Wednesday, February 19, 2014
A place to call our own?
Wednesday, February 19
We just couldn’t help ourselves; we couldn’t resist the temptation to call the number and look inside. We have seen a dozens of old farm houses for sale in our general locale in the past few years, and even though we have concluded that it doesn’t make sense to buy one when we only come to Italy for two or three months a year, we usually stop to take a quick look.
Each one of them, upon a few days of reflection, has its own set of problems. Too near the noise of the highway. No land for an orto, a vegetable garden. Too much traffic on the street. Next to a smelly barn. Too big. Too small. No driveway. Too isolated. To far from a train station. We always conclude that even if we were in the market for a house—which, we always remind each other, we are not—this house would not be the one.
Except there is one house that keeps rolling around into our minds. We first saw the weathered vendita sign three years ago while riding our bikes in a neighborhood called Carrari. We wrote down the phone number but never called it. Each year afterwards, we would go a little out of our way to ride past it now and then, usually stopping for a few minutes to admire the yard, the view and the general location. What mainly draws us back is the location. From the yard, we can see the towers of both Altopascio and Montecarlo. It is on a quiet and seldom-used back road, yet it is less than one mile from the Altopascio train station, a flat and quick ride on a bike and not too far to walk. Trains stop more frequently at Altopascio than they do at San Salvatore, and Altopascio also has many more shops and a large weekly open-air market. Yet the house is only three miles from the Marcucci neighborhood where my Seghieri relatives live.
We also like the fact that it has a fenced-in yard and a lawn, not something common around here. It has a double carport that looks like it was built within the last ten years but was never used. A final factor in its favor is the neighborhood, which has about four large houses, each one containing about three apartments each. That means there might be twelve to fourteen families living there, a nice number for stranieri like us, who are looking for veri italiani as friends. “Our” two-story apartment was on the end of a three-family building, facing fields on three sides, so we would have more privacy than any of the other units.
Yesterday, at Lucy’s urging, I finally called the number and asked to have someone show us the inside. Giovanni was at work but said he was just about to head home for lunch and could come in ten minutes. That would be perfect, we said, and we sat down on the sidewalk to eat some bread we had bought during our bike ride through Altopascio. When he arrived, he took us around the outside and showed us the boundaries. Besides the lawn and carports, we would also have a 5000-square-foot field outside the fenced-in area, which would be more than adequate to grow any vegetables we wanted if we ever decided to live here year-around.
Giovanni said the unit is owned jointly by four people, the adult children of the former occupants, one of whom is his wife. They are asking 170,000 euros but are open to negotiate, and they are not in any hurry to sell. That’s good, I said, because we are not in any hurry to buy. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go inside, because when Giovanni put the key in the door, the lock broke with the door stuck shut. He will call a repairman, he said, and then give us a call to come and look inside when it is fixed. So we walked around the outside again and asked more questions. Each floor is about 100 square meters, which translates to roughly 1,000 square feet. However, a fairly large portion of this—about three rooms—was formerly devoted to animals and farm supplies, so the finished living area would be maybe about 1,400 feet. Quite likely, since the house has been unoccupied for at least ten years and it was probably in poor repair even then, it would have to be completely refurbished both inside and out. In that case, the unfinished areas could be converted to living spaces.
The crumbling stucco on the outside would definitely have to be removed and replaced, Giovanni said, because it was of an older type that didn’t allow the bricks and stones underneath it to breathe, and so it would typically flake away and have to be replaced on a regular basis. Or, he said, we might like the pattern of bricks and stones that appeared with cleaning and not want to replace the stucco. He showed us the outside of one of the other homes in the community that had been remodeled by leaving the original masonry exposed, and it looked great that way. The brick tile roof should also be replaced, he explained, because with today’s newer technology, roofs keep houses cooler in the summers and warmer in the winters while still retaining a traditional appearance.
Unfortunately, we were not able to take any photos, because I apparently forgot to pack my camera battery charger, and I will have to buy a new charger, since my battery has gone dead. Meanwhile, we will wait for Giovanni to call when the lock is fixed, while we continue to ponder the crazy and unlikely idea of buying a house here.
*****************Postscript: Giovanni never called us back. We rode by the house several times in March and noticed that the lock had not been changed, but when we discovered in late March that the door finally had a new lock, I called Giovanni two times and left messages that we would like to look inside. He didn’t return our calls, and by this time we had concluded that even if we did lose our good senses and decided to buy a house in Toscana, it would be better to buy one in San Salvatore, closer to my relatives.