Watch our house change

Updated: Mar 25

Spongano is a lovely sleepy town. We were looking for a house with a garden which was laid out on one floor. We found it in this 120 year old home in the town, about 2 blocks from Piazza Vittoria.

As soon as Candy had returned and closed on the house, she returned with Marcello and a workman to see if there were any original tiles left below the 70's newer ones. Sadly, there were none.


We went back and forth for September and October regarding what we wanted and how we could start the work of stripping the walls to dry before we had a full contract. After several conversations, we decided to OK the interior demolition.


The meetings with Marcello have all been on What's App, and with Eve helping to make sure that I don't turn my Spanish into Italian and confuse things, we've been able to talk about wall openings, the additional bathroom in one of the bedrooms, and heating and air conditioning.


November 4: Marcello opened the doors today for the workers. He sent these videos:

This is what it looks like to take a working house and gut it.


The doors are all removed.

The tiles are removed from the bathroom door frame and walls.


The doors are taken through the front and stored in the basement until they can be transported to a workshop where they will be cleaned and repainted until they can be re installed. This will be one of the last steps.


November 6: Decorative tiles removed.


There are two areas left with the original floor tiles. The side passageway which will become a washroom/pantry, and the old kitchen, which will be taken down. Both areas will have their tiles extracted and saved first. The tiles will be taken to Pavimenti Marti where they will be cleaned for us to re use them. It's highly likely that the original patterns are still in the archives since they were made there. We will be able to assess how large an area they cover, and how to reproduce them, or make a border to increase the area we want to cover. The grout is cut with a hand circular saw, a small pneumatic drill is used to break the seal to the floor, and a pounding mallet creates enough impact to break them loose.


November 7:

The tiles we are saving are all up. The bathroom has been stripped. The kitchen tiles are coming down, and the walls are being stripped of plaster so they can dry. They will remain open for at least five months.

After three days of work, this is where we are:

November 8:

I knew the demolition was going to be hard to watch; but I wasn't thinking that it would happen so fast. The tiles taken up from the floor, off the wall, and the lower layer of plaster removed so the walls could dry, the next job was the ceilings in the side passageway, and the master bath; both of which had upper levels with storage areas reached by the ubiquitous wooden ladders that leaned on the walls in every Salentino house, I suppose to change light bulbs, and get the cobwebs down.


Marcello sent this.

The tiles leaving for the factory where they will be cleaned and repolished.





And below, the most poetic of What's App videos with narration:

Buongiorno.  Oggi c’é il sole.

E un bel cielo.

I lavori vanno avanti.

I quadri sono li.

La Bomba esplosa.



Good morning.  Today there is sun.

It’s a beautiful sky.

The workers are moving on.

The picture frames are over there.

The Bomb, exploded.


The house crew finished the floor demolition and removal on Wednesday November 13. We leave on Sunday November 17 for Rome, where we spend the night and then drive the 6 1/2 hours to Spongano because it may be too difficult to find a flight in Italy with the puppy.


The three heating options we'll be discussing with Marcello will be:

Radiators, Forced air, and radiant. We've had the discussion before; but this will determine the floor height, long term cost, and getting solar panels in addition to the one that will work for the house hot water.

The flight was blessedly uneventful. Cosí was given an anti anxiety pill, although I might have needed it more given her 8 month old house training; but she was a trooper, and was perfect for the entire flight, arrival, baggage retrieval, and customs.



We Arrived in Spongano on the 20th and visited the house on the 21st. I confess a slight sense of horror as we looked at what had been a very nice place with floors we didn't like to the stripped, stone exposed house we found.


The demolition had been begun early to let the lower walls dry. We gave that approval without knowing the cost of the rest of total job; or the repercussions that removing the floors would cause. We had a couple of things in mind, and new floors was number one. The second was opening up the wall between the two middle rooms, and then the central one to the garden. The next day we met with the structural engineer(ingeniero). We had never considered opening up the walls to be an issue, and in fact it wasn't; although it gave us a momentary fright.





In fact the ingeniero said it wouldn't be a problem at all because the vault supported all the weight and the wall was filler and could be taken away in any form we wanted. The same was true for the exterior wall.



It's worth bringing up the number of people and offices that are involved in these architectural processes:


Il Notaio- The Notaio is a lawyer with an even more advanced degree. They are able to produce paperwork and documents that go even beyond the lawyers area of expertise. The Notaio will assure that all the property owners are identified, and located to sign your deed. What you don't want is to have Cousin Giorgio crawl out of the woodwork after your purchase and declare that he is an heir to your property and you've bought it erroneously.

The Architetto- in other words the Architect. The architect can also work as a contractor or Tecnico, or sub contract out. They are designers, and will approach the whole aesthetic of the house and how it functions. Some don't consider an architect important; but especially when you're dealing with a foreign style of building, it's good to have a design opinion.

The Geometra- This is the surveyor or architect(with a lessor degree) who measures the property for the Town Hall/Municipal records. They will assess the property and describe it in detail, as well as property lines, egress, and number of floors, etc.. These calculations will be used to evaluate what can be done, how much property tax will be paid, and delineate the property lines. The Geometra will also help with permits and code specifications.

The Geometra will also be required to file the permits and documents for any debris removal and renovation work.

The Ingeniero- There is an ingeniero for the structural integrity of the building, who will make assessments about basement supports, where you can remove walls, and water levels. They will also help with systems that will help humidity in the house, and openings you might want to design.

The Other Ingeniero for La Ditta- The architect, or the firm that the architect hires will bring in another ingeniero who works on the "impianto" (system designs) to restructure the house who will make recommendations on systems to heat, provide water, electric, solar panels, gas, and all the other systems that might need work. If the house is old like ours, they will be responsible for bringing it up to code. There are several systems, all costing differing amounts and it's important to find the most economical but efficient systems.

The Tecnico- A technical supervisor is required by Italian law; but it's possible that your architect will serve as such. They will supervise all technical aspects of the job; time the work load, and make sure that all the work is completed to acceptable standards. The architect may also work as a tecnico.

The Catasto- Is the system of land registry in Italy and is divided into two parts: Territorial registry, and the foundation registry. The catasto decides the property worth for annual taxes, based on a 0.76% Rate. The main tax is paid on the purchase of the property, and unless it's a first house, or other reductions are in effect it is 22% of the purchase price. The Catasto will provide the work permits for the property through the Tecnico.

IVA-or VAT the Value Added Tax is applied to every thing you use or purchase. So labor, materials, Appliances, Solar panels, etc. everything will have an added tax.

The Commercialista-

The commercialista or Revisore Contabile, is a CPA, or in Italy has a degree in Auditing of financial statements and accountancy, civil and employment law, bankruptcy and tax law. for our purposes the Commercialista is the only one who is able to define current tax law stating how much IVA we will need to pay for labor, materials, and appliances for our renovation. They can also help determine the IMU or Municipal Taxes on property, paid biannually. The rules are complex, and if not adhered to can come at a later date as a nasty surprise.


Here was the answer we got from the commercialista:

We deem that the majority of the apartment’s restructuring services (i.e. provided by the contractor(s) under the specific agreement(s)) as well as the majority of the goods to be purchased to carry out such works (either if they are directly provided by the contractor(s) or bought directly by the taxpayer) can benefit from the 10% VAT rate.

However some exceptions exist.

Based on the list you provided, we deem that the following VAT rates should apply:

-             Architect's professional services – 22%

-             Contractor services (i.e. apartment restructuring) – 10%

-             Heating system / Air-conditioned system – 10%

-             Plumber / Electrician / Painter – 10%. Nevertheless please be aware that, if provided outside the general restructuring contract, 10% rate must be investigated. Therefore, it would be preferable to the have them provided by the main contractor.

-             Household appliance – 22%

-             Solar panels – 10%

-             Doors – 10%


Before we left New York, Marcello had told us that the additional small bathroom we were hoping to add to the passageway next to the house had been denied by the Commune. It apparently would encroach on the "set back" property line of the house next to us. If we wanted a third bathroom, we would have to add it into one of the bedrooms, and it had been decided that Room 3 would be the one.

Marcello taking measurements to determine shower size in the bathroom we'd have to add into one of the bedrooms. The best way to see something is in full scale!


Our street looking up at Il Calvario outside our door, is a monument that appears in most Salento towns and commemorates the passion of Christ.

The plans that the renovation will be based on and submitted to the Commune for approval, after all our meetings during this last trip.


We spent part of every day with Marcello and worked with two engineers, the floor company, and went through a list of items that we'd created to develop the plan and how much it might cost.


The major changes include:

-Making the center door the primary entrance.

-Opening up the center wall between the front and back rooms.

-Opening up the walls for larger windows to the rear patio.

-The addition of the bathroom to the rear patio.

-The moving of the stairs to the terrazzo.

-Closing several doors, and cutting into the walls to make closets.

-Adding the bathroom to Room 3.

-Increasing the size of the stone structure on the rear side of the property for a garage/storage space.


Our roof terrazzo. The Roof of most Pugliese houses are flat divided by parapets which reflect the room sizes, and supporting pillars. One can see the tops of the Volte(Vaults), popping up in the centers of the sections of roof. The roof is stone. The divisions are caulked with a tar like material which should be resealed every several years. The levels and parapets are designed to guide rain water into pipes channeling it to the underground cisterns. We have two. A company similar to a chimney sweep comes periodically to clean the cisterns and make sure they are not leeching into the house or leaking. The water is used for garden water; but is not potable. Our water will be provided by the town.

Here's a view of one of the two cisterns:


We had a final conversation with Marcello before the Christmas Holidays on December 22. He felt that he would have enough information from this meeting to put together a serious bid on the job. We had had a communication with a Commercialista(CPA) in Rome, who gave us this information about the IVA (VAT) taxes that would be collected on the things we were putting into the reconstruction.

We deem that the majority of the apartment’s restructuring services (i.e. provided by the contractor(s) under the specific agreement(s)) as well as the majority of the goods to be purchased to carry out such works (either if they are directly provided by the contractor(s) or bought directly by the taxpayer) can benefit from the 10% VAT rate.

However some exceptions exist.

Based on the list you provided, we deem that the following VAT rates should apply:

Architect's professional services – 22%

-             Contractor services (i.e. apartment restructuring) – 10%

-             Heating system / Air-conditioned system – 10%

-             Plumber / Electrician / Painter – 10%. Nevertheless please be aware that, if provided outside the general restructuring contract, 10% rate must be investigated. Therefore, it would be preferable to the have them provided by the main contractor.

-             Household appliance – 22%

-             Solar panels – 10%

-             Doors – 10%


More communications via Whatsapp.


Marcello sends us pictures of late night work with the Contracting Firm to come up with hard numbers for the whole job. Nutella and Chocolate are necessary. I'm not sure what's in the bottle.



This is where the plans ended up before we make any cuts or changes.

The Holidays are coming to an end, and I'm hoping we can have our "come to Jesus" meeting the second week in January, so we know where we stand financially, and can make a work schedule.


The holidays were long over before work began again


We had several conversations with Marcello who finally presented us with a full "Computo Metrico" -the full estimate(preventivo), with all the costs of materials and labor. It was at best a very cold shower. It had been evident that the cost would be high; but we weren't prepared for the actual number. Nor had we thought it would take the 10-11 months that Marcello was predicting to complete. After going through the items which were listed in detail we cut down a small amount, and the contractor firm dropped their prices some; but the IVA 10% tax wasn't included, and nor was the Architect/ Tecnico fee to go to Marcello taxed at 22%.


And that didn't include the kitchen, bath accessories, appliances(taxed at 22% ).


The plans were delivered to the commune, and the daffodils bloomed. He continued meetings with the structural engineer and the construction company.



The permissions were mostly about the exterior work, and disruption to the neighborhood, so work on the interior was started on February 20, and the first thing done was removing the wall between the two central rooms, and cutting the arc for the exterior window wall.











The arch of the window wall to the garden is scored and waiting a filler wall to be constructed until the window is complete and ready to be installed.


This type of Salento architecture, so typical of the region has been passed down from generation to generation. The master stonemason atop the scaffolding gives the dimensions of the stones and filler wedges he needs to be cut by chainsaw from Leccese stone and handed up, where it is mortared into place. The construction seems to be solid in all the houses we looked at; but I'm still very happy not to be in an earthquake zone.




In another house, Marcello has found existing floors which if we choose them could help with the tile cost. They have to be cleaned and reinstalled; but it will be less than a custom order.



And then there was COVID-19

Work stops in Italy. Travel suspended. New York shuts down.

It's unclear where this will end; but the best to us all!

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