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At this point, I am having a major sense of humour failure. He has received nearly 100,000 euros from either my friend Tim or from me, but he doesn't know which one! Eventually, he decides it is my money that is missing. I ring up Nat West and ask for an urgent trace to be put on the money. I am told that it will take 24 hours and I reply that they have 15 minutes before completion collapses. To my astonishment (and relief), my branch pulls out all the stops, and tracks down the money in 15 minutes, ringing me back with an Italian receipt code. I'll never by cynical about British banks again (well not about that particular bank, anyway).
As soon as I quote the code, the whole problem melts away: the lawyer's body language suggests that he had just remembered about my money (allocated it to the wrong account, perhaps?) and we start completion without him even checking with his own bank.
Without going into the full horror of the afternoon, suffice it to say that 45 minutes stretches to four and a half hours. Just a few highlights: the official translator (required by Italian law) suddenly decides she has not been paid. We tell her it is not our problem and Fabio the estate agent agrees to pay her costs from his fee. The seller refuses to hand over the keys as he has not removed his stuff and poor old Fabio (again) is appointed as holder of the keys so the seller can spend the next two days moving out (of course, he leaves a ton of junk and takes some things we had specifically paid for). Finally, the lawyer says he needs more money, but by that point, our signatures are already on the documents. He is lucky not be thrown through his own office window.
At 7pm we stagger to the closest restaurant (we have not eaten since we left Gatwick, 13 hours earlier). We don't know whether to laugh or cry - we own a house in Italy, yet we don't even have all the keys. On a brighter note, Tim reckons we have added thousands to its value already - "house with English seller" must be worth a fair bit, if our experience with Italian vendors is anything to go by.
All three restore our faith in the project: they go to incredible lengths to impress us, driving us around their other projects in the region and introducing us to satisfied clients. There is no doubt about the quality of workmanship here: every restoration is done by local craftsmen to the most incredible standards. Indeed, we think our problem will be reining them in - they are used to some pretty fancy restorations for wealthy clients. We want quality, but value as well. Eventually, we plump for the architect whose own house overlooks ours - we reckon he will want to open his shutters every morning with pride as he sees his latest project.
There is one amusing thing that comes out of our three meetings. We had been told by the seller that the house was "historico", so could not be changed (a bit like Grade II listed in the UK), but all three architects say it just old - "Things have to be more than just old to be historic here" is their attitude. So, the seller actually diddled himself - with fewer planning restrictions, his selling price could have been higher. It could not have happened to a nicer man.
Permission is a matter of negotiation, but Christian knows the committee well. Oh, and his uncle is a member.
Here are Jay Nagley's top tips for buying in Italy - the product of 18 months' expensively-aquired experience...