CHIAVARI, Italy - When I first moved to Italy back in 1990, my number one priority was to find an apartment. Little did I know what was in store for me as I bravely, and blindly, stepped into the wonderful world of Italian real estate.
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Here we go:
1. Watch Your Language: They use local dialect in real estate ads. What was confusing was that I never saw the word “rooms” as in “number” of rooms.” Why? Because in Genoa the word for rooms is “vani”. In Milan it’s “locali”.
2. Please Sit – Oh Never Mind. Some apartments don’t have living rooms. My first furnished (arredato) apartment in Italy was in the tiny borgo of Santa Maria Quezzi, up in the hills behind Genoa. I was told it was a two bedroom apartment, but there were only three rooms.
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Hmmmm. One room was definitely the bedroom; the second room had a bookcase/storage unit on one wall and a sofa. The third room was a dining room with a round table and four chairs, an easy chair and a TV stand. Since the easy chair matched the sofa in the dining room, I moved it into the room where the sofa was, and made that the living room. But then I began to notice something odd. Visitors were always very uncomfortable when I took them into my “living room”. It eventually dawned on me that I was actually entertaining my guests in what they thought of as a bedroom, but they were just too polite to say anything. Ooops.
3. What is This? If you are renting a standard unfurnished apartment it won’t have a kitchen – what I mean is you will not find a stove, a refrigerator, a sink, cupboards or countertop. What you will find is an empty room with water and gas pipes sticking out from one wall. It’s up to you to put in the rest. Why? Beats me. And don’t forget, if you move you take your “kitchen” with you and hopefully it will fit into your new apartment. Of course it hardly never does, fit that is, but . . . . . . .
4. I’ll Just Lean Here. If an apartment is listed as semi-furnished it will have a kitchen with a stove, sink, refrigerator, cupboards and countertop. But no actual furniture like tables and chairs.
5. Let the Séance Begin. Do not expect to find light fixtures – anywhere in the apartment. Just wires sticking out of holes, color coded ghosts of illuminations past. It’s up to you to buy fixtures and find an electrician to install them. And keep his number because you’ll need him to remove the fixtures when you move.
6. Can’t Hold Your Water? Double service (doppio servizi) means two bathrooms.
7. Drip Dry. No towel racks or toothbrush/glass holders but lots and lots of holes where previous tenants hung theirs. Good luck trying to match up the whattacallthem fastener things of your new towel racks and toothbrush/glass holders with the old holes.
8. Just Put the Aspirin Bottle, ahhh ….Maybe there? Your Italian bathroom will not have a medicine cabinet, or a mirror, or a cabinet under the sink or a linen closet either. But it will have a bidet.
9. Walk In? Not Exactly. You will marvel at the amount of space needed to put up an armoire that will give you 1/5 of the closet space you could have if they would just hang a rod and put a door in front of it. You will need a handyman/carpenter to assemble and disassemble your closets when you move in and move out, unless of course your moving man can will do it.
10. Roll On. Apartment in dire need of a paint job? It’s on you. If you don’t have friends who can recommend a painter, your local paint store is the next best place to go. If you are doing this in August, save your breath, the paint store will most likely be closed. It doesn’t matter because all the painters are on vacation anyway and you won’t see hide ‘nor hair of them until mid September.
11. Put a Lid On It. Garages are called boxes. Some apartments may have a dispensa, which is a pantry, a ripostiglio, a broom closet and/or a tinello, which is an ante-camera between the kitchen and the living room for informal entertaining.
12. Four Plus Four. A normal rental contract is four years plus four more years for a total of eight, or it can be four plus three, or three plus two. There is no standard contract, but then again you really didn’t expect there to be one, did you? Your contract must be registered with the Comune (City Hall) in order for it to be legal – and for you to have any rights as a tenant. If you want to cancel the contract you must send your landlord a registered letter 6 months prior to the expiration date.
13. Contrato Transitorio – the owner is not interested in a permanent tenant. The rental contract is for 12 months max. That type of a rental contract doesn’t work for someone like me because you can’t claim the apartment as your primary residence, which is something I need to do if I want National Health Care coverage, which I do. I suspect landlords do this so they don’t get stuck with a tenant who doesn’t pay the rent. Evidently tenants who skip out without paying the rent is a big problem here or else it’s just the Italians being their usual overly cautious selves. I’ve been told – by real estate agents – that if you are good – good meaning you pay your rent in full and on time, you can most likely convert that transitorio contract into a regular contract.
14. Riscaldamento Autonomo - Loosely translated means you control your heat as opposed to riscaldamento centralizzato, which means the condominium controls the heat, which I have found less than agreeable since I don’t operate on an Italian timetable. I get up early, I like to write in the morning, five o’clock is not too early for me. This presents a problem because the heat doesn’t usually come on until close to seven and for some odd reason I find it hard to drink my morning coffee when my teeth are chattering let alone trying to type with frozen fingers.
Now if this all sounds a bit intimidating and you would rather not have the hassle of trying to decipher real estate ads in Italian, you can Google summer rentals in Italy – there are hundreds of sites in English. You will pay a little more, but that’s not terrible. In fact it's good because they are fully furnished. Either way, what your Italian apartment will most likely have (depending where in Italy it is) are marble floors, very high ceilings, a huge bathtub, unlimited hot water thanks to a very clever water heating system, at least one balcony but usually two or three, an interesting history if you are lucky, and best of all - when you step outw the door - you will be in Italy, and that is priceless.