When I first moved to Italy my number one priority was to find an apartment of my own. Little did I know what was in store for me as I bravely, and blindly, stepped into the wonderful world of Italian real estate. Here’s what I found:
1. Watch Your Language: They use local dialect in real estate ads. What was confusing was that I never saw the word “rooms” as in “number of rooms.” Why? Because in Genoa the word for rooms is “vani”. Here in Milan it’s “locale”.
2. Please Sit – Oh Never Mind. Some apartments don’t have living rooms. My first furnished (arredato) apartment in Italy was in the tiny borgo of Santa Maria Quezzi, up in the hills behind Genoa. I was told it was a two bedroom apartment, but there were only three rooms. Hmmmm.
One room was definitely the bedroom; the second room had a bookcase/storage unit on one wall and a sofa. The third room was a dining room with a round table and four chairs, an easy chair and a TV stand. Since the easy chair matched the sofa in the other room, I moved it in there and made that the living room. But then I began to notice something odd. Visitors were always very uncomfortable when I took them into my “living room”. After a while it dawned on me that I was actually entertaining my guests in a bedroom but they were just too polite to say anything.
3. What is This? If you are renting a standard unfurnished apartment it won’t have a kitchen – what I mean is you will not find a stove, a refrigerator, a sink, cupboards or countertop. What you will find is an empty room with water and gas pipes sticking out from one wall. The rest is up to you. Why? Beats me.
4. I’ll Just Lean Here. If an apartment is listed as semi-furnished it will have a kitchen with a stove, sink, refrigerator, cupboards and countertop. But no actual furniture like tables and chairs.
5. Let the Séance Begin. Do not expect to find light fixtures – anywhere. Just wires sticking out of holes, color coded ghosts of illuminations past.
6. Can’t Hold Your Water? Double service (doppio servizi) means two bathrooms.
7. Drip Dry. No towel racks or toothbrush holders but lots and lots of holes where previous tenants hung theirs.
8. Just Put Your Bottle of Aspirin, ahhh ….Maybe There? Your Italian bathroom will not have a medicine cabinet, or a mirror, or a cabinet under the sink or a linen closet either. But it will have a bidet.
9. Walk In? Not Exactly. You will marvel at the amount of space needed to put up an armoire that will give you 1/5 of the closet space you could have if they would just hang a rod and put a door in front of it. You will need a handyman/carpenter to assemble and disassemble your closets when you move in and move out.
10. Roll On. Apartment in dire need of a paint job? It’s on you. Your local paint store is the best place to get names of painters. If you are doing this in August, save your breath, you won’t see a soul until mid September.
11. Put a Lid On It. Garages are called boxes. Some apartments may have a dispensa, which is a pantry, a ripostiglio, a broom closet and/or a tinello, which is an ante-camera between the kitchen and the living room for informal entertaining.
12. Four Plus Four. A normal rental contract is four years plus four more years for a total of eight. Your contract must be registered with the Comune (City Hall) in order for it to be legal – and for you to have any rights as a tenant. If you want to cancel the contract you must send your landlord a registered letter 6 months prior to the expiration date.
What your Italian apartment will most likely have are marble floors, very high ceilings, a huge bathtub, unlimited hot water, at least one balcony but usually two or three, a sense of history if you are lucky, and the best of all - when you step out the door - you are in Italy.