Rental diaries, vol. 16


Mary Gray
November 6, 2018 - 15:27

On Facebook recently, an acquaintance put out one of those pseudo-“ask the audience” posts. You know the kind: ostensibly the person wants input, but really their mind is quite made up, so while waiting for the 14 bus, or for their pasta water to boil, they pose a question and hope a few of their 1,100 “friends” will throw them a validating bone. (So, most Facebook posts, really.)

His was a dilemma he faced as a prospective homebuyer. An affordable apartment in central Florence, or just on its fringes, had no balcony but was otherwise perfect. His question: was this truly a dealbreaker?


Not your basic "balconcino." / Ph. Efe Arat via Flickr

Given my interest in all things real estate, I scrolled through the comments voyeuristically, though the subject was about as juicy as drywall. Two schools of thought emerged among the commenters, but with a shared consensus: a concession or two is always necessary. It’s up to the buyer to decide which ones are workable.

Home buying happens on an island I won’t visit for some time, but I nonetheless have strong opinions on the balcony-slash-outdoor-space matter. Even as a renter, my one non-negotiable in my last search was an outdoor space of some kind (be it a garden or a balconcino that could barely hold an herb pot.) Creative solutions can fix things like a view of the fridge from the bed, but in congested Florence, a “personal piazza”, however small, is priceless, and can’t just be added at will. Plus, sometimes in this town, you just need to look at a leaf.

The Facebook post’s pro-balcony camp strangely mentioned nothing of how such a space, regardless of its dimensions, can make a flat feel double its size. How it offers simultaneous respite from and engagement with the city. They were relentless realists, these commenters, asking the poster where he’d hang his laundry, or where he’d chuck trash bags with storms looming and willpower lacking.

It got me thinking about a revealing aspect of my own raised-ground floor balcony, the threshold to my dog WC garden and perhaps to my psyche. While the garden is a picturesque “personal piazza” in its finest hours, the balcony is best identified as laundry and trash purgatory. My skivvies, barely-coping herbs and bags of kitchen scraps sit brazenly out where my ideal self would hang fairy lights and flowers; my real self's charming substitutes are partially obscured by a covering, but ultimately in plain view for anyone in the palazzo who bothers looking hard enough. (Meanwhile, I pretend not to be home if a neighbor rings my bell unexpectedly and my apartment isn’t 100 percent pristine.)

No cell reception inside means if I work from home, the balcony is my call center; I regularly waltz onto it with wet hair, wearing a bathrobe. But I never take the full two steps down into the garden in such circumstances. I can concede to basic decorum.






Read all Rental Diaries columns by Mary Gray here


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