House hunting in Bologna

House hunting in Bologna

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

It’s time to find a larger house. The one I have is great in many respects. It is in a great location, convenient to a lot of things, good bus service, energy efficient (a rarity in an old city like Bologna), has an elevator, is quiet BUT it is too small for 2 people to live comfortably. Well, there if you are young and Italian maybe you can but for me and Laura (and her two cats) it’d definitely too small.

Of course this is not the first time that I’ve gone through the process of house hunting. I did it two years ago to find an apartment because I had to have an apartment with a valid lease to obtain a visa to come here to live. So I did learn a lot of things.

First of all there are tricky things about the language of rentals. One would think that an apartment described as furnished would be full of furniture. But things are different here. If the person, individual or realtor who places the advertisement is really honest it can be described as unfurnished, partially furnished or furnished. Often they omit the partially part. Since people often live in apartments here for many years they make a lot of improvements to the apartment themselves, especially the kitchen. Then when they move they take the kitchen with them. This week I saw a really nice apartment with the exception that the kitchen was completely bare, no refrigerator, counter tops, storage spaces oven, in other words just bare walls with plumbing and electrical connections. So that becomes quite a project in itself that I don’t think really makes sense at this point in our lives. Another item is an elevator. As you can imagine probably the majority of old buildings (we’re talking 400 years or more) do not have an elevator. When they do it is surprising to find at the entrance to the building a stairway of maybe 15 steps from the entrance to the elevator. This can be true even if the building was built probably in the 1960s. Really, why would you do that when building a new building in the 60s? That was also true for the building with the bare kitchen.

In another interesting building that I was in , the elevator had been added to the outside of the building. That makes sense from a construction cost standpoint but in this case the elevator doors were on the landing between floors. Again it made sense for a cost standpoint with an older building but meant that it was always fifteen or so steps up (or down) from there to the apartment door.

There are other things to watch for. All of the apartments that I have ever seen either house hunting or as living spaces have radiators for the heat. Hot water circulates to heat the house. Just as in many older apartment buildings in the U.S. many of these buildings have a centralized heating system that provides the hot water for all of the apartments. Others, and the majority that I have stayed in including where I live now, the hot water heater provides both the hot water to the sinks, washing machines, etc. but also to heat the apartment. They are all instant hot water as opposed to those with tanks as is more common in the U.S. This autonomous heating as it is described often is more efficient and cheaper than the centralized version because you can control your own consumption of gas to heat the hot water. With the centralized version even if you were to turn off all of the radiators then you still would pay for 20% of the heat that you are really not using.

Of course added to these complications is the fact that, certainly not unique to Italy is that realtors let’s say, fudge the truth. So that apartment listed as 120 square meters (about 1300 square feet) could be really 105. And of course the photos shown can be deceptive of a decrepit apartment. One must of course also be attentive to condominium fees but at least they usually seem to be pretty honest (there’s probably a law or something). They can be very high specially if the building has services like a superintendent which is desirable for various reasons. The costs can be quite high for nice building with few apartments since the costs for maintenance and services are spread over fewer apartments. One memorable ad had a nice apartment with a rent of 1600 euros with condominium fees of 500 euros a month. Usually they are much more reasonable.

My search criteria for the websites for real estate are:

  1. Less than 2000 euros a month rent (with reasonable condo fees)
  2. Elevator (hey I want to grow old there and in 10 or 15 years…)
  3. Two bathrooms
  4. At least 100 square meters (would prefer 120)
  5. Balcony or terrace

I would prefer autonomous heat and at least some air conditioning but they are less essential. I might compromise a LITTLE bit on some of the others.

So here are some photos of the website advertisements.

This one has the description translated to english
Good location but a little smaller – still 110 SQ meters is not bad
Terrific location, big, historical building but… comments below

The last one I liked a lot. A major issue with this one is that like a lot of places in especially the historical buildings in Bologna there is lot a lot of light. This is simply because the streets are narrow, the buildings are usually 3-4 stories and only one side of the apartment faces either the street or the cortile (courtyard) so you get limited light. Also a lot do not have balconies or terraces. Ah, the perfect apartment probably doesn’t exist but since I/we want to live there a long time we need to be patient and get at least “close enough” to perfect.

4 Responses to “House hunting in Bologna”

  1. sara Says:

    Ciao, I don’t know if I live in a ‘close enough’ to perfect apartment. I only know that it took about three years time to find it because the language of advertisements has never been transparent enough.

  2. Joe Says:

    Ah, perfect is the enemy of good. It certainly takes a while but I hope not too much longer. I saw 4 apartments this week and saw one a second time with Laura. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.


  3. Marcia Allen Says:

    Joe– Just heard on national news that Italy now has the highest number of patients with corona virus. So hope you and Laura stay safe and well.

    Marcia (Nance)

  4. Joe Says:

    It’s not quite as bad as that. Italy has the highest number in Europe. China has by far the most followed by South Korea. I think that Iran is next, certainly with the number of deaths which I think are something like 50. Italy at this writing has 3 or 4 deaths but that will surely get worse. It’s obviously a highly infection virus but still I think the total in Italy right now is 200 people out of a nation of 60 million. I’m not panicking yet. If it hits a few thousand I’ll start worrying.


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