Transforming an old tumbledown property into a tailor-made home is the ultimate dream of many buyers in Italy. Over the last forty years or so, many thousands of foreign buyers have made that dream a reality whether by totally rebuilding a ruined pile of old stones to make a splendid house, or merely by tweaking and fixing-up a nearly-habitable property. But is restoration the thing for you? And how can you make sure that the dream doesn’t turn into a nightmare?
The chief advantages of restoring (over buying a new-build or a property that’s already been restored by someone else) is the bespoke aspect the fact that you can completely personalize the layout of rooms, building materials, finishings and fittings. Italian builders and craftsmen are legendarily good, and most restorers revel in the results they get. Restoring also allows you to kit out your traditional old building with perfect modern plumbing, state-of-the-art electrics, insulation, hi-tech energy-efficiency, earthquake-proofing and other modern boons. So the final home looks fully historical on the outside, but is supremely comfortable within. Buyer-restorers can also enjoy the fact that the value of their finished property is likely to be more than what they spent on the original structure plus all the restoration work. (Around 20-30% additional value on the total outlay is common.)
But is it for you? The disadvantages of restoring an old property can be readily imagined. Depending on the size of the project, you’re unlikely to be able to start enjoying holidays at the property straight away. There might be a year or so of serious work to do on the place first. Another problem is, of course, uncertainty. Will the project go well? Will there be unforeseen headaches and/or upwardly spiralling expenses? Sometimes structural problems with a ruined house don’t become apparent until reconstruction work begins, for example. And what about the fact that you might be living hundreds of miles away in another country while the restoration work is going on? How are you going to keep an eye on progress and ensure everything’s done correctly?
Here are some tips to minimise potential difficulties when restoring.
Firstly, be absolutely certain that it’s what you want to do. Buy a fully-habitable home instead if you don’t like uncertainty and waiting. But if restoring is definitely what you want to do, be reassured that many, many people have successfully done it, and so can you. A big tip for saving money is: don’t buy a bigger house than you actually really need. Or if you do, consider only restoring part of it. Yes, you can save lots of money by using building materials recovered from the original property, and by opting for lower-priced fittings and so on, but the dominant variable in your restoration budget is always going to be total square metres of property to be restored. In choosing a property, some common advice is to go for either a total ruin which you can knock down and re-build, or a standing house with foundations, load-bearing walls and a roof (which are usually the three most expensive things to replace).
Finally, remember that you are not alone. All sorts of independent, English-speaking Project Managers exist to help oversee your restoration project for you while you cannot be in Italy yourself. And there are countless blogs and online advice forums from people who have successfully restored. You could be about to begin a wonderful adventure. Enjoy it!