are looking for? The same with the agent, the builder, and anyone else concerned with your project. What have they done, and what are they currently working on? A man who builds factories or blocks of flats may not have the flair and sympathy that you need to restore and modernise this dream house of yours.
OK, already, so now we really are ready to start. Agreements are agreed, drawings are drawn, permissions are granted and you have your money in the bank ready to settle all the bills in cash at the end of the month. Ah. You forgot about the money? Get your money in hand, pay cash and you'll save a huge amount of tax. Wait for a formal account, then the statement, then the demand and you'll end up paying the full tax, your house will take forever to complete, and your builders will start to wander off to do other jobs, where they are being paid cash, promptly. During all this time buy the popular magazines that show the style of building that you are trying to create, pull out all the pretty pictures, create a scrap book. A picture / thousand words etc., you remember? And of course the picture speaks Italian, or Greek or Swahili. "Cosí", "Like this". Easy, no?
Whilst you've got some pretty sheets showing the proposed layout of your new home, with plan and elevation drawings and lots of measurements, can you really understand what you're looking at? If the answer is anything less than a firm and resolute yes, then stop and think, again. Perhaps making a cardboard model of the house at a scale corresponding to that of a toy figure that you can easily buy could be an answer. Walk the toy man through the toy house and see if he fits, is there too much corridor space, can he fit in the kitchen, what are the bathroom accesses like, is there space to get on, and off the stairway. So much better to come up with a fundamental change now, before you've paid to have that wall built, and to shift the doorway half a meter to the right, now, before it's built, really costs nothing.
Colours is another thing; you could argue here that colours are plural, but I'm refering to all colours together as a group, so singular it is; don't wait till the wall is finished and then say "Oh I thought it was going to be more greeny, or less bluey", get a colour sample, cut it in pieces and give a slice to all concerned, don't give the whole thing, it'll get lost, and then you'll say, "Oh, I thought…………..". And do remember that the hot, bright Italian sun will brighten or darken tremendously, the colours that looked so good in the paint-shop catalogue. Buy half a litre, paint several patches on north, south, east and west walls and see what they start to look like as the hours pass, and remember that the light reflected from your floor tiling and ceiling beams will also change the colours of your walls.
Right, now we're really starting, are you getting used to our Italian ways by now? First thing, site clearance, bulldozers, sweated labour and all. Don't knock anything down, or let them knock it down either, that you might be able to use in the future, even though it's filthy and dirty and damp, it will dry out, and it will save you the cost of rebuilding it. Your geometra will have made your applications, you will have had to pay some fees, you should have a receipt for the money paid to the local authority, which may well double as your building permission, and you will now have a project number. Your builder should, by law, erect a notice stating who is doing what, by permission of whom, names of owners and other responsible people and similar information. If the sign isn't up you get a fine, because, after all, it's your house, isn't it?
The walls or floors won't have any damp courses, but with the surrounding earth taken away there is less opportunity for the damp to penetrate. Make sure that the builders, the muratori, and your geometra know about "igloos" a system of underfloor damp proofing, and that they understand that the old system of chucking down a plastic sheet to stop the damp, doesn't work, because it doesn't stop anything at the edges of the sheet; as you may well find out in the future, if you take bad advice; and only builds up more humidity under the sheet, which eventually creeps to the edge, and into your walls again. You have to have a well ventillated space, hence the "igloos". More details from your friendly neighbourhood builder's merchant, or me, if and when you employ me.
Don't let the builders charge you for carting away your stones, you'll need them to rebuild your house, don't let them charge you for carting away the muck and dirt, you can probably use it to start levelling the ground around the house for your terrace or patio. Don't let them have the broken and rotten beams, many can be partially reused, when trimmed and reduced in size, as window and door lintels, or even garden benches, or, at worst, firewood.
You shouldn't have to worry about the actual building construction, this is why you use a State registered geometra to act on your behalf, and the responsibility is his to ensure that current building practice is followed and that your house won't fall down or crack apart when the next earth movement arrives. Oh, you didn't think about earthquakes. Well think about them, they do occur, but a well built house with the correct seismic bricks, the correct cement/concrete mix, and the correct steel and concrete ring beams, cordoli, will withstand them. Your surveyor will ensure that all the work is done in accordance with local seismic regulations.
Always, every month, get some small regular accounts showing that you have paid some IVA (VAT), this way, should anything ever go wrong you can prove that you have had regular dealings with the person concerned and that as an honest and upright citizen you have paid the required taxes. If you never pay any of the IVA then it would be impossible for you to have any legal recourse to anyone. After all, a mugger who has just stolen a handbag can't really complain to the police if someone steals the bag from him.
Keep your eye on property magazines for ideas, colours, styles. The local shops will always get what you want, as long as you know what to ask for. It is up to you to pull them along behind you rather than wait for them to find something to offer to you.
Whilst writing this I was interrupted by a phone call from a man who, although "bleeding" his radiators, can't seem to get any hot water circulation in the top parts of the upstairs radiators. "What can I do?" was his plaintif wail. I explained that the circulation pump for his radiators was a small pump and although fine for circulating water in a closed circuit, was not strong enough to combat the atmospheric pressure that was now in his heating system. But couple the bathroom tap to the radiator and the "mains" pressure would be strong enough to blow away the atmospheric pressure and fill the system with water. Close the radiators and the circulating pump should do the rest. Roberto's your Zio! Ever so easy when we all speaka da eengleesh.
In my area the people that I deal with, and have dealt with for up to 20 odd years include my surveyor, Matteo Fiorucci, who speaks English, the builder's merchant Paolini, nearby in Ventimiglia, who doesn't, and my builders, muratori and operai, my own gangs here in the Upper Tiber Valley of Umbria, Peter from Slovacchia, Vladek from Poland and Giovanni from Napoli, and none of them do either, speaka da inglesi, and well meet them all in the next issue.
The author, John Tunstill has had 25 years building and restoration experience, has sold 240 houses, undertaken 80 restorations, and has several sites currently open, all in the Upper Tiber Valley of Umbria, between Umbertide and Cittá di Castello. Known as the “Man Who Invented Umbria” , John was made an honorary citizen of Montone, a near-by, beautiful hill-top town, for his work in putting Umbria on the international property map.
© John Tunstill 2013, All rights reserved, reproduction etc, allowed, provided full credits given.
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