Today we are going to host a special interview on our web pages...
We have reached Victoria Ayrapetyan, the founder of the Italian real estate agency Victoria-house.it, based in Florence, Tuscany – Italy.
ST: Welcome, or better yet benvenuti!
Let us introduce ourselves. Studentsville.it was founded in 2012 with the aim to provide to foreign students and visitors with useful tips and advice. We started by focusing on what university students, researchers, and people dealing with post-graduate degrees and masters might need to know. To assist them, we worked on creating content, a lot of content, related to Italian cities and universities and publishing it on our main website. Then, we opened a blog focused on Italian culture, including information on places and language, aiming to provide useful guidelines for everyday life in Milan, Rome, Venice, Padua, Bologna, Florence, and Perugia – just to name a few. Finally, in 2019 we started developing a new web portal dedicated to short-term stays, Apartments.studentsville.it. We offer rooms and flats for students and young people looking for accommodation, exclusive or shared, to rent.
Over the years, we managed to approach an entirely whole new audience, in addition to our students’ fan base. These new users comprise expats living in Italy, professionals searching for helpful business information, and even just people and travelers who love Italy and want to keep in touch. Today, our target audience mainly includes people aged 35-55 years old, many of whom have a vivid interest in relocating or simply having a house in Italy to spend their holidays. That’s why we are pretty sure they will appreciate today’s interview with Victoria Ayrapetyan!
Please introduce yourself, Victoria… What is your personal and professional background?
I was born in Armenia and graduated in engineering and conservatoire. I spent part of my life in other countries and had the opportunity to meet people from different cultures and learn foreign languages. I then came to Italy years ago, my second home country. So, I consider myself an ex-pat, too!
I decided to live here and, in 2010, started my own real estate business. I thought this could be a way to share my experiences and make them available to those who love Italy and want to live there.
Let’s start from your interest in the Italian housing and real-estate market… When did it all begin?
All in all, casually. My education and cultural training in different subjects (engineering and opera singing at the conservatory) and my work experiences in marketing and financial consultancy probably caused a peculiar “short circuit” in my life at one point. My passion for culture and the Italian way of living inevitably brought me to this country. In the end, I stayed here with the aim of offering services related to the way of living, lifestyle, safety, comfort. Real estate combines all this, or at least it should.
We know you are based in Florence, surely one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But what about the other parts of Tuscany? What do you prefer for your weekend escapes?
My privilege is not only to work in Florence but also to live in Tuscany. There are innumerable possibilities to “escape”! Personally, I prefer the sea, perhaps because, to get there, I have to travel through the wonderful Tuscan countryside and have the chance to take in its many small cities and historic villages. I always manage to find something new, and different. Tuscany is full of unexpected, worthwhile stops!
Let’s get back to the Tuscan real-estate market opportunities… What are the best deals? Where can you buy a villa or a small palace for a reasonable price?
This is a challenging question! I mean, there are endless possibilities. Tuscany mainly features villages, small and medium-sized cities. The real estate market in the region is somewhat flexible. Art cities with old towns are certainly desirable, particularly Florence. However, one can find outstanding solutions at more reasonable prices just by moving slightly away from the main center, in the near outskirts or surrounding countryside. Small towns and villages in Tuscany are within a radius of 20-30 km from the main cities, and the property prices are certainly more affordable.
It really depends on each buyer’s plans.
One may wish to retire, and thus seeks a mild climate, healthy food, and cultural attractions. Others may decide to relocate to this part of the world and start a new life, taking over a local business or launching a new one. We also have some foreign customers who don’t mind traveling to other European countries on business, as long as they can have their main home in Tuscany. London, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich are within a 2 hours flight, and logistics are excellent here. There really are good solutions for all needs.
How about Tuscany’s many rural areas, is considering these worthwhile?
Rural areas are another pride of this region. They are dense with opportunities. Just think about Chianti and Maremma, two areas that share a commitment to enhancing and preserving the local nature and traditions. Millennia of history have crafted these regions’ current configuration: man, with his work, and nature have come to a perfect balance. This area is the epitome of sustainability and has no equal in the world. The principles of environmental responsibility also involve the local real estate assets. Homes, farms, and villas in these areas are part of a fantastic heritage and perfectly integrated into it.
These aspects are starkly evident in Chianti, one of the world’s most celebrated wine regions. It’s not only an upper-class area for rich people and vips. It can be approachable by the middle class, too. Small rural buildings converted into comfortable farmhouses or old ruined farms that can be restored into holiday houses with private pools at reasonable prices.
The splendid Leopoldine houses built during Pietro Leopoldo, many of which have been abandoned and are today run-down and desolated, are another good example of truly made in Tuscany 18th century buildings. They were named Leopoldine to associate this style with the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo I of Tuscany. Truth be told, they are an excellent investment opportunity: once restored, they can become unique private country estates, they can be turned into hospitality-focused commercial enterprises, such as agriturismi, i.e. farm holiday facilities, B&Bs, boutique hotels, or wine and oil resorts.
Earlier you mentioned Maremma. Where is it, and why could it be a target for investors?
Yes, Maremma. It’s in the southwestern part of Tuscany, and includes a vast thriving area between the provinces of Grosseto and Siena. The region’s overall popularity is increasing, and so is its value. Moreover, the local real estate market in Maremma still offers excellent opportunities at favorable prices. Finding small independent cottages, old barns converted into cute homes, country estates dedicated to agriculture and organic farming is not hard, and it’s also a perfect location for accommodation-oriented business ventures. It’s a marvelous place made of rolling hills, pristine seashores and an amazing historical legacy… amazing features that are becoming the “engine” of the local economy.
Maremma’s unique attractions don’t exclusively favor medium-high level tourism: many foreigners also think of the area as ideal for relocation or a peaceful, healthy retirement. Expatriates and foreign investors often come here and spend their holidays for the entire summer period. And, if their experience is positive, they plan to invest.
What about the coastline? Would you live in Tuscany by the sea?
With a 400 kilometers coastline which runs from North to South, I am used to saying…let’s make your choice!
There are countless alluring properties, possibilities are truly endless. From Versilia to Maremma, from Castiglioncello to Bolgheri and Castagneto Carducci, houses and estates here offer a distinctive Mediterranean look, mixing marine elements with countryside charm and style. And, just a few kilometers inland, one finds the typical characters and rustic rural architecture.
The variety is impressive: you wouldn’t believe the superb, and extremely cost-effective, art nouveau style properties and villas one can find in the province of Lucca, just a few kilometers from the seaside. Along the coast, the climate is mild throughout the year, and the sea is crystal-clear. In fact, a number of places have been awarded the Blue Flag, a distinctive symbol attributed by the FEE (Foundation for Environment Education) only to those spots that meet the highest standards for water quality, safety, and public environmental education. Also, logistics plays its role here, with the Pisa International Airport, the ports of Livorno and Piombino that connect to the Islands of the Tuscan Archipelago and Sardinia, and the excellent railway connections with the rest of Tuscany.
Let’s focus on Tuscan cities. Do we know anything about the quality of life in Florence? Are there any alternatives for those considering living in an old town center while still having everything handy?
Tuscany offers its inhabitants a privileged opportunity: living within contemporary cities where history and traditions live on.
The ancient old towns of Florence, Siena, Lucca, Arezzo and Pisa are not just “open-air museums”. The old quarters and adjacent areas are marvelous examples of authenticity, yet they are vital and throbbing with local activities of all kinds, including prestigious universities. Their centuries-old historical background is the bridge to the future: it’s indeed a unique sensation.
Here, services and infrastructures are tailored to contemporary needs. Everything is indeed handy, and makes peoples’ lives comfortable and certainly safer than in other big cities.
Tuscan cities provide excellent living standards, and a favorable environment. Take Florence cost of living, for instance. No doubt more expensive than other cities in Italy, but… definitely cheaper than the 50% of cities worldwide and more inexpensive than 73% of the western European Cities. Many expats will be surprised at how cost-effective rentals, transport, education and healthcare are, not to mention the food!
What about other areas in Italy? Do you focus on Tuscany only or do you also have properties to sell in other regions nearby?
We mainly concentrate on Florence and Tuscany, but we do have great connections with trusted colleagues throughout the country. Our clients often ask for suggestions about options other than Tuscany, and we provide advice based on their needs, wishes, and budgets.
For example, we often suggest Umbria, Liguria, Italian Lakes in the north (Lago di Como, Lago Maggiore, Lago di Garda), or the northern part of Lazio, the areas bordering Tuscany. Our network of contacts gets in motion, and we hook our clients up with our most reliable partners, colleagues with whom we share the same approach and attitude.
Let’s speak about your customers… Where do they come from? And what do they like about Italy?
They mainly come from Western Europe – particularly from the English-speaking countries of Northern Europe (Great Britain) and the US. Plus, we’ve had an increasing number of customers from Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand over the last few years.
Tuscany has always been a touchstone for Anglo-Saxons. The British, especially, have a long tradition and centuries-old cultural connections with Florence and Chianti.
There’s been a surge of potential buyers from Eastern Europe, especially Russia, over the last 10 years, and inquiries and visits of clients from the Far East, Singapore, and Hong Kong are growing too. Great cultures become familiar with Tuscany and… it’s love at first sight!
What is your client approach like? What I mean is do you simply try to satisfy every customer’s dream, or do you start by guiding them to ‘really’ find the best deal for their necessities?
We like the idea of being consultants, alongside offering specific services, and aim to build honest trustworthy relationships with our clients. We never push anyone to buy, but we do tend to offer our best advice and lead them to make the right choice. Some clients have a clear mind, because they already know Tuscany and Florence quite well, and go straight to the point with desired locations, types of properties, and maximum budget. Other buyers come to see this part of Italy thanks to its reputation. Guided only by hearsay they need more support, and we endeavor to guide them by supplying as much information as possible.
My team and I thought about words to define our company’s mission and came up with: opportunity, beauty, peace of mind.
The opportunity for a reliable, worthwhile investment. The beauty of an affordable, pleasant, welcoming property. The peace of mind we guarantee by ensuring a smooth, seamless, stress-free purchase process. A happy client is the best investment for us.
Are there any client case studies you would like to share with us?
For sure, it’s a pleasure! Jeff is an American architect who was looking for property to buy in the old town of Florence. Determined and clear-minded, he set off to find a small apartment for his own private use. We found an apartment on the top floor of an old building. It was in relatively poor conditions, but he restored it, furnished and decorated it according to his taste… the end result was simply astonishing, and the value of the apartment is now double what it was!
Then we had Claire and Peter, an English couple with a passion for Chianti. They wanted to relocate to Tuscany and retire in the countryside. A lovely hamlet on a hill with some land around a swimming pool was their dream. It took quite a while, and a lot of dedication, but we finally found the ideal property near Greve in Chianti. They worked on a new layout and renovated the interiors adding modern facilities. The property is now to become an education farm, dedicated to hosting select guests who wish to experience the Italian lifestyle. Today, Claire and Peter happily enjoy sunset “aperitivo” gazing at the Chianti landscape.
Then, I fondly remember a lovely family from Dubai who chose to buy a small apartment, envisioning a future during which their children would enroll in Florence universities. There are also Kamala and Basant , from India but living in London, who decided for multiple investments in apartments and in a commercial estate that became a highly profitable rental business.
The most wonderful thing about these stories is that all these people have become dear friends of ours! We keep on seeing one another and spending precious time together.
Where can customers see the properties you offer? Are all of them available on the Victoria House website?
The properties for sale on our website are only part of our portfolio. Some homes available for sale cannot be displayed as a matter of privacy. The owners sometimes prefer a discreet approach and more personal relationship. Other options are also available via our network of contacts.
After the first contact with our prospective new clients we usually have a frank, friendly chat during which we focus on their needs and are then able to customize our research based on their actual requirements.
We know that your core business regards the purchase and sale of residential and commercial properties. Is there any additional service you offer?
Our slogan is “All Around You and Your New Home”. Once we have sourced, secured and sold the right home to our client, our work would be done.
But, looking at it closely, it’s not necessarily so. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a foreign buyer: he/she may have Italian friends who can lend a hand, but there is still a lot to be done. Finding a Notary for instance, or an English-speaking lawyer, to sign the final contract. Plus, who takes care of the day-after duties once the keys of the new house are in the new owner’s hands? Who drafts and files the utilities contracts, makes sure the wifi works perfectly, deals with the local bureaucracy to obtain residency permits or apply for the local waste taxation, and who finds honest and expert local contractors to work on the renovation?
We can, and we do, take care of all and everything, with the aim of saving our clients from unnecessary “headaches” and making their start in Italy as peaceful, pleasant and marvelous as possible!