Regaining ones confidence after a devastating experience, is a daunting task. Learning to trust your own choices and gut again, let alone trusting anyone else, is a process. We took some time to reset, and found our way back to our original plan, buying a home in Italy. Of course we took to Google again. It’s the first place we all go to find anything right? Google is the new verb! How do I install a garage door opener? “Google it!” So, why not search online “houses for sale in Italy”? It’s a good place to start, and full of listings. We were instantly taken to hundreds of beautiful photos of picturesque villas and stunning restored farmhouses with acres of vineyards, olive trees and perfectly manicured grounds. It's easy to quickly get lost in all the gorgeous photos. Then, we scroll past the pictures and get to the price - keep scrolling! Those beautiful villas also come with beautifully large price tags. We must get a real estate agent in Italy, boots on the ground to help us with our search. So, we contacted a few via email from their websites regarding specific properties. A note about real estate agents in Italy that we stumbled into. We assumed that contacting multiple listing agents regarding certain properties was not an issue. Without knowing it we seemed to have annoyed some agents. Apparently, you can list your house with more than one agency, contracts are not exclusive as they are here in the US. It seemed that one agent could not show us all of the listings from multiple agencies, only their listings. Maybe this was just specific to certain agencies, but, whatever the "rule", it made it difficult to view certain houses and required some juggling on our part. After some back and forth emails and WhatsApp messages, we finally settled on an agency and we were back on a plane to Italy to spend a few days viewing properties!
Feeling happy to be back on track with a renewed sense of adventure, we were on our way. This time, we had a better idea what areas we wanted to be in, and more importantly, where we absolutely did not want to be. We had narrowed our search to Umbria and parts of Tuscany, and were anxious to start seeing properties! Now, a side note here. Let's talk about these listings online. I have developed a pet peeve about how some properties are marketed online in Italy. Maybe it's just me, but I think that when searching online for a house for sale, the more pictures the better. You want to see what every room looks like, the layout of the house and get a sense of the size of the rooms. Am I right? I can honestly say that I have seen more photos of flower pots, door handles, close ups of a piece of a gate, or a vase of flowers on a windowsill while looking at listings online to last me a lifetime! And while these photos are lovely, I can’t understand why they think I will actually want to see this house, even decide to buy it because of the 6 photos of a nice pot of red geraniums outside the door, or those 4 pictures of the door handle into a home with rooms inside that I never saw! I’m still not sure I understand the reasoning behind this interesting marketing choice. I do know that I found it maddening. I just want to see the inside of the house, of actual rooms, thank you very much! This made narrowing down our choices somewhat difficult.
Cue the fun part!! I admit to being one of those people that could spend months just looking at houses for sale, anywhere in the world! I love seeing what people have chosen to do with their homes. Decorating, design, renovations, etc. and the honor of being invited into someone’s home, to pull back the curtain so to speak. Driving to each house, we were taking notes of all the details. Dirt road vs. white roads, who was responsible for maintaining said road? How long was the drive from the closest village? How remote? What was the distance to major cities, to the coast and beaches? I was keeping meticulous notes on my phone with photos along with each property. And yes, making sure at least most of our “boxes” were checked. It seems that the agents also had decided that we just had to see some other homes that they had chosen for us. This ended up being something of a time waster, as these homes were beautiful and HUGE, they were also in the millions of euros category! Trying to keep these people in line with our budget was also part of our job now it seemed. We packed in a lot of house hunting in a few days!W
With all of the lovely houses we looked at, there was one property that we still wanted to see. During my online search, I had come across a property on a couple of websites, and it just sort of stayed with me. I kept going back to it over and over again. Pouring over the pictures and looking at every detail trying to get a sense of the layout, number of rooms, etc. Sadly, we never got to see this house. Everytime, we were told that when they contacted the owner, it was never available to be shown. While we looked at so many beautiful houses, none of them seemed to fit. We were waiting for “the One”, you know, like Cinderella's glass slipper. This is a huge decision, and it needs to be right. So, back to the US to make some decisions, and keep pouring over more and more online listings hoping to find a connection to just one property.
I couldn’t get that one house out of my head! I kept going back to it, and trying to find a way to get more information. Since the agents didn’t seem to be much help, I took to my own super sleuthing online. The description mentioned that it had a “proven rental history”, so I figured it had to be listed on one of the many popular Italy holiday rental sites. I checked all the usual suspects and could not find it anywhere! Enter my dear, sweet and oh so resourceful friend Sylvia. She lives in Italy and is from Northern California like me. She is a sweet and gentle soul and a magician in the kitchen! She also, happened to live in the approximate region near Umbria where this listing was. She offered to do some searching and see what she could come up with. I sent her the only few photos I had, and the listing, which had the name of the house, Casa Miedi. The very next day, my phone dings with a WhatsApp message from my dear friend, with a picture and one question, “could this be the same house??” The picture was of a wooden sign off the dirt road with Casa Miedi etched into it. Now, I can’t imagine there were many houses in Umbria with that name. Could it be? She wasn’t aware of the house, but the sign was on the way to town. She took to the internet to take advantage of that all too annoying Google algorithm, that knew she was in Europe unlike my searches from the US, and the next thing I knew, another ding of a message. This time, with a listing and photos! She had found the house on a German holiday rental site!! What I had spent months trying to find, she was able to find almost instantly. Thank you Google algorithm and thank you Sylvia! Now, do we send an email on this German site to the owner? We barely have a grasp on Italian, let alone German! We decided we had to, I mean, this all seemed meant to be.
I clicked to send an email, and explained that we knew that the property was for sale, and had traveled to Italy and had not been able to view the house. One short pause, then clicked that “send” button. Tony and I looked at eachother, and shrugged and said, “Well, let’s do this!”
We had a reply within the hour! And, thankfully it was in English, not German. She told us that she was never contacted by any real estate agency about anyone being interested in her home. Not too surprising actually, given that it wasn’t a multi million euro property. We set up a time for a WhatsApp video call the following week to chat. This was the beginning of what would soon become our best life comeback ever! We enjoyed getting to know her, and she invited us to come and stay at the home with her for a few days on our next trip over, sort of a try before you buy. Her kindness meant so much to us and made it easier to believe that we could start this process again. I will never forget driving up the dirt road from the village and into the gates. I knew we were home! Miedi welcomed us with her strong stone walls, her warmth and long, beloved history of families and traditions in the Minima Valley. Walking under the cherry trees one afternoon, we knew that we were meant to be her next caretakers. We are so very fortunate that this time, our purchase went exactly as it should and so smoothly with zero hitches. It was completely legal this time around, and we were so lucky to have found "our people". By Easter, we were homeowners and expats in Italy! Since then, we have enjoyed the process of lovingly bringing her forward from the previous renovations from ruins 35 years ago.
Renovating a home in Italy, from a distance of around 4,000 miles over WhatsApp, in a foreign language, with just photos??? Crazy!! But, we did it! And, in just under a year! It was the most wonderfully frustrating and rewarding experience ever. The only way this was possible was being so fortunate to have found the most special group of locals that tolerate these crazy expats, and have treated us like family. And the best part?? I get to be my sweet friend Sylvia's neighbor now! Life takes its twists and turns for sure, and we wouldn't want this journey any other way. We now are exactly where we are meant to be.
Miedi now shines in a bright new and updated light, but with all of her special and beautiful old history intact. It is now our mission to keep her and her memories of family and friends center stage and add new memories to be cherished.