Tag Archives: moving in Italy

Moving House in Italy

When I mentioned that we were moving, one of my readers asked for more details on my statement that “[moving is] such a huge expense and hassle in Italy that nobody willingly moves often.”

In case the information is useful to others, here are some of the steps involved in buying a home and moving into it in Italy:

When you buy a property, there are so many legal/tax hoops to jump through that you have to hire a notaio (something between a notary and a lawyer), who is expensive, though a big chunk of what you pay him is the sales tax on your new property. Even if you could legally do without the notaio’s services (I’m not sure), you shouldn’t – it’s his job and legal responsibility to ensure that you don’t get taken for a ride in any of a thousand possible ways. For example, illegal construction is widespread in Italy, in part because it can be very difficult to stay within the letter of the law when building. When you buy a home, you are liable for any legal penalties that come up during your ownership, even if the illegality occurred long before you took possession. Part of the closing contract states that you are aware of this fact, so you want to make sure the place is legal when you buy it.

The contract between sellers and buyers is long and complex, full of references to other documents – surveys and descriptions of land, building permits, etc. At our closing (rogito), the notaio read out the contract line by line, number by number, sometimes dropping into a sing-song that reminded me of Tibetan monks chanting. He made a few changes and filled in a few blanks; the whole process took about an hour. Then all parties signed, and the house became ours. (Yes, there was a minor matter of payment as well!)

Once you take possession, the first step to make a new home habitable is to paint it. Even when renting, Italians usually stay in the same home for years so, when you move in, it badly needs painting (and holes in the walls from the previous owners’ pictures, shelves, fixtures, etc. need to be filled). Water-based paint is used in Italian interiors, which is a lot easier to work with – no turpentine needed, spills are easily wiped away, and it dries quickly. Painting took two days (five man-days) and it will be thoroughly dry for Monday’s move-in.

As I have mentioned (see also this article), even most rental units are completely unfurnished – the kitchen will be absolutely bare, with just pipes sticking out of the walls. This means that you have to build in a kitchen, with all appliances, cabinets, etc. We did this just last year when we moved into the apartment we’ve been renting in Lecco. For that move, we were able to re-use two large units we had in Milan, one of which holds a built-in fridge. We added matching pieces from Ikea, plus a sink, a new stove, and a dishwasher. We hired a carpenter to put everything together, cut counter tops, etc.; he spent the whole time bitching about the poor quality of Ikea furniture. And he was right: both shelves of the rotating wire rack in our corner cabinet broke – one within three days, the other in a month or two. We could have gotten a replacement at Ikea, but that would have meant taking the piece out and carrying it back to them – not worth the trip.

Our new house is only four years old, and the previous owners had spent a lot to build in a kitchen with tile surfaces. I don’t particularly like the color (yellow) or the cabinets (too few, and badly arranged), and my beloved big oven won’t fit – they designed their kitchen for a built-in stove top and oven, not a stand-alone. However, it would cost too much time and money to redo the kitchen entirely right now; that will have to wait a few years.

We had hoped to resolve the kitchen problem painlessly by buying (at a suitable discount) the appliances that were already there, but the seller took them away in a fit of pique at his wife (they’re divorcing), so now we’re scrambling to fill the holes where the stove top, oven, and sink used to be. At least our existing dishwasher will fit the dishwasher space.

We don’t need to buy any other furniture, just move what we already have. And that’s a lot, since last summer we consolidated everything from our home in Milan with a lot of what had been in Enrico’s parents’ place in Rome.

There’s almost no such thing as built-in closets in Italy, so you’ll be buying or moving huge heavy wardrobes, in addition to the usual household furniture. In our case, there’s also a piano.

I have already packed about 50 boxes of various sizes, need another 40 or so – we have so many books! I don’t have any newspaper to wrap stuff in because we don’t read that much physical newspaper. So I’m using every piece of clothing and linen we have to wrap the breakables. Oh, well, this is more ecological – fewer boxes, less to move, less to recycle in the end.

The movers arrive Monday, with a truck-mounted crane which they’ll park outside the building and raise up to our fourth-floor balcony to get everything out of the apartment. This is the usual practice, because there’s no such thing as a freight elevator in most Italian apartment buildings.

When we moved last year, because we were bringing stuff from both Milan and Rome, we did not hire a crane, so we had to bring everything up in the elevator or by the stairs. In the process, the fake leather covering inside the elevator was slightly damaged, damage which somebody in the building took delight in worsening by ripping great gashes. We got blamed for all of it, and had to pay to refinish the elevator. I had an unpleasant conversation with the very snippy building administrator: “Since you’re foreigners, perhaps you don’t realize that this is not how things are done in Italy. We don’t use the elevator for moving.” (He assumed from the surname that Enrico was also foreign.)

A few days ago, Enrico called the administrator to ask if we could use the building’s courtyard to bring in the crane and truck. The man came rushing over to tell us that the pavement of the courtyard is built over the garage and isn’t very strong – a heavy truck could fall right through. Enrico saw his point, and quickly agreed to use the outside balcony instead, and not bring a truck into the courtyard. All fine and cordial, right?

The administrator had written a letter to officially inform us that we could not use the courtyard, which I suppose is useful to him legally in case we misbehave. He could have simply delivered a copy of this letter to us, along with his verbal warning. Instead, he taped the letter on the entrance door downstairs – making a public statement that he doesn’t trust us to keep our word, and implicitly asking the neighbors to report us if we don’t. What an asshole. As soon as we are out of this place, we’re going to write him a letter and post it on the door – after all, that’s his preferred mode of communication. And, since he so despises me for being foreign, I’ll use a few choice phrases in plain-speaking American; he can find his own translator.

Anyway, about moving…

Utilities also have to be “moved”. I called Telecom Italia two weeks ago, and they told me it’s a good thing I called so early, because the waiting period to move a phone line is currently 20 days or more. We’ll need a technician to come to the house to open some more plugs – there’s a slot but no actual plug in the room which will be my office, where the wireless modem/router will live. At least the gas and electricity were fairly simple; Enrico had to go with the previous owner to the two offices to officially “turn over” (voltura) the services to us.

There is also government bureaucracy to deal with. Not too long after you move, you have to go to the ufficio dell’anagrafe (population records office) at the town hall and let them know your new address, partly so they can find you to give you voter registration forms when elections come up. In another form that we filled out with the notaio, we had to stipulate how many exterior doors there are on the house. The notaio phrased it this way: “If the carabinieri raid you, how many men will they need to cover the exits?” I’m not entirely sure he was joking.

For the moving out, we have to empty all shelves, cabinets, closets etc. by early Monday morning. The moving team will then come in and disconnect everything, including light fixtures, load it in the truck, carry it up the hill, and unload it, hopefully into the correct rooms.

Moving in will require several workmen. We’ve ordered new kitchen appliances, which a plumber will install Tuesday or Wednesday. (Anything with gas must be officially certified safe by a professional plumber.) He will also need to hook up the washing machine in our basement laundry room.

shot ~Sep 24, 2004, 0:32 mins, 1.5 MB
The electrician helped us move the crystal chandelier. Last year, moving it from Rome, Enrico took it completely apart and made a careful diagram of where all the pieces went. Nonetheless, it took about three hours to reassemble and hang it. So this year the electrician took it down in one piece and hung it, still intact, in the back of his truck. Then he and Enrico carefully drove it up to the new house and hung it right back up again.

Next week he’ll come back to re-connect all the other lights, and will also help us hang paintings since he’s handy with a drill. Hanging things isn’t easy: the walls are brick or concrete, so for heavy objects you need to drill holes and line them with plastic sleeves (tasselli) to anchor large bolts. Tall bookshelves are also best bolted into the wall to prevent them tipping over, especially if you live in an earthquake zone.

Finding reliable people to do all this can be difficult. Anyone who wants steady, lucrative work in Italy should consider becoming a plumber, electrician, or painter.

I will be offline from Monday until whenever Telecom Italia decides to install our phone line, so, when you hear from me next, it will be from my magnificent new studio with a view!

Moving Out…

shot Sep 27, 2004, 2:04 mins

A portable electric crane was set up in the street outside our 4th-floor balcony. All our furniture was taken apart and sent down into the waiting truck.

Moving In…

shot Sep 27, 2004, 0:31 mins, 1.4 MB
There was no place to put a crane at the new house, so anything too big to fit up the staircase was handed up to the balcony.

Raising the Roof: Expanding Housing Space Vertically

For several months now, we’ve had a close-up view of a major construction project in a neighboring building. When you buy a top-floor apartment in an Italian condominium building, you often (usually?) also buy the right to some or all of the attic space under the slanted the roof, called the solaio. Where building codes permit, you can use this to increase the size of your home, by transforming the solaio into living space, sometimes lifting the roof while you’re at it. Most new townhouses (rowhouses, to Brits) are designed this way, with a top floor mansarda, a room carved out under the slanted roof. These often have only skylights for looking out of – a terrible waste of a top-floor view – but the better-architected ones have real windows, and sometimes terraces sunk into the pitch of the roof.

There are tax advantages to building this way, because, under Italian property tax law, any space with average headroom less than a certain height is not considered living space, and is therefore taxed at a lower rate than other parts of the home. A lower tax rate also applies to the underground and semi-underground rooms that you find in homes that are built into a hillside (as many are in Lecco) – if it can’t have a window, taxes are lower.

So the folks next door have only recently had the scaffolding removed from their building, after months of construction. I originally thought that this was about cleaning and repairing the outside of the building, as had been done to our building last summer (and very annoying it was to have scaffolding blocking our balcony all summer. The landlord had conveniently not mentioned that, and it started going up the day after we moved in). But the scaffolding in this case went up beyond the edge of the roof, and in short order they had ripped the roof completely off and redone it, maybe a little higher than it was before. They put a new plywood skin in place and covered it with plastic sheeting, held down by a lattice of thin laths.

Then they let it sit for quite a while. I don’t know if the weather was simply too bad to be working up there – we had a very long, cold winter, and could hear the plastic sheets flapping in the wind all night – or if there was some reason the whole thing had to sit for a while. At any rate, after some weeks they came back with terracotta roof tiles and new copper sheeting for the gutters and the bottoms of the chimneys. These are cheerful bright metal right now, but with exposure will soon turn green.

Then, having completed an intact roof, they cut holes in it for terraces and skylights. Don’t quite see the logic here – why would you build a new roof and then cut holes in it? Why not just leave the holes you would need to begin with? But that’s what they did. The final touch was to water-blast the outside of the entire building to clean it, before the scaffolding went down – a sop to the downstairs neighbors for having put up with the scaffolding for so long.

The interior still appears unfinished, or I’m guessing it is since terrace doors have not been put in yet. I haven’t seen much activity lately, but maybe it’s taking place indoors.

Americans may ask themselves why Italians go to so much trouble and expense to make such extensive renovations – if you need more room, why not just buy a bigger place? One reason is expense: housing costs are very high in many parts of Italy, and the considerablec legal and financial transaction costs of buying and selling property are an additional burden. The cost of moving itself is also high, especially when you consider that you will strip the place you are leaving down to bare walls – kitchen cabinets, light fixtures, everything but the toilet goes with you. The place you move into will be similarly stripped, so you need electricians, plumbers, etc. to help you reinstall everything. You’ll probably also want it painted before you move in. Italians are rather sensible on this score: house paint is all water-based and easy to work with. But ceilings are high, so you need ladders and long-handled rollers – easiest to leave it to a specialist.

For many Americans, especially young ones, moving means getting a bunch of friends (paid in beer) to help you pack boxes and load and unload a U-Haul trailer. Americans tend to have a lot of stuff, but it’s usually more easily-moved stuff than Italians have. In Italy, you need a team of specialists to disassemble enormous closets (no such thing as built-in here), take down those kitchen cabinets and put them back up (fitting them into a new space usually requires a carpenter), and so on. Most of us live in condominium buildings, and you don’t use the building elevator for moving: it’s usually too small to hold a lot of what needs moving. Your moving company will show up with an extending crane on the back of a truck, so that furniture and boxes can be passed out a window to a van waiting in the street below, even from a high floor.

So where do you park the crane? The street is full of parked cars, and, frequently, so are the sidewalks. You need a permit from the city to block off the street and sidewalk that day, putting up signs in advance to let people know not to park there. Professional moving companies will do this for you; on a DIY move, you’ve got to, well, do it yourself.

Aside from the costs and hassle of moving, there is the Italian propensity to stay in one place. When people do decide to move, they often look for a new home in the same neighborhood where they’re already living, or even in the same building. There are many cases of grown and married children living in the same building as their parents, giving easy access to famously intrusive Italian mothers-in-law – a large number of Italian marriages have foundered on this arrangement, but no one ever seems to learn the lesson. In fact, home-enlargement projects often come about because of parents making more room for their grown children, or the children, in turn, making room for their aged parents to live with them. The strength of the Italian family unit, for better and for worse, is thus reflected in architectural habits.

House-Moving in Italy

We couldn’t have picked a worse time to move: record high temperatures and humidity, with people literally falling down in the streets. In a particularly horrible accident the other day, a man on a street repair crew fainted. His colleague driving the tar truck didn’t see him on the ground, and backed over him.

Our move has been far less dramatic, but involves lots of hard work and running around when we’d be wiser to take a siesta. When you rent an apartment in Italy, unless it’s advertised as “furnished,” it’s completely bare: no kitchen appliances, no light fixtures. (Toilets and showers yes, at least, but often no toilet seats.) So everyone buys and/or moves their own major appliances, and we’re taking the opportunity to upgrade our kitchen. Our old kitchen in Milan is literally one meter by two – I’ve seen bigger walk-in closets. When we moved here, we had to measure carefully to ensure that the stove and a (clothes) washing machine would fit in beside the sink. I am so thrilled now to have a huge, eat-in kitchen, even though it’s tiled (floor and walls) in a bilious shade of olive green that was popular around 1975. We’ve brought up some pieces from my in-laws’ place in Rome: a painted wood table, sideboard, and display dish rack which also happen to be olive green (decorated with flowers and birds, which is not as bad as sounds). I’ve never been particularly fond of these pieces, but they go very nicely in the olive green kitchen.

Our own kitchen stuff (which, in Milan, is in the living/dining room) is made of a light-colored wood (from Ikea), so we’re adding more pieces in that style to expand storage and work space. For the last 12 years I’ve been producing culinary miracles on a 40×60 cm worktop. Can’t wait to see what I’ll be able to do with a REAL kitchen.

So the upside is that we get to do our own kitchen. The downside is that we have to, and it’s still not in working order. Figuring out what would fit where, making buying decisions, and having things delivered and installed, is taking far more time than I expected. Getting workmen to come is proving difficult. The electrician never showed up for our appointment last Friday, and has since been impossible to reach on his cellphone. Hit by a truck? (If not, he’s about to wish had been…) At least the plumber has been reliable, and hopefully will be able to find his carpenter friend to come Monday, because there’s a worktop that will need to be cut for the sink…

We’ll move the last major stuff from Milan on Sunday, and will bring up our handyman to attach bookshelves to walls and hang paintings. I always knew Signor Gino was a treasure; I just hadn’t realized he was an irreplaceable treasure – so far we haven’t managed to find anyone in Lecco to do this sort of thing. We’ve got zillions of books sitting around in boxes because I can’t put them on the shelves yet, which is making me crazy.

Yesterday, in frustration, I vowed that I would learn to use a power drill myself, so that in future I can make my own holes in the wall. As a start, I went to the hardware department at the local Bennet (Italian Wal-Mart). After half an hour of browsing, I realized that I am indeed a complete geek: I was enjoying looking at tools, electrical connectors, wire… I bought a wire stripper, and am determined to use it! So I’ll be watching Gino closely on Sunday to see how he does all this stuff, and from here on I will be a do-it-yourselfer.

Oh, and one slight detail: I want everything done before I take off for Boston on July 4th!

Changing Homes in Italy

Anyone who has had the experience of setting up a household in Italy will wince at the list of things we have to do in the next two months: sell the family home in Rome (emptying it of many years’ accumulation of books – this is a family of professors! – furniture, etc.), set up the new apartment in Lecco, get our daughter through her middle school exam, send her off to summer camp in the US, then, finally, move our own stuff from Milan to Lecco. Oh, and in the midst of all this I may be starting a very demanding new full-time job. (The second interview went well, now I’m just waiting to see the money.)

Setting up simple household utilities in Italy used to be an arduous process. As one friend put it, getting a phone line installed required “a recommendation and a bottle of whiskey.” The recommendation would ideally be from someone with contacts inside Telecom Italia, to ask the folks there to be nice to you. The bottle of whiskey would be a “gift” to encourage the technicians to get their job done, but you might need another bottle to tide you through the months-long, completely unnecessary wait!

Things have changed. I called Telecom Italia last week about a line for the new apartment in Lecco. The place has been inhabited before, so the wires are there, but I wasn’t sure all the plugs were working, and the line was of course disconnected. The lady said that a technician would call me in about ten days to make an appointment. Actually, he called me two days later, when I happened to be too far away from Lecco to meet him. So we made an appointment for yesterday morning, 9:30. When I arrived at 9:15, he was already standing outside waiting for me. Turns out some repairs were needed to two plugs, but within an hour all five plugs and the line were working. In the meantime I called the electricity company from my cellphone. After reading the relevant numbers off the meter, I was shocked to be told: “Okay, now just cut the plastic seal and flip the lever; it should already be working.” There’s gotta be a catch. This is Italy. It can’t be that easy.

On my way back to the railway station, I was delighted to find near home a good polleria (a butcher shop specializing in poutry, selling cooked and uncooked chicken, other kinds of poultry, and rabbit). There is also a new, American-style coffee bar offering different types of coffee (Ethiopian, Kenya, etc.) – unheard-of in Italy! I had just had a coffee, so didn’t go in to check, but maybe (said she wistfully) they make a decent cup of American-style “long” coffee. I like espresso, especially when I’m in a hurry, but there are times when nothing beats lingering over a huge, steaming mug. That would be great, and very unusual here. In every bar I’ve seen in Italy so far, if you ask for American coffee you get espresso in a large cup, with hot water added. Yuck. This new coffee bar looks like nothing I’ve seen in Italy, not even in Milan. Which perhaps proves that Lecco is not as provincial as the Milanese would have me believe!

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