Tuscan Real Estate: Meeting the Seller for the First, and hopefully, the Last Time!
Tuscan Real Estate: Going to Contract with our Farmhouse 20 February 2008
Dawn broke on our important day over the sleepy medieval town where we were to sign our contract and finally meet the seller. We stepped outside our hotel and the cold, wintry February morning assaulted our eyeballs with gusts of icy wind that whipped through the narrow alleys, and we knew that winters like these would be our new life in a few years from now. Living in the desert for the last 10 years had made us soft. We would need to dig out the thermals.
Tuscan Real Estate: Waiting for a Sign...
We walked across the square and navigated more chilly, windy alleys until we reached the estate agency where we went over last minute details. We also needed to be introduced to various people, our geometra or engineer for one, so we went to a coffee shop to meet him and in true Italian fashion we stood at the counter, made pleasantries and gulped a quick espresso to warm us up. We were slowly thawing.
On the way back we passed the town's church and bumped into the seller's husband pacing outside and quietly puffing on a cigar. The agent asked him where his wife was, to which he replied, "She is inside saying a prayer for the sale and asking for a sign." We bade our farewells and hoped that we would see them shortly for the signing of the contract. That was the only sign I was looking for – her signature on the paper. I wondered if she would have been better off going to Delphi...
Tuscan Real Estate: Meeting the Seller
The signs must have come through loud and clear, because while sitting in the reception area of the public notary's office, our seller announced her arrival – loudly, while her husband followed quietly behind. Not having met her before, I was intrigued. The meeting turned out to be quite a revelation and the only word I can find that aptly describes her is 'eccentric'. As for her husband, in all the hours we were together, I didn’t hear him speak at any great length. He remained in the background, unassuming and insignificant. Again the language barrier existed, but there were lots of smiles and kisses all round, so I was beginning to feel more at ease. Well, she had come, hadn't she? Wasn't that good news? Perhaps we were going to get our Tuscan real estate after all. It had taken one whole year of negotiating; the most protracted sale in the 15 year-old history of the agency!
Tuscan Real Estate: Ribald Conversation
With the Tuscan real estate agent sitting on one side of me, and the seller on the other, the conversation disintegrated from formalities to bawdiness within nanoseconds. In fact, it was so bad, that as there were other clients, who were not in our party waiting in reception and raising eyebrows, we were quickly ushered into the boardroom where the conversation continued. It started off with a gift for me from the seller; a fertility symbol in the shape of the male organ made from a conch shell. She assured me that this would make my husband virile and that "he could put his seed on the land." I did not ask for any further explanations. She also complained bitterly about the fact that she had been slapped with an E 8000 fine from the local council for undertaking building works on the house that were illegal. "If I had a **** the size of a tree trunk I wouldn't be in this situation," she lamented. More references of a sexual nature were being extolled much of which I cannot put in print, and by now she had a captivated audience while I sat suppressing laughter that welled and subsided as the conversation developed and made a conscious effort to avoid all eye contact with my husband. The room was full. There was my husband and I, the agent, the owner of the agent, our geometra, the seller, her husband, her geometra, the public notary and his secretary all wondering what would be said next. And they all heard the stories twice as our real estate agent was translating from Italian to English for our benefit. In some places I wished she hadn’t! At once stage, no translations were necessary - the hand gestures were more than adequate!
Tuscan Real Estate: Signing of the Contract
Finally, after much persuasion, she stopped talking and we all breathed a sigh of relief. The bemused public notary who had listened to her amazing monologue from over the rim of his glasses with not a flicker of emotion, started solemnly reading out the contract in Italian and trying to regain some propriety to this occasion. Being pages and pages it took some time, and then, of course it had to be done again in English. However, signatures were exchanged and we were the proud owners of some Tuscan real estate - the farmhouse was FINALLY ours! My heart skipped a beat. This was a dream come true. "Oh, one final thing," said the public notary, "you are not allowed to sell your house for the first 5 years." We had no intention of selling and told him so. More kisses were exchanged and we left to visit the bank to sign more papers.
Tuscan Real Estate: Everyone wants Money
At that stage everyone wanted money; the agent for their commission, the seller lowered her price by E 8000 so that we could draw the money for her that she had had to pay out for penalties, our geometra wanted paying and the public notary had to witness the signing of the mortgage. So we all walked through the old part of the town through the walled gate and down the street towards the bank, a little like the Pied Piper. While some of the group waited in reception my husband and I, the bank manager, the owner of the estate agency and the public notary went into a separate room to sign the mortgage papers. While we were there the public notary saw a picture of the farmhouse for the first time that had slipped out of my husband's file.
"Is this the casa?" he inquired?
"Si," we replied.
"And you just paid E350 000 for it?"
"If you want to sell the casa I will give you a million for it. Today!" he added, in case we hadn't noted his enthusiasm.
I looked at him and smiled. "But you just told me, not 10 minutes ago in your office, that we couldn't sell our house for the next five years."
Laughter erupted around the table, and the notary suddenly looked sheepish. "Ah! Non problemo! I am sure we can come to some arrangement."
Our answer was short and sweet, "No deal." We had secured our Tuscan real estate and we weren't about to part with it now.
He obviously hadn't been told about the cracks in the house, and we weren't going to elucidate, because we had been granted a loan from the bank on the premise that the house was habitable. And that's another story...
While at the bank the seller and her husband very generously offered to take us to lunch to celebrate the sale. We had already decided that we would do the honors and had already booked a table for 10 at the hotel earlier that morning for all concerned, so we offered to split the bill and all were happy.
Tuscan Real Estate: Luncheon and Exploding Ovaries
The restaurant and hotel is my favorite in this walled town. It was established in 1807 and has been in the same family for 50 years. The inside of the restaurant is full of character. Massive chestnut beams span the coffered ceilings and a huge antique stone fireplace stands to one side. With chandeliers, crisp linen table cloths and silverware, the stage is set for wonderfully prepared Tuscan dishes that become those mouth-watering dishes that you wax lyrically about for months and even years later.
So, we sat around the table beaming at one another, trying to converse. With our broken Italian, their broken English and translations for the totally unintelligible on both sides, we settled down to have an enjoyable meal. However, that was short lived. Our seller decided that this was the forum to talk about her marital life with her husband, how he wasn't particularly good in that department, and how she had battled to fall pregnant with her second child. All the while his rheumy eyes focused on his plate of food as he ate mechanically through the lurid descriptions of his poor performance, and uttered no words in his own defense. She was so desperate to fall pregnant that we were told that she would call him home from work when she was ovulating – and then disaster struck, after getting pregnant one of her 'ovaries exploded'. We assumed that she had had an ectopic pregnancy, but thought that discretion was the better part of valor and felt that by asking further would only open up more parts to this conversation that we really didn't want to know about, while we desperately tried to enjoy our gnocchi and pasta.
Tuscan Real Estate: Saying our Goodbyes
Finally, the meal came to a close and I audibly breathed a sigh of relief. I gathered that the feeling was shared due to the exchanged glances and smiles from the agent and our geometra at different points in the colorful conversation. We kissed some more and thanked her for the house. She smiled and said that when we were settled she would come and pay us a visit. We smiled so hard that our faces ached, and suddenly we wished that Naples were just that much further away than it is. In the same second we cursed the invention of modern transportation and longed for times past where making the trip would be an arduous affair that one wouldn't bother taking. And then I realized that perhaps there was a strong possibility that this wouldn't be the last time we would see our seller. After all, it wasn't likely that she would forget where we lived!