Category Archives: House Hunting

Cost of living here in small town Umbria

One thing I have not addressed in this blog is the cost of living here in Umbria. Recently I read a blog talking about the cost of living in Milan. Admittedly, it is less expensive to live there – it’s rated the most expensive city in Italy, than in most cities in the US, but it is still more expensive that many other areas here in Italy. People who are still working and have no choice but to live in a place like Milan do so, but retirees, like us and many people who move here on an ER Visa from the US, do have a choice.

Generally all the northern parts of Italy are more expensive than the south. And of course Tuscany, which has always been a magnet for expats is quite pricy, especially Florence. But central provinces like Umbria, or Abruzzo, or les Marche are a real bargain. They also see fewer tourists and, therefore are more welcoming, in my experience. Umbria is just next to Tuscany and has many of the attributes that attract people there. It has beautiful hill towns, the food is amazing and it has some of the best wines in Italy. It is also known as the “green heart of Italy” because it is in the center, vaguely heart shaped and, being very agricultural, very green. It is also a very traditional area. A little more tranquil and old fashioned.

People have asked me how much things cost here so I will endeavor to list some things.

Buying a house here is not terribly expensive if you don’t want a palazzo or a fattoria in the country with olive groves etc. But I should also say, like anywhere else, there are a wide variety of houses in a large variety of sizes and price ranges. For lower budgets I know of several habitable apartments in our town in the neighborhood of €80-100K. This would be one or two bedrooms and bath(s). A fixer-upper would be much less. Usually houses here are smaller so plan on 800 – 1,100 sq ft for that price. Also a real savings is that you won’t owe any property tax on your prima casa, or main residence. Apartments for rent are very reasonable. An apartment of this size will rent for in the neighborhood of €400-500 a month. Usually it comes furnished. Generally apartments rent with a lease for 4 years with option to extend for 4 years at the same rent. Other option is 3 years with 2 year extension. But you can negotiate. Many times utilities are included in the rent.

Speaking of which, utilities can be expensive here. Houses are rated from A-G for energy efficiency, “A” being the best as far as efficiency goes. Old buildings are notoriously bad with no insulation and thick stone walls which conduct the heat/cold. Our building is about 500 years old and of the later sort. In winter our bills were running in the neighborhood of 240€ for two months. But this past winter we got a 400€ bill (2 months). It was very cold.

Two months of gas

Also most people, including us, use a pellet stove (stufa) to warm parts of the house.

Most places do not have air conditioning. We have two electric units. We don’t use them much so our bills are small. Water is a lot less here, around 20€ for 2 months. We pay 75€ for trash removal twice a year.

At my local Bar/Coffee shop an espresso is 1€. A cappuccino is 1.20€. Compare that to Starbucks! And it is way better. A small beer is 2€. An aperol spritz (mixed cocktail) is 4€. Many bars have happy hour with snacks gratis if you buy a drink.

To buy a basic bottle of wine can cost as low as 3€. Here they also have sfuzzi which are like a wine gas stations! Bring your bottles and fill them for between .80 and 1.30€ a liter! Of course high quality, pedigree wine is more. 12€ or more a bottle.

Eating out
We have several types of restaurants. At a trattoria, which has great local food, you can get 3 courses for around 15€. A fancier Ristorante you will pay more, 5-8€ for an appetizer. 12€ for a steak. Pizza at a pizzeria is around 5-8€ a pie which is more than enough for a person. Contrary to common thought, most places are fine if you ask for a box to take left overs home. You can get just a slice for 1.20€. No tipping here. Round up if you want.

Supermarkets and food shopping.
This is a comprehensive subject and maybe should be a separate post. Groceries are less expensive on the whole. Many larger towns have weekly markets (mercato). The produce is good, fresh and affordable. For around 10€ I can get a big shopping bag of gorgeous produce to last a week. The markets also sell pecorino cheese of all sorts and ages and prosciutto and cured sausages and salami for which Umbria is known. Also a fresh mozzarella man, and my fish lady in her truck. My normal shopping habits are, I shop the two weekly markets, Wednesday and Saturday, for produce, cheese, specialty meats, fish. I shop the butchers, bakers, etc for fresh meats and bread. I only go to the supermarkets for staples like sugar, cleaning products, etc.

Approximate prices at a supermarket: you can get a whole chicken for 3€. Hamburger patties for 1.50€ each. Pork chops for 3€ lb. Steaks for $6 lb.
For fancier things you’d pay.
Veal steaks $8 lb
Beef filet steaks $12 lb
Salmon steaks $8 lb
Ground beef $4 lb
Lamb for grilling $3 lb.

Autos cost about the same here as the US but you must be a resident to buy one. There is an annual car tax as well. Of course I think everyone knows gas and diesel is a LOT more expensive here. Probably 4-5 times the cost in the US.

Internet/satellite TV
Our Skye satellite TV costs 30€ a month. Phones you can top up as you use the service. It is a lot less expensive than in the US. There is a TV tax to pay for public Italian RAI TV rolled into your electric bill. Internet can be rolled into a package with your phone and is not expensive. But it’s not very fast here.

Other travel
Train travel is reasonable. One way to Florence from here is 12€. We take the Frecciabianca from Folognio to Rome fairly often. It’s reasonable (from 16.90€ on the fast Freccia train) and we are in Rome in an hour and 15. Have lunch, shop, come home before dinner. The fast trains (frecce) that run between bigger cities are more expensive and have several classes of seating.

Air travel can be very cheap here. There are a number of discount carriers like Ryanair, Easyjet and Wiz air. Umbria has a small airport but it is limited. We love it because it is so small and easy to use, parking is plentiful and cheap. We use Ryanair out of Perugia for our annual trip to the UK. There are several flights a week. We also flew to Bucharest Romania on Wizair once, just because we could! And there are a couple of weekly flights to Sicily. In summer they add more. Frankfurt, Brussels, Sardinia, Bari. If you shop around and are flexible you can fly for as little as 19€ round trip to Catania or Bari. Our friends go just because it is so cheap. But for destinations farther afield we go to Rome, Florence or Bologna.

So, you decided to move to Italy…

I just put up a page, accessible from the top navigation, with a summary of information about moving and living in Italy. It is called “So you’ve decided to move to Italy”. I will constantly update it with things I learn that I think will be useful. Go to the page here.

Househunters International comes to Umbertide!

Just before Christmas Househunters International came to town to film Joseph and Paul, our neighbors across the Piazza. Luther and I had applied also but they rightly picked them. They are tremendous Umbertide boosters and were very proactive in showing the town in the best possible light.

I found the whole process very interesting to watch. They spent 5 days filming around 10 hours a day. They did a lot of B-roll filming of them walking along our little river path, through the pretty arches and visiting the Saturday Kilo-0 market. Then they filmed in their art gallery, Gallery Grefti, and in the local Jazz club. They, of course, saw three houses, one of which was theirs. The show producers wanted to have a moving company come and empty all of their belongings and furniture from their present apartment and put it all back! But Joseph and Paul objected. They had an alternative which was to see the apartment beneath them which has been vacant for years and was similar to theirs. I enjoyed watching them film and even got filmed with Joseph in the Gallery.

If we hear from the HHI people telling us of the air date for the show I will be sure to post that here on the blog. We cannot see the show here so I hope they will send DVDs.

Then, at the Kilo-0 market we again saw cameras. “what the??” we said. Well they were filming a TV show shoot in one of the stands. Cameras, lights, sound equipment, police! My my, Umbertide is getting a LOT of press lately! 🙂 turns out it was a show that takes place in Gubbio normally.

Good news!

Today we got an email from our real estate agent in Umbertide. It seems he had an idea that could work for us to get the registered sale papers earlier. He checked with the notary and he agreed it could be done.

We can do the final contract any time we like now and the property title will be transferred to our names. All that is needed is for a clause to be inserted stating that “possession” of the property will pass to us on May 31 by which time Elisabetta will have vacated the property. Evidently Elizabetta is agreeable to this. This will allow us to get the “registered” sale papers and complete our visa process at least a month earlier! This will make a tremendous difference for our logistics.

So today I spent time cashing out stocks and gathering enough money to finish buying the house. Just as soon as I can get it into our bank I will arrange to have it wired to our Italian bank. Then the sale can close.


We met Jim at the Pink Panther and drove up to Citta de Costello. The Notaio’s office was in a beautiful old building with very high ceilings, I’m guessing about 30 feet, with frescoes. We went inside and they did some paper work and then we went into his office. It was an enormous room with a HUGE fireplace and antique desk, long conference style table and velvet covered chairs. All were very old and the chairs were worn but it was quite the place! The funny part was that they had to read the papers out loud. It is a requirement. So after they read them out we had to sign. And not just ANY signature, we had to sign our entire names without lifting the pen. So my cursive writing came in handy. I have no idea why that is the rule – but it is.

So now Jim has power of attorney to act on our behalf in the sale. I admit it is a bit of a leap of faith on our part but he comes highly recommended and has done business in the area for 30 years. Everyone seems to know him. SO we are going with our gut on this one. Hope for the best!

Next we completed the bank account opening, getting on line banking set up and our bank o mat card.

Jim told us that the sellers want their price and agreed to let us have most of the furniture. They are not letting us have the big sofa, sadly, so that will be a number one priority when we move here.

The last thing we have to do is transfer the 10% deposit money and we have twenty days to do so. We can wait until we get home which is good.

We had lunch in one of our favorite places here, il Capponi. We’ve been three times now. They have terrific pastas and some are very unusual in my opinion. Everything has been great on all occasions.

We are going to Perugia tomorrow. Originally we were going to meet friends Ron and Linda but Linda has come down with a nasty winter cold so they have canceled. We decided to proceed on our own.

We are going to drink some champagne tonight!

Getting our ducks in a row

After a relaxing weekend when we visited Gubbio again and had a lovely lunch on Saturday. It was mighty cold! The Appenine mountains were beautifully snow capped. On Sunday Susan and Gary invited us to lunch and to meet some of their Italian friends and helpers, Simone, Simona and Fabio. It was a lovely lunch of assorted antipasti and a rolled pork dish with beans and zucchini. A ricotta tart was the dolci to finish. We really enjoyed meeting their friends and the lunch was delish.

We have not heard whether we have gotten the house yet but should by tomorrow. We had an appointment with Jim to go to the tax office and get our Codice Fiscale stamped and official. It took very little time with a serious government worker. Then we proceeded to the bank to open an account. That took a while with many, many papers to sign. Jim will be our agent until the house is bought so he has access to our account. We applied for a bankomat card and on-line banking. We exited the bank into a horrible sleet storm.

We bade Jim goodbye until tomorrow morning when we will meet him at the Pink Panther (really!) which is a café near his house tomorrow at nine. We will go to Citta de Castello to meet with the Notaio to sign power of attorney for Jim to transact for us. A Notaio is a cross between a Notary and a lawyer. They handle all the legal stuff on the sale.

We went to Bar Mary and had two more cappucini. We have learned to say senza schuima which is cappuccino without the foam. More coffee but just as good.  Oh and on Saturday we ordered machiatto after lunch which here is espresso with a little cream. Very nice. I like it much better than espresso black.

Since the weather is so vile we ducked into the little alimentari to pick up something for lunch in the apartment. The proprietor is just the friendliest man. He tells me the names of the things I want and I repeat them back. He is so nice. We bought onion bread, baguette, cheese and ham. We decided to eat our lunch in and eat in the restaurant that is almost directly under us tonight. It gets mixed reviews from the people we have spoken to. Most don’t like it. We decide to try it ourselves and form our own opinion.

Right now we are sitting in front of our little stove all toasty and warm. A while ago we got a call from Jim. He is now in negotiations for the furniture. They rejected our lower price. I hope they are more willing to throw in the furniture we are asking for. We shall see.

Decision Time

This morning we met up with Jim. We also invited Susan and Gary to go along and see the apartment that we like. It was pouring rain. What’s new!

We all tromped down the street 2 doors from Bar Mary. We buzzed and entered. This building has really pretty marble staircases. Not like the other staircases we’ve seen.

We were all being very quiet because this was the building of the crazy lady we had seen a couple of days before (the one with the cantine and big garden but junky apartment). After tiptoeing past we went up another staircase and then into the apartment. You enter and there is a final staircase up. At the top is a glass door. The floors are all wood (not our first choice but there you have it). Susan and Gary seemed to like it. You turn left and enter the big living room which has the big picture window out to the river and a big dining table. There is a sectional and a big flat screen TV in this room. Also a pellet fireplace between the table and the living room which keeps the room toasty.

Out the door to the left is a bath with shower and washer and dryer. Across from that is the big room outside of the kitchen with closed up fireplace and refrigerator. There is a table in there and a long storage counter that is made of metal.

Then there are the 3 bedrooms and another bath. These last rooms have barrel ceiling that are original and very old. I love them. The living room was bombed in the war so the ceiling is new but built of terra cotta and giant wooden beams.

Susan and Gary told us they thought it was a “find”.

Below are pictures of the the house from the back (white center), terrace from the back, the picture window in the living room,  and the apartment door.





We went to Bar Mary with Jim and decided to make an offer. We tried to get our codice fiscal stamped but we have to wait until Monday. We went and had it copied and our passports etc so Jim could do the offer. He had an appointment so we went back and had lunch in the flat.

Jim came back and we all went over to the other agent’s office where we signed the offer. It is all pretty straightforward. Jim already went to the land office and says as far as he can tell the title is clear. Now the owner, Elizabette, has to decide. She has 4 days or until next Tuesday. We had a beer with Jim and parted ways until Monday when we will get our Codice Fiscale stamped and open a bank account. We have 20 days to transfer the money so can do that when we return. We will give Jim a power of attorney to write the check and finish the deal on our behalf. The closing date is April 30 if all goes well.

How exciting!!!

Tonight we have dinner with Natalie and her husband who are friends of friends in the states.  Tomorrow and Sunday are finally free for us to do something else than look at houses. It has been a fun, busy, and stressful time but I will always remember it and not in a bad way.

I hope it stops raining soon!

Day 8 – Back to Umbertide

Today we had an appointment to re-visit the house with all the floors in Umbertide Centro Storico.

We had our cappuccino in Bar Mary and met up with Jim. We first went to the place we saw before. It wasn’t quite how I had remembered it but it still had plenty of potential.

Jim had found a number of properties other than this one all within walking distance of there.  The first place was just outside the Centro and was nice with a big private garden inside of a gate. The house was warm and well insulated. It had a heat pump! With AC and heat. It had a big roof terrace. Nice kitchen, 2 bedrooms and 2 baths and an extra room for an office. Lots of out buildings and storage. Nice but didn’t ring my chimes mainly because it was surrounded by taller ugly newer buildings. Luther said he could imagine us outside with friends being overlooked by all the neighbors. And those little old ladies in Italy do like to snoop!

Next we walked back into the Centro Storico and saw an apartment above the apartment we saw a couple of days ago with the big Cantine and garden. This one was the top floor. It was really beautiful. It had a large living room with cathedral terra cotta ceiling (picture below) with a big sectional and a big table with a big picture window looking out on the river. In that room was a pellet fireplace. The ceiling was new because the house had been bombed in the war. The rest of the house had beautiful stone barrel ceilings that were original and old (see below). There were also 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. There was a lovely terrace bigger than the others we’d seen overlooking the river (see below). There were built in closets. The downside was the kitchen. It was a little tiny space over in a corner through a 3 foot thick wall. It was well appointed but small. It was entered out of a large room with fireplace and the refrigerator was in this room (!). I am thinking that room could possibly be made into the kitchen. It is a dining room now but the big table in the living room could be dining space. The kitchen would be very big with the fireplace if we could pull it off.




OK I guess you know that this place has pulled ahead. Luther and I both like it and we plan to make an offer. We did see one more new built place about 10 minutes walk from the Centro. It was big with an underground garage and storage space. It would be finished to  our specifications. This also didn’t ring our chimes although it sat right on the river next the park. It was quite nice.

We rang Jim and tomorrow we will revisit the house we liked. If we still like it we will enter into the negotiations. It can be sold furnished which would be our wish. The lady who owns it said sadly she did not want to sell but her husband did.

Cross your fingers for us!!

Revisiting Houses and Seeing New Ones – Day 7

We went to Bar Mary where we get a cappuccino every morning. It was Wednesday and the weekly Wednesday market was in full swing. It was a perfect sized market with vegetables, fruits, dried and fresh fish, cured meats, cheeses, bread, and flowers. On the other side of the town was the market with other kinds of goods like clothing etc.


We headed out over the mountains again. Did I mention it has rained EVERY day? It was very foggy in the mountains this time, making the trip slower.

We arrived in Paciano right on time. We visited the house we couldn’t get into the other day. It was a pretty nice place. Luther said if we’d seen it first we would have been wowed. It had two floors that would be separate apartments. They both had nice gardens and parking. Luther thought it would be very expensive to heat them. We marked this off of our list.


We wandered around Paciano. We peeked into the wine bar. There were a number of folks in there. At the bottom of town we checked out the Alimentari (small grocery). It was very small but had most everything you’d need. There was a butcher shop in the back and fresh vegetables. Next door was the second bar. It was also nice.

We walked up the hill and looked into the Pizzeria which was closed. There was also an appliance dealer with things like toasters, irons, etc.

We drove over to Panicale so Luther could gauge the distance for his jog. It wasn’t too hilly.

We met up with our agent and the owner of the house. We took some movies and pictures. We realized the rooms of this house were much smaller than we remembered. It does have a lot of outside space. There is a big balcony with a planter just off the kitchen which is nice. You could put tables and chairs there. Did I mention this house has screens? This is nearly unheard of in Italy or Europe for that  matter. But they are really nice to have. We still liked the house but it is very small.

We went into Castiglione for lunch where we had eaten before. It is in the center of town but the food is pretty good. I had a pasta with the lake fish. Luther had a Trasemino specialty of beans with fish (right up his alley). We had an appointment with Bob the Builder next.

We met up at Café Alise and we followed him to a property that was in the flat farm fields. It was very beautiful but needed total renovation. Turns out it had been sold but I took a picture.


Then we drove WAY out in the middle of what I would call nowhere. It was down a long dirt road. The house was not bad. It had 4 bedrooms and pretty good living spaces. It had a fenced yard and was surrounded by woods. It was not to our liking.


Lastly we went to a house that was essentially a shell. It was waiting for a buyer and then it would be finished to their specifications. Again, not what we were looking for. We always learn a little with every viewing so this was time well spent and we appreciate Bob’s time.

Days 4 and 5 – house hunting continues…

Monday we resumed our hunt after a relaxing break on Sunday. We drove back up the Niccone valley, over the mountains and back down to Lake Trasamino where we had appointments with two real estate agents.

The first one took us to Piana, a small village not too far from Castiglione. The house was right in the village center which is what we like. It was funny though because it has 3 double doors that opened from the front … wait for it … right onto the road. You truly had to look right and left before you walked out!

It needed a lot of work but was livable and pretty good sized. It had a small garden area outside on the street and a private paved patio out the back mostly taken up with a shed. That would have to go should we buy it. We are not sure how much of a renovation we want to do.

Next up was far out into the agricultural countryside not far from a village. A beautiful situation but pretty isolated. It had nice gardens and gorgeous views. The rooms were nice and didn’t need renovation. Lots of storage and a decent kitchen. It was just a little too far out of a town for us so that is a no-go.

Last was a new build back in Paciano (remember that last house on the hill? Same town). It was probably a little closer than the front running house and not uphill from the village. The only problem was the keys didn’t work and we were unable to see it. Too bad. Good prospect. We decided to re-try to see it.

On Tuesday we met up again with Jim who we had seen our first day in Umbertide. He took us to two properties in the town medieval center, both just next to the apartment where we are staying. Both had nice Tiber river views.

The first one you entered into the house from the street and up a staircase straightaway. This emptied you into a living room area. You went through a doorway into a kitchen which would need total renovation but had great views. Jim suggested we knock down the non-load bearing wall between the two rooms to make a nice big open space. There was a flue for a pellet stove to keep the space toasty. All the floors in the place were terra cotta tiles. The ceilings had massive beams.


Continuing upward the stairs opened out into a large living room type place with a fireplace. There was a wall between it and a bedroom with bath. Jim again suggested we ADD a wall to close off the living room space and open that room to the bedroom to make a master suite. What a good idea! That would make a corridor to the next set of stairs.

Up these stairs was another bath with a door to the terrace (!) OK strange but Italian. The room next to the bath also had a door to the terrace so you didn’t actually need to go through the bath to get to it. That room could be an office or library. There was also a big bedroom on this floor with large sitting area. It could be a very nice guest suite.

Top floor – yes there are a LOT of floors! (actually you’d own nearly the whole house except for a shop on the street level) – was an attic space with sloping ceilings. It had really ugly paneling straight out of the 60s on the ceiling and some walls. It was a very big space with another bath. Potential in this attic space for sure but it doesn’t need to be finished right away. This one had potential.

The next house was just 2 doors down. It was a hoot. An old quite eccentric woman owned the place and let us see it. It was a real rats nest. Very hard to envision it looking nice. There was a big room with kitchen, another room with bedroom and a storeroom. The strangest thing was you had to open a trap door (!) and go down a steep narrow ladder with barely room for your feet. It was pretty scary but we got down to the bottom, which was the way to the garden. Yes, that was the big selling point for this house. It had a pretty big garden, which was a vegetable garden. Really nice. In the bottom story of the house next to the garden were a series of cantine or large vaulted rooms. They went far back into the earth with arches inside arches. It was full of junk and Jim said they could be made into a spectacular space but I was having trouble seeing it. Ultimately we don’t think this one is on our list.

He took us up the valley to San Leo Bastia, a small village with a bar and restaurant and small grocery. The house was just lovely. It is owned by a British couple who used it for a summer home. It is a cottagey place made of pretty stone. Getting to it was pretty harrowing. Jim has a big Land Rover four-wheel drive which he expertly uses. It climbed right up but I can’t image a regular car going up there. The house had a really nice kitchen dining area opening to a nice living room with pellet stove. There was a shower room on this floor too.


Up the steps you entered a “snug”. It is a Briticism and is totally descriptive. It had a sofa and a wood burning stove and it was just… snug! There were two bedrooms and a bath on this floor too.


Outside was spectacular. The house was halfway up the hill overlooking a valley and onto the hills opposite. There was a gorgeous covered dining area with lots of inside and outside space. I am sure it would be lovely to sit out there in the summer.

We really liked this last property but the village, while cute, was pretty small with very little in it. I think this one is also not on the list.

Lastly Jim had contacted a colleague in Citta de Castella. This town is about 2 times the size of Umbertide and maybe 30 miles north. It is a really pretty completely walled city. The apartment we saw was in a beautiful palazzo with a beautiful staircase with arched ceilings. The apartment has one bedroom, one bath, kitchen, formal dining area and nice kitchen. The surprise was a spiral staircase up to the terrace, which was very nice and just level with all the smoking chimneys. I guess this wouldn’t be a problem in the summer ! Off to the side was a little, tiny door you had to climb up to and crouch to get through. Once inside was a very large attic space. Plenty of room for a bedroom or two and a bath. You would have to lower the floor to make it level with the terrace and you’d have to add a staircase from downstairs to make it easier to access. We really don’t want to undertake this kind of project.

All in all a pretty productive day. We have a new property on our list! The first house in the medieval quarter of Umbertide. Now we have two potential houses, both TOTALLY different in every way but both have their pluses (and minuses).  These houses would be the one in Umbertide that we saw today that needs mostly cosmetic work. And the brand new house we saw in Paciano on day 3.

There are many things to take into account on these houses not least important is the completely different feel of the two locations.

Umbertide is more of a “real” Italian medium sized town, slightly gritty, dating from the 6th century BC. It became a Roman city in the 3rd century and later, in 1189 it was first documented as under the rule of Perugia. It has a compact Centro Storico with restaurants, piazzi, bars and tiny streets. It is not terribly picturesque outside of this area but it has all the things you’d need. Good stores, hospital etc. Train connections are not the best but existent. You could train to Perugia and then switch.

Paciano is a tiny hill town, completely restored and it feels kinda like Disneyland. It is almost too perfect and pretty. The location of the house is up high and airy and very tranquil but walkable to the village. There are a bar, 2 restaurants, a pharmacy, a wine bar and a small grocery in town which is good. But it is also only 15 minutes to Castiglione with all the big stores etc. Better train connections in town but the high-speed line is in Chusi only 15 minutes away.

We have new friends in both locations whom we would love to live near. This also makes it so hard to decide!!

We will see a few more tomorrow and re-visit the Umbertide house on Thursday but time is growing short and we need to make that decision soon.

More to come…