In our slow travel across Italy, I have noticed some distinct differences in the real estate culture here and in the United States. After thinking about it for a while and discussing these “differences” with my wife over daily cappuccino, I have come to the conclusion that the disparity stems from the core values within these two countries.
It is no surprise that family is the most pervasive value in Italian culture. The value placed around family dictates where people live, work and settle. As we travel through this amazing country, I’ve heard countless stories ending in “la famiglia e la prima” or family first. I’ve had meetings with numerous business owners that have explained that their office space, as well as their personal residence is located within the walls of real estate that has been in the family for generations. I have been stunned by the number of people who live in family owned properties and the number of family members who are all living in property acquired many generations ago through various means.
I’ve also heard some sad tales of prime real estate being lost in card games in the 1800’s. The guy who relayed this story to me still can’t walk by the property because there is a sense of family ownership that was lost in a moment of poor judgement and it still scars the family 200 YEARS later. Oh by the way, this is one of the best view properties in all of Cortona.
Because of the strong family values in Italian culture, property is built, purchased, and invested in with the idea that many generations will live together and that the investment will benefit the family for generations to come. What this means is that, in desirable Italian markets, there is very little inventory, and these properties would fetch a hefty price tag at the top of the market.
I had a conversation with a couple who recently purchased and renovated two flats on the third floor in a great view building. When they asked the owner of the dilapidated and vacant second floor if he would sell, his reply was, “I will NEVER sell, I only buy, just as my father did and his father did …”
I am not saying that Americans don’t value family and don’t think of their extended family in their real estate purchases. I am simply saying that in my 10+ years in real estate in the United States, I rarely came across this theme in U.S. markets.
People are focused on price, timing, interest rates, and they are protective of their investments but there is a disposable quality about real estate in the U.S. that we have not seen here. Perhaps it is because one of the core values in American culture is “individualism” and “the freedom to choose one’s own path.” Because of the value placed on freedom in the U.S., coupled with the importance placed on work, people roam more, relocate more, acquire more, and sell more often.
Although the face of the large Italian family is changing, the definition of family in Italy is still today, much more traditional than I have seen in the United States. I grew up as an Italian-American. I remember seeing my extended family every weekend and my best friends were my sisters and my cousins. My uncles built multi-family properties and multi-home estates in an effort to keep the traditions from the old country alive. It is hard to say what Americans value because the country is so diverse and varied which is a value in itself.
When you’re making real estate decisions it’s crucial to think about what is important to you, and define the underlying values that make something important. Then, as Walt Disney’s nephew, Roy said, “It is not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”