Finding the Home for Life
A story of personal growth on Lake Como
Some places are unique, different from any other. Sometimes without even knowing it, we have been longing for them. Places we carry in our hearts, each of us has his own, even if we are not aware of it. To find this place, we don’t have to travel to the ends of the earth, we simply need to look within ourselves.
However, finding our own special place is just the beginning of the path. We also need to discover our home, the home of our lives. The search is not complicated. We just need a guide, someone who will listen to us and accompany us. Someone dedicated, determined and discreet, all at the same time.
Looking for our home for life is more than an ordinary financial transaction. We need to be guided, we need to discover its secrets and to understand its essential value. Of course, this will require an economic effort, as well, but this is just one – although an important one - of the many aspects involved in our search. Money is not the door leading to a new love affair. We also need the pleasure of dreaming, and of meeting our new love as if it were the very first time, we need to explore the rooms that will embrace the people we love, and we will want it to be the place where we will always return to as soon as we can.
I believe I can be this person, the guide who can join you on this ride – the search for your special place. And this is why I would like to share with you the story of my love for the homes of Lake Como, and my passion for what I consider to be a privilege: helping people to make their dreams come true.
Thank you for the time you will dedicate to my story.
1.The young boy who loved to draw
Some children are in perpetual motion, they are tireless and never seem to stop. Others are more meditative, but nonetheless devoted to their passion. My passion was, and still is, drawing: drawing, building, restoring… that was what I did as a child. I would build with wood, invent and create with paper. I would plan with my mind and create with my hands. I remember spending hours drawing complicated greeting cards, things that were always received as a special surprise, also because they were so unexpected. But it should be said, my favourite subject was houses. I have always been passionate about houses, and after drawing them I would build them out of Lego.
2. Teenage years on the Lake
This is a complicated stage in everyone’s life. For me, desire and uncertainty were the dominant feelings. I wanted to be a designer, but also an architect, yet I was afraid this would be a challenging path, probably even with limited prospects. My parents were very supportive and wanted me to be free to try, even to make mistakes. And for an 18-year old this was a priceless lesson.
After I graduated from high school in Como, I enrolled in mechanical engineering at university. As anyone who is familiar with Lake Como knows very well, aeroplanes are a significant part of its history (but to be honest, I did not care much about the history of local aviation and its seaplanes… I much preferred to draw them!).
3. The engineering of emotions
I soon discovered that Mechanical Engineering at University was almost like a “trap” for me. A closed cage where we would study only theories, and more theories, over and over again. So I switched to Chemistry, pressing on to graduation, and finally I started to search for myself.
There is nothing better than fieldwork to help a young person to find themselves. I always had a job as a student, because I wanted to feel free and to support myself. I worked as a cashier at a supermarket, a tutor and a car salesman. What did I learn? That in a job – any kind of job - passion is essential to becoming competent. If we don’t love what we do, we will never gain genuine competence. Along with this, I also learned that people are extremely important.
4. Hooves and manes
After spending one full year in the most boring of all jobs – I was employed by a Swiss bank, checking credit card codes – I then made an unexpected move (in the language of chess it is called a “knight move”). I left everything behind and went to Ireland. I was keen to improve my English, but I was especially determined to work out what to do with my life. It was in Ireland that I discovered for the first time how fascinated I was by horses, and how deeply well I felt when I spent time taking care of them. Finally I knew what I wanted to do.
I was 25, young enough to take up almost any new challenge. Almost…unfortunately, that was the key word. At my age, it was too late to seriously start studying to be a vet, and my other dream – starting a farm holiday centre with horses, amidst the lake and the mountains – required a financial investment I couldn't manage. Are we really not allowed to dream?
Too late to be a student again. Too late for anything, apparently. But then, walking by the house that was to become “my first villa”, I suddenly understood. It seemed as if the two 200-year-old building was looking at me with a smile. It really seemed like a face, the large front door as a mouth, the half-closed windows as friendly eyes. The old villa and its beautiful garden were asking for attention and care. Sitting on the pier, watching the water flowing, I lost all sense of time.
It was evening already. I got up and, finally, I knew.
6. First steps in Cernobbio
At the beginning I worked for Engel & Volkers and their first agency in Cernobbio. I showed up, introduced myself and they hired me. I sold my very first high-value apartment to an American client just a few weeks later. He came in and listened carefully to me as I showed him the apartment pictures. I was surprised at how quickly he made a decision. This was a period of intense training, hard work and limited satisfaction. I did not get much credit for my full commitment and passion.
7. International Brands?
Unfortunately, one of the problems with the concept of franchising is that real estate agencies are often overrated. This is true for any market and for any product category. Quite often, the local agency’s overall quality is well below the standards demanded by head office. In my opinion, being a real estate agent is much more than just opening an office, hiring some people and witnessing their endless shifting from one agency to another, with the inevitable result of degrading of the profession in its entirety. Selling blue-chip estates, not to mention historical villas, is totally different from any other financial investment, no matter how substantial. These properties deserve a full and integrated set of skills. These range from financial to technical, from legal to administrative, and even more importantly to the more specialised knowledge of the territorial, botanical and landscaping fields. Last, but certainly not least, you need the ability to manage a multifaceted and complicated project such as the restoration of prestige buildings, restricted by the rules of Fine Art protected properties.
This requires unlimited passion, dedicated learning ability, hard and fast learning, as well as deep knowledge of the local area. None of these skills can be acquired by changing real estate agency every six months.
8. Snakes and Ladders
Property owners are often influenced – understandably so - by major brand names. Because of this, they sometimes accept much higher quotations than the market can support. It is hard to resist such temptations when they come from a prestigious international company.
Unfortunately, the reality is often a grave disappointment. After about a year with an exclusive mandate, with stratospheric quotations and no result, owners – often elderly people who want to close a sale in the shortest possible timeframe - agree to a lower price, accepting offers far below the initial quotation. And, suddenly, here comes the potential buyer, with an offer that is simply the more reasonable amount that should have been quoted initially. This is an obvious waste of time, credibility, and reputation, not to mention interest on capital.
9. The professional I always wanted to be
This was my world, the world I was looking for, the one most suited to me. I wanted to deal with houses that would become someone's “home for life” for people that I still did not know, but whose tastes, attitudes, and love of details I could relate to. I wanted to look for the “homes for life” for these kinds of people, to carefully renovate them if necessary and to finally offer them the home they had always dreamed about, without even knowing where it was.
A job of dedication, credibility, reliability. This is a task for people who share the same values, culture, and work ethics.
Then, another success, another substantial sale project – Villa Lidè – convinced me to take the most important and demanding step in my professional career. I was 32, and I decided to open my own agency with a name that was suggested to me by A. L., someone I consider a remarkable human being over and above his success as a businessman. He gave me his unconditional trust when he picked me for the restoration project of his “home for life”, Villa Lidè in Laglio.
10. A sole representative
I started out as a project manager for my first client, the American who made a snap decision to buy a very expensive apartment. He did not understand a word of Italian, was extremely busy and with little time available. He asked me if I would consider personally supervising the restoration of his apartment. Obviously, I immediately accepted the challenge. It was not a complicated task – the apartment had to be painted and provided with new electricity and plumbing installations – but it was an opportunity to understand the value I wanted to give to my job. This is how I decided to add project management capability to my basic work of research and evaluation of properties. This is an additional service for those clients lacking the time and competence to manage a potentially challenging project, from acquiring the necessary authorisations to the actual restoration work itself.
My first important assignment was the complete restoration of Villa Lidè. Almost a full year of extraordinary commitment led to excellent results and positive word-of-mouth.
11. The Liberty villa of the Molinari family
Villa Antonietta is one of the most beautiful villas on Lake Como. Completely abandoned for more than 20 years and in desperate need of considerable restoration work. The villa, with its 25-metre wet dock, stands right on the lakefront, thanks to its pair of imposing towers. With 14 rooms and a total area of 1600 square metres, Villa Antonella is absolutely unique. It is located in Laglio, not far from the villa whose restoration I had just completed. Thanks to positive word-of-mouth, my decision to set up my own business paid dividend. It was 2007 and I could not wait to finally do what I really loved to do, where I wanted to be, and in the only way I believed that “homes for life” deserve to be treated: with commitment, passion and attention to detail. And with the dedication that any beautiful thing requires: to be protected against the inevitable damage of time, and sometimes, unfortunately, also of human beings. Finally, it came full circle: the young boy who loved drawing houses was turning his dreams into a project.
12. The interpretation of dreams
The name of my business – Property at Lake Como – was a gift from A. L., an extraordinary international banker who became a good friend. It was he – during a holiday we spent together at his home in Thailand – who came up with the word “property”. However, just after suggesting the word, he reminded me of the golden rule for the success of any activity dealing with people: dreams must be respected. “Marco”, he would say, “people who turn to you are not simply looking to buy a house and make a good deal. They want much more than that. They have a dream to realise, even though sometimes they don’t even know it. But if you can be their guide, they will soon discover it”.
13. The right to happiness
The American Constitution of Thomas Jefferson in 1776 is a visionary document: “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Nowadays, the pursuit of happiness sounds unrealistic, even naïve. A noble wish, born of the “Age of Enlightenment” that changed the world. Less than 250 years after the American dream of the founding fathers, we now seem to accept that happiness is not a right, but a privilege that is very difficult to pursue. I do not mean to sound too vague, but this premise actually leads me to the core of my story and to the essence of this job, which consists of helping people to fulfil their own pursuit of happiness. Or, better yet, to build the foundations – strong foundations like the century-old homes of Lake Como – for living a long life of wellbeing, and joyful contemplation of beauty.
14. A miner of minds
My job is to understand, to read the minds of people and to understand their desires, their dreams, as well as their dislikes. Of course I have to do this without wasting their time, that most precious and non-renewable of all goods.
I am totally confident in my job, for one simple reason: I do not involve myself with properties that I do not believe in”. I do not consider villas or residences that do not convince me. When I believe I have understood the heart and mind of my client, only then am I ready to propose what I believe is the right home for him or her. Each villa, residence or property I introduce to my clients is a building that, first and foremost, I like. I cannot even consider proposing something I would not buy for myself.
15. Property at Lake Como and…all the others
They say I am the best around the Lake and that no one else knows the true value of the villas like I do. I don’t know if this is true, but what I certainly do know is that every day I work hard to be the best, the most reliable and the most knowledgeable. The one who can solve any issue.
International agencies - the famous brands - apparently cannot provide (or they simply choose not to) the right quotations. They set prices at well over the proper market value. The sellers are happy, of course, and think the agency is good. They have a well-known name, they are giving me an excellent quotation…I will put them in charge. Then, time goes by and prices go down, inevitably. Twenty, thirty, sometimes fifty percent. In the meantime, clients waste their time, money and confidence. Negative word-of-mouth and its consequences are looming over the hill.
16. Giving value to value
How to evaluate a property? Over the years I have created a database of all the historic villas; villas with a wet dock on the lake; villas overlooking the lake, and apartments with the same characteristics. However, my database only includes properties actually sold, not just “offered for sale”. It is a constantly updated database that allows me to know the real market value of the properties on the lake. This way, I know exactly the price of every single unit sold, and I will not waste the time of either sellers or buyers. The best evaluation is done by comparing the value of properties sold – not the value of quotations of those on sale – and comparing like for like units: same type, size, conservation, area, location, geographic orientation.
I have built up real excellence in the evaluation of real values. Giving the right value to value is the most important factor. My clients, especially foreign clients, have the right to know on what they are spending their money. They need to be sure that one day, if they want to sell their property, they will easily recover their investment. One thing is for sure: none of the properties I have sold has been bought for more than its actual value. Each property can be correctly, rapidly and safely resold. And often for a much higher value, thanks to the restoration work commissioned by clients.
17. Why me
Why choose me? The first, immediate and perhaps most banal answer I could think of is “Because I, myself, would come to the same decision”. I believe I can give something more to my clients. I can listen to them with undivided attention. I have the intellectual honesty to contradict them if they express an opinion that I do not share.
I ask many questions in order to understand what is in their hearts and minds. I listen. And then I ask more questions to find out not only what they like, but also what they dislike. In other words what it is that they do not want. Only then I will be able to find their home for life. This is not – as we might think – the perfect home, but more the one that really corresponds to their personal wishes, to their personal dreams.
I tell them how I came to develop my specific competence concerning the most complicated of issues such as, for example, how to manage public concessions. I am on the side of my foreign clients also and especially after selling them a house. They are often people living and working in a different country, and they don’t have the time and experience to manage the restoration works of their new home. When I am in charge of a sale my clients know that I will be the perfect host and will be on the side of the potential clients for as long as necessary. I am there from the creation of the basic concept of their new home, up to the restoration and renovation works, with full responsibility for the work of engineers, architects, electricians, plumbers and even the health inspectors who are a mandatory during works on large properties. Last, but not least, I oversee the extraordinary work that only local artisans know how to do: carpenters, stucco workers, furniture restorers. A world of experience and knowledge miraculously still alive after all these years.
18. The young boy who loved to draw is now an adult
I am a perfectionist. My attention to detail is close to obsessive. It is a way of being, quite challenging and strenuous. But it is the only way that makes me feel sure I can express my talents to their fullest. It is a way of conceiving life and work that protects and guarantees everyone who decides to give me their trust. I came to full adulthood when I became a father. My daughter is curious, determined and stubborn just like her dad. I grew up as a man and a professional, but I never stopped wishing for a new dream, a new project, and a new challenge.
Luckily for me, the best corroboration comes from the people who have worked with me, the people who I have helped to find their home for life on Lake Como. People who tell their story of happiness – often in a different language – with words that are always the same, yet always different. They speak of the beauty of life in a place that does not compare to anywhere else in the whole world.