Together with her husband Mark, a well-known executive in the global financial world, Rachel Makepeace purchased a splendid villa in Southern Tuscany, near Cetona, in 2016: “Villa Albertella”. We interviewed Rachel in order to discover how has she realized her “Italian dream” and to find out the way she has lived in this property during these four years.
- Welcome, Rachel. Would you like to tell us something about yourself?
Thank you so much, it is a pleasure to be speaking with you about our Italian dream.
I would like to start by saying that my husband and I both have a passion for travel. We have been to some amazing places around the world both for his work and for pleasure. I am originally from America and have lived in London for the past 13 years.
I am fascinated with languages which began when I learned French starting from an early age in school and then voluntarily continued on with Spanish. I have had a private tutor in Italian twice per week for the past 5 years. I love the language, especially when I get to practice it in Italy.
Another passion of mine is yoga. I have been practicing vinyasa yoga for many years and make a point of finding a yoga studio wherever our travels take us.
- Before purchasing a property in Italy, your husband and you have already been to our country. Which areas did you know the most?
Before purchasing Villa Albertella (discover the property here), we traveled a lot in Italy, however, we still have not made it to some spectacular regions. We had been to Lago di Como, Milano, Roma, Venezia, Amalfi Coast, Sicilia and of course various parts of Tuscany. I would say the places we have spent the most time before purchasing our property were both in Firenze and Roma. Mark had an office in Milano so he was there quite a bit throughout the years.
- Why did you choose Southern Tuscany? Why Cetona?
We fell in love with Tuscany from the moment we first arrived.
A home in Tuscany was always a dream of mine that I did not know would ever come to fruition.
We soon realised that there are so many different regions within Tuscany all of which are quite different from one another. We love all parts of Tuscany whether it is in the unique and spectacular landscape of the Val D’Orcia, the seaside towns, the hills of Chianti or in the cultural heart of Firenze.
Since we loved all the regions of Tuscany that we explored, it made it quite difficult to narrow down where we wanted to be. One major criteria for us was to be within 2 hours of an international airport so that we could work with Mark’s busy travel schedule.
So we began to concentrate on Southern Tuscany. Another preference of ours was to be in the rolling hills as opposed to the seaside.
When we were taken to Cetona for the first time by our lovely consultant, Chiara, from Great Estate, we realised right away that we found a true hidden gem.
The aesthetics were of course what really appealed to us at first, but it was also the warm feeling we had entering into the town center and the lovely sense of community that seemed quite tangible from the first day we arrived. It was also quite nice that it is somewhat hidden and not seen from the A-1!
- How did you discover Great Estate?
When we began our house search, I immediately started to use the Italian real estate app “Immobiliare.it.” This is the app that aggregates all of the Italian real estate listings into one app, similar to Rightmove in the UK. This is how we first came across Great Estate. They had by far the most quality and wide range of listings compared to other agents.
- We know that Chiara Pompili has been your trusted consultant. What can you tell us about your professional relationship with her? How would you rate the support your husband Mark and you received by Chiara during the whole process?
Chiara Pompili is a wonderful consultant who is both professional and passionate about what she does.
We were quite connected with her from the day we met her. She is from Chiusi, very close to Cetona, and was able to help explain so many different aspects of the area.
It was very important to her to show us a variety of homes and areas in order for us to make an informed decision.
Buying a home is quite an emotional experience, but also a complicated one in a foreign country. At this point, my Italian was not up to a proficient standard, therefore, Chiara’s amazing English was extremely helpful.
She helped to explain the buying process in Italy and held our hand throughout the whole experience. Her help did not stop there. She has been there for us post sale for so many various things in which we have needed help.
- We also know that you were initially interested in an amazing farmhouse near “Villa Albertella”, but you could not purchase it. Can you tell us what happened? How did you feel when you “lost” it?
Yes, the house we were interested in was absolutely gorgeous.
It is actually located off the same road as Villa Albertella. We went to see it a couple of times and thought that this was going to be the place for us. We went away on holiday thinking that the house had been on the market for quite some time, therefore there was not a sense of urgency.
I remember receiving a message from Chiara telling us that an international buyer came in quite quickly and put in an offer that was accepted.
We were devastated but felt that things do happen for a reason. A very positive outcome of this all was that we knew we wanted to be on that hill above Cetona in the Belverde area.
- So what you thought was your dream property had been purchased by other clients, Great Estate was able to find you another, “Villa Albertella”. Do you remember your first impressions about it?
When we came back from our holiday, we went to Italy to start looking at more properties with Chiara. She told us that one of her lovely colleagues called around to villa owners in the Belverde area to see if they were interested in selling.
The owner of Villa Albertella said that she actually had been thinking of selling for quite some time but had not made the first step forward. She heard our story and and gave us an exclusive viewing. She set the price and said that Chiara had one month to close the deal.
The moment we ascended up Villa Albertella’s impressive long driveway lined with “cipressi” trees, I looked at Mark and said “ THIS IS IT”.
He of course gave me a wry smile as to say it was a bit too soon to make such a statement!
Once we entered the gates and looked around and saw the phenomenal view of Cetona, I could tell in his eyes he was already sold.
- What can you tell us about the negotiation process?
Great Estate advised the owner as to what similar properties were selling at during that time, therefore, the owner set a reasonable and fair price. Since this was an unconventional sale, the price was not negotiable.
- We know that during these past four years, you have renovated the villa while fully being able to enjoy it. To date, what does it represents for Mark and you?
This is our FAMILY home. I have three lovely step children that live all over the world. We wanted a place that we could all come together to share this special place. And it is also a spectacular gathering place for all friends and family.
We wanted to renovate the villa and the property to represent our taste but to also keep the integrity of the existing structures. We wanted it to feel authentic but to be modernised to our taste.
Great Estate recommended “Emanuela Miani Design” who are the company that realised all of our renovations.
Emanuela and her son Nathan do an amazing job and sourced the best companies to carry out the work.
They were able to understand our likes and dislikes and also recommended so many things that we had not even thought of before.
We became great friends with them during the project which says a lot as there is usually a lot of contention during a renovation. They are also my business partners now in a company we formed in 2017 called Hidden Hills SRL where we buy, renovate and sell homes in Umbria and Tuscany.
- During the summer of 2018, your husband and you decided to renew your marriage vows, by organizing a great party at your villa. Would you like to tell us something about that very special day, its organization and your feelings about it?
That party is one of the best memories to date! The kids, Claire, Nicholas, and Dominic were an integral part of our ceremony and celebration. And we had about 100 friends and family there to celebrate with us from around the world.
This was our first large party at the Villa and I must say it was beyond a success. We danced the night away until about 4:00 AM. It was such an incredibly special moment for us because we were able to share our dream with our friends and family.
Unfortunately, my dad was extremely ill and could not make it from California. This has now given us an excuse to have another party in the near future so he can be a part of it!
I was put in touch with a wonderful woman from Firenze named Valentina Moneglia to organise the party. She is a very famous wedding planner for international weddings that take place in Tuscany.
She normally does not do anything aside from weddings but we had a video call and immediately hit it off. She agreed to organise the party.
She and her team did a marvellous job and created an outstanding party and an everlasting memory. They sourced the best possible vendors from caterers to music bands, DJs, flowers,….I can continue on and on…..
And another special aspect of that party was that the friends we made at Great Estate and locally within the community were to celebrate with us. They are such a special group of people that we are so happy to call our friends.
- In addition to the house itself, Great Estate provided you with the right people for the management and maintenance of the property: Stefano and Giorgia. What do you think about them? What do you think about the way Great Estate presented them to you?
I must say that Giorgia and Stefano have been the biggest blessing of all. We have found two of the MOST lovely, trustworthy, and genuinely kind people to look after our home. It is so nice to be able to leave Villa Albertella and know that it is in the hands of Stefano and Giorgia. They have also become a part of our family. Everyone loves them! I feel it is quite rare to find such a special connection.
Stefano Petri, the managing director of Great Estate, has known Stefano since they were young children. He is the one who recommended the two of them. They had such nice things to say about them and immediately organised our first meeting. Unfortunately, Mark could not be there that day but I was at the first meeting. Mark met them the following day. Giorgia always likes to tell me that it was Mark who sold her on coming to Albertella! I hope she is kidding……
- After several years, what do you think about the support that Great Estate offered you during the purchase of your Tuscan home? Among its services and tools, do you think is there something to be improved? If so, which ones?
Great Estate could not have provided anything different to us as their level of service pre and post-sale were and has been so appreciated and top quality. They were there to not just sell us a house but to help us create our home.
- We would like to close this pleasant chat with you by asking, why should an international client invest in Italy and, to be more specific, in the areas of Cetona and its surroundings?
It has been a pleasure chatting with you as well.
Those are two great questions that I am happy to answer. Italy is by far the most beautiful country in which I have ever been to. I cannot say enough wonderful things about the culture, the people, the food, and the scenery.
Investing in Italy is investing in a lifestyle that attracts people all over the world.
Cetona is a special village.
The people there are warm, friendly, and have welcomed us into their community with open arms. The surrounding villages are beautiful as well. We have friends in these other villages that are international buyers and love the area as well. It is also located equidistant from Firenze and Roma allowing for day trips to these amazing cities full of culture.
I think if you are an international buyer, being within a decent range of an international airport will enable you to come there whether it is for a long weekend or for a long period of time.
A special thank you to Rachel Makepeace.