Back in September I returned to Italy with a big question on my mind. Did I want to move to Lucca, making it my home for the foreseeable future, or did I want to continue to maintain a home base in the U.S., and remain a part-time visitor to Lucca? Not an easy decision - there are trade-offs and compromises either way (but then that’s life, right?).
I heard from several readers after that post. Some offered encouragement and others asked me to please share my final decision, as well as some of the details involved in searching for an apartment and obtaining residency. I get the feeling that many of us “of a certain age” are day dreaming about making this type of life change.
Key to my decision was finding a reasonably priced and suitable apartment. Luckily, I have worked over several years with Debora del Sonno of Lucca Holiday Homes and she very patiently searched available apartments and showed me a number of options.
Just as when looking for a home in the USA, it is important to remember to set priorities but also to stay flexible and be prepared to compromise. That was particularly important for me to remember when the owners of my first-choice apartment decided they didn’t want a long-term tenant after all and so my search had to begin anew. The apartment I eventually chose met my big priorities – central location, a terrace, nicely furnished. The compromise was the number of steps up to the apartment (38). I also increased my budget a bit to afford a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with loads of Italian charm.
I did find an option for a much smaller and less expensive apartment, but it had no outdoor space or views. To make a final decision I had to balance budget, amenities, and space. The apartment I chose has slanted old wood ceilings, a view of the Torre Guinigi from the terrace, and one of the clock tower and Campanile of San Michele from the bedroom - those views were pretty seductive and definitely influenced my choice.
I was able to live with the decision for several days before meeting with my new landlords to sign the contract. This was a good test of my confidence in the decision to make this move. It also gave me a chance to doublecheck my finances and make sure my budget was realistic. In the end, I signed on the dotted line without hesitation and started planning my move. There were a couple of complications, mostly related to the process of applying for citizenship on my return to Italy (rather than beforehand at an embassy in the U.S.) and whether I needed to first obtain an elective residency visa in the U.S. More on that process in a later post.
Based on my experience, here are a few things to consider when thinking about a long-term rental:
1. I was glad that I had a good agent. Debora provided me with information about the process of long-term rentals, answered my many questions, and also provided a copy of the contract (in Italian and English) well ahead of signing. She promptly registered the contract and provided copies of the signed lease and the registration. Having her help took much of the stress out of the process. It was well worth the agency fee to have her assistance and advice.
2. A common form of rental contract in Italy is the “4+4,” which means the lease is for four years, during which time you can keep the apartment on the initial terms. The four-year term protects the renter (no rent increases, you cannot be forced out of the apartment except for non-payment or not adhering to the terms of the lease) but the renter has the ability to cancel the contract with written notice (usually three months). At the end of the initial four years, the renter has the option for another four-year contract.
3. Budget for significant upfront costs, including an agency fee (of about one month’s rent) and the first two to three months’ (or even more) rent at the time the contract is signed. There is also a security deposit (mine was equal to two months’ rent, refundable at the end of the lease). These costs add up to about six months’ rent and I was glad I had set aside enough funds to cover them. On the plus side, in December when I move in I will have already paid rent for December, January, and February so won’t have another payment due for three months. Even better, I was able to put the upfront costs on a credit card which means I earned a lot of airline points!
4. Most landlords will want rent paid via bank transfer directly into their accounts. Not all U.S. banks will do online bank transfers (in fact, the bank I use in New Mexico would not, insisting that I had to physically come into the local branch to make an international bank transfer - not very practical). It took some time to investigate other banks and other methods of transferring money. TransferWise looks like a good option with low costs to transfer money internationally and good exchange rates from U.S. dollars to euros. I felt I also needed a back-up method, and so also arranged for an account at a bank that will do online transfers, though the cost is higher than TransferWise. The U.S. banks I found that do online transfers include Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and TIAA bank.
5. Renters in Italy are responsible for utilities (gas, electric, water, trash, internet, TV) as well as everyday small repairs and upkeep (for example, routine boiler checks, a dripping faucet, etc) while the landlord remains responsible for major mechanical repairs. In my case, Debora provided me with the average utility costs for the past 18 months so I could budget appropriately. To keep utility costs reasonable, it’s important to realize that Italians do not heat and cool their homes to the same extent that Americans do. If you like your home at a constant 72 degrees, prepare to pay a lot in utility costs! (Note that the above information is based on my experience and applies to 4+4 rental contracts negotiated through an agency / real estate company. When renting directly from a landlord or on a shorter term contract, terms and costs will vary.)
With the apartment contract signed, I headed back to New Mexico for one month to finish up some part-time work, make the needed arrangements for a move to Italy, and spend Thanksgiving with my family. But I will spend Christmas in my new apartment - and for the first time I can say that I have truly come home to Lucca. - post by JMB