Last Friday at about 1pm my husband and I were was sitting in a stranger’s front room in Italy waiting to buy a house. It was a fairly standard southern Italian living room. The walls were covered with family photos, there were china ornaments on most surfaces and, of course, the obligatory Padre Pio plaque.
When you buy a house in the UK it’s all very unspectacular. You exchange contracts, then something electronic happens behind the scenes and later that day the Estate Agent calls to say you can collect the keys. In Italy the process is far more personal.
When you buy a property in Italy, the buyer and seller meet, usually at the offices of the buyer’s solicitor. The solicitor reads a detailed contract at the speed of a horseracing commentator and when she (or he) has finished reading everyone pretends they’ve understood what was said and signs it. Then you pay. And it’s not an electronic payment between banks either. The buyer pays by cheque, so it has the feel of a lottery win presentation. You almost want the bank to draw up a massive cheque so you can photograph the handover.
But this time he process was even stranger, because we didn’t complete all these legal manoeuvres in our solicitor’s office, we were in someone’s kitchen. And that, surely, has to be one of the weirdest places to buy a house.