Apart from the hugely tragic Earthquake of 2009, I had never heard of L’Aquila nor Abruzzo.
However, whilst working on a yacht in Mallorca a colleague/friend declared ‘I want to buy another
house!’ She’s 10 years younger than me and yet I’d only ever managed to flit from country to country, wistfully imagining a house in France, no a house on a Greek island, or mainland Turkiye, or maybe a trullo in Puglia!
Naively, I went online and searched for trulli and exclaimed to my friend ‘Buy a trullo!’ She
promptly said it was out of the question as she neither spoke the language nor could imagine
tackling bureaucracy outside of her home country of Canada.
A little bored on the day in question mid-December 2010, I asked myself ‘How cheap could I buy a
house for in Italy?’ I’d never thought seriously about buying a house – to be honest, I had not so
much as a deposit! But there it was in front of me a little casa in Abruzzo, with vaulted ceilings and in
a handy location for work demands, close to airports and amenities. I promptly sent off an email to
the agency and declared to anyone that would listen that I was going to buy this little house in
Abruzzo!! Of course, everyone told me I was mad!!
The agency promptly replied asking when I’d like to visit but I had many obligations and stated that it
would be in 3 months! The communications went cold but I was undeterred. True to my word and
despite experiencing my own catastrophic earthquake in Christchurch NZ in February 2011, I flew
into Rome at the end of March to see my casa! They had arranged 13 houses in two days for me to
see, some in other towns. Despite seeing other houses in far better states of repair my heart was set
on this little ruin that was far worse than the website photos.
Spurred on by the agency I visited the house again, the price was dropped a little more and I was
about to sign the promesso until…… The price of taxes in addition to the purchase price made it
seem less straightforward. I stopped dead in my tracks and jumped a train to a Writer’s event in
Matera for the weekend. The agency phoned with another price drop for me. I countered with if
they’re prepared to wait until the year’s end for completion of the sale, I would pay the original
offer. They said yes!
In June I signed the compromesso and completed the sale 2 nd November 2011, at the age of 41. By
the end of March 2012, I found an architect to take on the restoration of the house. Plans were
submitted to L’Aquila in August and the approval of the work came another year later with work
commencing in December 2013. I did not speak Italian at the time except for food, and neither
builders nor architect spoke English. My neighbour and I were able to converse in French at least.
I admit the practicalities of buying and renovating in Abruzzo never really crossed my mind, I
certainly didn’t fall prey to some of the ‘traps’ other non-Italian buyers often fall into. I didn’t use my
realtor for other activities such as property/project management, I didn’t give them power of
attorney for the purchase. I maintained my independence throughout the experience.
Initial structural works (roof, new terrace, new doorways, stairs and mandatory earthquake
strengthening) were completed quite quickly. However, the additional details paint, tiling, plumbing
and electrical were quite slow but I managed to get a kitchen installed in time for my parent’s visit in
2017. I had been ‘camping’ in the house for maybe a year at this stage and my architectural Italian
was quite impressive by this time!
Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat – in fact I have my heart set on another project.
Would I go about it the same way? No, I would do more due diligence in the purchase phase.
Was I treated differently as a single woman? No, my architect and builder were highly professional
throughout the process ensuring I understood works, costs, delays, any cost discrepancies and any
additional works that came up during the restructure. Everything was completely transparent, and I was kept informed every step of the way. I was never asked to pay in advance for any of the work either.
Is it completed? There are a few additional works still in need of completion that haven’t been a
priority and ‘ve put off due to financial constraints.
Work completed; New roof, new terrace, earthquake strengthening including catene (chains) and
repacking and reinforcing of vaulted ceilings, new wiring, new bathroom, plumbing, heating, kitchen,
new staircase, exterior plaster removal and repointing, painting and plastering, ironwork,
Living in a small community has both challenges and rewards. I admit I didn’t think about things like
aging, pandemics and future needs. I realise living on a pedonale or pedestrian street is quiet and
private, but it also added to the reconstruction costs and makes firewood deliveries a backbreaking
activity. The possibility of snow/ice in the winter also makes it a bit more challenging getting up and
down to the house. My village has a near non-existent bus service – one in one out, almost non-
existent shops since the pandemic we have a bar, a part-time post office and a bakery on the
outskirts of town. Thankfully over the last 2 years we have had a pizza van every Saturday evening as
there’s no restaurant. The rewards are knowing everyone, being able to be included in community
events, learning the language on the run through talking to locals – this does get a bit confusing
when locals slip into dialect however.
Key take aways: learn the language, do your due diligence, think long term not just short term,
embrace your community, remember it’s a privilege to live in another country, be humble and get to
know the people in your community – you may need to ask for help one day.
We asked Ingrid, the founder of For Women in Italy to share her experience of buying a property in Abruzzo as a single women, and tips for integrating with your local community.