We Got There Eventually!
The long & bureaucratic journey of buying our property
Hi all, we are delighted to welcome you on our new and very exciting journey! We believe it is valuable to document our story, to share it with our families, friends and people who are interested in a similar lifestyle project. Our story started 4 years ago, when we decided enough of the fast paced city life, politics, limited traveling time and unhealthy eating habits, so we began to look for a project to better our lifestyle. We desired to create a life of exploration and relaxation where we could savour every moment.
It has since been a long journey…
There were a few projects that failed through, some that the timing was not right, some that were too expensive and some that had been outbid by other buyers. Although it has been difficult at times, to waste the rewards for our patience would have been worse.
One year ago, we found a gleaming gem in the middle of our favourite region of Italy, the beautiful Tuscany! We had been looking at over a hundred of other farms and projects, but none had the potential like this one, it ticked all the boxes! A desirable location, a captivating building that allows us to run our agritorismo, a superb size farm allowing us to have our own fresh produce, wine and olive oil, wonderful weather, a river alongside us and even a historical path that brings many visitors and tourists...everything that we wanted and searched for, in a new property!
However, it has not been a smooth ride at all, we had been trying to close the deal three times in the past year but failed! Waiting for the right opportunity to grab was difficult, but it would have been more difficult to regret not waiting.
Our First Attempt to Buy
Going back to February 2019, we initially found this property for sale on numerous property websites and as we were in the area at the time, we found the contact number of the owner on their website and contacted him directly to arrange a visit. It was love at first sight, we definitely saw great potential in the farm and the property. The owner had said that he would like to sell the farmhouse quickly which was music to our ears as we liked what we saw and had been keenly waiting for the opportunity to buy in the near future.
Learning from our previous experiences, where we spent 9 months conducting due diligence to buy an Italian farm yet the owner had sold it to another buyer one week before we were due to close the deal, we knew that we needed a preliminary contract in place. We did not have any contact with local lawyers, so after we did some research and several interviews, we decided to appoint a law firm in London who specialise in Italian business matters. During the phone call with them, they gave an excellent sales pitch about their experiences with such Italian property transactions for overseas buyers like us.
Since then, we were in regular contact with the owner over the next few weeks as the general terms of sale were negotiated. In the beginning, the owner wanted us to put a deposit down of 10% of the purchase price, without doing any structural or legal due diligence on the property - which we were not prepared to do. Instead, we proposed a simple one page agreement to buy, on conditions of due diligence, after which we would be happy to pay a deposit and work on a preliminary contract, to which he agreed.
What we thought would only take a couple weeks had turned into a few long months. The seller's lawyer was not responsive to our lawyer who was asking for documents and preparing the preliminary contract, he had been repeatedly delaying sending us documents. Even worse, our own lawyer seemed to have no experience with cases similar to ours, at all! Every-time we had a teleconference with them, they would change their advice and say different things, it was quite misleading. In the end, he plainly told us that the seller's side was wasting time and asked if we would like his assistant, who happened to own an estate agency in Italy and offered to introduce us to another property!
In June 2019, the owner told us his lawyer would get the preliminary contract ready and he would sign, so we flew to Italy for a visit, but the document was still not ready. This was extremely confusing for us, despite the seller telling us that he still wanted to sell, we were receiving mixed messages from the seller and our lawyer. We also felt that we had wasted 5 months of our time for something that could have been easily done. In August 2019, having had enough frustration with our incompetent lawyer, we terminated them and started searching for a more local, English speaking lawyer in Tuscany, who may have better experience.
Our Second Attempt to Buy
We reached out to a new lawyer and told her about what happened, she immediately knew who our ex-lawyer was. It seemed he was an infamous black sheep within the herd. In a period of an hour, they searched the property and informed us that it was actually a property up for auction. The owner had been declared bankrupt and the bank had taken possession of the property, even though they were still living in it. There was a live auction for this property in May 2019, exactly at the time when we were negotiating with the owner to buy! It was published on the Florence auction house website for all to see - which explains why the seller's lawyer was delaying us.
We had no idea about this and were clearly aghast, we also wondered at the fact that something this simple wasn't picked up by our first lawyer. We chose not to question the seller about this information as we understood it could be a highly sensitive topic, however we immediately enquired when the next auction would be. The house had failed to sell four times at the auctions over the past 3 years, so the notary of the court in charge of the auction told us it was unlikely to come to auction again anytime soon. He suggested that we should reach out straight with the finance company, who had the charge on the property to see if we can negotiate with them directly for the purchase. We knew of the company from the court notary, but we didn't have any contact or name for the company.
Simultaneously, the new lawyer we were having discussions with in Tuscany, quoted us 18,000 Euro to complete the sale and requested for 5,000 Euro upfront before they even contacted the finance company to see if a deal could be negotiated. We had already spent over 5,000 Euro on legal fees with the previous lawyer in London and the situation did not improve, thus we were very hesitant appointing lawyers again without knowing if the property could even be sold to us.
We decided to try and reach out to the finance company who held the property, ourselves, although we had no luck. In September 2019, we decided to give up on this property and initiated a new search for other properties in Tuscany. It was a heartbreaking and difficult decision to make, after nearly 8 months of work and money, but we realised it was incredibly complicated.
Our Third Attempt to Buy
In November 2019, I (Scott) went to Tuscany to view another 15 properties in 3 days because Angus wasn't able to get time off work the same period as me. I went through many different agents and covered the whole region of Tuscany. This time we narrowed down our scope of what we were looking for: specifically a farmhouse that can be used to accommodate guests with 6-8 rooms, vineyards of around 2-3 hectares and with a location not too remote (having access to at least a few services).
I was down in South-East Tuscany, in Montepulciano, where I met with an agent named Laura, from Apolloni & Blom. While we were travelling between viewings, I shared the story about our complicated recent experience of trying to buy La Torre Antica. She suddenly responded,
"Oh! You are Scott, Scott Adams. Oh my, I didn't realise...I have heard all about you. I am the property agent working with the seller of that property and every email you sent him, he forwarded to me for advice on how to close the deal!"
I was surprised, she knew everything in detail. A lot of the confusion started to make sense as the buyer had been declared bankrupt 4 years ago, but was still keen to sell the property to at least get a slice of the pie for his many years of investment. If the property went to auction then he would receive nothing, she explained that she knows the person in charge of the property in the finance company as she was working to sell the property a few months ago, however the buyer abandoned the deal. She also mentioned that if we are still interested in buying this property, she could help us to close the deal efficiently. She was very confident and agreed to a model that we would only pay her when the transaction is complete! I immediately called Angus to tell him about Laura's proposal. We believed it was a fair and courteous proposal for us as we had nothing to lose, so we agreed to give it another go, our third time to buy!
One of the aspects we struggled with along the way was trust. Laura would present us with a document and ask us to sign, when we asked why or what it was exactly, she would give us a straightforward one or two word answer without an explanation. Communication was always over email, since we had no fees to pay, we thought the risk was low, so we did as we were told. Unexpectedly out of the blue, Laura sent us an agreement of pre-purchase signed by her lawyer and the finance company at our agreed price. She declared that her lawyer was representing us for the sale. When asked why it was signed by her lawyer and not us, she said because we had already made enquiries with the finance company, apparently complicating the process. We took her word for it, although it was profoundly difficult to just do so. Laura then asked us to sign a power of attorney to her lawyer to complete the purchase on our behalf; we refused to do so as some of the final details of the purchase were continued to be negotiated. We wanted to make sure that we had full control over what we agree to sign and not sign, meaning we would have to complete the deed in person ourselves.
A date was set in front of a Judge at a courthouse in Florence on the 16th of January 2020 to complete the sale. We felt excited yet also skeptical as we have had bountiful bad experiences in the past few years. It was two weeks before the signing and an agreement could still not be made with the previous owner. As he was still living in the property, we needed to discuss with him to move out. At the same time, he held a "farmers qualification" called an "IAP", which is a qualification that our farm company needed legally as a representative. Therefore, we negotiated in good faith and agreed a sum of money in return for his furniture that was in the property and his assistance over the next 3 years as our legally appointed farmer. At this point, we put our past relationship with him behind us and tried to ignore the previous dealings we had with him, we still wanted to ensure all was clear in writing and contract.
We flew to Italy the day before the court appointment knowing that there were still many outstanding items (some items the owner had added in the written document, that were never discussed in advance and we had only noticed it in the small print), we had not received any of the official documentation for the transfer of the deeds, which we also needed to review in advance. Without a lawyer representing us to speak, we only had the lawyer of the agency who was doing all the work on our behalf. We realised this may have been a conflict of interest, yet, it was a cheaper solution and as we didn't have to pay anything until the transaction was complete, we thought it would be low risk.
As we were driving from the airport in Rome to Florence, we got a text message from Laura stating that she would be cancelling the appointment with the Judge, as there were too many unresolved issues.
We both had a little cry of despair over a comforting meal at one of our favourite restaurants in the area and discussed how we should proceed. We then made a pact that we definitely would not be continuing with this property any more, enough was enough. We flew back to Hong Kong, a day later.
The Forth Time we Tried to Buy (and actually did!)
We were receiving several text messages from the agent, her lawyers, and the buyer, all asking us to come back to Italy to sign. We were sticking to our guns and told them enough is enough. They were concerned as their lawyer had signed an agreement to buy already and they kept asking us to sign another agreement to transfer this sales agreement to us, instead of their lawyer. Of course, we refused as the terms of the sale were never fully agreed and we were convinced that we no longer wanted this property along with its baggage. Two weeks later, we had calmed down, the agent apologised and lowered their fee to cover the cost of our wasted journey to Italy. In addition the seller also lowered his service fee for the next three year. We did like this property a lot and it ticked all the boxes for us, so we agreed between us to give it one last go (how many times have we said that!). A court date was set at the end of February and a promise was made that we would have everything agreed and all paperwork ready 2 weeks in advance, so it wouldn't be rushed like the last attempt.
Fast forward back to today. We arrived yesterday and it is our fourth time that we have flown to Italy in hope of closing the deal and start making our dream our reality! We woke up at the hotel that was 10 minutes away from the court in Florence, we had our scrumptious Italian breakfast and reassured each other that it's unlikely to complete again and not to be too disheartened if the outcome isn't positive. We arrived an hour early, sitting in the court cafe, anxiously waiting for other parties to arrive, feeling concerned as the documents were still not ready - even though we had been repeatedly asking for the documents to review half a month before the court date! At this point we were thinking that this could be another failed time, to add to our list...
The agent soon arrived 45 minutes before the scheduled court hearing, with the entourage of lawyers, translators, witnesses and notary, all together and with a MacBook in her hand still working on the documents at the last minute. We had been told that Italy may be bureaucratic and chaotic, but you really have to experience it to know what it means!
We entered - nervously yet bravely- into the meeting room. More people joined us, our supportive friends, our lawyer, the geometra (surveyor), the seller, the bank representative, over ten people in a tiny room that would make or break our future in Italy. The notary was very professional, he had gone through everything in detail, line by line, to ensure that we understood and he checked that all the documents and the historical ownership of the property was in order. We then signed documents for what felt like forever, he then had to speak with the rest of the parties involved. Four hours later we arrived at the courtroom and finally after all our worrying the Judge proudly presented that us, Angus and Scott, are the new owners of the farm! It was such a big relief and we could not, and still cannot, be happier!
Good news always calls for a celebration, we went with our team to a trattoria (a local Italian restaurant) Da Settimo nearby. After a long day of emotional highs and lows, the food and wine tasted exceptionally good! It further consolidated us as to why we love the food in this country and highlighted what we had been missing whilst living in the city. Today marked the beginning of our new lifelong journey and change for a better lifestyle! This restaurant was a fantastic suggestion by Laura, we reviewed it here.
Whilst during the process we felt that many of the professionals we employed came across as unprofessional: not doing due diligence on documentation, reviewing it properly, not following logical processes and cutting corners. We have since come to the conclusion that this is just how things are done in Italy, there is so much bureaucracy and red tape, that the role of the professional is to weave their way around the system to achieve the goal. That is what Laura from Appolini & Blom was able to do for us and whilst the experience had it's ups and downs, we would still recommend them for being able to navigate the system and help bring our dream into reality!