The best advice I heard from an agent to a foreign buyer in Italy was “Take everything you know about real estate in the US and throw it out the window. This is Italy, and everything is totally different.”
Truer words are rarely spoken!
The buying process in Italy is complicated and notoriously slow, but it can also be risky if you do not have someone to guide you. This is true for almost everything in life, if you are in an unfamiliar process and it involves money, the risks increase.
Italian property prices can range from very low (only a few thousand euro) to multi-million-euro villas, but what all have in common, is the buying process and checks that must be completed to ensure it is a safe purchase.
Here are the six things to check before buying your dream home in Italy.
1. Have a Building Inspection and Survey
Just like you would in your home country, it is a good idea to have a building inspection completed to ensure the property is structurally sound. This is standard in most countries, but not in Italy. In fact, almost no one does them and owners hate them.
“You should have a full property survey which consists of structural and non-structural inspection, that also includes plumbing, electric, heating and gas system analysis. It is similar to a home inspection in the US, but with a structural and seismic analysis included.” Explains Dave Bufalino, owner of Bufalino Construction who specializes in pre-purchase building inspections. “Additionally, you need to have a full legal conformity check of the property to make sure that all of the works and existing structures comply with the laws.”
Often, you will find rooms built without proper permission. This can be simply an oversight by the owner or something they are trying to hide. If you buy a property that is not compliant with the local rules, it will be your responsibility to fix the issues, which can be an unexpected cost. The cost of a full building inspection with a documented survey is dependent on the size of the property, but they generally start around €1500.
2. Check The Ownership of The Property
Ask your estate agent to do a search of the current registered owners of the property and obtain the Visura to see the Cadastral Values and if there are any potential problems. There can be several owners (even some that were not aware of it) on the title, as well as tax debt. Some less than honest agents will list properties that may not even be for sale by all owners.
3. Confirm The Property is Vacant
This may seem simple enough, if there is no one in it, it’s vacant right? Not so fast. If you are buying a property that has an existing rental contract on it, you will inherit the tenants and be bound by the contract, and rental contracts are very difficult to break. Even if the property appears to be vacant, ensure that there are no existing rental contracts registered against it.
4. Check The Debts on The Property
It is common to find properties with outstanding debts or taxes left unpaid. This will show up on the Visura and when the Notary prepares the transfer of property. Ensure that there are no outstanding taxes or condo fee debts that are registered against the property. It will be your responsibility to pay them if you become the new owner.
5. Confirm What is Included in The Sale
If you are purchasing a furnished property, make sure you indicate exactly what is included and what isn’t. Often there will include an inventory list or photographs of each room. Do not forget that “unfurnished” can mean no kitchen, and unlike the rule in Canada that if it’s fixed to the wall it stays – in Italy, the owner can remove everything including light fixtures, bathroom fixtures, etc.
6. Get an Estimate of Closing Costs
The closing costs and taxes can vary depending on the property and the category it falls under. Luxury properties will have higher transfer taxes, as do second homes. The transfer tax will be included in the Notary fees as well as any additional document fees or taxes required to complete the sale. In addition, you will pay a commission to the estate agent that is usually around 3% of the purchase price.
Depending on the price, complexity, and details of the property, it can be in your best interest to budget for an Italian Property Lawyer to help you throughout the process. They will ensure that your purchase is protected and will be representing you from the beginning to close. A property lawyer is also able to advise you about tax options, estate planning, and other factors that can impact your property investment.
You should budget about 10% of the purchase price for closing costs and commissions.
Buying a home in any country is exciting but buying in Italy can often make you feel vulnerable, confused, nervous, frustrated, and suspicious of everyone. These are very common emotions to feel when you are experiencing fear, and fear is a normal emotion to feel when you are experiencing something new, and you don’t feel supported.
My best advice, besides ensuring you follow the above six things to check before you buy in Italy, is to have someone you trust by your side. This can be a friend, an advisor, or an estate agent. Just make sure it is someone that understands the buying process in Italy, speaks the language, and will welcome all your questions, big or small.
Buying a home in Italy is a big deal, regardless of your budget. You need to be sure that you are well supported, informed, and guided safely throughout each step in the process. Because only then, you can feel like you’ve got the best price, the best terms, and the perfect house for you to share and enjoy with your friends and family for years to come.
Where to start:
If you are dreaming of buying a home in Italy there are a couple of things to do. First, sign up for our issue of Vendita, our FREE property newsletter with 20 hand-picked properties delivered to your inbox every Sunday.
If your budget is over 750K, don’t miss VenditaLUX a monthly newsletter for fine properties in Italy. Every property selected in VenditaLUX has a story to tell.
If you are ready to buy and want to have someone by your side, check out our Property Purchase Assistance where we have helped hundreds of people, just like you, find, negotiate and safely buy their dream homes in Italy.
All great advice! The only thing I would add is that these need to be done BEFORE being under contract. Unlike the US, once under contract, unless the contract is clear and specific about the conditions upon which it can be broken, the buyer has no recourse if anything is found per the listed inspections.