For our series on ‘True Stories of Buying Property in Italy,’ we’ve interviewed Thomas Martellone, an Italian-American from Boston with a passion for genealogy (he’s worked on his family genealogy for 35 years, he told us!). A dual citizen of Italy and the U.S., Tom cultivated a desire to buy a house in Italy for a long time. Three years ago, he purchased an apartment in Ivrea, Piedmont (a town famous for its Carnival, featuring the famous – or perhaps infamous - Battle of the Oranges, coming up on February 23-24-25 this year), near his family’s ancestral village. Now living in Newburyport, MA, Tom travels to his holiday home in Italy five to six times a year. “My hope for the near future is that I could go for long weekends each month!” he says.
Read on to learn about Tom’s story of buying property in Italy and for useful tips based on his experience.
Why did you decide to buy a house in Italy and why did you choose the Piedmont region specifically?
I've been doing genealogy research for about 35 years. My mother's parents were Southern Italian, from Puglia, and my father's father was Northern Italian, from Piedmont. About 30 years ago, I first went to Piedmont, and later I went to Puglia. Because of my close connection to my Italian heritage, and the fact that I had gotten dual citizenship, I began making a "bucket list" and getting a property in Italy was on that list.
While I love both the north and south of Italy, I was especially drawn to the Piedmont region because of the connection I have to the ancestral village where my Martellono family is from. The region also is comprised of lakes, mountains, large and small cities, and is in close proximity to major airports and other European countries such as France and Switzerland. Those factors, plus very good property prices, made Piedmont my region of choice when deciding to buy a property.
How did you get started looking for a property?
I began my search for a property online, looking at many houses and apartments in southern Italy at least 15 years ago. I searched over a period of years, and then decided that I would change my search to the Piedmont region. As I mentioned previously, the property prices and other factors made that region very appealing to me.
In 2015, I was fortunate enough to be flown to Italy as part of a social media contest I had entered with Fiat. Prior to going, I reached out to a realtor and while there, I actually looked at two properties of interest in my family's home town. Although I love my family's home town of Issiglio, I began to think it would be better to look at property in a nearby larger city that had amenities such as restaurants, hospital, train station, etc.
I continued to search for a property after my 2015 visit, and I returned again in January of 2017 to look at four properties. Prior to that visit, I was fortunate to connect with a realtor that spoke Italian and very good English, and she accompanied me on my visit that January. During that visit, I had a good idea of which property I would want, based on what I saw online. The visit, in person, confirmed that and in June of 2017, I closed on my apartment in Ivrea, Italy!
[Tom Martellone holding keys to his newly purchased apartment in Ivrea!]
What were the main difficulties during the research/purchasing phase?
I thought that because I had dual citizenship and sufficient income to afford a payment, that I would easily get financing through a bank in Italy. That was not the case, and I quickly found that no bank in Italy would give me a loan due to the fact that I did not live there. Additionally, no traditional bank would make a mortgage loan from the U.S. for me to purchase a property in Italy either. I also researched international banks, thinking I could get a loan through them, however, that was not a viable option either. I had some "seed money" to get me started in the process, but could not move forward without financing. It turned out that I was finally able to take an unsecured, personal loan through a non-traditional bank for the property.
Another challenge I faced was not having long amounts of time in Italy. I found that I needed to get an Italian social security number, known as a "codice fiscale", and to get that, plus take care of other things required time abroad, which I did not have a lot of. While I had some challenges not being 100% fluent in Italian, having a realtor that was bilingual and English proficient removed many barriers.
What was your experience like with Italian real estate agents?
I had nothing but positive interactions with my realtors. The realtor that met with me in 2015 spoke great English, was responsive, and worked to assist me in looking at properties in the small village of Issiglio, where my family was from.
The realtor who helped me with my actual purchase, along with the other realtors in her agency, were amazing! They were knowledgeable about real estate law and processes, worked to provide explanations to me in English, provided me with documents in Italian and English, and luckily, my realtor spoke amazing English. My realtor and her company also made sure I had a translator at the closing so that way, if I had questions, or during the process, she could explain things to me in English as well. My realtor was so kind and so helpful that we've remained friends since I've purchased the apartment and we still keep in touch and visit when I am there!
[Tom with the notary: "Not a lot different than in the United States...lots of paperwork!"]
What were the main difficulties during the renovation process?
I was very fortunate and found an apartment that needed absolutely no renovations! I was able to move right in to the apartment when I closed on it.
Have you made friends where you live now? Overall, what was the transition like?
While I don't live in Italy, I have been fortunate to make lots of friends. I have MANY cousins that live in the region and my cousin and his wife that I met 30 years ago live in the city of Ivrea where my apartment is. My cousin and his family, along with other cousins, have introduced me to lots of people that they know. I'm adventurous and speak a decent amount of conversational Italian, and luckily, the Italians love it when you try to speak their language and are very welcoming!
What are your tips for someone interested in buying a house in Italy?
• First and foremost, be prepared that a house buying experience in Italy is not like the process in the United States. While things may move quickly here in the U.S., they may take longer in Italy.
• Be prepared to get a codice fiscale (Italian social security number) and make sure you do that early on and that you plan for the time to do that.
• If you do not have the full cash amount for a property prior to buying, be prepared to figure out how you will finance prior to the purchase. You don't want to find a property you love and then realize that you can't find someone to lend you the money. Dual citizenship, while amazing to have, will not mean that you'll have an easier time financing, buying, etc.
• In Italy, the seller and buyer each pay part of the fee. Be knowledgeable about the different fees, conversion rates, down payment amount, etc. that are involved with your purchase.
• Find a good match for a realtor, and if you don't speak much Italian, having one that speaks English is a huge help. Your realtor is not only someone that should be knowledgeable during the process, but they can also be a great connection and friend after the purchase!
• Research items like internet service, changing over utilities, paying property taxes early on in your research! Again, these processes work very differently in Italy than they do in the United States. It can be a challenge if you are only there for a short time to get these items taken care of!
• Lastly, be prepared for small "bumps" in the process and soak up every bit of Italian culture you can! The experiences you will have in Italy and with your property will be amazing!
Thank you, Tom, for sharing your story and useful tips with our readers.
If you're interested in learning more about Tom's story and what the process of purchasing an apartment in Italy was like, check out Tom's dedicated website.