Friday, August 21, 2009

When You Can't Afford a Villa

As a rule, we tend not to take three months off of work and daily life to go to Italy and do nothing. I certainly would have no objections to doing so every year, but realistically, we are self-employed artists with bills that need to be paid. So, finding an affordable place to live was the most important part of this adventure. Since many people have asked me how we found our place, here are some things I have learned so far.

1. Be clear about the goal of your trip. Yes, I know that our long-range plan is to do nothing, but we want to pursue this goal in an interesting place. Another way of saying it, the way I say it when I want to sound respectable: we want to immerse ourselves in a lively yet manageable city. That put Rome out of the running. (There is such a thing as being too lively).
2. Be flexible. When I started researching places to live I had a group of possible cities: Mantova, Bologna, Verona. Affordability was important, as was a place in a neighborhood with proximity to buses and shops. If I couldn’t find those attributes in city A, I would have crossed it off my list and gone on to city B.
3. Everybody wants to live in a villa, but not everybody can. We scaled down our ambition and looked for an apartment. In any event, I am petrified of driving in Italy and many villas would be out-of-the-way and require a car.
4. The leads in guidebooks are not that useful. Just about all of them list companies that specialize in villa and apartment rentals. I e-mailed several of these with specific requirements and got no personal responses. What I did get were weekly SPAM e-mails informing me of various properties throughout the world.
5. Ask your potential landlord lots of questions just for the heck of it. I googled Bologna and apartment rentals and found an associaton of local property owners with a variety of apartment to rent. Once we found one with the number of bedrooms we wanted and a neighborhood location, I e-mailed the owner with lots of questions. That is the important part—the asking. The main point is that you want to see if the answers are timely and specific. Also make sure the landlord gives you a direct phone number, not just the number of the agency.
6. Like much in life, paying deposits is a risk. We had to paypal one-third of the three-months rent. Yes, it’s a risk, but so is buying a house, getting married and seeing movies starring Jim Carrey. Once I paypalled the money I took a deep breath and then I stopped thinking about it. After all there are so many other things to worry about !

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