February 25, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Dreamhouse blues

By |2018-03-21T19:47:05+01:00November 29th, 2015|Food & Wine Archive|
The notaio is a mythological creature that combines bureaucrat and fixer.

taly is inimitable. The food and wine are unrivaled. So are the beautiful cities and their storied art. The natives are mostly goodhearted. The climate is ideal. But Italy is also disorganized, corrupt, static, and often undone by bureaucracy of its own making. Rome can make you crazy. Everything about it screams “maybe.” There’s no such thing as a sure thing. The Italian word sure, certo, is too casual to mean anything.

There’s a verb in Roman dialect, cazzarare, which roughly means hanging around doing nothing. If that’s your game, Rome welcomes you. It’s nirvana. I love my city — so long as the challenge isn’t getting a job and ensuring your future (or trying to), which can make it a waking nightmare. Buying a home is a good example.

American etiquette is fairly straightforward. You get an agent, an appraisal, the house is opened for viewing and advertised in brochures and online. If you live in the suburbs, you might even get a “for sale” sign in front. You may have to fix the place up, but sooner or later negotiations lead to a deal.

Let me now take you through the somewhat different Rome version.

You see an apartment or home you like. You have the cash or the loans to make it work. Great. But the moment you decide to go ahead is also the moment when the system starts doing everything in its power to make sure a deal never happens.

Let me backtrack. Let’s start with having a friend who’s a real estate agent. You tell him what you have in mind and he or she comes up with some places to show you.

Problem 1: The places you see usually don’t look anything like how they’ve been described. “Newly renovated” usually translates to something like, “Our dead uncle fixed it up 45 years ago.”

Problem 2: Documentation is skimpy at best. Floor plans don’t match up (dear old uncle illegally added a bathroom in 1965). Oh, and the gas and electricity date to 1970. That means they faulty valves and wiring are on you.

Let’s say you decide to ignore all this because, well, you have a good feeling. That’s when we enter Dante territory.

Problem 3: Most real estate agents couldn’t care less if a home is up to code or even legal. He or she is angling for the six percent — that’s not six percent commission but six percent on the total value of the sale — three percent each from buyer and seller. The agent is also the person who tells you with a straight face, “All you need to do is knock down this wall and you get a perfect view of the sea…” – if only the sea weren’t 20 miles away and it wasn’t a supporting wall.

Problem 4: Need to renovate? No problem. The owner usually knows someone (usually a relative) who’ll fix it up for a tenth of the going rate, but only after you’ve bought it.

Still not discouraged?

Okay, now it’s time to head for a notaio, a kind of notary-accountant, a mythological creature that is part lawyer, part notary, part government bureaucrat, part fixer, and part shrink. It’s an expensive skill set. Yet the notary-accountant —the “n’accountant” — is the only human that can legally paper over the cracks. That usually means copying old and semi-illegal documentation, annotating some of the language, and adding a few stamps. The worst possible thing is honesty. Finding someone who does things by the book usually means having to head to the city hall real estate registry in search of ancient scrolls. Whatever you find you need to pay for (plus local and government taxes). Oh, and if by chance the antiquities ministry decides you home might be on top of an Etruscan burial chamber you might have to wait a few years until they get around to sorting out your options.

You could of course pay someone to do this dirty work. If so, meet the geometra, or surveyor. Like the n’accountant, the surveyor also has mythological powers, except that he’s more like a super hero. He’s your personal Indiana Jones battling snakes and giant spiders in ancient vaults while tracking down ancient paperwork — at a hefty price.

He returns from his odyssey to tell you that you can actually buy your dream home, but only after you pay fines for uncle’s illegal add-ons and bring it up to code.

Common sense probably told you all this for starters. No matter. It has to come from the n’accountant and surveyor.

Next up is an architect or design studio. Why? Because you need seven different kinds of permits before touching that toolkit (put that hammer down!) You need approvals from the city, the condo, the UN, the neighbors, the cat. If the cat balks, that’s on you. No, wait, it’s not on you, it’s on the surveyor, but he’ll want more to get everyone to sign off.

You don’t yet actually own your dream house but you’ve already spent thousands in fees, semi-bribes, and anti-anxiety meds. I’ll leave the remodeling phase (six months… six years?) for another time.

Now that I’ve assassinated Rome’s character, it’s time for wine. DOC ROMA was born in August 2011 and ranks as among the youngest DOC wines in the country. The Lazio region that hosts Rome is steeped in winemaking tradition (reds, whites and sparkling wines).

Castello di Torre in Pietra was founded in the mid-13th century and produces ROMA Rosso DOC 2014 (Montepulciano, Cesanese and Sangiovese; 13%; €7). It’s a ruby red wine that smells like red fruit, light spices and myrtle. It’s fresh, fruity and well balanced. Try it with a plate of Amatriciana over lunch, say. And don’t even think of remodeling.

About the Author:

Marco Lori's yearlong column "Vino Infinito" combined personal reminiscence with his love for wine.