House Hunter: 'My Italian wife hasn't been home since she was 21 - and now we want to retire there'

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THE PROBLEM

Bernard Thomas writes: "My wife Assunta and I have just become pensioners. My wife was born in Italy and lived there until she was 21. When she came to this country she worked as a cleaner in a hospital until she retired and I worked as a labourer. She's been here a long time and we're now thinking of moving back to Italy. As long as she's happy I don't mind! We have never earned much money although we have managed to buy our own house in the docks area of Newport, Gwent, which is the cheapest area around here to buy property.

"Today, these properties sell for around £70,000. We realise this isn't a lot of money to buy a house with but we'd be happy with somewhere that needs renovation. When we bought this house it needed a lot of work doing to it. We didn't have much money so I learned to do much of the work myself including putting on a new roof, plumbing in a hot and cold water system, installing a toilet, bathroom and drainage system, replacing all the window frames and doors and installing new floors and ceilings.

"At present I am fit enough to do the above work again and therefore a rundown property would not be a problem. If possible we would like to find somewhere in southern Italy and preferably somewhere in the country. My wife's from a little village outside Naples, and she's never been back, but we'll probably go this year.

"We realise that my wife's dream of going home may not be attainable with our limited amount of money but we would still like to thank House Hunter for trying for us."

THE ADVICE

"I think Bernard and his wife will be quite surprised at the properties I have been able to find for them. Only one is in the south, but I think the other two are very good indeed and he should certainly consider them. I read what Bernard said about doing work but, to be honest, I don't think that is the best idea for him. Minor work is fine but lots of restoration would be too much. I also think they would need to keep each other company initially, as they would be moving to a new environment which Assunta hasn't lived in for some time, and if Bernard is working all the time I don't think his wife would be happy.

"The first property, Bernard will be amazed to discover, is in Tuscany! I feel sure he will be completely shocked that, even on this relatively low budget, a destination such as Tuscany is actually quite affordable. This particular house does need some work, about £15,000 worth, but it would give Bernard something to do in the early days. It is in a really nice spot and Bernard and Assunta could easily fly from Pisa to Naples if they want to visit family there. This house is also just one hour from Pisa airport.

"The second property, between Lake Como and Lake Lugano, is a very pretty village house which needs no work. It has a living room, two bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, courtyard and balcony. It is a real bargain at €90,000 (£60,000) and it's in the village so they would make friends with the locals. If they want to go to Naples they can take an internal flight from Milan.

"The last property is in Basilicata, in the south of Italy. This is a new village being built just 1km from the sea with completion set for July 2004. Here there would be a bigger mix of nationalities although so far all the properties have been bought by Italians. The nearest airport is Bari.

"This is the only brand new property and £65,000 will get you a two-bedroom apartment with kitchen, living room, bathroom and spacious covered terrace. The price includes use of a shared pool and also car space. There are already some shops open in the village and others will open next year."

Linda Travella, director of Casa Travella, has been selling property in Italy for 18 years (01322 660988; www.casatravella.com)

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Stone house in Tuscany.

Price: €60,000 (£43,000).

Agent's details:

This large stone house is around 300sqm. It needs some renovation but has a recently renewed roof. There is an external wood oven and covered terrace area and the house lies within a small village, which is about one hour's journey from Pisa airport.

Property two: Village house between Lake Como and Lake Lugano.

Price: €90,000 (£64,000).

Agent's details: This pretty house is set within the heart of the village and requires no work. It has a living room, two bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, courtyard and balcony.

Property three: Brand new apartment in Basilicata, southern Italy.

Price: €91,000 (£65,000).

Agent's details: This new two-bedroom apartment has a kitchen, living room and bathroom and outside there is a spacious covered terrace. There is a shared pool on the development and car-parking space is included in the price.

All properties are from local agents but were found by Casa Travella

THE VERDICT

"It's great to think that we can actually find a property, and there are three here that are well within our budget, which we know isn't a lot of money. Although we have both retired, at the moment I feel that I am fit enough to take on a house that needs renovating, as was the case with our house in Newport, Gwent. When we bought it, it needed everything doing to it so we hope to do the same again.

"We hope to plan a trip to Italy and have a better look round at areas and properties. My wife Assunta has not been back since she left the country and came to the UK when she was 21 but I don't think that we'd have a problem settling over there and whatever makes my wife happy is fine by me!"

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

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