First post....advice appreciated

pendy Image
01/25/2010 - 18:35

Hi there. I came across the community section just before Christmas and have been struck by the quality of the information being exchanged and the generosity of contributors advice. I’m hoping that in making this, my first post, I can benefit from some of this goodwill. Last summer, after a two year search, I bought a stone farmhouse in Tuscany. The house is a square shape, 11m x11m, on 2 floors (appx 250msq total), with a simple ‘pyramidal’ roof. The basic shell is intact but the house needs significant renovation. I allowed a substantial budget that I thought should cover completion of works but guess what?…….in spite of lots of renovation experience here in the UK, my figures were way out and I now face a dilemma as to how, and if, can I proceed with the work. Initially I need to determine if the estimates I am receiving seem reasonable. I’m hoping that in setting out some broad specifications/costings that some of you may be able to advise… goes with some of the costs: - Strip and restore roof - €30k (incl €7k scaffold hire for 2 months then €800pm thereafter)) - New ventilated floor - €10k - Replumb & central heating - €21k (3 bathrooms, fittings not included, conventional gas heating system with a boiler, €3.5k, type that I am unfamiliar with /60L reservoir. Opting for an ‘energy-efficient’ 10kw heating system with underloor heating is €30k + heat pump + pv panels) - Rewire €8k - 12mx5m salt water pool incl terrace- €40k - geometra - €20k - new internal ground floor wall structure to comply with EU regs– cork insulation/lightweight blocks/replaster to- €13k - internal doors €850 each, mounted incl hardware. There is a €2.5k charge for each of the geometra’s & plumber’s trade association (benevolent fund-type contribution). The above list is by no means exhaustive and there are other costs….but do the examples I have given seem reasonable? Whilst I am familiar with the builders work (excellent quality and he speaks great English to my non-existent Italian), the other trades are being subcontracted. There seems to be no appetite for negotiation on prices… all seem calculated from the Geometra’s book of costs. Sorry if this is all too much but I really need some good advice. Thank you



As a whole, your prices quoted don't seem too out of line. I can only really speak for Sardinia but something like €1,500 per m2 is a realistic price for a total renovation to a standard build. If I were you, I would bore down into the individual elements of your build to see what costs you can cut out, eliminate as non essential, or can negotiate on. For example, the quote for your roof seems high to me. Something like €120-€150 m2 all in (scaffolding etc) should be closer to the mark. Pm. me if you need a rough guide to individual prices.

  All I would say is to leave a fairly large contibgency in as well. The problem I found with the prices quoted from the Geometra's book is that it relies upon him specifying absolutely everything that might have to be done in terms of labour and materials to complete the job. We found that despite being told by the geometra that ours covered "tutti" ,  on day 1 of works the builder came up with a list of other things that the geometra hadn't included!

Thanks to everyone who replied to my post.   Responses seem to indicate that, in general, initial quotations are typical. The over-budget estimates for my renovations present a big challenge but I have just returned from Italy after meeting with the Geometra and potential builder to discuss a trimmed specification that I hope will bring the project closer to budget - although I don't detect much enthusiasm for discounts from the builder/contractor. We'll see.   I am trying to drill down through the big picture to understand exact specifications/offerings and I am finding that experience here in the UK isn't as transportable as I assumed. A contingency cost that I think I may need to build in is water filtration of our well supply for domestic use/drinking and perhaps even an additional well. Does anyone have experience of this?: what filtration kit is best/how much/cost for a new well in Val di Chiana, (on the plain).  Also, does anyone know a typical daily rate for a skilled tradesman and skilled labourer in Tuscany? I have soooo many questions.......... Thanks again for responses; all very helpful.    

 i'm not too sure how this works in Toscana but it's probably similar to here ,referring to human consumption of well water, you will have to call your health authority A.S.U.R so that they may take samples of the water and advise as to whether it's even possible to use this water for domestic use. My personal advice would be to get your house connected to mainswater in any case EVEN if you are able to use the well water.This because well's can dry up,or periodically provide insufficient water or be subject to serious environmental pollution rendering the water unusable (even in rural areas)Skilled tradesmen NOT working in the black range from Euro 25,00 to up to 35,00 per hour plus vat. most of the other higher costs you are or may encounter are due to the high spec. things concerning earthquake legislation.also you will find thatr basic specifications are generally of a highwer standard than you may encounter in the uk like hard wood window fixtures with double glazing as standard idem copper guttering and descending pipes (required buy many municipalities) quality roof insulation, solid concreted floors with good tiling etc.friends who recently completed a restoration here had  at the end not used the 12% contingency budget put into their estimate by the geometra nevertheless it's important that there is a contingency budget.good luck with your project.

"Opting for an ‘energy-efficient’ 10kw heating system with underloor heating is €30k + heat pump + pv panels" Underfloor heating should be in the region of 40 - 60 Euro per square metre. A 10Kw heat pump, would be too low for a 250 sq mtr house, unless you have gone to high levels of insulation. You should be looking at about a 14Kw output unit. For that size, you would need a 3Phase 400v electricity supply, for either the Ground Source unit or Air/Water type.

Hi Pendy I went thru something similar a couple of years ago. Are you just talking to the Geometra or are you dealing direct with builders. We are in a different area to you but in our area there are a lot of builders that dont have too much on at the moment, I think in this case a second opinion is definately worth looking at if you havnt done that already. One thing to be aware of, no doubt you will sign a contract with the builder/ geometra detailing a list of works, the moment you start adding an extra plug socket or change the position of a partion that initial contract becomes just about useless. You need to keep the contract up to date otherwise the bill can escalate rapidly and you might not be told about it until your asked to pay. good luck

 I agree with what has been said previously, renovations cost approx €1,500/sm excluding fees, kitchen, light fittings, external works. I'm just completing my second renovation, also in Arezzo province, and would be happy to look at the computo metrico (priced Bill of Quantities) which I assume has been given to you. Send me a message if you want. You do ned to sit down with the geometra, builder and sub-contractors (plumber, electrician and carpenter?) and talk through risks and exclusions so you can hold a realistic contingency. The roof is expensive in Italy given the heavy (reinforced screed etc) cconstruction they use. I'd say approx €20/sm to strip plus €200/sm for new roof excluding roof timbers, the concrete ring beam you'll probably need against earthquakes, scaffold, copper gutters I have not had any problems with my builders - I've found them fair, very proud of the work they do and keen to give useful advice - but their price does only relate to a defined scope which needs checking.

I concur with previous comments. Our renovation cost c.1,300 per square metre (including fees and kitchen, excluding pool). Had similar experience that, even as non experts, we kept pointing out items the geometra had missed, while he kept findng things that in retrospect were essential but hadn't been forecasted. A top down estimate seems best approach to budgeting. Bottom up, it comes down to material choices in many cases: easy to spend twice the standard unit cost on items such as tiles, etc depending on specific choices made. Best of luck.

Pendy. Expect to pay circa 50 - 70 Euro per metre depth for a borehole. Water quality will have to be tested, so that you do not contaminate, an ensure you have a pure supply, as Sebastiano states in his reply.

I wonder why you (not just you pendy, but pretty much all the people in this blog) keep employing geometras if they are even more expensive than architects!!!..and as you say, they leave bits of the work out...and, I add, are not qualified. Would you employ a surveyor to do up your house in the UK?? Do you know they become 'geometras' at the age of 18? What qualification do you expect they have??? marco (sorry about the outburst!)

Marco, I hate to say this but most people realise that an architect is rather more expensive than a mere geometra. Yes, all a geometra can do is draw up plans and sign various bits of paper to certify things are being done according to the local laws. But they charge far less money than an architect does. And the percentage that they get by way of commission from the various trades involved in their project is rather less as well. I'm sure you wouldn't be terribly interested in drawing up a new garden fence or some replacement windows? If you did, you would be certain to use your own geometra to do the drawings - unless you are very short of work, that is. You must realise that not everyone is looking to spend a vast fortune on remodelling their villa, but should they be looking to do just that, I'm pretty sure that an architect would be on their shopping list, together with the marble statues around the new swimming pool in the garden.

My mother is completely renovating her townhouse in Cortona right now and using the services of an excellent architect with no geometra involved. He is very talented, conscientious and professional and his fee is less than she was quoted by 3 geometras. I know other people who have used architects in lieu of a geometra and their work was superior and of equal or less cost. 

But AngieL, surely you realise that an architect is just a better qualified geometra? In England, a geometra is just a surveyor/draftsman - the lesser qualified employee of the local architect. A geometra has gone to technical college and an architect has gone to university, that's the difference. I can't see how all this talk about making the two roles equivalent to each other can be at all sensible, unless you are an out-of-work architect, that is. One draws plans, the other designs houses, the rest is just business. To use Marco's own comparison of a geometra=nurse; architect=doctor, would you see a heart surgeon if you had a nosebleed, or a nurse? But, I would agree that if you can find yourself a cheap architect that has got work to prove his skill and is prepared to sign a contract for the job, go for it.

Beeryspice - it doesn't appear you're very clear on what it is an architect learns at University nor what he actually does in terms of design. There is no comparison between someone who can draw plans and one who DESIGNS something. In the case of an architect you're talking about someone who has an historical understanding of architecture, who understands spatial relationships, aesthetics, functionality and good design. There is no comparison in the level of training undertaken by the two positions, nor in the expectation of what their skill sets should be.  In my experience architects also tend to be more forward thinking and big-picture oriented. Geometras tend to do things the only way they know how or the way they've been doing them forever, which of course isn't necessarily the best way to do them in terms of design. I've seen enough case di geometre to know that aesthetic design is not their strength. If I were going to spend the amount of money the OP will end up spending for what is essentially a new house, I'd want to make sure it's well designed. It's a lot more complicated than designing a fence, etc.

Sure AngieL, you are not wrong.  I too know of many people, let down by geometra's that have cost them mega bucks to put right their wrong doings.  I do not have marble statues as I cant afford a pool, but have a nice house that I wanted to live each to their own and not necessarily at huge expense ! 

I'm perfectly clear on the difference, thank you very much AngieL. I said in my previous post that an architect designs and a geometra draws - take a look at my second paragraph again. I also pointed out to you that you should not try to draw any direct parallel between the two. I used Marco's own analogy to demonstrate exactly the difference between the two: architect=doctor; geometra=nurse. Not a bad comparison he makes there on his own website, in fact - his university education is shining through with his excellent use of English. However, the fact that an architect charges a great deal more money than a humble geometra is not a fact that is easy to disute - and with good reason too, I should add. As you echo my earlier comment, an architect is a designer of buildings. He is not a builder and he is not a mere technical officer with some drawing skills, as is a geometra. That is precisely the reason that architects charge more than geometre - several years of study at university and a professional qualification that proves the fact. However, there are times when a fully qualified architect, with creative skills that would impress even Frank Lloyd Wright is not the right person to use when all you are looking for is someone to draw up your garden wall and fill in a DIA. Unless your favoured architect is seriously short of work and unable to cover his costs at the moment, in which case he may well be able to offer a cut price architectural service. But, as I keep saying, in the real world architects charge more than blokes that can draw a plan of a wall with a replacement window in it and fill in a form. To say anything else is devaluing the skill of a proper, qualified and skilled architect, charging architects fees for architects work. Look, I realise that you are trying to suggest that an architect is the correct choice if you are going to build a new house - or even restore a fabulous old palazzo. However, to repeat again my earliest point - if you are just fitting some replacement windows or having a new fence around your property, YOU DO NOT NEED AN ARCHITECT. Capisce?

Beeryspice - I'm not going to argue with you since you seem intent on being sarcastic and antagonistic for no apparent reason. You're the one contending that architects are always more expensive than geometras when I and several of my friends know from direct experience that that is not the case. An architect can do everything a geometra can do but a geometra cannot necessarily do what an architect does. So given that architects can cost the same amount as a geometra for a large rennovation why would you employ a geometra? That's the point Marco is making. He responded to someone who was posting about a total rennovation so you bringing up the issue of designing a fence or windows is totally irrelevant. That's not what the OP needs and that wasn't what Marco was responding to.

I must agree with AnglieL - in Italy the choice between an architect or a geometra doesn't come down to price - basically they charge the same, and any half bright architect will work alongside his pet geometra in a proper sharing role. The difficulty can arise when you encounter a rather untechnical architect, or a rather overconfident geometra, and don't understand your needs as a client - possibly because you don't speak the language. It comes down (from this discussion) to the vital point that an architect can sack his client (oooh, what a pleasure this is!) on the basis that the client does not deserve the architect. I think we have a contributor to this thread who I would just delight in sacking! Somebody important (but I can't properly attribute the quote) said that a good architect will give a client what he never dreamt of. In my book, that goes for a garden wall as much as for a whole house restoration - but it is horses for courses, and there are some dreadful architects, and some pretty wonderful geometras, just as there are some terminally boring clients and some fantastic open minded inspirational (usually rich...) people for whom it is an enormous pleasure to work.

"I'm not going to argue with you since you seem intent on being sarcastic and antagonistic for no apparent reason" I have the feeling that a certain amount of self-interest is taking over this 'conversation'. What I said, if you would care to re-read my first post here, was: "all a geometra can do is draw up plans and sign various bits of paper to certify things are being done according to the local laws. But they charge far less money than an architect does." I did not say that a geometra was "better" than an architect, but that "he" is normally cheaper for a job that needs no design input. If you "know" of a cheap architect, that's fine. If you know of an expensive geometra, avoid him - and warn your friends of the person. However, I did qualify my post with "You must realise that not everyone is looking to spend a vast fortune on remodelling their villa", which perhaps you misunderstood. If you re-read the post by the architect, he said: "I wonder why you (not just you pendy, but pretty much all the people in this blog) keep employing geometras if they are even more expensive than architects!!!." It is this claim that I responded to. I missed the point that his post was actually a bit of sales canvassing. Sorry to tiddle on your T-square, Marco! By the way, would your "man" give me a quote for preparing a DIA for my new UPVC front door, which I shall be fitting 'in economia'? Thank you. Oh, and Fillide - my name isn't Ranuccio...

Thanks for all your comments....I didn't intend to provoke a professional geometra V architect spat.....! However, the exchanges are revealing and it would be interesting to hear some forthright appraisals of the other trades and services encountered in Italian renovations... I strongly suspect that the path to the Italian dream house has two lanes that are very differently priced: one for stranieri like me and one for locals/those who know better - or am I a misguided cynic? Advice/contacts made on this forum have shaped the approach to my renovations and some of the themes introduced by others resonate with my experiences so far.  I have considerable experience, successfully renovating here in the UK in my own (old) home and for business.  I remain surprised/shocked at the cost of renovating in Italy and will have to phase the job to allow me to proceed (near Cortona/Camucia). Windows, doors, electrician are still an issue - so if anyone has any recommendations I would love to hear from you.  I would also be interested to hear comments on:   1) a separate €2.5k charge for each of the geometra’s & plumber’s trade association (benevolent fund-type contribution) included in I have to pay this? I wish them all well for their retirement but I could hasten my own if I can trim unnecessary costs. 2) suggestions on kitchen suppliers...I'm very tempted to go contemporary with the kitchen (very traditional on the core renovations).  I like a contemporary/modern blend. 3) forgive me for being naive but is it accepted practice that the geometra will take commission from trades employed (where's the objectivity/acting on MY behalf?)  Ref Beeryspice...  'And the percentage that they get by way of commission from the various trades involved in their project is rather less as well.' 4) pros and cons of salt water pools & pool heating. (Plan is for a 12x5m salt water pool.) ......... finally & ref the geometra/architect discourse....I was advised that I needed a geometra and that an architect would be an additional expense.  If this is not so, and architects deliver the entire package at similar costs to geometras, I guess they need to get that message out to the estate agents and builders who seem to think otherwise.  Certainly I would have appreciated a holistic approach to the design and project management with, and this is my biggest issue with my geometra, an English-speaking project manager/technical advisor/designer (thank goodness my builder speaks perfect English).  

I totally agree with you, Pendy, modern kitchens look great in traditional houses and a mixture of old and new makes the place look alive and not like a museum. We had to have our kitchen custom-made because of the characteristics of the walls and the height of a window in our old watermill, but before deciding this I had a good look at the kitchens offered by Mondo Convenienza near Florence and I am sure that you will find something suitable. Good luck with the renovations!

Hi, Pendy.  Just saying "hello" because I see there is already plenty of good advice here.  I've never rennovated a place but, with Sicilian prices in mind, I should think your estimates are pretty good.

Just thought I'd say we used an architech and have been very pleased. After taking out some of the work in the initial contract we managed to get the price down to within our buget. Thankfully the contract has followed and haven't had any unexpected extra costs. He did all the negociating with the builders. The only thing is it should have been finished last August and has only just been completed!...well not everthing can be perfect!!....Any how good luck with it all!

Pendy, no matter what others say you do what you think is best. Freely offered advice is all well and good but it's your cash at the end of the day and an Architect or Geometra can do what you want then go with that. When all said and done there are good and bad of both so work on recomendations rather than who seems to be more qualified. I work closely with both and I can honestly say that both have skills depending on what you require. Re Kitchens why not go to Ikea, they have a wide range are well made and reasonable cost, and they deliver. Good luck