The brief was clear: Jim was looking for a three bedroomed house, with a large garden, close to shops and services and as close as possible to the sea. Maximum budget 216,000 € (160,000 pounds) including any work, which should be fairly minimal, with the possible exception of adding a bedroom to a two bedroom property. Although he had found a couple of possibles online, he would like me to find others and to arrange a viewing trip for him. He did not know Puglia well, so I suggested we also allow time on the trip to explore each area where we were viewing houses.
I started by having a look at the three properties he had found already, on U.K property portals. As is often the case, on these sites, I thought these overpriced and, knowing the areas, not actually as close to the sea as he would like. One, a private sale from an English seller, was beautiful, not overpriced, very close to the sea, but she was probably moving because it was in an area which, from June to September, is swamped with visitors – three holiday villages close by as well as lots of day trippers. As Jim was thinking of moving to Puglia, and living there year round, we ruled this one out as well. It was difficult to tell, from these three, what style of house he preferred, so I tried to find a wide variety of properties.
Proximity to the sea was important, so I started looking for houses within a 10 minute drive or less from the coast, with a large garden. The right property was more important than the specific area. I ruled out the Ostuni and San Vito areas, having discussed this with Jim, as he would be living by himself some of the time. Puglia is generally super safe, but these areas have had a spate of burglaries over the last few years, possibly due to the proximity to the port of Brindisi . I pointed out that it was mainly holiday houses, left unattended, without alarm systems, that were burgled, but he preferred to look elsewhere.
After an extensive look online, and calls to some of my favourite estate agents, I decided on three areas – Monopoli (on the coast), Nardo’ and Galatone and Ugento (towns within 10 minutes drive to the sea, plus coastal development). Some houses I viewed beforehand, some I lined up to view for the first time with Jim, as he was arriving in a fortnight’s time. We ended up with a shortlist of around 15 houses to view on the 10 day trip, with a few in reserve.
Arriving on the Easyjet flight from London to Bari, Jim arrived in Monopoli on a Saturday evening, by the time he had picked up his hire car, and I got him checked into his bed and breakfast, the excellent Al Rosa Antico. We then went to dinner.
The next morning started cloudy, with the sun breaking through occasionally as we explored the centro storico of Monopoli. I had planned to drive along the coast to look at different beaches, but we only got to one of my favourites, Porto Ghiaccolo, before it got so grey and chilly that we decided to head for the hills to have lunch in a good restaurant, very close to a villa we were going to view early afternoon. This turned out to be full, with a number of large groups in for Sunday lunch, so we headed to La Lampara Sui Colli, in the village a short drive away. They were bursting at the seams too but more obliging about fitting us in. After an excellent tagliata alla rucola e grana (steak cut into strips with rocket and Parmesan) and a glass of Nero di Troia, we headed off to see the house. By this time, unusually for March, it was completely grey and overcast.
The impact of the first house was definitely affected by this – one of its features is a panoramic sea view from the garden and front porch. All we could make out was a wide strip of a slightly different colour to the sky, whereas when I had visited a week earlier the view was spectacular. The fact that the house was also presented very badly (not unusual in Italy with houses for sale) really didn’t help. The present tenant, who is about to leave the property, had one of the two bedrooms filled with junk, and the other rooms ( bedroom 2, large kitchen, bathroom and living room with fireplace) looked rather cluttered and slightly grimy as well.
Jim was distinctly underwhelmed, though he dutifully admired the orchard (cherries, apricots, figs, olives) and discussed where one would add a third bedroom. You definitely had to look past the clutter, and imagine how the sea view would look on a clearer day, but I think this a good buy at 160,000 € (price reduced for a quick sale) perhaps for a family of four looking for a holiday house with outdoors space, or a couple wanting a guest room. The addition of a pool (20,000 – 30,000€) would also make this a good holiday rental villa.
The next day the weather hadn’t improved much, but Jim enjoyed wandering around town, before we met up to see two other properties, each completely different from each other. The first of these was a very well thought out modern villa with three bedrooms, two bathrooms a kitchen with doors onto two terraces, and a living room with a fireplace. The terraces were orientated so that you could watch the sunset on one, and the sunrise on another and one had sliding insulated glass doors, so that it could be used as a sun room in the cooler months. A small cellar and an attractive garden completed the property, but the land behind the house extended some way beyond the fenced garden – almost half an acre in total. This house was 120m2, in perfect condition and cost 195,000€.
This one would make a perfect holiday home and is set in the hills above Monopoli, with a village nearby (5 minute drive) and Monopoli town and beaches within a ten minutes drive. Jim felt that it wasn’t really for him, although he thought it was well designed.
Next up was my favourite of all the houses we saw. On a country road, between Monopoli and Polignano, this property is in very good condition, structurally, though it needs modernization and some internal rearrangement. With a wealth of period features, such as the original flagstones in some of the rooms, a large fireplace and vaulted ceilings, this is everyone’s idea of the perfect Puglian farmhouse. The courtyard outside also has the original paving and, adjacent to the house, next to two barns, there is a ‘forno’, or oven room – with a large, still functional, wood burning bread and pizza oven. The stone, barrel vaulted ceiling of this room is black with the smoke from countless years of cooking focaccias and bread, but would clean up beautifully.
From the roof terrace you can see the sea, and also that there are neighbouring houses, one with a large pool, but the road which leads to the house ends there, there are crops in the adjacent plots of land (the house has 6000 square metres of it’s own land) and the feel is very rural, despite there being a village within a five minutes drive, and Monopoli and the sea about the same again.
Jim liked this house as well as me, so we went back for a second visit the following morning, accompanied by the boss of one of my favourite building firms, to give us an idea of the necessary costs of any work. The house is currently arranged as three bedrooms, a living room and a room which, on closer inspection, has been divided to make a very small kitchen and a bathroom. As well as the two barns there is also a stable next to the living quarters and we all agreed that the best solution would be to make this into a kitchen, opening a door through into the main house, turning the existing kitchen/bathroom into a larger bathroom and the smallest bedroom into a bathroom. The barns on the other side of the house (there is also a wine cellar) are easily large enough to provide a two bedroom two bathroomed guest apartment, connected to the rest of the house, but would need insulation and the roofs changed. The whole property needs rewiring and a new, up to current regulations, septic tank.
With these modifications you would really exploit the full potential of the property, the necessary work costing 60-70,000€. The house, on the market at 175,000€ would be habitable without much of this work. Having seen the ideal solution, it would be hard to settle for less however, and carrying out the full project would have exceeded Jim’s budget, so this was a no as well.
The next house also warranted a second look, the following morning before we left Monopoli. This one was a bit strange, in a potentially good way. A typical late 19th century villa (2 bedrooms, living room with fireplace, star vaulted ceilings, bathroom and kitchen) has been extended at the back to provide a separate apartment with the same number of rooms. Because the house is on a downward sloping plot of land, on a hill, the back extension is at a lower level, with the flat roof used to create a panoramic terrace off the kitchen of the earlier part of the house. The ‘old’ part has a super modern kitchen and bathroom, the newer part needs remodernising! There is an extensive garden of around 1000 square metres, central heating and connection to the local aqueduct. There is also gas. On our second visit, with the builders, we got quotes for repointing the flat roofs over both parts of the property, a new septic tank, repainting externally and internally, remodernising the back apartment and replacing the modern touches in the older part with something more in keeping with the period of the house. Several overgrown trees would need to be cut down in order to regain a panoramic view from the terrace and house. The quotes came in at around 25,000 and the house is on the market at 175,000 – a very good price for a four bedroomed house.
After viewing the house the first time, we headed back to Monopoli where we had lunch at Bocafe’, the ideal spot if you want more than a sandwich, but don’t want to spend a lot, or sit in a restaurant for hours. They have a different fixed price menu each day with 2 choices for first and second courses, a house ‘antipasto’ and a dessert of the day, or you can choose from the range of cakes and pastries which are onsale all day. Dishes are simple and tasty, and you get one course plus antipasto at 6 euros or two courses for 10 euros, with pudding as an extra in both cases. We had a good puree di fave, a glass of red wine, a dessert with berries, cream, crème patissiere and tuile type biscuits and coffee for 10.50 a head!
The next morning, with house 4 seeming a distinct possibility, should nothing else present itself,we set off for Ugento…. (to be continued!)
For further information on property search trips, or details of any of these houses feel freeto email me at firstname.lastname@example.org