How to purchase a little piece of Italy (and look like an idiot in the process).

FINALLY!!! After a year… A YEAR… of attempting to give money in exchange for land (a process known to some as “purchasing real estate”), we can now say that we own a little piece of Italy.

My marito peed on it right away. (What is that? Why do men do that?)

And after this year-long roller coaster of endless contracts and agreements and meetings and discussions and site visits and more discussions and negotiations and more contracts and more discussions… I have seen first hand why Italy is not attracting more foreign investors. To put it succinctly, che palle, ragazzi! 

(literal translation: “What balls, guys!”; translator’s note: This is not meant in the sense of courage, it is meant in the sense of ball-busting.)

I thought many times about writing updates during the process, but I didn’t want to jinx the situation and offend the involved parties. In fact, I still don’t. I keep waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop. I’m finding it a little difficult to relax into rejoicing over the fact that we have our names on a piece of paper that says we are owners of Italian earth. 0.000023% of Italy, to be precise. It feels like any minute someone is going to call and tell me I didn’t sign some form correctly or there’s some clause in some Italian law that prohibits the sale of land to anyone who doesn’t know how to slaughter a pig.

I don’t know.

And, of course the situation is still up in the air, as we are now attempting a rather bold architectural move with the design of our future house on this land.  A green roof (gasp!).

So, if you don’t mind, in the interest of superstition and small town gossip, I will be leaving some key sections censored. For example, I won’t say anything about the realtor,                            , who didn’t seem to actually want to sell us anything. I won’t mention how we had to basically wrestle him down in the street in front of his shop, so that we could get him to tell us where each of the listed properties was located. And I certainly I won’t say that he never once accompanied us to a site. Never once opened a door with a key. Never once “pitched” anything to us.

I’ll also avoid talking about the strange process of having a project preliminarily approved by a                           committee, and how it seems to be a HUGE conflict of interest to have professional                             judging the work of other professional                         s   for the approval of a project design brief that is in direct competition with their work.

Nor will I go into details about the fact that the                                  committee seems to have very little interest in collaborating with us to produce a better project, and instead would prefer remain inaccessible and pass judgements.

(Actually, when I expressed this frustration to my suocero, he very astutely pointed out why the system works the way it does: if the people on this committee were more accessible, someone would bribe them. Good point, suocero, good point. American idealism 0, Italian realism +1. )

And finally, you will not yet be privy to all of the hilarious cultural details that one notices in the various offices of the involved parties. You’ll have to wait to here about the “filing system” at the                       office, for example. Some day, I may be able to tell the story of how many meetings and hours and coffees it takes to negotiate a price on Italian property. And eventually, I hope to enlighten you about the process of what happens when the Church gets involved (the land we eventually purchased was formerly church land and is still surrounded by church property).

Yes, yes, all of that will have to wait until the tides of time have turned those stories from sensitive subjects to funny history. There is one anecdote, however, that I think would be alright for me to share. I don’t think it embarrasses anyone but myself, and that’s always fun.

This takes place on the actual day of signing the documents to officially become landowners. Again, A LOT  led up to this. But finally, after all that time, we found ourselves in the office of the notaio (notary) last Tuesday, ready to sign.

Oh the formality!

ALL parties were present:

  • Me, my marito, and my suocero (our contract negotiator), lined up in chairs along the East wall, facing the center.
  • The couple we were purchasing from and their professional negotiator, lined up on the West wall.
  • The local priest and the parochial lawyer, who left after their preliminary contract negotiations and signing with the land owning couple.
  • The real estate agent chilling out in the corner, waiting to get his commission for doing nothing (oops, said I wasn’t going to talk about him).
  • And finally the notaio seated, grandly, behind a large wooden desk in the center of the room, as if at an altar.

As the process began, I almost laughed  out loud. The lady notaio started READING every line of the contract OUT LOUD. This damn contract that we had all be staring at for the past YEAR. This 12 page, double spaced, ridiculously simple statement, explaining who everyone is and what we are purchasing… is being read out loud for all of us. Not that I didn’t appreciate the extra step for safety, but… really? Wow.

Then, as if it weren’t funny enough that we were all being subjected to a document that had been hashed and rehashed a million times over the previous months… someone in the group actually found something to correct! There was a pause while maps were  brought out and it was disputed as to whether it was an accurate map or not. My marito tried to help by bringing up the current one on his iPad. Oh, heavens, no… where is the paper one? Ok, ok, all sorted, moving on… She starts reading again.

We reach the end, and everyone seems ok. She asks for the check from us. My suocero gets up and places it on the desk. She asks to witness us in agreement about the commission with the real estate agent. Fine.

She verbally confirms all of our names and codice fiscale (tax ID numbers). My name, of course, threw her off a bit. Then there was that moment when she was looking at my British passport, where it says “born in Dallas, USA”…. that always spurs a discussion about dual citizenship, etc.

Ok, time to sign.

First the landowners. Sign here. And here. And here. And here. And here….

And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

Then my marito… here…

And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

Now me.

I sign my normal (a.k.a. creative and passionate) signature, and she says, “okaaaaay….”, in that way that Italians do when they’re trying to be nice, but they clearly mean, “that’s not correct”. So she says, “Underneath that, please write your legible signature”.

So I start printing my name.

“No, no!”

Oh dear. Cultural moment. What the hell am I doing wrong? There’s only so many ways to write my name, right?


“Can you please write in legible cursive, like this:” (At this point she writes her own name on a scrap piece of paper as an example, and I officially become a deficiente who can’t even write her own name correctly.)

I follow suit, concentrating all my efforts to harken back to 7th grade English class (the last time I had to write in cursive!). I finally finish, and she says, “almost!”


“You need to use your middle name as well, please.”

Now, I realize here on this blog I go by M. I could tell you it’s for anonymity (which it is), but it’s also a lot because I have the longest name on the planet. That may be an exaggeration, but it felt like the longest name on the planet when I had to write all 23 characters of it IN CURSIVE here…

And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

So after I lost feeling in my wrist, I turned and looked at my marito and we tried not to jump up and high five immediately. We waited until we were in the parking lot, which didn’t matter much because the couple we purchased from drove past as we were celebrating. Oh well. They’ve got to know we got a ridiculously good deal. I mean, hell. There a ridiculously amazing view, a castle, and 3 traditional Emilian restaurants within walking distance. The land was valued, however, as non-farmable agricultural land on a slope. Lucky we’re not farmers!! Ha!

So, um… you wanna see it? You do, don’t you?



our land yay

42 thoughts on “How to purchase a little piece of Italy (and look like an idiot in the process).

  1. total booyah, I am in fits of laughter on the floor. We went through a little of this the first time we bought a house but your description bought it all back! It’s just impossible to really get the complexity of the situation across unless you’ve been hmmmm lucky enough to go through it xxx
    Still chuckling
    ciao lisa x

  2. Oh yes, I remember my own personal experience well and I left feeling quite overwhelmed or underwhelmed by the experience! We even had guy from the anti-money laundering ask me to sign documents I understood nothing about – I didn’t even understand all the cheques I had to have made out to everyone present – the real estate agent got the best deal and the sellers were represented by their grand children who had no interest in the property at all having never seen it in their lifetime!

    • They had NEVER seen it? Odd. Come to think of it, the couple we purchased from didn’t seem to know the property very well either.

  3. LOL i’m crying, especially since it brings back marrrrrvelous memories of 3 contracts ive signed in the past… Why do i need to hear it read out? I go off into another world during which the notiao keeps waking me up asking ‘susan do you understand’… I must sort out that vacant look of mine Susan x

    • haha… well that was nice of the notaio to help out at least! That was what my marito kept saying to me. In fact, I read this comment to him, and he said, “yup, you had that zoned out thing too”.

  4. Auguri! Welcome to the hilarious (you laugh so as not to cry when up against the absurd) process of buying and building in Italy. Trying to understand and reason with those involved that things could be done in an easier, more logical way will only frustrate you….just go with the flow (a few glasses of wine are also helpful in getting through it). Cynthia in Lecce

  5. Haha… this post is great. So true- down to the last signature!- about all of the follies and silly informal formal procedures that accompany practically every single bureaucratic (and non-bureaucratic) procedure in this country that we love to hate and hate to love 😉
    Congratulations! Looking forward to following the rest of the story.

    • Thanks, Simba! Updates shall follow, no doubt. Now that we have LAND, I suspect there will be many opportunities for stories! -M

  6. Congratulations, it looks incredible! I recognise pretty much everything you say from when we bought our place. The useless estate agents, the pointless planning committees and the poor notaio who has to read out everything. Good luck with the plans!

    • Yup – funny, I remember reading your blog during the same time we were going through that… and I just kept thinking (I hope his real estate agent doesn’t speak English!). Did anyone there ever read your blog?

      • Haha… I wrote them a long letter making it quite clear what we thought of their ‘service’ so I don’t think it would have been a problem even if they had. I was actually slightly kinder in the blog!

  7. Congratulations…

    This signing documents in Italy is… well….. bizarre. When I opened my bank account I had to sign a document to say I was not Mafia!!!!! And I also got shouted at for not signing my name properly, I remember I developed my scribbled, scrawled spider leg signature on the back of my maths exercise book when I was 14… It was ok in England, the church accepted it when I married Mrs Sensible but I had to develop a sensible signature for Poste Italia.

  8. I have always dreamt of owning a little bit of Italy myself! But after reading about your experience, the process terrifies me! And add to that, having to do it from thousands of miles away would be a nightmare. I guess I’ll just have to be content with owning a little bit of the good ole USA instead and just keep Italy in my dreams. I am happy for you that you persevered and got your reward!!!

    • thanks Jennifer! In 800 years, when the house is finished, we’ll throw a party – all readers invited.

      piano piano.

  9. Congratulations, it’s gorgeous. You’re a braver woman than I am to go through all that…how many times did you just want to bang your head against a brick wall???

  10. I hear you! We are also in the process of buying a new house *al grezzo*.. ie. one which still has to be finished by the costruttore .. already been through the notaio rigmarole twice in partially selling old one and partially buying new one … Yes, he reads everything out loud .. but very quickly! .. and then the signature … I ended up just initialising my middle name, nobody seemed to mind. Hope I won’t risk having the contract(s) null and void-ed.
    Congrats on you new, er, land by the way!

  11. Wowzers, it looks amazing. Isolated, with an amaaaaaayzing view and yet within walking distance of restaurants? Jealous!
    And your description of the process brought back memories of our experience – hilarious. Our notaio also read out the whole thing, but in the style of a man trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records for speed talking – NOBODY could have understood a thing he said, never mind listen out for potential errors!

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