The Journey Home: Buying A House in the Land of Your Ancestors

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 01:00
Steve Furlani's house in Montemaggiore al Metauro Marche

[The pretty terrace at Steve Furlani's house in Montemaggiore al Metauro, Marche.]

For our series about home ownership, where we share true stories of people who have gone through the process of buying property in Italy, we’ve spoken to Steve Furlani, who, in 2012, four years prior to his retirement, purchased a home in the region his ancestors are from, Marche. A desire to reconnect to his roots and the appeal of life in Italy is what prompted Steve to begin his search for a home, helped locally by cousins who could provide insider’s advice on a range of issues, from legal documents to restoration work. “The process to renovate the house was a challenge, but, as with every challenge, it provided us an avenue to increase our meager understanding of the Italian culture and endemic  bureaucracy,” Steve says. After his wife retires in a couple of years, Steve plans to spend approximately 4 months a year in Montemaggiore al Metauro, the small town in Le Marche where he bought his retirement home. They currently visit twice a year, and the family has used the house on their travels. The house is also listed on AirBnb.

- Steve, why did you decide to buy a house in Italy and why did you choose the Marche region specifically? 

The story and rationale for the purchase of our holiday home in Montemaggiore al Metauro began as many do - as a re-connection of my Italian roots. My grandfather Generoso Furlani, who was born in Cuccurano, arrived on Ellis Island in 1907; soon his wife and two brothers joined him in America. He settled in Buffalo, NY.  As an Italian yourself, you clearly realize the desire to reconnect with the family and relatives who did not make the journey to America and the potential for a better life. 

I began by obtaining my Italian citizenship approximately 13 years ago.  We would then return every couple years during vacations  to visit Italy and specifically to visit with my cousins in the port city of Fano.  Our decision to buy a holiday home began as a discussion as to where we would like to spend time post- retirement. We purchased the home in Montemaggiore in 2012, four years prior to my retirement.  As an aside, I started the arduous process to obtain Italian citizenship for my wife about three years ago, and happily she was just granted citizenship this week.

View of Montemaggiore Metauro

[Montemaggiore al Metauro, Marche.]

- How did you get started looking for a property?

To begin the house search, we realized early on that we'd need assistance from my cousins locally for a myriad of issues - from translations, legal questions, document retrieval and permissions, local laborers and tradesmen and, most of all, insight and advise on multiple topics. We searched internet listings and requested that my cousins visit a couple for their input. We followed up by contacting the listings’ real estate agent and made appointments to view about 4 apartments/houses. We ended up visiting 11 homes/apartments during our visit and it was the first one we looked at that we fell in love with, based on its potential and beautiful vista. It was over 100 years old and had been modified and enlarged over the years. We made an offer, which was accepted, and proceeded to sign paperwork to allow one cousin power of attorney to complete the sale. (At the notaio's office my cousin joked, based on the amount of money we'd transferred, that upon our return we'd either have a house in Montemaggiore or he would have a slightly used Lamborghini!) 

Large kitchen for family

[The upgraded kitchen has room for large family dinners.]

- What were the main difficulties during the renovation process?

One of the most challenging tasks was to modify our expectations and to honor the Italian culture we were to be a part of. In doing so, I had to discard what was standard procedure for renovation in the States and learn the true meaning of the word “tranquillo” (relaxed, untroubled, ed. note). We were extremely fortunate as Montemaggiore is such a small town that we made friends with a man in town who had multiple connections with local laborers and coordinated some of the work on our behalf. His input was priceless. We finished the renovation by replacing all of the windows and exterior doors with handmade mahogany  fixtures by a local falegname (carpenter).  Lastly, we replaced all of the shutters with aluminum to reduce future maintenance utilizing another local company. The final touch was to have all of the floors cleaned and polished, something they sorely needed.

Another challenge was to learn how to prioritize and coordinate everything from simple to major improvements to the functioning and comfort of the house. It was a little frustrating trying to resolve what seemed to be an ever growing list of  initial necessary repairs. Fortunately, with the advice of my cousin and long discussions as to how to proceed with my wife, we concentrated on repairing and eventually replacing the caldaia (boiler), which provided heating through radiators and hot water. Next, we tackled replacement of a majority of the galvanized pipe with pex tubing.  At the same time, we added an earth ground and replaced the majority to the electrical wiring. Next we slowly worked to make the house more comfortable. We modified the following areas: repaired the terrace tiles to eliminate water infiltration, upgraded the kitchen to provide a work-space for large family dinners, renovated both the bathrooms, painted the entire house, and purchased new and vintage furniture (I really love the website ‘Subito’). 

Living room

[The living room before renovation.]

Living room

[The living room after.]

- Have you made friends where you live now? Overall, what was the transition like?

We feel we are truly at home when we visit Montemaggiore.  We have been welcomed by the residents with open arms. Our neighbor was very kind and gave us handmade table covers, and she regularly provides us fresh eggs from her chickens. The owners of the local restaurant in town have been very kind, and we have formed lasting relationships with many of the residents. When we returned last visit, my cousin had left a note on the kitchen table that said simply, “Welcome home.”

People smiling

[Steve and his wife -behind the couch - with their Italian relatives.]

- What are your tips for someone interested in buying a house in Italy?

We believe that each province - in fact each town - has its own charm and allure. I would caution potential home buyers to visit the area during different seasons and to form friendships with locals and expats before they move forward, and, most importantly, to try to understand and mesh with Italian life instead of trying to force your ideas or methods on the Italians. Tranquillo.

- Thank you, Steve, for sharing your story with ITALY Magazine readers.

Photos courtesy of Steve Furlani.