Through the winter and spring of 2012, my wife Lisa Grassi-Blais and I started the research needed to determine if it was even feasible for us to quit our professional careers and move to Abruzzo, Italy to open a tourism business.

We’d fallen in love with the authentic and diverse region that’s just east of Rome - but miles away from the tourist hoards - as we had reconnected with Lisa’s Italian roots. We were sure that if we marketed Abruzzo’s natural beauty, culture, food, wine, and stunning towns and villages properly people would love to spend a week seeing the sites and relaxing in a great villa. 

But could we really do it? 

We started with the bottom line. Did it make financial sense to leave the security and income of Lisa’s job as a federal Crown attorney and mine as a municipal bureaucrat for the roulette wheel of a tourism business in a foreign country? As our financial and business advisors, friends, family and our logical sides all said, hell no.

But once you got by that, what level of investments could we even make? We had our house appraised, and as we expected, we had been incredibly lucky. The rundown former crack house we’d purchased in 2003 in a neighbourhood where the main mode of transportation was shopping cart was now a “charming, restored century home in an up and coming neighbourhood.”

Whatever. We’d had a pile of equity there. We also had a small, very basic property on the Ottawa River, but we didn’t want to sell that. We had some investments that were making us just about nothing that could be turned into cash. We had our pensions, which we didn’t want to touch. There was also some cash in the bank, and that was about it.

Realizing that any property we could afford in Italy would need renos and upgrades to run the type of business we wanted, we set a budget of 200,000 euro to buy a property and get up and running. That was what I figured we could afford, and as I sit here in Abruzzo now overseeing the final renovations on the place we purchased to act as a home base for our company, I realize now how ridiculously low that budget was. But I absolutely hate debt and all the business books I was devouring at the time said the number one reason new businesses fail, especially small businesses, was taking on too much debt. So that was our budget and we started looking on the internet at properties in Abruzzo that might work, and right away, we could see it was going to be tough. 

As we worked our day jobs throughout that winter, at night we secretly researched our escape, looking into all the other areas that needed to be addressed. There was a lot to think about. Where in Abruzzo to do it? Italian legal rules? Buying or renting property, residency questions, health care questions, licencing requirement, tax implications, and pension implications. Then there was the emotional stuff. Were we really prepared to move away from our families and friends? What about our two old dogs? Would they come with us?

The good part was our jobs were secure, we had time, and we weren’t in a rush as our plan didn’t see us making any major decisions for at least a couple years.

As spring turned to early summer in 2012, we had done enough research to know a couple things:

  • It was going to be a bureaucratic marathon to address all the legal, financial, and residency requirements we would face;
  • We couldn’t do it all ourselves. We needed help from professionals to address those challenges both in Canada and Italy;
  • We needed to engage some Italian real estate companies to come up with some properties for us to look at in person. The internet didn’t give us enough information and zero feel for places; and
  • We were still on for it.

So when it came time to book our plane tickets to Italy for our annual August pilgrimage back to the Abruzzo village Lisa’s grandfather was born in, we made a couple other calls too. Specifically, we called two real estate agents and a business agent in Italy, and one real estate agent in Ottawa to get a true feel for the market.

It was time to get down to business.

Next blog: Villa hunting in Abruzzo.