Is this a property hunting trip or a holiday?
It's important to keep these two separate! Of course, even the most determined property hunter seems to relax into the Italian way of doing things very quickly. In fact, after the white knuckle drive on Italian roads from the airport to the hotel or bed & breakfast where they're staying, they're usually to be found calming their nerves with the a bottle of house red over supper and enjoying the local cuisine on their first evening. However, if you're serious about finding a property, you'll need to prioritise viewing properties during the day. The best idea, and entirely feasible since the advent of cheap air travel, is to come for a flying weekend break FIRST to decide if you like the area and really want to buy there and then return to search for property on another visit.
Get as much information as you can before you travel
More than likely you've made all initial contacts with the seller or estate agent via the Internet. Never be afraid to ask blindingly obvious questions before you travel like – Is property ref.X still for sale?
Ask to see more photographs where possible. Don't, however, expect to be provided with full maps of the land, property etc. at an initial email stage. However, you should expect that within a very short time of having viewed the property if you want to take negotiations further that the agency should be able to provide these maps for your perusal.
It's always helpful for an agency if you can give a clear idea of what you're looking for. For example, if you are really certain that you do not want a modern house and are only interested in stone and brick farmhouses with beamed ceilings and terracotta floors don't be afraid to tell them so...don't be polite and go through the motions of looking at a property that your gut instinct tells you isn't right from the outset. Better to tell the agent straight away before you even clamber out of their Jeep!
Move onto the next item on the list which will hopefully be a property that you've asked to see!
Make sure you arrange and book an appointment with sufficient notice. Many agencies, particularly during the spring and summer months are booked up weeks in advance. Simply turning up at the office may result in a wasted trip.
It's also a good idea to ask the agent how long they think it will take to view the properties you've selected – and then verify this by looking the places up on a map and estimating how long realistically YOU think it's going to take. Often, it can be logistically impossible to view all the houses you'd ideally like to see in one day.
Be very wary of taking appointments with different agencies on the same day...you'll inevitably arrive late for the afternoon appointment! Make sure you have all contact numbers on you in case you need to call ahead and postpone, cancel etc.
Arrange to travel midweek
Some agencies will show properties over the weekend, others not. However, if you're serious about making the move you may need to consider taking time off work if you possibly can to include at least some days that fall Monday - Friday.
Also, be aware of Italian public holidays, especially the main 15 August shut down which sees practically the entire country grind to a halt! Don't expect agencies to necessarily be open to show properties over Easter or Christmas...if you're on holiday they may well be too!
Consider Travelling Off-season
Location Location Location as they say...If the property and location look great in February just think about how the house will look in June! And the budget airlines will practically pay YOU to travel!
Be warned, however – choosing to go property hunting off-season has its disadvantages too: you need to be more flexible and may need to change you plans last minute depending on where you you are looking. If you're considering mountain properties, for example, snow may make property viewing impractical or even impossible.
Check out the local surroundings
If you drive, hire a car so that you are independent of agencies and can go back and look at your favourites later. Make sure you ask the agent to show you exactly where to find each property on the map and do go back and check out the surroundings. Look for pylons, neighbouring properties, nearby villages, nearby factories, light industry, roads; what can you see, smell and hear? Go back after dark if possible – is there light pollution from a village you didn't notice during the day? Are there 27 hunting dogs that bark all night living just down the road?
Ask questions in the local bar about the area...but take what you hear with a pinch of salt! Everybody will ALWAYS tell you that the property is too expensive – and that their cousin's cousin has a lovely place that would suit you just fine!