House Hunter: 'Can I escape the Brits in northern Italy?'

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THE PROBLEM

THE PROBLEM

Justine Clark writes: "I want a holiday home where I can enjoy spending time in summer and winter and would love to buy somewhere in Italy.

I've been skiing in the Italian Alps and have enjoyed summer holidays on the coast as well as city breaks in Rome, Florence and Venice and each time I've been really struck by the beauty of the countryside, the wonderful food and of course the friendliness of the people so it seems logical to try and buy somewhere there.

Mainly, I intend keeping the property for my own and my family's use but it would be nice to think that, if times grew hard, I could let it out if need be.

I want somewhere with good communications and preferably within a short driving distance of a choice of airports so that I can take advantage of cheap flights.

I'd like two or three bedrooms and preferably somewhere not too far from a village or small town and ideally with some outdoor space for a garden. I don't mind undertaking renovation but would like advice on how difficult this would be and what the potential costs would be like.

I'd really like suggestions on a range of areas where I could target my search as I suspect that popular holiday destinations such as Tuscany are fast becoming too expensive for me. I don't want to be based in a place that has become very British. Part of the attraction for me is to immerse myself in the culture and get to know the locals if they'll have me. My budget is around £150,000, and I'd like to be not too far from the coast as I love the sea as well as the mountains."

THE ADVICE

Mark Slaviero replies: "I've chosen a couple of areas that Justine might like to consider. The first is Le Marche, an area which is still very reasonably priced, which is growing in popularity with British buyers. Property one, Casa Penna, is in the countryside near San Ginesio, around an hour from Ancona airport with its cheap flights and you can even fly to Pescara, a little further south. Here you are within reach of the Sibillini mountains where you can ski in the resort of Sarnano and the coast is a 45-minute drive. It really is a rural retreat and is set in a huge plot of one and three-quarter acres so there's room for a pool, which helps if you want to rent out.

If Justine's budget is £150,000, then she needs to look at properties costing half this as renovation usually doubles the cost. This particular property has only just come on to our books, it's very big (around 300sq m) and could be split into two apartments so Justine could keep one and rent out the other out. We work with architects who will arrange for all plans, submit planning applications, which is actually easier in this area as there's more flexibility, and oversee all the work for around 8-10 per cent of the overall cost.

The other property in this region is Cassa delle Mure, which only has two bedrooms but the store rooms and cellars could easily be converted. It's a really quirky house set in the walls of the lovely village of San Ginesio and has stunning, uninterrupted views of the countryside. It's a gorgeous little village with a square, restaurants, shops and bars yet you're only 10 minutes from the lively town of Tolentino and 30 minutes to the city of Macerata. This property only has a terrace rather than a garden but you can put plants out there and it is less maintenance although we can always help find someone to look after your garden for you.

The last property is in the mountain village of Casabasciana, northern Tuscany, now the only affordable part of Tuscany, and this property is near the only ski resort in the region, Abetone, just over half an hour's drive and the Versilia coast is 45 minutes away. Pisa airport has a good range of cheap airlines flying into it. This is a tiny mountain community and it would be easier for Justine to integrate here. Italians really welcome you with open arms. They're proud that people want to buy here."

Mark Slaviero is a property consultant for Homes in Italy: 01332 341146 www.homesinitaly.co.uk

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Farmhouse, Casa Penna, near San Ginesio, Le Marche

Price: €110,000 (£74,653)

Agent's details: This farmhouse is in the village of Penna San Giovanni, 10 minutes from San Ginesio. It has a high position overlooking the valley and is surrounded by countryside. The farmhouse occupies 300sq m of space on three floors but requires total renovation and the price includes an additional 5,000sq m of land.

Property two: Townhouse in San Ginesio, Le Marche

Price: €240,000 (£93,000)

Agent's details: This pretty, historical house is set within the walls of San Ginesio itself. It is reached by a private entrance in the walls or through a courtyard leading from the town. The two-bedroomed property is in excellent condition and has central heating and a small terrace.

Property three: Village house in Casabasciana, Bagni, Tuscany.

Price: €130,000 (£88,254).

Agent's details: This four-bedroom terraced house is set in a small mountain village just eight kilometres east of Bagni di Lucca. The house has three floors, with large landings, a garden and the kitchen comes with a fireplace.

THE VERDICT

"This is extremely helpful, I'm so amazed that I can actually afford a large house in Tuscany, and flying into Pisa would be very easy and cheap. Lately I've been reading about the area of Le Marche, which so far I haven't visited but having seen the kinds of properties that are available there I'm now definitely going to book flights to Ancona or Pescara to have a good look around. I didn't know that skiing was possible in this region so I'm heartened to hear that you can ski there although I realise that it's on a small scale compared with the Alps.

Mark's advice on fitting into the community was interesting, I've always assumed that buying in a larger town might be easier, and I also like the idea of handing over the entire renovation to someone else and particularly the idea of turning one property into two."

If you would like House Hunter's help, write to The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail: househunter@independent.co.uk

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