Buying a home where the art is

Geoffrey Pilgrim finds affordable opulence in the north of Italy
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The Independent Online
According to a recent sampling of advertising responses, 4 per cent of British families who are planning to own a home abroad prefer Italy. This compares with 20 per cent for France and almost 40 per cent for Spain and its islands.

Pull these statistics apart and you find that Francophiles are split between those attracted to rural peace, lively ski resorts, or the glint of sun up the Med. Spanish prospects divide geographically along those warm costas which are easily reached by plane, and the Canaries and the Balearics; and buyers subdivide socially into normal human beings and golfers.

British buyers of homes in Italy have a very different profile. They're not interested in ski property. They don't need to see the Mediterranean (or the Adriatic). Half their visits are made by car rather than by plane. A nearby golf course is an irrelevance. Usually, the older the property the better they like it. Their spending capacity ranges from pounds 25,000 to pounds 5m. Most are covert, or overt, intellectuals and art lovers. Some are politicians.

Agents describe British buyers as a varied bunch. Steve Emmett of Brian French says that most of his clients are "media people". Linda Trevella of Cosa Trevella says that most of hers are lawyers. Both are clear that they do not want to form any kind of club for Brits - particularly as they come here looking for a very different lifestyle.

An abundance of things which look good, sound good and taste good are the main attractions. Outstanding architecture, sculpture and painting; ancient farms built with an eye for site, form and materials; landscape that seems to have been carefully planned for maximum effect. The sound of music is everywhere, too; Italians invented opera - and most small town still have their own street bands. And food and drink are not fuel but essentials of the art of family life.

From Italy's knee upwards, Tuscany and Umbria, the northern lakes, are the regions where the British buy homes.Many of the old city states in these areas retain their individual identities: Pisa, Verona, Florence, Siena, Bologna... Over the centuries, city fathers commissioned stunning public buildings and villas, castles and palaces. Some of these private properties reach the market from time to time, at prices you would expect for a habitable work of art.

But what's on offer at around pounds 100,000, including purchase costs? Brian French is offering a four-storey, pink stucco farmhouse in the centre of Perugia, close to the university, with shutters, beamed ceilings and other original features. It has two bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, two living rooms, mod cons, and views over medieval rooftops and streets.

In Liguria, Cosa Trevella has a two-bedroom village house, 20 minutes from the sea, under offer. It is fully restored, with lots of marble in the bathroom, walk-in wardrobes and a loggia overlooking olive groves. Half that distance from the Med they also have an olive mill, needing some work, in three-quarters of an acre. Both properties are an hour's drive from Nice airport, a short hop across the border.

Cosa Trevella also handles property around the northern lakes. For less than pounds 100,000 they are offering a fully furnished, luxury two-bedroom apartment. It comes with use of both an indoor and outdoor pool, parking, and views of Lake Como and the mountains.

Brian French & Co 0171-7358244; Cosa Trevella 01322 660988

Buying in Italy

Never take a DIY approach to property purchase.

Deal with experienced agents and lawyers and don't second-guess advice, particularly on stated values and taxes.

Consent to build or extend in Italy lasts for a specific period. Renew it if you can't perform in time.

In rural areas most people take a relaxed attitude to wandering through private property. Get possible rights of way checked before signing your Deed of Transfer.

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