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PROPERTY

My Italian Home: ‘We bought the cheapest house in Piedmont and live mortgage free’

Australian-born Lisa Chiodo tells The Local how she built the life she’d always dreamed of after buying a bargain Italian property, allowing her family to live self-sufficiently.

Lisa Chiodo and her family are living the mortgage-free dream in the Italian Alps.
Lisa Chiodo and her family are living the mortgage-free dream in the Italian Alps. Photo by Lisa Chiodo

The tale of how Lisa and her family ended up in a hamlet at the foot of the Italian Alps is an accidental one, and it’s an outcome she has been grateful for ever since they moved there in 2013.

She and her family were inspired by the northern Italian region of Piedmont in 2005 when they first moved to the area for two years, before returning to Australia.

But they couldn’t shake the desire to come back to Italy and live the lifestyle they’d fallen in love with.

“We love everything about Italy and now we’ve found a way to live well without getting into debt. We only need a certain amount of money to live comfortably here,” she told us.

READ ALSO: The cheap Italian properties buyers are choosing instead of one-euro homes

After originally buying a property in Liguria with the intention of renovating it, they looked for a fixer-upper second home in Piedmont.

To afford the second base, they searched for ‘the cheapest property in Piedmont’ and stumbled upon the building they have in fact called home for nine years now.

The house as it looked when they bought it. Photo: Lisa Chiodo

Lisa and her husband bought the old farmhouse in Bobbio Pellice, Val Pellice, a hamlet dating back to the 15th century, for just €8,000. They abandoned their Liguria plans when they realised the mortgage-free life they could live with such a small house price.

Due to the lower cost, they could afford to buy the adjoining building too for just another €6,000.

As well as these two buildings they also own the adjoining outbuildings and an apple orchard of 40 trees.

“We are fairly self-sufficient, have no mortgage and we grow our own food. We love this very traditional rural farming community – you see people taking their cows up to high pasture and chickens and goats roam past the house.

READ ALSO: How can a non-EU citizen get a mortgage to buy property in Italy?

“It’s the quintessential Italian image of Fiat 500s trundling past on medieval streets, and the people here are lovely and friendly. The community is solid as we rely on each other, which is so different from our old life where we never saw the neighbours,” she said.

But thanks to their motivation and DIY-skills, they have spent neither much time nor money on their countryside abode. With a spend of just €14,000 on two buildings, you’d expect the renovation work needed to be considerable.

Lisa tells us the main renovations were replacing the windows and doors, and redecorating with a lick of paint, which took around three to four months.

 

Photos: Lisa Chiodo

Despite being a historical building dating back to the 1600s, the house was already liveable when they bought it so they could move in straight away, giving them a chance to do the essential jobs and work on the adjacent building at a slower pace.

“If you renovate property, you live in a half-done house forever,” she said, referring to the fact that they’re still doing renovation work nine years after moving in.

In total they’ve spent no more than €20,000, plus expenses such as notary fees on the ongoing project, and have even separated a section of the building that is now used as a B&B – one room that can sleep up to four people.

READ ALSO: The real cost of buying a house in Italy as a foreigner

Photo: Lisa Chiodo

Very little outgoings and a small B&B income of around €6,000 per year, plus some earnings from her husband’s part-time work as a chef, is all they need to live their lives as they want.

Their ability to be largely self-sufficient throughout the whole process also comes down to their experience of renovating and selling properties in Australia, as well as their thrifty attitude.

“We beg, borrow and steal for this house,” Lisa joked.

Even part of their heating system is a pellet heater that her husband recovered from work, which was lying unused and broken. With just €26 for parts and his handiwork, it was back up and running and is now installed in their home.

They additionally have a wood oven, gas bottles for the kitchen and a wood heater upstairs, generating monthly bills of just €60 on average.

“Everything in our house has been given or is second hand. We live frugally, but it works. We are pretty much semi-retired already and have left the rat race. There’s no keeping up with the Joneses,” she added.

Photo: Lisa Chiodo

Their story is an inspiring one in an era of glamourising overwork and stress, particularly as Italy is often painted as a place to slow down and work to live, rather than live to work.

Although this may not always be the case across the whole country, in this case Lisa and her family certainly have found their slice of ‘la dolce vita’ in rural Piedmont.

READ ALSO: Cost of living: How does Italy compare to the rest of the world in 2022?

When they returned to Italy from Australia in 2013, they arrived with just a suitcase and AUS $20,000 (around €12,650).

“You can think your life away. We kept thinking we had to prepare, but in the end we just came with a bag. It’s better to just do it,” Lisa said.

Lisa and her family in Piedmont. Photo: Lisa Chiodo

And nothing can equip you for how to settle into such a small community and make connections – theirs has just 16 residents, including their family of four.

“My husband went to the local village bar every morning without fail – he didn’t make friends right away, but he kept buying a coffee, saying hello and once he had made friendships, we then looked at renovation,” Lisa told us.

“Once you know people to talk to, you can find the best supplies and get a better price. If we’d have just come in like a bull out the gate and used a plumber from another town, for instance, and not stuck to all the local customs, we wouldn’t have got very far.

“Having a close friend to introduce us to other tradesmen has been invaluable. He’s been here his whole life and gets one price because he’s local, born and bred.

“You might get a different price – there are no fixed quotes for renovation in Italy and you’ve got to accept that. We wouldn’t get the best price, but we got a better one than we otherwise would have,” she added.

They haven’t used any of Italy’s various building bonuses so far, but they plan to access some this year when they enter the next phase of their project – they plan to build a large terrace ‘under the stars’.

READ ALSO:

For those looking to buy and renovate in Italy, she advised people to “go with the flow”.

“Never roll your eyes – you can’t expect it to be like your home country. You’re moving through Italian culture and have to accept that,” she said.

But does living in such a tiny, rural place come at another cost?

For Lisa and her family, their lives are more fulfilled than they ever have been and they say they don’t miss out on anything.

“There is always something to do! It is much more peaceful where we live but we can still go to the city if we want to.

“I just love it when I walk out the door and look up at the Alps, especially when it’s covered in wildflowers in the spring – it’s a whole type of different life. In Australia, it was always about going to the shops, but this is a much better environment to bring up the children,” she said.

She also noted the good bus links to the next village two kilometres away, which is where their children go to school and that the city of Turin is just an hour away.

You can also, if you like, walk to France as it’s that close to the border.

And even though the entire local population could fit round a large dining table, Lisa told us there are a lot of people passing through thanks to the abundant hiking trails on their doorstep.

“If I hear anyone speaking English, I shout ‘Hello! Would you like to come in for a coffee?’” she added.

Photo: Lisa Chiodo

For them, there are no regrets in their move to Italy and property restoration – and nothing that they feel they miss.

“We don’t have to work full-time to live this life. Every day’s a surprise. Everything is interesting and different – it’s a crazy and beautiful life.”

Lisa runs the Renovating Italy Facebook group, providing tips and advice to people renovating property in Italy. She also runs membership group, the Renovating Italy Club, providing access to experts and insider know-how on Italian property.

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

Do you have a renovation story to share? We’d love to hear from you – email us here.

Member comments

  1. Caveat emptor. I think one needs to be a bit cautious when buying these old houses. My wife bought a cheap 18th century stone house and renovated it. However, she ended up having to pay an engineering firm to add a steel substructure to meet earthquake safety standards. It was still a good deal in the end, but it probably took more time and effort than most people would want to invest.

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MONEY

Italy expands €200 payment scheme and introduces public transport bonus

Italy's government will extend its proposed one-time €200 benefit to more people and introduce a €60 public transport payment, Italian media reported on Thursday.

Italy expands €200 payment scheme and introduces public transport bonus

Seasonal workers, domestic and cleaning staff, the self-employed, the unemployed and those on Italy’s ‘citizens’ income’ will be added to the categories of people in Italy eligible for a one-off €200 payment, ministers reportedly announced on Thursday evening.

The one-time bonus, announced earlier this week as part of a package of financial measures designed to offset the rising cost of living, was initially set to be for pensioners and workers on an income of less than €35,000 only.

However the government has now agreed to extend the payment to the additional groups following pressure from Italy’s labour, families, and regional affairs ministers and representatives of the Five Star Movement, according to news agency Ansa.

Pensioners and employees will reportedly receive the €200 benefit between June and July via a direct payment into their pension slip or pay packet.

For other groups, a special fund will be created at the Labour Ministry and the procedures for claiming and distributing payments detailed in an incoming decree, according to the Corriere della Sera news daily.

One new measure introduced at the cabinet meeting on Thursday is the introduction of a one-time €60 public transport bonus for students and workers earning below €35,000. The bonus is reportedly designed to encourage greater use of public transport and will take the form of an e-voucher that can be used when purchasing a bus, train or metro season pass.

Other provisions reportedly proposed in the energy and investment decree (decreto energia e investimenti), which is still being adjusted and amended, include extending energy bill discounts, cutting petrol excise duty and rolling on the deadline to claim Italy’s popular ‘superbonus 110’.

The €14 billion aid package, intended to lessen the economic impact of the war in Ukraine, will “fight the higher cost of living” and is “a temporary situation”, Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said.

The Local will report further details of the payment scheme once they become available following final approval of the decree.

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