Desperately Seeking Spello—A Real Estate Search with the Trowells

About three years ago, here in Spello, I was dragging my groceries up the hill from the supermercato when I ran into a couple speaking English. I introduced myself, and instantly became their tour guide for Spello, explaining what we were passing as I dragged my grocery cart all the way up the hill toward my place in Piazza Vallegloria. They were the Trowells, Bill and Shelley, from Wilmington, North Carolina. We continued our connection via e-mail until they returned to Spello several times, once with their son’s family and infant grandson, Parker—and decided that they wanted to find a place to buy here for a retirement/vacation home.

I left Sacramento on 1 September, with the airport shuttle precisely on time, getting to San Francisco in plenty of time for my afternoon flight. I got help with my carry-on bag, since I was traveling in a sling to protect a small rotator cuff tear in my shoulder (not too bad, but not a good idea for me to use the overhead storage and lift without help). All went well for the flight—five movies in the Lufthansa “seatback theater” on my way, and my first flight ever on the Airbus 380—an immense plane, and the quietest ride I’ve ever experienced. My connection to Florence went very well at Frankfurt, but my friend Anne was recovering at home from the annual testing of her implanted heart pump (LVAD), so I bypassed our visit together and took the shuttle directly to the train, arriving in Spello at 10 p.m. on the day after I had departed from home. Paola and Leonardo brought me up the hill from the train station, and then we took a walk around Spello, and down to the main piazza. I was terribly tired, but not yet ready for sleep, so the walk helped me to settle in, and to be ready to crash for the night.

Procession coming up Via Giulia, with banners and carrying a Madonna

Procession coming up Via Giulia, with banners and carrying a Madonna–on my first afternoon here

The Madonna is carried past the entrance to the B&B

The Madonna is carried past the entrance to the B&B

The procession heads for Assisi, nearly 10 km. away

The procession heads for Assisi, nearly 10 km. away, singing as they go

The next morning, I began my unpacking, and then it was only hours before the Trowells arrived, anxious to get moving on seeing more houses that might become their new second home in Spello. Fabio, the realtor from Tecnocasa, had homes already lined up for them to see—starting with one that I had photographed for them in the spring. Shelley and Bill are looking for two bedrooms and bathrooms, and as few steps as possible (preferring all on one level), and near me and our friends Paola and Leonardo at the Fratello Sole B&B. Once again, the Trowells rented the entire B&B, and spread out in the upper two rooms. Their partner, Hercules (a Greek living in Germany, and a business associate of Bill’s), arrived for the downstairs room and we set out to look at houses together. In no time, we had seen so many that Bill was photographing like mad and keeping strict records—square meters, asking price, bedrooms, bathrooms, view or not, outdoor space or not, any special amenities, etc. I was the translator for Fabio, and back to him from Bill and Shelley and Hercules—scrambling to keep up with the questions from both sides.

Hercules (“Ercole” here in Italy) had to go back to northern Italy on business after just one long day here, but we continued seeing more houses, eventually exploring about 14. I think we saw just about everything for sale in Spello that came even close to their requirements—including one Shelley had found on the internet. Soon, the choices were narrowed down, and they called in Stefano, the architect brother of Paola, to help with estimates of any renovations or repairs, and to see if he could identify any problems in the houses that they could not recognize without his help. The choices narrowed to two, eventually. One of the apartments was in the restored Palazzo Salmareggi, near the main square—almost finished with the interior work, and much further along than when we had seen the project together last spring. It was all on one level, but a long way from parking and streets, and with two stairways up into the apartment area. We walked gingerly over the piping being installed for radiant heating in the floors, checking the view out toward the valley, on the side of Spello with the highway and train tracks. They were determined to find a house with a view in the opposite direction, toward the quieter agricultural valley, but this apartment was nearly ready to be completed for sale—with no outside area for any patio or outdoor dining. Stefano gave his advice on how he would finish it, and then we went on to the other property they were considering.

Apartment in the Palazzo Salmareggi, one of the finalists in the search

Apartment in the Palazzo Salmareggi, one of the finalists in the search

Bill taking photos to document their search

Bill taking photos to document their search

The property near Piazza Gramsci was an estate property, with the husband and wife of the elderly couple who had been the owners both gone for several years. As Stefano said when he first saw the house, “Time stood still here.” It was just as they had left it, it seemed—with the furniture and small items on the dressers just as they were the last day the house had been occupied. It was a huge house, exactly in the area where Shelley and Bill wanted to be located, but with huge problems. The roof was sagging in the finished area of the house, as well as propped up with steel rods in the unfinished cantina areas on the lower levels. It could have been a huge property for the Trowells and Hercules to share (he is a partner in this purchase), but the cost of the new roof and renovations were really out of reach—a true tragedy since this house had a huge private patio with exactly the view that they were seeking, as well as the same views from some of the windows of the house. It will take quite an investment to make this a stellar property—that view is difficult to find, as we discovered—but for a vacation home it was just too much to take on as a project from far away, and at the cost projected by Stefano.

Finished living area of the Piazza Gramsci house--just as it was left years ago

Finished living area of the Piazza Gramsci house–just as it was left years ago

Items on the dresser unmoved, and years of dust accumulated

Items on the dresser unmoved, and years of dust accumulated

Down in the cantina area below, the winemaking supplies and ladder

Down in the cantina area below, the winemaking supplies and ladder–and bird droppings

More old demijohns and a wooden donkey saddle up on the wall

Old demijohn, a heavy copper pot and a wooden donkey saddle hanging up on the wall

The best asset of the house--a stunning view and private courtyard

The best asset of the house–a stunning view and private courtyard

One last property was near my teacher Angelo’s home—not far from parking and a nearby street, with a huge bricked courtyard behind a private gate. The renovations were underway and nearly completed, but Stefano had several changes—including moving the kitchen from “the dark hole” in the back to the light area near the front door. There were stairs indoors, to the bedrooms above, but that courtyard for al fresco dining and for grandkids to play was quite a draw. In addition, the asking price was relatively low—and Bill and Shelley made an offer on the house, with Hercules giving them his blessing to make the final decision. (No contract yet—still in negotiation with the seller.)

We took some time off for a trip to the Arezzo antiques fair, with Leonardo doing the driving and the five of us all piled into his car. Arezzo is about an hour away by car, but we had a great trip there, and I had forgotten that the September fair is all pushed up into the park above, since there is a jousting festival in September that falls on the same weekend as the antiques fair, displacing the vendors to the park area. While they didn’t yet have a place to put it, Shelley negotiated a good price on a solid walnut side table—and they left the fair with their first piece of furniture (now upstairs in MY house, waiting for them to have a home here). We came back to Spello to a quick and easy “assembled dinner” by Paola, who always manages to impress with her imagination and the contents of her pantry and refrigerator. I had just time enough to quickly make a tarte tatin at home (a French version of caramel apples on a puff pastry crust), and contribute the dessert—something that is actually quick and simple, although it looks pretty impressive.

Bill, Paola and Shelley shopping in Arezzo

Bill, Paola and Shelley shopping in Arezzo

Paola and Shelley looking at jewelry

Paola and Shelley looking at chandelier crystals

Bill takes photos of what he sees--not buying yet

Bill takes photos of what he sees–not buying yet without a house!

Shelley and Bill leaving with their new side table in hand

Shelley and Bill leaving with their new side table in hand

Leonardo and Bill sharing the load down to the car

Leonardo and Bill sharing the load on the way back down to the car

Another amazing "instant meal" from Paola

Another amazing “instant meal” from Paola–including cheese with black truffles inside

Apples cooking in butter and sugar for a tarte tatin

Apples cooking in butter and sugar for a tarte tatin

Puff pastry in the oven, almost done cooking over the apples

Puff pastry in the oven, almost done cooking over the apples

Finished tarte tatin--inverted, with the apples on top to serve.

Finished tarte tatin–inverted, with the apples on top to serve.

The next day Leonardo helped us to get an appointment with Daniella (my banker, too) to open a checking account at Unicredit Banca di Roma, where we found out that Bill needed his original letter for his “codice fiscale” (a unique tax ID number) from the Philadelphia consulate (left at home, back in NC), and Shelley had yet to get her “official” codice, thinking the one she had gotten at an emergency room visit would be official. We headed the next morning to the Foligno office where the codice fiscale can be obtained, and were told that both would have to go to Rome and the American consulate there to get this critical step completed—so that Daniela could open their bank account here in Spello. (Meanwhile, while they have been looking for a house to buy, the Euro has been falling against the dollar, saving the Trowells thousands of dollars for their eventual purchase. Yippee!!) A few minutes later, the same man came to the waiting area to tell us that he had consulted with his boss, and HE could do the paperwork for both of them—he could use Bill’s codice to locate and print out Bill’s original letter, recalled from the system, and Shelley could get her official letter, too—with the exact same codice fiscale that she had gotten at the E.R., but covered with all of the official rubber stamp impressions making it official. With those documents in hand, we were back to Daniela in 30 minutes, to finish the paperwork on their checking account at Unicredit—yet another step closer to having a home in Italy for their family and the family of Hercules to use for vacations and future retirement.

At the bank with Daniella, opening a bank account

At the bank with Daniella, opening a bank account

Bill begins signing dozens of documents, then Shelley follows

Bill begins signing dozens of documents, then Shelley follows

The last day was the day that Shelley and Bill went to make the offer on the house they had chosen—to the geometer (similar to an architect) with the Maserati always parked outside his door. It’s a spotless car, without a scratch—and with a striking red leather interior. We sat at his all-leather conference table (two shades of gray, not fifty—a darker border all around, and a hole in the middle, also with a border) in amazing leather chairs—nothing but luxury all the way. Stefano came along to help make the offer, and then we were back at the B&B for Paola’s “light lunch buffet,” before Bill and Shelley had to leave from Rome to fly home the next day. As usual, it was quite a wonderful and creative meal. Leonardo and Paola’s daughters, Arianna and Giorgia, and Giorgia’s 9-month old daughter, Stella, joined us for lunch. Bill and Shelley are “baby whisperers,” and soon Stella was planting kisses on Shelley, and giggling in Bill’s arms. No shyness in that little sweetie—she is always grinning and giggling.

Shelley and the geometer's Maserati outside his office

Shelley and the geometer’s Maserati outside his office

Paola's "instant buffet" lunch before they depart

Paola’s “instant buffet” lunch before they depart

Shelley gets kisses from baby Stella

Shelley gets kisses from baby Stella

Bill and Stella, after lunch

Bill and Stella, after lunch

It seems that the Trowells always leave in the rain—as Paola pointed out to us. We saw them out to their car under big umbrellas, and they were soon on the way to Rome and their flight the next day. Thanks to them, and their search for a place for their family here in Spello, I have a good idea what is for sale here, how much, and what renovations are needed. I’m completely happy with what I have here, though—but looking is still a lot of fun, and so is giving some help to Bill and Shelley to become future “Spellani.”

Shelley and Paola, avoiding the rain

Shelley and Paola, avoiding the rain that always comes when the Trowells leave Spello

Arianna, Shelley, Paola and Bill just as the Trowells are departing

Arianna, Shelley, Paola and Bill just as the Trowells were departing for Rome and their trip home to North Carolina

You must be logged in to post a comment.