Over the last 12 months, whilst travel to Italy has not been possible for so many of you, we have still aimed to continue to inspire a love of Italy through this blog. We have shared what we know and love about the country through our A to Z guides, our days out ideas, our ‘top 10 articles’, our Italian vacation suggestions and much, much more. All to be read now and hopefully experienced later when it’s possible to holiday in Italy again.
With travel to Italy still not possible, we have thought of another way to bring Italy to you over the next few weeks and months by sharing with you some of our favourite blogs, websites and businesses with an Italian focus. Everyone we have chosen to interview have one thing in common. They’re experts on Italy and have a wealth of knowledge that you can tap into to find out more about this wonderful country.
Today we’re launching our latest series of interviews by chatting with Ian Bunch from Scout My Villa. Ian has had a rich and varied career, ranging from time spent in the military, credit card banking, technology start-ups (including commercial real estate) and more recently as a residential real estate agent / partner for Sotheby’s in Delaware which has kept him busy for the last 14 years. However, last year, Ian swapped life in Wilmington for life in Tuscany where, these days, Ian’s passion in life is to find people’s dream property in Italy through his business Scout My Villa.
So, to kick things off, we’ll leave Ian to tell you a bit more about his business.
The best way to describe it is insider knowledge and intelligence. I combine my experience as a licensed Realtor of 25 years with my moving experience as a customer to give clients actionable intelligence so they can make better decisions. What I don’t do, and I want to be clear, is act as a Licensed Realtor in Italy. Having worked for a high-end Real Estate firm here in Italy briefly, I quickly realised there was a fundamental gap in the system.
Italy does not have an MLS (centralised multiple listing service) and very little exclusivity in listings. In short, homes in Italy can be listed with multiple agencies with varying prices and descriptions. This leads to territoriality, inefficiencies and confusion for the buyer. And commissioned sales always creates divided loyalties for the agents. My job is help the client narrow down the choices so they don’t waste theirs and the agents’ time, and give the clients unbiased intelligence. Think of it as pre-screening homes for clients and buyers for agents. Most importantly, I strive to give buyers the type of information I was seeking myself as a buyer.
Tell us about where you live now.
We live in a beautiful garden villa five minutes outside the walls of Siena. Twenty five years ago the villa was divided into apartments and it is now evenly divided between rentals and owners. It was a place I had actually discovered a few years earlier when I first started working on a move to Italy.
Living amongst people has been great with a few challenges transitioning from a farm in the country to apartment living. The villa is also dog friendly which appealed to us and our two dogs. We are actively looking for our own home, but each day living in the villa makes it harder to choose leaving it.
Whilst Italy is your new home, you haven’t always lived in Italy. What do you miss about your previous home?
I actually grew up moving around the US and lived overseas in the UK and Taiwan for many years of my childhood. The act of moving is refreshing but I miss my family and friends. Covid has curtailed their visits and our trips back. Hopefully this will change as soon as vaccines take ahold.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to purchase a property abroad as a second home?
Understand what you want in a vacation home (tranquility, resale value, rental income, proximity to attractions, ease of maintenance, lifestyle…) and don’t delay too much. Covid has built up a demand for escape from cities and technology is changing the game. Homes are still selling to foreigners but now more important than ever is the increase in the number of Italians who traditionally vacation abroad but who are now rediscovering their own country’s beauty.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to purchase a property abroad and making a permanent move to Italy?
Buying a vacation home and a residence have completely different criteria. Be clear about what you think you want and communicate it, but be flexible. Living in a region or community all year round can be a challenge if you only sample the bellepaese as a vacationer and apply those experiences to the rest of the year. Schools, grocery stores, legal paperwork, taxes…everything works a bit differently. But don’t be intimidated! Submersing yourself in another culture and making the move is a life changing experience.
How have you coped over the past 12 months? What impact has the pandemic had on you and your family and your business?
We moved in the middle of the pandemic, so our experience may not be the norm. Picking up family, dogs, selling a house, storing household items and moving overseas during covid can’t be started or stopped on a dime. It takes some planning, some bullheadedness, and some time. As mentioned before, our friends and family not being able to come visit has been hard, as they were as excited as we were to have a base in Italy. That being said, Scout My Villa grew out of not just a gap in the system, but also the inability for clients to actually travel and see properties. Now, I do the legwork for the clients and they can decide to buy remotely; or know that their next visit will be efficient and they will be armed with actionable intelligence.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Other than finding hidden properties?!!!
As a family, we love biking and hiking the Strade Bianche, and going to the beach when restrictions allow. As for myself, I accidentally fell into playing polo, which was one of the things which first attracted me to Tuscany. And I invent things. I have three patents and it is a creative outlet for me…solving problems by creating a solution.
Where do you like to holiday?
Covid restrictions have curtailed many of our plans to holiday, but we always gravitate towards the mountains. My wife is a professional photographer and semi-professional skier from the Veneto region and her father lives in Milan (when he isn’t in lockdown with us). My wife admits that she has not explored much of Italy, having lived in Hawaii and the US for almost 30 years, and we had plans to explore much of her birth country.
Do you see your move to Italy as permanent?
Permanent is always a difficult word but I do see it as permanent for at least the next 10-15 years. The lifestyle, affordability, and access to culture are fantastic here. Plus we may have just found a diamond in the rough of a year-round home to renovate!
What is your favourite region of Italy?
We are a house divided! I love Tuscany but we are very fortunate to also have access to a family cottage in the mountains near Como featuring daily mushroom-hunting hikes and booming thunderstorms, church bells and and espressos, or playing playing Buraco in the piazza until 1 in the morning.
What makes Italy such a special place to live? What makes it unique?
Joyous chaos and family. This, combined with the history and culture, are hard to beat.
Any top tips for holidaymakers visiting Tuscany?
Pack light, rent a smaller car than you might ordinarily prefer and allow yourself to get lost. Be off schedule, understanding that many places close down after lunch. Get out of the car and walk around a village that might not have been on your itinerary. Grab an espresso and speak to the locals. Some of the most serendipitous discoveries have been the best… The fishponds at the Chiesa della Madonna della Neve in Santa Fiora or La Martina Relais and Chef Antonio at the restaurant at the Villa Sesta Polo Club. I try to write a weekly email entitled ‘Sunday’s In Siena’ which has not quite become a blog. In it I detail our ups and downs and discoveries for the prior week. Hikes, secret fishing spots, truffle hunting secrets, and food! I will gladly add anyone to the email list if they like. Just drop me an email.
Your wife’s family is from the Milan area. Any top tips on visiting this part of Italy?
Milan has some fantastic attractions like the Duomo, La Scala or the Galleria, but it’s not my favourite city to visit. I definitely prefer the mountain villages north of Milan and surrounding Lago di Como. The summer hikes are strenuous but stunning. If you like boats, rent a small power boat at Boat2Go in Vassena from Marco and Margherita or hire them to take you out in their boat. Seeing the lake and the villas from the water is the best! Pro Tip – your phone and car GPS will take you on toll roads which require a telepass. Work with the car service up front or get ready to pay for accidental tolls at www.pedemontana.com.
A massive thank you again to Ian for telling us more about his company. Just a reminder that you can find out more on the Scout My Villa website or by getting in touch to request to be added to his ‘Sundays in Siena’ mailing list.