HOW TO FINISH THE RESTORATION OF A PROPERTY IN UMBRIA (Part 3 of 3)
You now have a small mountain of paperwork, the building has passed the “shell” stage, with walls, floor and roofs completed and now you enter into the final lap, the finishing stage. The more money you spend now doing a proper job will be repaid in the future by savings on replacements, repairs and maintenance. Put in the correct amount of insulation, yes, it is required in Italy, most parts of the more popular areas of Tuscany, Umbria and the Marche often experience frosts and snow. But don’t fall into the trap of spending huge amounts of money on “named” or “signature” taps, tiles, sinks or cookers; unless you are one of those people who really believe that a well advertised label on a product does in fact improve your life; and remember that the thousands you spend giving yourself comfort and satisfaction, may not be appreciated by any future buyer.
Quite often, although one has all these papers, permits and required permissions the site will be regularly visited by gun carrying members of the Italian State, Police, Vigili, Carabinieri and the Forestale being the most likely. Each has the right to check and control all papers to do with the building, the workers and you, and fines can, and often will, be handed out to all who infringe the multiplicity of rules and regulations. We paid one the other day, quite a large one, for having dug into the earth some 60cm, to create a terrace, when our permission was for a depth of up to 40cm. Hardly a hand’s span, but a walloping big fine. And to control a JCB equivalent on a hillside, in the rain to within a hand’s span is not terribly easy.
Fines are part of life in Italy. Everyone supports the black economy by not paying their full amount of tax, and on a rebuilding project costing a quarter of a million, euro, pounds, dollars or whatever, and with a VAT rate of 20%, savings of up to fifty thousand, whatevers, could obviously be made by not paying VAT. If you get caught you will be fined. But, as with all laws and rules in Italy there are ways and means of reducing tax liabilities on the buying, selling and restorations of properties. Two that were recently exchanged attracted no capital gains taxes, no VAT and no “stamp” duties, so it can be done, but do take proper advice from experienced consultants. Similarly, on the last six renovations which were completed, the owners paid some 8.5% tax instead of the suggested 20%. The customer saved 11.5% which more than paid the consultancy fees for the whole reconstruction job, not just for the tax advice.
Did I mention enlarging your house? Current legislation allows the addition of 100 sqmt of extra space, four good sized rooms of 5m x 5m to be added onto any existing country house. This space obviously has a resale value, should you be thinking of selling, or could provide the basis of an income generating rental property or be made into guest accommodation or a granny flat. It doesn’t have to be attached to the original building. But I’m sure your friendly architect told you this. Another way of enlarging the capacity of a building, the floor space, the square meterage, rather than the volume, is to find a two-storied property with high rooms, and, by lowering the ground floor, which probably was an animal housing, and which has to be dug out and modernised, and by lowering the intermediate floor, which you have to take down and rebuild anyway, and by heightening the external walls when putting back the roof you may just be able to fit in three floors, instead of the original two, and increase the size of the house by 50%. But here you really do need to consult with an expert to ensure that permissions, structural strength and costings are all carefully controlled and calculated.
Have all the pipes, wires and tubes, in your new house, which are associated with modern living, encased in the walls, not left exposed or boxed in with plywood, hardboard, plastic or MDF panels as is still so often the case with British buildings. Hide those unsightly cables, in the walls, conceal those central heating tubes, and as for the large, grotesque, cast-iron lavatory waste pipes so beloved of English developers, hide them. Create a graceful habitat for your future living not an impoverished utility shelter for dwelling in. The aesthetic value of the property will increase by taking care of these small details, as well as the financial value.
Double glazing should be standard, make sure it is included in your specification. External window shutters are optional “extras”, not really necessary, and considered by many local authorities to be a French import. The vernacular Italian way was internal window shutters, not external. Do have these installed as not only do they keep out the cold in the winter, and at night, but, every bit as important, the also keep out the sun and the heat in the summer. The sun passes through the double glazing by direct radiation straight into the room, where it heats the air, which rises, leaving an area of low pressure which is filled by cold air, which, in turn is heated, rises and this cycle if continued throughout the day will leave unprotected rooms at an unpleasantly high temperature. By having a wooden shutter inside the double glazing, only the air in the space between the glass and the shutter can be warmed, the wood is a good insulator and doesn’t allow very much heat to pass, and once this small air space has heated to the radiant temperature no further heat will be absorbed, and the rooms stay cool. All the window openings should have a chamfer on them to allow the windows, and shutters, to be opened widely to allow more view of the countryside. Mirrors placed on the insides of the shutters increase the light into a room on a dull day, and also through windows on the north side of a building, and also, carefully placed can reflect a wider outside panorama.
Whilst thinking of heating, and cooling, give consideration to the amount of electrical current you want supplied to your house. In Italy the electricity connection is referred to as the “luce”, the light, which was OK fifty years ago when a 25 watt bulb per room was the norm, but today, with all the electrical gadgets with which we surround ourselves, a “light” supply of 3kw, which is the standard connection, is quite useless. Always make sure that you have at least 10kw to ensure that all your appliances will work at the same time, and that every time the washing machine goes on, the telly doesn’t go off.
And for home heating, yes of course a wood fire; ‘er indoors will always chop the logs, bring them in, in a howling gale and generally clear up the mess of cinders and ash in the morning; but as well, you will need central heating. Consider under-floor, really marvellous, warmth in every part of the room, heat used to warm your toes and creep up your trouser legs rather than being utilised to warm the ceiling and transfer sooty patches onto your walls and also under-floor heating leaves more room for furniture, and less spaces for cobwebs. Make sure that the boiler size is sufficient, there are simple tables to work out the thermal capacity required in your new home, and buy one a size larger than the manufacturers say that you’ll need. Their calculations are made under optimum conditions, but you are living in the real world. Your surveyor, advisor or plumber should have advised you about this, we are, after all attempting to live in the twentieth century!
Solar power can be utilised in any of the properties, and there are grants from the Government, but unhappily most of the systems are not in keeping with the style and character of the old house that you are restoring.
Now that you are in the finishing stage you can apply for a telephone, if you want one for internet access, but, often, until you have the two certificates, one for technical compliance with the building regulations, and the other to confirm that the property is suitable for human habitation; which can’t be obtained until the building is completed and coupled to all the services; you obviously don’t have a habitable house and therefore you don’t need a phone! Catch 22 is the phrase that springs to mind in these and other similar circumstances, but then, this is Italy.
Colours for the walls? Get lots of samples, paint lots of patches on various walls, check the apparent colour at various times of the day, under natural and artificial light, and take into account the reflected colour from your roof beams and floor tiles will have on your carefully chosen shades. Use a water based paint, distemper it used to be called, to allow the walls to breath, because moisture will be coming out for several years. If you seal the walls with synthetic emulsions you trap the water inside and blistering will occur.
Furniture, fixtures and fittings will need careful consideration. Please don’t transport the old toot from your Aunt Edna’s spare room in the hope that it will do. It won’t, it will spoil your beautiful new house. Don’t bring out the family heirlooms of “contemporary”, or was it contemptible, spindly legged coffee tables. And the cost of transporting second-hand fridges, freezers and cookers to Italy, where most of them are made anyway, doesn’t make economic sense.
So, three articles, what have I told you, and more importantly, what have you learned or remembered? Find the right property in the right location at the right price. Find the right surveyor, advisor or consultant and their fees can often be paid out of the tax savings that they can make for you. Build a house, as Frank Lloyd Wright once said “that brings grace, rather than disgrace, to the landscape”. And talking of the landscape, you should have started on this when you started on the house. The building will only take a year or eighteen months to complete but a garden, to mature, takes five years. It is easy to cordon off an area of access for the builders, and some five meters or so all around the house whilst you get on with the landscaping and planting. And, at the end of the building work you won’t be living in a rubble strewn desert, because the close areas can be quickly gravelled over, and the further areas will be planted and pretty, but do install some sort of automatic sprinkling system, otherwise all your hard work will count for nothing when the hot August sun is beating down.
And, yet again, most importantly, enjoy your new adventure.
And let me know how you get on.
John Tunstill, usual copyright restrictions etc, waived if full credits are included.
John Tunstill, architect, developer and consultant in Umbria since 1983 his website www.propertiesumbria.com which has a frequently asked page, FAQ’s, which will assist you in your search for properties, as well as giving lots of helpful free advice
Topics also included on the tour include;
Underfloor central heating, bathrooms, gardens and garden watering, sumps, wastes and soakaways, taps and tiles, doors and windows, pine, fir or chestnut, double glazing, kitchens, lighting, electricity supply, kilowatts, tennis courts and swimming pools, advice on living and reconstruction, Snagging,
And introductions if required to local trades people, doors and windows and general cabinet making – Falegnami - Locchi, Montecastelli. Landscape Gardener – Angelo, Calzolaro. White Goods, furniture, kitchens – Sembolini, Mercatale. but as none of them speak English, you’ll probably have to work through me! There’s always a catch isn’t there! And for Architectural Salvage – La Co Le – Cittá di Castello. Plumber, Central Heating and Swimming Pools – Idraulico, Riscaldamento e Piscine –Montanucci, Calzolaro, Electician – Electricista – Felicetti, Trestina