House Hunting in Italy: A Tower North of Milan, South of $1 Million


This six-bedroom home is in Cavallirio, a small town in the hills of Novara province, in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. Located about 12 miles from Lake Maggiore, Italy’s second largest lake, the home has a castle-like wing with a turreted tower that dates to the late 18th century. The living areas have frescoed walls, soaring ceilings and marble mosaic-tile floors. The furniture is not included in the sale price.

The property, on about a half acre, has been used for wedding events, and there is a large tent in the yard that can easily be removed, said Angela Pedrozo, an agent with William Pitt Sotheby’s International, which has the listing.

The 4,305-square-foot house has an elaborate arched front entrance with wrought-iron gates that can be closed over the wood doors. It opens directly into the receiving hall, which is frescoed throughout and has an ancient brick fireplace and a marble staircase. Just off the hall is an office, located in the base of the tower.

A hallway leads to the adjoining living and dining rooms, bisected by two columned archways. Both rooms have dark wood coffered ceilings and fancy frescoes. The dining room has a massive walk-in fireplace with stone seating built into the wall.

Across the hall, the white-tiled kitchen is small and designed for cooking rather than as a gathering space. There is also a guest bath on this floor.

The home’s second level has four bedrooms (one is a small room for staff) and a full bath. The main bedroom has a private sitting room. All of the bedrooms have arched doorways and window shutters to block out light. A large covered brick terrace on this floor overlooks the parklike grounds.

The renovated upper level has been converted to an apartment with two bedrooms, a bathroom, living room, kitchen, and a study in the tower. It does not have a separate entrance, Ms. Pedrozo said.

The top of the tower serves as an attic.

The property is situated in a residential area near the center of Cavallirio, which has fewer than 2,000 residents, close to cafes, shops and restaurants. The city of Novara, the capital of Novara province, with about 105,000 residents, is 20 miles south. Milan Malpensa Airport is about 30 miles east, and the city center is another 25 miles from there.

Lake Maggiore stretches for about 40 miles from northern Italy to southern Switzerland, on the south side of the Alps. It is divided down the middle between the Piedmont region to the west and the Lombardy region (also home to Lake Como) to the east.

Amid the pandemic, the Lake Maggiore area is being discovered by more buyers, both local and foreign, seeking space and privacy, as it is more affordable than properties near fashionable Lake Como, agents said.

“Maggiore attracts more understated buyers, people who are into nature or historic properties,” said Diletta Giorgolo Spinola, head of sales for William Pitt Sotheby’s.

The coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on Italy as a whole. As of March 2, the country had reported at least 2.9 million Covid-19 cases and 97,945 deaths, according to the New York Times’s coronavirus world map. Italy’s GDP decreased by about 9 percent last year, while unemployment rose to nearly 10 percent, according to the Italian National Institute of Statistics.

But the housing market remained buoyant, thanks in part to historically low borrowing costs, and that has continued into 2021. “People are more committed to buying at the moment,” Ms. Spinola said. “Property seems to be a safe place to put money, and people are giving more thought to property in places where life is very sustainable.”

Home prices countrywide were up 2.6 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, according to data from Idealista, a national listing portal. Demand for rentals is down sharply, however, because of job losses, movement away from cities, and the drop-off in tourism, said Vincenzo De Tommaso, press office manager for Idealista.

In the Lake Maggiore market, the Piedmont side of the lake, from the shoreline towns of Stresa up through Cannobio, is more touristic and pricey. The area began attracting moneyed families from Italy and England in the early 1900s, and retains many historic villas, said Francesco Papurello, owner of Stresa Luxury Real Estate.

“This area is the perfect escape all year long, thanks to the beautiful lake in summertime and the mountains for hiking and skiing in winter,” he said.

The Lombardy side of the lake “is the sunny side with modern villas,” Ms. Spinola said.

It tends to be “a little bit wilder and cheaper,” said Flavia Dutto, an agent with Engel & Völkers Lago Maggiore.

Generally, prices on Lake Maggiore average around 3,000 euros a square meter ($335 a square foot), while properties on Lake Como can be twice as much, she said.

Before the pandemic, most buyers were looking for properties priced between 500,000 and 1 million euros ($603,000 and $1.21 million), Ms. Dutto said. That typically buys a cottage-type property with about 2,000 square feet, a small garden and a lake view.

But as 2021 unfolds, “we are having more requests from people for 3 to 4 million euros,” she said. “Those are the historical houses with frescoes and high ceilings — very Italian.”

Italy was the first Western country to implement a national lockdown, about a year ago. The government eased restrictions in June, only to reinstate them in early November after a second spike in infections. A ban on travel between different regions and provinces was recently extended through March 27, because of the risk of virus spread from highly contagious Covid-19 variants.

Foreigners account for about a quarter of the buyers in the Lake Maggiore area, according to Idealista. More than half are from Germany and Switzerland, while the rest are primarily from the Netherlands, the U.S. and Britain.

Mr. Papurello, from Stresa Luxury Real Estate, said that while his agency has lately seen an increase in European buyers, interest from buyers in the U.S., Britain and Russia has declined.

There are no restrictions on most foreign buyers, although foreigners from outside the European Union may only buy property if their home country has a reciprocity agreement with the Italian government. Swiss citizens may not buy properties larger than 200 square meters (about 2,150 square feet), Ms. Dutto said.

Notary costs are about 1 percent of the purchase price. The agent’s commission is split between buyer and seller, with each typically paying 3 percent, Ms. Dutto said.

Ms. Spinola noted that the government’s flat-tax incentive program is attracting many high-net-worth buyers from Asia and Europe, who pay 100,000 euros ($121,000) in annual tax on all income earned outside Italy.

Italian; euro (1 euro = $1.21)

Stamp duty tax is 2 percent of the property value for a primary residence, and 9 percent on second homes. Ms. Pedrozo said she could not provide a precise property tax amount for this home.

Angela Pedrozo, William Pitt Sotheby’s International, 011-39-032-20-30-110; sothebysrealty.com

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