Monday, January 25, 2010

Lunch time, waste of time?

One of the reasons George Clooney loves Lake Como..........“In Italy you eat and drink well. You celebrate lunch time. You are supposed to take your time with lunch and think about what you are eating. You see people go home for lunch with bread and flowers. I love it.” ….... source .

For anyone trying to live/work a normal life here, the whole lunch time thing can be a nightmare. If you don't live in a city (and who would want to when you can live on Lake Como instead ) and are not up and out of the house by the crack of dawn, you just won't get things done in time. Everything closes at mid-day - government offices, the pharmacy, hair dressers, local doctor and yes even a lot of shops outside of the cities. They then re-open at around 3pm, after a leisurely 3 course lunch, including wine and coffee (a set menu for workers can be had for as little as 10 euro). So that makes the working day from 8 or 9 am till 12 and then from 3 till 6 – not exactly long and with that big, useless chunk in the middle. The only things that stays open are the restaurants. Even a government minister, Gianfranco Rotondi, is calling for Italians to shorten/cut out their lunch breaks, saying that it 'brings the country to s standstill. Check out the Italian News web site for more on what he said

You can imagine how Italians responded to this. The poor man was lambasted in practically every newspaper and lampooned by cartoonists. He was lucky to get away with his life and had to clarify his statement. It was even suggested that it was in contravention of Italian workers' rights! Read more about this issue in the article "Italy finds proposal to skip lunch hard to digest" from Reuters Health (Nov. 24, 2009).

Why can't Italian workers simply take their lunch break in shifts? It beats me. Why does the whole shop/practice/office have to come to a complete stop?

Tip of the day
This lunch-time exodus can however work to your advantage, as many of the larger supermarkets are now staying open at lunch time, which means that the place is absolutely deserted, as the rest of Italy are taking their lunch break. Excellent – tons of parking spaces to choose from, no queues and empty aisles – what a treat! Or if you want to visit one of the many bustling weekend markets e.g. Como or Milan Naviglio, go between 12 and 2 and you will have no problem finding a parking space.

The only other thing to do is just accept it and join them. Find yourself a nice workers lunch for between 10 and 15 euro - remember to ask for the pranzo di lavoro and don't take no for an answer! Bon appetito!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Don't miss the property boat on Lake Como

Today, I am kicking myself big style. Around 10 years ago, I saw an advert in a local newspaper for a really cute 1 bedroom, cottage (seen here)on the lakeside on the eastern shore of Lake Como. It was on the market for 90 million lire . As you know, the lire is now obsolete and when it was replaced with the Euro on January 1, 1999, 1euro was equivalent to 1936.27 old lire, so that would make the asking price 46,000 euro, which with a really good sterling exchange rate back then, would make this lovely lakeside property about 30,000 sterling.

So imagine how I felt when doing some online property searching for a client this morning, I came across the very same property on the market at 650,000 euro - follow the link to verify - Now that's what I call a healthy profit! To say I felt sick to the pit of my stomach is an understatement. I was brought up not to do 'envy' and all that green-eyed stuff, but I just couldn't help myself – I was greener than the jolly green giant. Now that's what I call an investment! Admittedly the 650,00 euro price tag sounds a bit optimistic, given that you can buy a much larger 3 bedroom villa (to renovate) by the lake on the more desirable western shore for between 950,000 and 1.3 million, depending on whether you talk directly to the owner or to one of the greedier local agents.

Nevertheless someone will probably buy it, as lake side properties are very desirable and as rare as the proverbial rocking horse poo. So much so that whereas there is an accepted price per square metre for properties on Lake Como, when it comes to lakeside properties all calculations go out the window and the price is set along the lines of 'what the owner wants to get for it and what somebody is willing to pay for it'. Not quite an exact science then!

That does not mean that property on Lake Como is not still within the reach of us mere mortals. Of course it is! And it still represents excellent value for money, when you compare it with UK prices and prices elsewhere in Europe, even taking into account the less-than-perfect euro to sterling exchange rate. You can still pick up a pied-a-terre (studio apartment) in the centre of Como for under 200,000 (if you know who to ask and where to look) and just last week, I found a great apartment for sale in Laglio (aka Clooney-ville) with lake view, 1 bedroom and a balcony for only 170,000 euro. Of course you won't find these little bargains on the internet. They are private sales. So you just need to be 'in the know'.

The moral of the story is if it looks like a bargain, bag it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mission accomplished - rental property with lake view for only 550 euro per month

I have to say, I am pretty happy with myself today. You may remember yesterday's challenge was to find a rental property meeting a host of criteria for a long-term rental. I viewed 2 unsuitable properties yesterday – both were on the 'bad' side of the village of Argegno i.e. the side where the sun never shines in winter. Unfortunately a lot of people never realise this as they only see the properties in the summer when the sun is shining and if they don't ask, well the agent certainly isn't going to tell them! That's fine if you only want it as a summer holiday home, but more and more people are realising that the Italian sunshine on Lake Como is an all year round phenomenon. So holiday home owners are choosing to spend more and more time here. It is especially lovely to visit for Christmas and New Year and celebrate in good old-fashioned style with nativity scenes and Christmas lights and avoid the commercialised hassle of Christmas in the UK. Even in December you can sit outside for a coffee in the main Piazza and envoy the winter sunshine. But it is still very cold if you are out of the sun and it does go bitterly cold at night, so you definitely want a house on the sunny side of the valley.

Anyway, I am distracting myself from telling you about my property search success for yesterday's exacting clients. If you remember their criteria were as follows: 2 bedrooms, fully furnished, modern kitchen and bathroom, outside space (with plenty of sun), parking, lake view AND all this within walking distance of the lakeside village of Argegno. Well I did it! Ticked all those boxes, got an extra bathroom thrown in, as well as private gated parking and all that for only 550 euro per month. That's less than half the cost of the other 2 properties on the other side of the valley that I viewed yesterday. Just shows that you can do anything if you have the right contacts. OK so they will have to be pretty fit to walk it up from the village in ten minutes, but it is perfectly do-able and a lovely walk through ancient hamlets and back streets, keeping you well away from the main road. Job done!

On to my next mission to find something very similar, but only for the months of June. July and August – an even harder task when you consider that these are the highest peak season periods for holiday rentals when 2 bedroom properties can fetch as much as 1500 euro PER WEEK and these guys only want to pay that per month. I think I have definitely got my work cut out there – something is going to have to give, whether it be budget or location – or both. Let' s see. Watch this space.

If you want to rent - either long term or short term - simply contact us

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Today's mission long-term rental property

Not as easy as it sounds. Most owners, who rent their properties out in this area, one of the most popular on Lake Como (from Colonno to Como including Argegno, Laglio, Carate Urio and Moltrasio), are pretty switched on and know that weekly summer rentals is the way forward. The incomes are much greater i.e. 1000 euro per week for a nice 2 bed, as opposed to around 500 euro per month or less for an annual rent. So not hard to do the sums, average summer rental period is May through September, making 20 weeks, at least (a good property would get 26 weeks) = a min. of 20K. And then you can use it yourself for the rest of the year! As opposed to an annual income of just 6K.
So the challenge is to find an owner, who has not yet realised this, or for some reason would prefer to rent for the whole year (guaranteed income, even if it is a lot less and no changeovers to worry about or property management).
So after much internet research and 'putting myself about' in the local village asking everybody and their Granny, if they have somewhere to rent – nothing fancy, just needs to be fully furnished, with up-to-date kitchens and bathrooms, parking, lake view, external space and within walking distance of the village!!! Sounds like a tall order – indeed it is. Anyway, off to some viewings (not many options though). Was lucky enough to find a new property, with a new and 'innocent' owner, just above Argegno, as well as a refurbished old town house in the small hamlet (frazione) of Muronico (home to 5 cats, 3 dogs, lots of oldies, as well as a couple of new arrivals in the form of me and my husband, the only household with a computer and broad band internet connection – more of that later). So will let you know how I get on.

If you want to rent - either long term or short term - simply contact us

Monday, January 18, 2010

Spring arrives early in Lake Como

Wow! woke up to glorious sunshine today. Spring is in the air. So who cares if George Clooney is rumoured to be leaving. He'll struggle to find anywhere more beautiful (and it probably is just a rumour). Spent the morning doing my 'day job' property searching for lucky hopefuls coming to live on the Lake. One brief struck me as a bit of a challenge, only 150K to spend, wanting a lake view, outside space and a rental income! Not as hard as I thought though, after a few phone calls to my extensive network (gleaned through 13 years of making it my business to know everything about property on Lake Como), I now have a list of 6 great options, in various places along the lake - Argegno (up and coming and the next 'boom' village on the lake), Laglio (already very well-established and usually pricey (thanks to the Clooney-effect) and even a couple in Como Town itself. And all very rentable as well (meeting my exacting criteria). Then onto a much more exciting search - 12 million to spend! Am I the girl to help with that one - you bet I am! I must have the best job in the world:

1. I live on the most stunning Lake in Italy and can count Donatella Versace, Richard Branson, and Michael Schumacher amongst my illustrious neighbours.

2. I spend my days mooching round other people's houses.

3. Then I have fun showing potential buyers around and introducing them to my favourite bars and restaurants.

Off to continue my search for 12 million pound period Liberty-style villas now. Hardly a bind! p.s. if you know of any let me know.

and how about know you live in Italy when the driver of the car in front of you is on her mobile phone, driving with one hand and then uses that one hand to wave hello to the local policeman and he just waves back.