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Property Stays Hot Under the Tuscan Sun

PESCALIA, Italy -- My mother made sure I gave the original chestnut ceiling beams their due admiration. "Others pay a fortune to have these put in," she tells me. The old town house my parents bought in this northern Tuscan village about two years ago doesn't look like much now, but Rina Barsotti, their real estate agent, says the house will be habitable a year from now.

My parents bought the property to feed my mother's penchant for the romantic and remote. Having grown up in Switzerland, Tuscany was a perfect fit for her because "it makes you feel like you went back in time," she says.

Like many foreigners buying property in Tuscany, my parents are mainly concerned with authenticity and charm. Buyers like a pension fund manager in London who conducted research all over Europe before deciding to buy Italian property, however, also have a sound investment in mind.

While lawyers, diplomats, bankers and intellectuals of the 1980s still form the bulk of Italian property buyers, people from all walks of life are now buying across the various market levels, says Steve Emmett, managing director of Brian A French & Associates (a member of Mayfair International Realty ), partner in Immobiliari Brian French Italia, and chairman of the Federation of Overseas Property Developers Agents and Consultants (FOPDAC).

"In effect, a stable, mature market has gained a new lease on life," Emmett says.

More Pleasure Than Business

The weakening dollar hasn't deterred American buyers, says Emmett. Mostly, it's culture and history, not financial gain, that attracts foreigners, although some are still looking for ways to move their money out of the U.S. market or diversify their assets.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the American Stock Exchange recently listed an international real-estate exchange-traded fund, WisdomTree International Real Estate Fund (DRW) and Charles Schwab & Co. launched the Schwab Global Real Estate (SWAIX) mutual fund.

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