Investing in Italian property is likely to be unknown territory for most second home buyers; a multitude of questions will need answering before any decisions can be made or action taken. A young English couple house hunting in Italy had to make a decision, where the question wasn't to buy, or not to buy; it was more a matter of life and death.
Terry and Julie were from Manchester. They'd been searching the web for weeks, looking for the Italian farmhouse they talked about every evening after work. The replies they received from Italian agents baffled them. The properties suggested bore no resemblance to their requirements or their budget. An agent in Abruzzo wanted to know if they were interested in lorry load of gammon. They declined and put him on their spam list.
Julie found a property that at first sight matched what they were looking for: a stone farmhouse in a panoramic position that needed a bit of care and attention. It had a barn they planned to convert, for when family and friends came over to stay. A hectare of land surrounded the place; part of it given over to vines. There was space for a pool, which might be possible if she got the IT manager's job in Chorley, instead of that clown Parkinson.
They fired off an email and got a reply the next day with: floor plans, a land map, and the co-ordinates to view the house on Google Earth. The agent said the price was negotiable. A good discount would pay their closing costs, and if they took out residency the purchase tax was reduced; they reckoned it might just add up. They had other questions which were answered in the same, timely manner.
Terry and Julie decided step two was for the taking. They booked a week's holiday from work and a flight to Bologna with Ryan Air. Like travellers before them, they looked anxiously at the scales in Manchester airport. Thankfully it was summertime, and the clothes packed were light. Freddy, the agent they were meeting, had advised them to bring some sturdy footwear. Viewing farmhouses where the land was overgrown was not to be undertaken in flips-flops. If it were, they'd end up with a couple of acres. They landed in Bologna, picked up the hire car and set off for the hotel the agent had booked for them.
Freddy was an affable chap, most days. He had years of experience under his belt which had widened thanks to Italy. The following morning he arrived at the hotel and sketched out the day's itinerary over an espresso. They'd take in three houses, break for lunch and then head to La Stella Cadente; the farmhouse they were most interested in.
"Shooting star or falling star, take your pick" said Freddy, when Terry asked what it meant. They liked the name.
The first property they saw was on top of a hill; it had great views. There was a main house with 3 bedrooms, a barn, and another small building used as a garage. It ticked a lot of their boxes. How much would it cost to modernise? Who did they need to talk to? Did Freddy know any plumbers? He did. Could he find them a boiler? He knew plenty of them too. Everything could be arranged.
The other two properties proved unsuitable. The first was nice but needed a bit too much work. The second had no view to speak of, apart from a large, hairy man in a string vest, sitting on his front steps.
They had lunch at an agriturismo in the countryside. La Stella Cadente wasn't far away, and their appointment wasn't for another hour; there was no rush. The Signora who ran the place came over to the table, consulted with the piece of paper she had in her hand and fired off five dishes in rapid Italian. Freddy explained the nutritional benefits of each, and they plumped for the Lasagne and Tiramisu for desert.
Freddy refrained from alcoholic libation, as he was driving. Julie and Terry weren't and needed no help in polishing off the best part of a bottle of Oltrepò Pavese.
"I'll have to get use to driving on wrong side of t'road," said Terry.
"Don't be daft. You're from Manchester," said Julie.
Freddy thought it wise to pick up the tab. The Signora arrived with a bottle of clear spirit that she offered on the house to her foreign guests. She assured them Grappa aided digestion and was generally good for whatever ails you. She poured a thimble full into tiny thistle flutes, stood back and waited. The palates of the young couple burst into flames, but once the blaze was under control, they found it invigorating and left the place flushed in the face, ready to take on La Dolce Vita.
At La Stella Cadente, Freddy told them to take a look around, while he went to find the vendor. Terry and Julie walked a short distance from the house to take it all in; they stared at each other and smiled.
Walking back, they passed by a clump of cherry trees. Under a canopy of pink blossom, a little man on a straw backed chair was polishing his boots, or rather a boot, the other had a foot in it. He was engrossed in his task. The couple thought it best to creep past like thieves in the night.
"Buongiorno" said the man.
"Buongorno," said the young couple, sheepishly.
"We've come to look at the house," said Julie, raising her voice to be understood.
"Are you English," said the man.
"Wow! You speak English?" said Terry.
"I can, so I am," said the man, who was well into his nineties. He slipped on the shiny boot and put it down next to the one on the other foot. He told them his name was Prospero and asked where they came from. He'd heard of the Manchester Ship Canal and Nobby Stiles.
Julie said he spoke dead brilliant English. Had he learnt it on-line?
Prospero eyes lit up at the question. He'd been captured by the Black Watch in North Africa and transported to a POW camp on the west coast of Scotland. They'd put him to work on a farm down the road from the camp.
Sergeant McTaggart got the order from the Colonel to find a good man to be liaison officer between the Italian prisoners and: the farmer, the soldiers, the priest, the doctor, the nurse, and whoever else needed orders translated into Italian. Prospero happened to be the prisoner nearest to the Sergeant when the order arrived.
"You laddie, congratulations! You're the new camp liaison officer," said McTaggart, signalling that Prospero should follow him. He was led away to the colonel's wife who lectured him for 30 minutes on her azaleas, then sent him packing with an English grammar that he couldn't read. But he persisted and made headway with the farmer's daughter. He gave Julie a wicked wink that made her blush. He liked Scotland; it was a beautiful country, shame about the weather. For an Italian, it was too much to bear.
"The Jocks feel the same way," said Terry.
After the war, he'd returned to the mountains and had been there ever since. "But all things must past," he said, and he'd be leaving it for good shortly. Terry jumped in, that was no way to be talking; he'd years of mileage left in him. Prospero smiled, he was going as far as the town in the valley, not up to the Pearly Gates. He'd be living with Miranda, his daughter. He'd found it tough lately; he had to admit it. And his daughter couldn't keep running up there every time he got in a muddle; she was no spring chicken herself. No, it was the only sensible thing to do. Freddy called them over to the house, so they said cheerio to Prospero and left him under his cherry tree.
The house inside lived up to the outside. The chestnut beams and terracotta floors were in good condition. Three large bedrooms upstairs and two bathrooms that needed re-tiling. They'd do it themselves; they'd already done their bathroom at the flat in Didsbury. Central heating had to be installed, but that aside it was ready to live in.
The living room had an open fireplace with a stone mantel piece. 1922 was engraved in the stone. "The year the house was built and Papà was born," Miranda told them. "He's upset at leaving, but I worry something will happen to him up here on his own. Last week he toppled back on his chair and spent two hours looking up at the cherries. Salvatore, our neighbour, found him, with his boots in the air.
They trooped down stairs. Miranda sent them into the garden and arrived a minute later with a tray. Another cork was popped. The daughter called for Papà to come and join them. She said Prospero made his own wine for years. It was sweet and had a sparkle. She thought a few bottles were still down in the cellars somewhere.
Prospero raised his glass and officially welcomed Terry and Julie to La Stella Cadente. If they bought it, he hoped they'd return the vines to their former glory and continue the wine making tradition.
"Oh yes Prospero, we definitely will," said Julie, whose enthusiasm for viniculture was greater than her knowledge, gleaned mostly from the wine shelves of Waitrose.
"Are you two bairns married?" Prospero asked.
"Next year," Julie said firmly, looking at Terry.
His dear wife Serena died in 1970 on the day Brazil beat Italy in the Mexico final; it was a terrible shock. He still chatted to her and still heard her telling him not to even think about coming into the house with his boots on.
Julie told Miranda they were spending the following day in Lucca but they loved the house and perhaps could return on Friday for another look. Miranda said they would be leaving for good on Saturday, so anytime before then was fine.
The narrow streets of Lucca were packed with tourists. They walked the walls of the medieval town and visited the Cathedral of San Martino. In a small piazza, they found a place to eat and sat outside under the awning, watching tourists wander up and down in the midday sun. They tried the risotto allo zafferano and spoke excitedly about their plans for La Stella Cadente; Lucca didn't get a mention.
By the time they got back to their hotel, they'd made up their minds to make an offer on the farmhouse. They hoped Miranda would see their arrival as providential and drop the price. Perhaps Freddy could work some magic.
The next day, the Great Alfredo disappeared again to look for Miranda. Nothing had changed for the young couple, the place was perfect. They wandered over to the cherry orchard. An empty chair was under Prospero's tree. "The old fella must still be in bed," said Terry.
Freddy called them across and explained the situation to them. It was unexpected, and if they wished to postpone the viewing that was understandable, but Miranda was happy to go ahead. Terry and Julie said to lead on and held hands entering the house. They popped their heads around the kitchen door and returned to the fireplace for a second look, but it was cursory; they had already made up their minds.
Miranda led the way up the stairs. At the bedroom door, she turned to them, "Pronti?" she said.
"Ready?" said Freddy.
They nodded and followed Miranda into the room.
Prospero was laid out on the bed in his best suit. His boots polished.
"He went in his sleep," said Miranda and pulled a hanky from her sleeve. Julie put an arm around her. She was so sorry; he was a lovely man.
They walked back outside. Julie had a quiet word with Terry and said they knew it wasn't the best moment, but they loved the house. When the time was right, they'd like to make an offer. Miranda was a practical woman, life went on. She told them to speak to Freddy, he'd arrange everything. Driving back down the country lane, a hearse passed them, going in the opposite direction.
Six months later, with the probate completed, Terry and Julie become the new owners of La Stella Cadente. They signed the rogito document and paid the purchase tax to the Notaio. Freddy received his commission, a handshake from both of them, and a promise to recommend him to all their friends.
Miranda gave Julie the keys to their new home and hoped they'd be as happy there as Papà was. They hugged and promised to stay in touch; the next time they met they'd speak in Italian to her. Before leaving, Miranda handed them a brown envelope, "the night before he died, Prospero said he'd be happy if the young English couple bought the place."
They celebrated the first evening in their new home with a bottle of Prospero's wine. "It beats Mild," said Terry. They remembered the envelope in the midst of all their other documents. Inside was a black and white photograph of a young man. He looked every inch the Italian, wearing nothing but a smile and a kilt. He was hung over the mantel piece.
Until they bought La Stella Cadente Terry and Julie had no idea how many friends and relatives they had. When any come over, a warm welcome awaits them and the story of Prospero.
Realpoint has many attractive farmhouses for sale in Italy. If you are looking for your Stella Cadente click the links below or contact us, and we'll send you a selection every bit as sparkling as Prospero's wine.