Luca Catalano explains what you should consider when looking for a second home overseas, and why – in his view – the concept of a ‘home with a vision’ is so important.
Your second home should be a pleasure – just like coffee
“Il caffe’ e’ un piacere se non e’ buono che piacere e’”.
That might mean very little to you, but to Italians in their forties it’s instantly recognizable as a slogan recited by famous Italian actor Nino Manfredi in TV ads for Lavazza, the Italian coffee brand, in decades past.
It encapsulates a common-sense message: coffee is a pleasure, but if it’s not good, how could it give real pleasure?…
It’s always struck me that this simple statement applies equally well to second homes, in Italy and elsewhere.
Without doubt, they are pleasures rather than necessities.
But if you buy one, it should give real pleasure: you want to stay there in style, enjoy local culture and feel part of a community.
Just as you drink the coffee that tastes best to you, so you choose a home that exactly matches your desires.
You want to own it with as little work as possible. And you may well want it to produce letting income as well.
Homes that bring you joy
We hear the word ‘vision’ used in so many contexts, but in my opinion it is particularly relevant to the leisure home industry.
For a home to be truly enjoyable, it needs to be designed and planned with enjoyment in mind.
And that means considering and addressing the thousands of factors that affect enjoyment of a home, long before hands-on work begins.
The best second homes are created to achieve one very clear, very simple vision: to bring real joy to the owner. I call this approach ‘Intelligent Design’.
Why Intelligent Design is so important
All too often, the concept of design is restricted to making things look more attractive.
In my experience, good design goes much deeper than that – especially when it comes to developing leisure homes. It’s about fulfilling every aspect of a property’s potential: its story, its location and its character.
Intelligent Design starts with the basics.
For new builds, that means the position of the properties on the site and the appropriate character for the buildings, given their location.
Then begins the painstaking process of considering every aspect of the property that will affect the owner’s enjoyment: views, privacy, light, shared facilities and common areas, interior design, accessibility and management services.
From this perspective, it’s clear that design is probably the single most important factor in the creation of a great holiday home.
Intelligently designed homes are much more than just real-estate assets: they are treasured possessions that bring real joy to their owners and guests.
Design: what you should look for
As you evaluate potential homes to purchase, try to judge their design based on the aspects that are going to be relevant to you: space management, external areas, views, the potential for effective furnishing, effective management, energy saving and certification, hospitality potential, level of finishing and so on.
A home bought and furnished off-plan will not only save you thousands when you furnish it (since you won’t need to use lots of made-to-measure furniture) but also allow you to take full advantage of all the space available, with no waste.
Read and understand the schedule of works. The selection of products and materials used in your potential home can be just as important as the design.
These factors will dictate your future quality of life in your second home and will be relevant to your vacation experience for the years to come.
Cheap flooring may wear well for a few years, but it will soon need replacing.
Even worse, if you’re saddled with a cheap heating system, or substandard insulation, you’ll be paying the price in poor efficiency year after year.
In my experience, viewing a show home can really enhance your understanding of what to expect on delivery – especially if you buy off-plan.
However, you won’t find many show homes in the Italian market.
If you do find one, you know you’re dealing with a thorough, conscientious developer: to build a show home, you must do a great deal of planning and know exactly what you are going to deliver.
In Italy, the appetite for planning is generally rather low, so show homes are relatively rare – but invaluable, in my opinion.
The importance of a proper management system (particularly in Italy)
In certain markets, including Italy, the concept of a management service for second homes has yet to be fully developed.
Even the basic notion of service is poorly understood; people seem to grasp the value of tangible goods, but not that of services.
This culture obviously makes it difficult to plan, organize and deliver services effectively, particularly in real estate. And those difficulties are exacerbated by the need to bridge languages and cultures to achieve an internationally recognized standard of service.
Setting up services such as lettings management retrospectively, once a development is completed, is almost impossible. But with early planning and a sustained organizational effort, it can be achieved.
To give just one simple example, technical features such as remote utility management and electronically controlled doors can automate key functions and reduce personnel costs – always a key concern of any management service.
Pre-engineering management (and maintenance routines) is therefore not only an intelligent step, but also an efficient investment for the future capital appreciation of your Italian home.
Basically, either the project has been designed from the outset for a proper management service or it hasn’t: you can’t add it later on.
To adding convenience and enabling easier management, this kind of feature can only increase the value of your home and make it more attractive to potential buyers in the future.
A win-win proposition: the perfect holiday home plus letting income
It’s vital to consider the issue of letting when selecting a second home abroad. Even if you don’t plan to let the property yourself, it could be essential for a future buyer.
In practice, most second-home owners find it prudent to generate some income from letting.
Unless you are retiring to your Italian home, you will only occupy it for a few weeks of each year, so letting it out when you’re not there makes sense.
However, you’re unlikely to let your foreign home successfully unless you can rely on a professional letting system, operating at an international standard and including services such as:
Proper promotion: a dedicated website with credit card payment facilities; an advertising and PR strategy; a contact management system, etc.
A concierge service that will make your guests’ stay so much more convenient and enjoyable, so they want to return;
Careful vetting and management of guests to handle credit-card deposits, ensure smooth check-in/check out, keep an eye on the property and reduce the risk of damages.
You either have these things in your Italian home or you don’t.
Just as with a beautiful view and a panoramic terrace, your property either has these things or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, you’ll find it difficult or impossible to add them later.
Where people go wrong with foreign property
All too often, I see people barking up the wrong tree when they’re looking at property abroad, focusing on aspects that aren’t really relevant.
One such aspect is the area covered by the property or grounds.
The true value of a property is not measured in square meters. I see large flats or houses designed with very little consideration of how all that space is going to be used.
On the other hand, I also see small flats that are very well thought out, and much more enjoyable as a result.
It’s the same with gardens and grounds. In my opinion, it is much more desirable to have a 100-square-meter garden with a beautiful view and privacy than to have a much larger garden that is overlooked.
Another red herring is price – when it’s not supported by value. Obviously, everyone likes a bargain. But your foreign property will still be with you long after the money you saved is forgotten.
I believe it is much better to buy the right home at a fair price than to buy the wrong one cheaply.
I hope you have found this article useful. You are very welcome to join in the discussion of this and other topics on our blog.