Thursday, January 07, 2010

Build A New Life, No Going Back, and Selling A House Abroad.

These are the English titles for several shows on Discovery Travel and Living.

Every episode features a British couple or person who has decided to leave the city and buy property in the country or overseas. I'm addicted to these shows.

The prices in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal are much cheaper than in the UK and the weather is better so I understand the attraction of moving. I also get that train wrecks make for better TV but some of these are folks are freaking nuts.

Usually things do work out at the end but the process! What drama. These shows are educational in that they show you what NOT to do.

• Always get a survey/inspection.
Who buys a house without doing a survey? I realize some places don’t require one but given how much thought I put into buying a pair of shoes, you best believe my anal self will be asking lots of questions and will have someone look at the property before I buy. One couple in Normandy bought a house full of termites, which were discovered after they moved in. Another couple in Southern France found out that the previous owner didn’t have proper sewage facilities. This weaken the property’s foundation. Sewage had been leaking out into the yard for years. Yuck.

• Budget enough for your renovations.
Call me crazy but 5,000 pounds (around $9,000) is probably not enough money to renovate an old Tuscan farmhouse that doesn’t have plumbing, or electric.

• Hire professionals unless you actually are a builder.
Just because you can put together some furniture from IKEA doesn’t mean you can put up a roof, wire electrics, pour concrete floors by yourself, etc. I really wouldn’t mess around with wiring. A badly painted wall is not the end of the world. Jacked up electrical can be a fire risk.

• Don’t pay builders in full before the job is done or use their lawyer to draw up your contract.
This seems to be more of a Spain problem, since most of the properties there are new builds. In fact, there are more new builds in Spain than in France, Italy, and Portugal combined. I do not want to buy a new house so I tend to ignore those episodes. I did get sucked in with one couple from the UK who paid in cash before the job was done. The contractor didn’t finish the house. There were several couples who found out after they signed the papers that their houses were illegal builds (again big problem with new developments popular with expats along the coast), or a highway was going to put in next door, or that the person who sold them the house really didn’t have the rights. Hire an independent lawyer folks.

• Have a back up plan/save enough money.
Watching these poor people living in small caravans while their renovations go over budget or are delayed, I wonder why they assumed everything would go smoothly. It’s construction, in a different country. The ones who quit their jobs and think they will be able to renovate quickly and make money from vacation rentals have the toughest time, especially if they have kids. There were several near divorces. One couple renovating a houseboat did in fact get a divorce. The marriage couldn’t survive the stress.

• Get references.
Don’t hire a builder because they are cheaper than the others. They might be cheap for a reason.

• Learn the language.
Or at least make sure your project manager or architect can communicate with the builders.

• Find out what the zoning laws are.
If you are moving to the country for some peace and quiet, you might want to make sure there are zoning laws. This one woman paid for a villa in Spain with mountain views and the developer built these ugly ass condos right behind her. She’s stuck since she can’t sell the property and she doesn’t want to live there anymore.

• Find out before you buy the property if there are restrictions on renovations.
Many older homes are protected. Try to get all your building permits lined up before you actually hire a builder. There were several shows where people started renovations only to be told they had to halt all work because they didn’t have the right permits.

Here's a clip of George Clarke. He's the host of "Build A New Life" and easy on the eyes.


Anonymous said...

You learn a lot about yourself when you buy property. For one, how to deal with realtors, lawyers, tradespeople, and building inspectors.

I bought a property in early 2000. It was a foreclosure and turned out to be my own personal money pit.
I had been house-hunting for a while and was quite naive.

However, buying property while living on a modest, single income is a challenge in itself and would agree with your list for covering all the bases.

In a case of foreclosure, you are working against the clock. It is a gamble and an element of risk is involved.

I have watched some of the shows you mentioned and albeit entertaining nothing can prepare you for the unexpected surprises of home ownership.

I had a full inspection prior to the sale but yet there was a lot that was overlooked.

In my case, a high water table = major flooding during the rainy season. Property was inspected prior to this and BIG surprise to have basement flooded and furnace ruined.

Trying to hire tradespeople who would actually honour contracts plus show up and do the work.

Also, buying a single woman, I had to deal with being overcharged for services, being sold stuff I didn't need, talked down too, and get this, being asked to speak to the "man of the house."
To which I'd reply, "Well, you're looking at her!"

I ended up selling the house in two years time and renting again because I couldn't keep up with the bills. Yet, I would buy again in a minute if I could afford the housing market here. I came away with a whole variety of skills I never would have had before.

Would you buy something there in Italy at some point or you a happy renter?

Anonymous said...

This is why I love your blog--very intelligent. I wanted to buy this property where I house my business because I live here as well. Owner didn't want to's a tax write. I don't particulary care about renting and I will be relocating soon. So, If I do ever get married I want to just buy a house as opposed to having one built. A vacation home would be nice as far as building...I want more than 4,000 square feet...I don't know if I'll have any kids(probably not, since I have a new boyfriend and I'm 43 years old.) I just want the space to decorate and because I really don't like clutter. As far as building a house you really offered a lot of detail information and alot of things people don't always think about...when jumping into the "cess pool" of building a home.

homebody at heart said...

Have you checked into what kind of taxes you have to pay as a homeowner in Italy? I'm curious if they are exorbitant. Is is a percentage of the value? In California my annual property tax rate is 1% of the assessed value plus any bonds that get voted in for schools, fire department, hospitals, etc. Plus, the tax rate can only go up so much a year, so even if your house value doubled, your taxes wouldn't be thanks to California's Prop 13. A lot of counties, cities and the state are having problems because the property values have plummented, so less tax revenue. BTW, do most or any folks own their apartments like condo owners or are they all generally renters?

Jen of A2eatwrite said...


We're having enough problems getting a fan installed in our bathroom. This would be the ultimate nightmare to me.

When I retire I want to live in a tent.


Stellino said...

Just wanted to say that I stumbled across the blog last week and find your perspective quite refreshing, because so much of it resonates with my experiences, both quite real now, and vicariously what I know through my new family.

I'm a biracial man (yeah, I know that term pisses people off, but entirely too much of my young life was spent being told I wasn't "black enough," despite being raised by a single black mother) married to a southern Italian woman who moved to San Francisco to live with me. We moved to Los Angeles 8 months ago, so a lot of what you've said about the city certainly rings true to me.

She's educated me about Italy, put up with my calcio obsession, and I've taught her about America and the struggles black women endure from beauty standards to finding a good black man.

Your blog speaks volumes to me. Also because you're a Romanista, you likely feel my pain over those two goals in three minutes the other day. No Totti, no party.

I just wanted to say, keep up the good work. I look forward to reading more of your insight.

Gil said...

Great writeup! My wife and kids watch these shows. I find them too corny and drawn out, but watch sometimes to keep the peace!

Anonymous said...

Well, the cost of living in UK is high, but italian's one is not a joke.
Maybe a lot of english people think the majority of italian people live in bucolic tuscan farmhouses.
Milan and Rome are expensive.
Not only the centers, but even theirs (butt-ugly) outskirts.
I mean, Southern Italy is reasonably cheap: but who does want to relocate there?
There aren't job opportunities: also the cities are filthy, blighted and unlivable.
When I was in the wonderful London I met several italians who moved there from Milan, Naples and Palermo.
I haven't met any londoner in Naples or Palermo.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Ms. Violetta - I would love to buy a house in the country at some point. I will still keep a place in Rome. Seeing how I don't know how I'm going to pay my rent later this year, that dream will have to wait. Single women make up a very large percentage of home owners in America but yet like you said still have to put up with a lot of nonsense.

anon - grazie - good luck with your search. I have a strong dislike for clutter as well. My apartment is only 400 sq feet (and I work from home) so I have to be very careful with how I store things.

homebody - from what I heard there are no taxes (or very low ones on your primary property) and property taxes in general are not bad. However income taxes here, like most of Europe are higher than what we pay in the States as there is universal health care.

Prop 13 killed helped California's education system. Before they had some of the best public schools in the country now the state is ranked in the bottom 5. Not good. When William Buffett is paying more in property taxes for a modest home in Oklahoma than for a very expensive place in So. Cal, something is very wrong. I'm not sure how they will fix the problem.

Home ownership is very high in Italy. Higher than the States. People tend to keep houses and apartments in the family. Houses are homes, not something to be flipped for profit. One reason is you are expected to put down a lot more for a down payment. The "no money down" thing that happens in America? Impossible here. You better have at least 20 - 30% and a job with a contract.

jen - ha.

stellino - thank you! Just you know, sometimes I write about silly things that are not insightful at all!

my brother-in-law and many of my friends are bi-racial. I don't know why that word would piss anyone off. That is what you are. Folks need to stop defining other people.

How is the transition from the Bay Area to Southern California? I really have no idea what is going on with Roma this season. They're up, they're down and back again.

gil - well at least they have some good scenery, that helps the pain, no? :)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

anon - These shows focus on people who are buying places in the country. Not apartments in major cities. The houses they buy are cheaper than the places they have sold in London and other British places.

Yes some have bought in Southern Italy as well but the shows are not just about Italy. They show houses in France, Spain and Greece, etc.

Anonymous said...

I'm addicted to these shows as well. And I dream to become a property developer and perhaps make a show like that for Italians, ah, ah...

Kim B. said...

I have nothing to contribute but just wanted to say that, as usual, I completely enjoy your take on this different subject-- and your commenters' perspectives! You always get a good conversation going on your posts.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

anon @ 9:26 - I know what you mean. I also like shows about design so it's win, win. Good luck with your goal. I've seen shows here about Italians looking for homes but none about renovating a ruin.

kimb - thank you!!!

anna l'americana said...

Yeah....easy on the eyes. Ears too. Now where am I going to find The Home Show in the US, lol?????? Methinks you'll have to add a regular segment with clips......

Valerie said...

I've never seen any of these shows, but have seen a fair share of impulsive (or just plain stupid) people who moved to Italy thinking everything would be idyllic, without spending any time researching the realities. One couple bought a farmhouse in Le Marche and then were surprised to find out that all their neighbors were farmers (well, duh!) and the country was "too quiet". Hel-lo!

As one who is leaving in a week to return to Italy to sign papers on an apartment, I'm *thrilled* to be buying in Southern Italy and can't wait to be able to move back! (But we lived in Italy 3 years and had the placed checked out before considering making an offer!)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

anna - ha. There are a bunch of clip of Mr. Clarke on YouTube. I like his voice as well.

valeria - auguri!!!
I don't understand impulse buys in an area you don't know. There was a show about a couple with two teen boys who moved to an area in Spain that they had never even visited. They didn't know the language and didn't know the housing market.

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

Love these shows too, especially the one with George :D

That boat couple one was so sad and the termites in France, gaaaaaah! GROSS. Paolo just laughs at these people since he's achingly familiar with old, rundown places; he also scoffs when they say how much they spent, especially when you can see that the furniture alone in those places probably cost half of what they say they spent on renovations....

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

michelle - the termites freaked me out!! I get the emotional pull when you buy something but a house is a much bigger risk than say...a pair of shoes. I think it's better to take your time and get the know the area before buying property.