Dorrie Seijffert fell in love twice in 1981, first with Umbria and then with a guy from Perugia. What started off as a month's study trip for the History of Art part of her French degree at the University of Amsterdam began a chain of events which has led to her current career as the successful owner of her own international real estate business, Le Case di Dorrie.
A talented linguist (she speaks fluent Dutch, English, Italian, Spanish and French), Dorrie chose Perugia's famous Universita' per Stranieri for her studies all those years ago. She stayed with other students in a monastery in the centre of the city and remembers meeting a lot of people of all nationalities and one very special Perugino who is still her partner today.
After finishing her studies Dorrie decided to stay in Italy and so began several years of long-distance commuting as a conference interpreter for the EU. She would spend two weeks in Brussells or Amsterdam then return to Umbria for two weeks before beginning the whole thing again. 'For a while I had a part-time life in Italy, ' she says. 'And to be honest it was great! And much simpler in terms of taxes too.'
As time went on the couple bought a casa colonica (farmhouse) and had a daughter who they were both determined should be educated in Italy. But when the time came for her little girl to go to school, Dorrie realised she could no longer continue working outside the country. She decided to follow her heart once more and create a business in Italy based on her passion for old houses and her love of Umbria, often described as 'Tuscany's gentler sister.'
Umbria, Business and the Internet
It was 2001 and Umbria was starting to register on people's consciousness as an alternative to Tuscany for property. The internet too was in the ascendant, although it was not yet widely used in Italy as a business tool. Dorrie thought she could make a living helping foreigners like herself find second homes or holiday homes in Italy.
She teamed up with an English couple who had just moved to Umbria and together they set up a website listing houses for sale from a variety of local agencies who didn't have websites and didn't speak English. 'I wasn't an estate agent myself,' she explains. 'I found the clients, took them round the properties and explained the procedure of buying in Italy and what it was like living here.'
The business was a success in terms of finding plenty of clients. But Dorrie soon ran into problems when she realised that many of the properties the Italian agents had passed on to them had issues. 'Often agents hadn't checked that the properties were fit to be sold,' she explains. 'All kinds of problems popped up, from arguments over rights of way to disputes over multiple ownership. It was extremely difficult and stressful but it was also incredibly useful and I learned a lot. You could call it my two-year baptism of fire!'
Dorrie realised that there was only one thing for it, she would have to become a qualified real estate agent herself. She took a four-month course followed by the all-important exams. 'I was very happy I had so much practical experience,' she explains, 'because the course was so theoretical. This is very typical of how things are done here, theory dominates over practice.'
And so Dorrie became the first Dutch national to qualify as an estate agent in Italy. She started her own agency in 2004 and will celebrate her tenth anniversary in July this year, 2014. She works entirely online from her home office and has deliberately not rented premises or taken on staff. 'Working the way I do avoids a lot of bureaucratic rules,' she explains. 'If I had a rented office I would have to comply with all kinds of regulations like not playing music in public, getting qualified in first aid and so on. I want to work, not waste time!'
Bureaucracy and Bellezza
Because of her status as a sole enterprise, Dorrie only needs to use a commercialista for her accounts rather than a consulente del lavoro. She hasn't escaped Italian bureaucracy altogether though. 'The regulations for estate agents are always changing,' she says. 'As an agent, when I register the preliminary contract at the tax office I have to get a marca di bollo for Euro 16 for every hundred lines of text. You get these from the tobacconists and have to pay in cash and make sure they are dated correctly. Then you have to take the documents to the tax office. Get one thing wrong and you have to start the whole process over. I still find it incredibly frustrating even after all these years, although Italian agents don't understand what I am moaning about!'
Any problems with the infamous Italian bureaucracy fade into the background when she talks about what the job actually involves. 'I love to drive through the beautiful Umbrian countryside on my way to see a house. I know Umbria very, very well now, better than most people who live here, but there are always new corners to discover. The scenery is just beautiful and the colours are magical., And the other part of the job I find really rewarding is my relationship with my clients. I love helping them bridge the cultural gap and to share what I have learned about life here.'
What is the main piece of advice she passes on to her clients about living and working in Italy? ' I tell them it can be maddening, it can be frustrating,it might look like everything is going wrong,' she says. 'But then I explain that this is Italy and you know what? It all works in the end.'
For further information:
Office tel: +39 075 5739637
Skypename: Le Case di Dorrie