where to buy in italy
 

With its fabled landscapes, gem-like cities and sensuous climate, it’s no wonder that Tuscany holds a special place in the affections of foreign-homebuyers. The property market here is about as safe and stable as you can get, says Fleur Kinson.

For non-Italians, Tuscany is probably the most famous region in Italy. Sure, the world has heard of cities such as Venice and Rome, but how many people have heard of the Veneto or Lazio regions that surround them? (And of those who have, how many can correctly pronounce their names, eh?) Tuscany, on the other hand, is a region with a reputation, a place whose name immediately brings clear images to mind – even to the minds of those who’ve never been there. Tuscany’s countryside is, to many, the quintessential Italian landscape – rolling hills fuzzed with olive groves, striped with vineyards or zigzagged with lines of cypress trees. Its cities are among the nation’s most visited: Florence with its mighty duomo, Pisa with its wonky tower, Siena with its grand sloping piazza. Tuscany is very firmly fixed in the popular imagination as a place of art, culture and sophisticated rural relaxation. And it’s still, after more than forty years, the region most highly-prized by foreign buyers of homes in Italy.
        Like any international superstar, Tuscany can sometimes suffer a bit through its fame. The ratio of visitors to residents in some places can be eye-watering (try about 20:1 in summertime Florence). Even a rural area such as the delicious Chianti Hills has arguably been altered in character by the huge number of ex-pats who own homes here. Certainly Tuscany’s property prices have been altered beyond recognition over the past forty years as overseas buyers have vied for homes in the region. Now, as the longest-established and best-known place to enjoy a spot of rural dolce vita, Tuscany famously has some of the highest-priced country property in the world. [Time of writing is 2014.] If you were to find a farmhouse in central Tuscany for €500,000 or less, you’d be lucky. More usually you’d expect to pay €750,000 or more. Some Tuscan cities are expensive too, such as Florence, where centrally-located two-bedroom apartments start at about €220,000.
        But Tuscany isn’t expensive everywhere. This is a large region with many parts to it, and there are still plenty of reasonably-priced areas, plus some surprisingly inexpensive ones. In the lovely, mountainous areas north of Lucca, for example, you could get a village house for well under €100,000, or a good-sized country home for as little as €250,000. Similar prices can be found in Tuscany’s far south. Obviously the holiday rental returns on homes in locations such as these wouldn’t be anything like as lucrative as they would in Florence or in ‘Chiantishire’, but if you’re mostly interested in having a Tuscan bolthole for yourself, your family and friends, it’s certainly not difficult to find one for a low price. Then there are all Tuscany’s various mid-priced areas...

STRONG AND STABLE
Just in case you’re in any doubt about this, Tuscany remains an extremely good investment – wherever you choose to buy. The region’s property market is exceptionally stable, with values that have been only minimally perturbed by wobbles in the world economy. Why is Tuscany so safe? Well, there’s the fact that Italy in general tends not to suffer sudden booms and busts in its property market. The Italian attitude to homes means that prices don’t suddenly balloon only to come crashing down later. Tuscany’s property values are further protected by strict planning laws that restrict new building and ensure that any restoration work maintains the region’s traditional style and character. So a home here isn’t going to suddenly lose value because an ugly block of flats has just been built next to it. A region that protects its look and feel simultaneously protects its appeal to visitors. It all contributes to a virtuous circle in which property values, reputation and visitor numbers are assured for the future.
        In essence, Tuscany remains a great investment because the internationally-popular desire to own a home here isn’t fading. And it’s unlikely to fade, because the things that make people want to buy in Tuscany aren’t about to change. “Tuscany is one of the most prestigious locations in the world,” says Lois C. Allan of homesellers L’Architrave. “The region offers a temperate climate, breath-taking views, spectacular countryside, a Mediterranean coastline, plus world-renowned cultural centres such as Florence, Pisa and Siena. It has seen a steady flow of international buyers looking to invest in what has historically been a very stable property market. In times of uncertainty and low yields from the stock market, investing in Tuscan property offers not just good returns but the fun of enjoying your investment.” Like Lois, Wanda Djebbar of Toscana Restoration sees ongoing success for Italy’s most famous region. “Tuscany will continue to be seen as a secure market,” Wanda says, “where you can buy a home that you can enjoy using in an area that has an enviable quality of life. It isn’t a place to make a quick buck, but one to savour and to enjoy in security.”

HOW THE LAND LIES
We’ve already noted that Tuscany is a large region with many parts to it. Let’s take a slightly closer look at what kind of geography and property prices you might expect in specific areas, to help you narrow down your search. In the far north, there are leafy highlands full of charming villages. Property prices are still low up here in areas such as Lunigiana and Garfagnana, and many foreign buyers have been drawn to these areas over the last several years. Wanda Djebbar of Toscana Restoration points out that “These areas are great for people who really want to get away from it all, but they should note that winters would be hard.”
        Inching further south from here, we start to meet with some of Tuscany’s charming small cities. Lucca is a little gem, and combines good holiday rental prospects with very reasonable property prices. Buyers with mid-sized budgets should certainly consider Lucca, and perhaps also handsome Volterra further south. Florence, as we’ve already noted, is a very pricy city, although holiday rental prospects here are superb year-round. Siena, further south, is gorgeous and offers some good-value property plus strong summer holiday rental prospects. Buyers with small budgets seeking a home in or near one of Tuscany’s charming cities should check out inexpensive Cortona in the east or Grosseto in the south.
         Central Tuscany, as you probably don’t need to be told, sees the classic landscapes of green and gold rolling hills striped with vineyards and dotted with cypress trees. The Chianti Hills area, between Siena and Florence, can be hugely expensive for rural property, with plenty of large farmhouses asking a million euros or more. Sure, the summer holiday rentals on such a place would be excellent, but clientele would vanish in the colder months. Moving on to Tuscany’s far south, we encounter a rather wild and spacious place, with muscular hills punctuated by sudden upthrusts of rock. There’s a slightly mystical atmosphere to this area, and the abundant relics of Etruscan civilization only add to the strange enchantment. Southern Tuscany offers plenty of quite low-priced homes, and is definitely worth your investigation.
        And what of the seaside? The Mediterranean glitters all along the western edge of Tuscany. Beaches in the north tend to be well-developed and populous, while the south is a bit more elemental and untamed. Tuscany has quite a few island paradises too, such as Elba and tiny Giglio, plus the swanky and exclusive Monte Argentario peninsula – which is essentially an island linked to the mainland by three narrow isthmuses. Tuscany’s islands and coast are generally very expensive places for property – indeed, some of the region’s very costliest homes are in seaside locales. But buyers of modest means need not be put off altogether. The less-developed southern coast is where the smallest prices lie, and you might be surprised by what you can get down here. Note that Italian buyers like to be as close to the water as possible, and you can always make savings on an Italian coastal home by buying just a few miles inland.

RESTORATION MATTERS
In the early days of foreign-buyer interest in Tuscany, an abundance of cheap old farmhouses to restore was one of the region’s big attractions. Such properties were inexpensive and so was the building work they required to transform them into gorgeous homes. As you might expect, neither the tumbledown properties nor the building work comes cheap anymore. You can often find a better bargain in a home that’s already been lovingly restored by a previous foreign buyer. That said, if your real dream is to restore a home to your own taste and specifications, of course this can still be done in Tuscany, and there are many highly-experienced agencies, building companies and project managers here who can help you every inch of the way.
        Note that there are always restrictions on what you can and can’t do to a building in Tuscany. Size-wise, your final result will usually be limited to the old building’s original volume. And the exterior at least will almost certainly have to fit in with Tuscany’s traditional look and style. There are all sorts of ways to save money on a restoration project, from re-using original building materials to shopping around for inexpensive bathroom fittings. Look into arranging a fixed-price contract with your builders before work begins, so that costs cannot inch upwards from the original estimate. And take any advice on offer from the many, many foreign buyers who have successfully undertaken restoration projects in Tuscany. They have lots of blogs and websites on which they tell their tales. There are also online forums you might join.
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        Whether you restore an old property, buy one ready-restored or newly-built, you’re sure to delight in owning a home in Italy’s ‘premier’ region. Tuscany is rightly adored, and there’s no chance of such a special place falling from favour. All the things that make us love Tuscany are very well-protected, and set to last.   


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www.propertyinitaly.co.uk
www.casatravella.com
www.knightfrank.it
www.casaandcountry.com

www.livingintuscany.eu
www.tuscanyrealestate.co.uk

www.extravirginproperties.com

www.realestateforsaleinitaly.com
www.prestigeproperty.co.uk
www.TuscanyReal-Estate.com
www.jackson-stops.com
www.housesintuscany.com
www.italica.de
www.pitcherflaccomio.com
www.dimoretoscane.com
www.italianpropertygallery.com
www.larchitrave.com
www.solarihomes.com
www.geocasanet.it
www.housesintuscany.net
www.tuscany-inside-out.com
www.toscanarestoration.com


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Florence

Stuffed full of exquisite paintings, sculptures and churches, Tuscany’s capital city is a magnet for lovers of art and architecture. Long adored by the British, Firenze has no shortage of British home-owners and full-time residents. Traffic-choked, crowded in summer, and hemmed in by industrial outskirts it may be, but there’s no denying Florence’s charm and beauty. Many ex-pats from various Western countries have succumbed and joined the city’s half a million inhabitants. Many others have recognized the potential profit in owning a second home here and renting it to holidaymakers. Visitors come to Florence almost year-round, and city-centre apartments are constantly in demand. Central one-bedroom apartments start at about €200,000, and two-beds at about €350,000. Prices drop as you move out of the centre, but so do holiday rental rates. You might expect as much as €1,000 per bedroom per week on a very central flat.

the north

The lovely little city of Lucca and its surrounding countryside first came to the attention of foreign buyers about fifteen years ago. Since that time, property prices in the area have generally doubled. Yet despite this increase, homes round here are still good value. A two-bed property in Lucca itself might ask €250,000. North of Lucca, the low, leafy mountains of the Garfagnana and Lunigiana areas offer very good deals for property-hunters. You might find an unrestored farmhouse for as little as €60,000 and a restored home in one of the area’s many attractive villages for just €125,000. But these are starter prices. Note that the extreme north of Tuscany is within easy daytripping distance of Liguria’s coastal delights and the sophisticated charms of Emilia-Romagnan cities such as Parma.

the coast

Except for its modestly-priced southern stretch, Tuscany’s seaside is one of the region’s most costly areas. Whether the northern beaches are more attractive is a matter of taste, but they are certainly more populous. Viareggio is the biggest resort – a teeming place of faded grandeur where property costs are high. North of Viareggio the resort towns are backed by pretty mountains, and south of Viareggio by pinewoods. South of Livorno, the coast grows a bit scrubby and characterless, with lots of campsites dotted around. The southernmost third of Tuscany’s coast, meanwhile, is definitely worth more attention than it receives. This is a wild and unspoilt area with a distinct charm. And property here is certainly good value. Much costlier, and undeniably gorgeous, are the offshoots from Tuscany’s coast – the islands of Elba and Giglio, and the leafy peninsula of Monte Argentario.

the centre and Chiantishire

Central Tuscany sees the rolling hills, arcing vineyards and zigzagging lines of cypress trees that form the popular British idea of Tuscany – indeed of Italy as a whole. The landscape is like the background of a Renaissance painting – and strict, sensible restrictions on building keep it looking that way. The triangle formed with Siena, San Gimignano and the Chianti hills at its three corners outlines the traditionally most popular area for foreign buyers in Tuscany. This includes the fabled ‘Chiantishire’, where large numbers of well-heeled foreign buyers have bought properties over the last forty years. Officially, this area has the world’s highest priced rural property. An old farmhouse needing restoration would set you back by at least €500,000, and a ready-restored one is likely to ask more than a million. If you can afford it, and you enjoy the company of fellow ex-pats as well as Italians, by all means buy here. The area is exquisitely beautiful. Demand for properties is still high in central Tuscany. The holiday rental prospects on a home here are very strong.

the east

While certain stretches of Tuscany’s east are now fairly familiar to foreign buyers, other parts are only now being discovered and currently offer very good value for money. Many estate agents single out the Arezzo area as a good place to buy. The prosperous and lively city itself has reasonable prices, with two-bed apartments in and around town starting at about €150,000. Out in the surrounding countryside, meanwhile, you can pick up restored and unrestored homes from €100,000. Charming nearby Cortona and Montepulciano, both built on high and giving stunning views, are rather pricier – with central two-bedroom apartments asking about €300,000. This eastern stretch of Tuscany has an extremely attractive landscape, with stripy vineyards and so on. It has the added bonus of easy access to lovely Lake Trasimeno and, further east, the enchanting hilltowns of Umbria.

the south

Tuscany grows increasingly wild and rugged as it inches south towards Lazio. The landscape isn’t strictly mountainous, but muscular and expansive. The population drops, and the geography throws up striking features like bald tufa outcrops, isolated high hills, sulphur springs and the drained coastal marshes of the Maremma. The south is probably Tuscany’s least-known stretch, and property prices down here are among the lowest in the region. Of towns in Tuscany’s south, rock-perched Pitigliano and spring-riddled Saturnia see a respectable number of visitors, Sorano and Sovana have notable Etruscan relics, and many other settlements simply offer a peaceful, handsome little place to settle down. Southern Tuscan roads are small, uncrowded, and few – perfect for a quiet life. The sea is never far way, nor is the delightful, crystal-clear Lake Bolsena just over the border in Lazio.



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OUR TUSCAN COUNTRY HOME


Michael and Eleanor Eddershaw, based in south Wales, own an idyllic eight-bedroom villa in wine-country near Montalcino. They rent the place to holidaymakers throughout the warmer months, and enjoy visits there in spring and autumn.
        Michael fell in love with the area fifty years ago during his student days. “I was walking the length of Italy, accepting lifts now and again. I went all the way from the Alps down to Sicily,” he explains. “In the southern half of Tuscany I remember walking down the Val d’Arbia and being struck by how beautiful it was. The flowing countryside was like waves in the sea, a green sea with little cypress trees sticking up now and again.” Twenty-five years later, when Michael and Eleanor began thinking of buying a home abroad, Michael’s thoughts returned to southern Tuscany.
        “We only wanted a little cottage!” he laughs. “But back then all the homes scattered around southern Tuscany were huge abandoned farmhouses. An architect and old university friend who had settled in San Gimignano, Michael Goodall, knew lots of houses and showed me a photo of Montelandi. It was completely overgrown, and when we finally found it we had to use machetes to reach it! It had been deserted a generation earlier. The local gentry family had simply left, and gone to Livorno. The house was perfect for us. People in the village had been calling it ‘Villa Lila’ because there were lilacs all around it. It was buried in them.”
        Restoring Montelandi to its former glory was a major undertaking. “First we had to raise the huge roof beams back into place because they were all on the ground,” Michael recalls. “I took half the Llanelli rugby team out there with me, because I needed eight big strapping lads to lift them!” Work continued at a leisurely pace over the next decade, and now the property is stunning. “It’s a big place,” Michael says. “Several families can get together there. It can sleep about eighteen, so it’s perfect for house parties. There’s a big apartment down below; there’s a pool, an orchard, a vegetable garden, and fourteen acres of woodland. The front terrace looks across at the little wine town of Montalcino, and we’re within the Brunello wine territory.”     
        Michael and Eleanor have many annually returning guests. Paying guests have certainly been a bonus, but making money from the property was never the couple’s chief motivation. “The place costs a lot to run, and to pay all the staff,” Michael says, “but to us it’s a family home rather than an investment. We love it, we love the Italian way of life, and we love the local people.”
www.montelandi.com    



OUR HOME AND BUSINESS IN TUSCANY

David Harrison and his partner Peri Eagleton divide their time between London and southern Tuscany. They own a farm on the slopes of Monte Amiata, where they grow organic olives and make extra virgin oil sold in Britain and elsewhere. The couple’s ‘Seggiano’ brand, named after a nearby village, is a familiar name on fine Italian cakes, desserts, pasta, pesto and flavoured oils sold in UK delicatessens and supermarkets. David and Peri work with artisan food producers from all over Italy and export the highest-quality goods they can find. Seggiano products have often featured in Italia magazine taste-tests.
        How did David’s connection with Italy begin? “I went to visit a friend in Rome more than thirty years ago,” he explains. “I liked what I saw of Italy. I found I could work as a farm labourer in Tuscany and do a bit of teaching and I could support myself. It was cheap to live here then, but it really isn’t nowadays, unfortunately. The cost of living in Italy has escalated enormously. Utility bills are very high, and there are lots of new taxes. The popular fantasy of moving to Tuscany and living a country idyll isn’t really possible now unless you’re independently wealthy. Peri and I have been here a long time and we’ve been lucky because we’ve created a very successful business, but I’d advise anyone thinking of relocating to Italy these days to take a realistic look at the expense of living here now.”
        David has been growing olives on his ten acres of organic land since 1985, but his grove of trees has been there for hundreds of years. Olive-growing is a local tradition and when David was a newcomer people in the surrounding community asked him to help promote the excellent local olive oil. Thus the Seggiano brand began. Now David enjoys the fact that his work with food producers across the country gives him a regular opportunity to spend time in other parts of Italy. “I especially like going down south,” he says. “Sometimes I can find rural Tuscany a bit sleepy, and expensive. I do like the people here, though; they can be quite irreverent.”
        David and Peri’s farm is a five-minute walk from Seggiano village, 450 metres up Monte Amiata. The farm has various restored stone buildings including a self-contained one-bedroom casetta for holiday rentals. The property’s views across the olive groves are wonderful, with distant country villages and hilltop towns nestled in greenery. “We’ve been restoring and rebuilding for the last 25 years,” David says. “When you own a home, it’s never finished. You’re always adding things. Getting permission to change anything in Tuscany is very difficult, though. Thankfully, Peri is very good at dealing with the whole bureaucratic process!”   
www.seggiano.com











 

 


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Where to Buy in Italy