Are There any Reliable Builders and Geometras in Italy?

It all stopped in December 2009 when the builder promised to finish certain works by the beginning of December after the micro-piling had been completed. However, I am jumping the gun. Let's go back to square one, when the micro-piling took place, and why.

Seismic Building Regulations in Italy

The not-so-long-ago earthquake in L'Aquila will give you an inkling that Italy is a country that is in a seismic zone and experiences some pretty rough earthquakes from time to time, including Tuscany where we have our farm.  

Fortunately, Tuscany and Umbria have very few episodes of earthquakes by comparison to other regions such as Abruzzo and Molise. There is a reason why real estate is so much cheaper in these areas and why they are not as well-populated!

As a result we were told that we had to have the foundations of our house strengthened by micro-piling the perimeter. We were quoted € 35,000.00 gulped, and agreed. Well, they went to town. Nothing like taking full advantage of your clients who are not on site and live halfway around the world. Our micro-piling ended up costing us double what was quoted. A bill was presented and we were expected to cough up. There was no notification that they had extended the drilling rates, and supposedly had, in some places, gone down 9 meters.

This is what they said they did, of course, there is no way of verifying that this was the case.

How Building is Done in Italy and the Geometra

At one stage I would often pass the comment, "Rome wasn't built in a day, but the way my Italian builders were working, I am surprised it was built at all!"

So how does it all work in Italy when  you want to restore a farmhouse in Italy? Well you need to seek out a geometra and a builder. Usually, the geometra (known in English as a quantity surveyor) will suggest 3 builders, get quotes and then you make a choice of who you want.

We should have seen the writing on the wall, way back when we first started the restoration process. The geometra was appointed by the real estate agent from Sansepolcro. The agent was good, she spoke good English having lived in Australian for a number of years, and we trusted her implicitly. When she suggested a local geometra who had his offices outside of the town walls, and just around the corner from where the agent was, we agreed. Big mistake.

The geometra from Sansepolcro wore clothes that made him look as if he had just stepped out of a Milan fashion house. He was well-heeled, wore cashmere coats, and scarves and kept telling us that he was so pleased to build our house and that he was the best man for the job. He was meticulous in his presentations of plans, etc. and at once we felt secure in knowing that he was indeed the best man for the job.

The geometra was initially charming, but as it turned out, it was all part of the game to over-charge, double charge and try and make as much money out of us without actually doing anything. And while you are reading this, you may be thinking that we are a young, naive couple, that were greenhorns, think again. We are 50 something, have built 2 houses before this, and my husband is a Commercial Manager in construction, with a Bsc. degree in Quantity Surveying.

When  you are sent all documentation in Italian, and you are not given anything in English, it is very difficult to understand what is being described as items and rates to be charged.  Despite frequent requests for translations to be given, none were forthcoming. We did, in all fairness get some help from the estate agent, but she eventually left and went north to follow her husband who had been transfered.

We put our faith in our geometra, but as the months progressed we realized that we were making no progress on the house, but still paying for services rendered. It was aways for this paper had to be modified, this local authority had to be visited etc. . Worst of all, he did not allow us to choose our builder, but he appointed a very shifty character who came from a mountainous area, north-east of where the farm was. He had sharp features, with close-set eyes that never once met your gaze. I thought he was untrustworthy right from the start, and in the end I was right.

This was our esteemed builder who was brought on board to do the micro-piling. Once that was done, and we had coughed up € 70, 000.00 to both the builder and the geometra, no progress was made. We made a visit, to try and jump start the project, and left after promises were made to start the next phase of works. However, dates came and went, and still no progress was made. However, there were no shortage of excuses for why the house had not progressed.  From, "It's Ferragosta",  to, "It's winter now and the snow will be here anytime," to everything in between!

Firing an Italian Geometra

6 months later, we made the decision to fire the geometra and the builder. It was the best decision we had made, but it was also going to cost us dearly!

The geometra from Sansepolcro held us to ransom for all files on the house to the tune of €7,000 and the builder, due to an unfortunate oversight, was not given notification that his services were no longer needed. So when he swung buy a year later to see other builders working on the house he sued us for €25,000 for lost earnings.

Due to the extensive damamge to the house of services and stonework when he was on site, and poor workmanship that  had to be rebuilt, we managed to get that down to €15,000 but it was a bitter pill to swallow.

Reliable builders and geometras in Italy? Is there such a thing?  For some of you who have had a house built in Italy, or done restoration work, the above question may seem like a bit of a conundrum.

After a long story, we have just fired the second geometra. He was a pleasant
young man from the valley, and with whom we are still on good terms. But he just wasn't able to deliver a service we found acceptable.  It appears time here means nothing. It is elastic. Things get done when they feel like it, get around to it,  remember it...

All in all very frustrating, and the house is still unfinished. So the saga continues.
There are many more dreamers like us out there, who take on restoration projects in Italy. One such couple is Australian born Salvatore and Lisa, with their two children who moved to Piedmont, Italy to renovate a small village. Follow their dreams, aspirations, tears, disappointments and victories on their delightful blog Renovating Italy.


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