We started our journey in 2020 looking at a small, cantina-size space in Florence as our entry into the market. A local real estate agent showed us this potential gem just outside the walls of Santo Spirito. It was below street level and had so much charm with its old brick-vaulted ceilings. Yet a tremendous amount of work needed to be done to make it livable. Unfortunately, that did not work for us at the time. But we never forgot signing the paperwork that day, simply verifying our formal viewing of the property. This was the first time our name would be attached to an official Italian document. How exciting?! Quickly though we realized that in order to purchase a place in Florence for less than 50,000 Euros, we likely would have to settle for a Class C unit such as the cantina. As we learned, however, this designation was for commercial property only. So there would be a limited amount of time within which we could live there each year.
At this point it made the most sense to step back from the Italian property market until Douglas retires from the City of Los Angeles. Ideally, selling our “Casa Clifton” in LA would provide the funds to buy a retirement flat in the heart of Florence. So we continued to binge-watch International House Hunters, dreaming of that day. Fortunately, we saw an episode that showcased the breathtaking Abruzzo region. It was then we realized that we could buy a cheaper place in southern Italy and use the additional funds for a full renovation.
Ready to join the property search again, we found Italian Real Estate Lawyers (IREL) online and decided to give them a call. And we were so very fortunate that we did! They agreed to work with us in our search and eventual purchase of a property in Italy. Having learned that they had offices in New York, Riverside (CA) and Rovigo, we decided to move forward. They informed us that all aspects of the purchase could be completed remotely with their real estate agents, lawyers and support team.
After several months we found a place in the medieval town of Caramanico, nestled in the Majella mountains. This charming place needed significant work, but had “good bones” as they say…with an old fireplace in the kitchen and a cross-vaulted ceiling in the bedroom! Now the purchase process began in earnest, including getting a Codice Fiscale which is the equivalent of an American Social Security Number. Through our IREL representatives, we placed an offer that was ultimately accepted. The IREL team then worked with their appropriate counterparts in Italy to process the paperwork and get handwritten signatures from all five owners spread throughout Italy. The challenges of navigating the Italian system were compounded by the fact that the COVID pandemic had just begun a few months prior.
Once the deed was signed through the notary, we started the renovation phase of this project. IREL found a local contractor who installed a water meter, replaced the plumbing, fixed the fireplace and began tiling the bathroom floor. All the while our IREL team remained in contact with the contractor, forwarding both photos and videos of the progress.
In 2021 we decided to sell our beloved hillside home in Los Angeles, just a few short years after completing a major remodel of this 1908 California bungalow. We primarily used the website Idealista to search for our elusive flat in Florence. This proved an almost daily activity for us, yet a labor of love at the same time. It didn’t have to be in City Center, as we never forgot the wonderful Oltrano location of the cantina. There were so many wonderful properties to sift through, but many were just too small to house our collection of art, books and furniture that eventually would need to be shipped from the US to Italy.
In June of 2021 the borders of Italy were beginning to open following the pandemic lockdown. So we scheduled three places to view during our short stay. Two of the three were cancelled, but our dream flat was still available to see! From the moment we walked under the 400-year-old wood beam and brick ceilings and walked across the warm terracotta floors, we were in love with the place. And ironically this future home was in Santo Spirito, a full circle back. Our representative at IREL secured our offer, processed all of the paperwork and even assisted us in setting up an Italian bank account.
Following the purchase, IREL assumed the role of Property Managers. Their extended post-sale services included setting up automatic payments for utilities, finding an accountant to complete our Italian tax returns and facilitating our payment of IMU and TARI. They also connected us with the perfect professional masons to complete the necessary renovation/remodel. And they were points of contact for our rental tenants and the condominium administration.
The experience of buying property in Italy was daunting, yet exciting, at first. Where do you begin? Our goal, our dream, was to move to and become part of the most beautiful, historic and inspirational city on the planet, Florence. We would not, however, been able to achieve this without the assured, expert guidance of the IREL team. They were extremely professional, thorough, communicative and exceeding patience with us during our expected learning curve. Seldom would a week go by that they weren’t communicating with us by email, WhatsApp or Zoom. Most importantly they treated us as part of the broader Italian family, even dining with us along the Arno to celebrate what we had deemed almost impossible just a couple years ago. Grazie mille Claudia, Giulia, Georgiana, Fabrizio and Marco!!!
Our future plans are to move to Italy in 2024 and establish our Residence Visa. Given that our Florentine flat is our forever home, we plan to immerse ourselves in the Italian culture. Learning the Italian language will be a joyful, daily activity for us until we are conversationally fluent. We will never cease learning about the history of Italy and the secrets of cooking the perfect Italian meal. Still some remodeling remains to be done on our flat, so we will work with local artisans to complete it. And certainly, numerous trips will be taken to Caramanico as we resume an exciting, challenging and much needed renovation.
Tomika sold her pet care service in Los Angeles for this move and will start a new, full-time venture helping other Americans move abroad.
For three months of every year, we plan to visit our family in the United States. This includes spending Autumn months at our desert homestead in the 29 Palms, California, which is a perfect contrast to Florence. And, of course, our permanent relationship with the amazing team at IREL will continue far into the foreseeable future!
Written by Tomika and Douglas Wagner