Looking back at all the things I’ve done in planning and relocating my life, buying a house in Italy was one of the easiest things…surprisingly. In fact, buying a house here is vastly easier than buying a car. Go figure. To buy a car in Italy, you must first be a resident, and that can take some time and patience. To buy a house, you need a codice fiscale (an Italian tax number) and you need to open an Italian bank account – which you can do in a non-resident status. Once you have done those two things, you can pretty much head back to your current home country and handle the remainder of the negotiations and transactions from there – provided already you’ve found a property that captured your heart, and provided you’ve taken a good, thorough look at the property.
Don’t waste your time trying to figure out why the “system” here makes it fairly easy to buy a house, while making the purchase of a car such an arduous process. Just appreciate that buying a house can go pretty smoothly…provided you take into consideration the following advice.
Make sure you work with a reputable real estate agent. Get references and names of people who’ve already been through the process with the agent so that you have a good picture of what to expect. I was blessed to find an awesome agent who made the purchase of my home go quite smoothly. He and his wife have been selling real estate in Umbria for well over twenty years, and they excel at managing the process for you so that you can rest easily. I needed a bit of hand-holding, being completely out of my depth with the legalities of purchasing a house in Italy, and thankfully my agent was incredibly patient with me.
A good real estate agent, like mine, will steer you away from properties that have a “history” of any type of legal entanglement. The Napoleonic inheritance laws really do complicate the passing of property after someone’s death. And, if you’re looking to buy a home or apartment with history, you want to be sure the title will be free and clear and that you won’t find yourself in court at a later date fending off a claim from a relative.
Many people who visit Italy see potential in the countless abandoned, crumbling properties that populate the countryside of Italy. What they don’t know is that many of these properties have been passed down through so many generations that the ownership has become fractionalized to the point where getting agreement from the family on a sale becomes next to impossible. So, the properties sit, and deteriorate further.
But, don’t be discouraged. There are plenty of properties unencumbered with such a scenario, and a good real estate agent will only show you viable properties.
Compromesso di compravendita
Once you find your dream home, the process can take a couple of paths. Unless the sale is going to be immediate, you’ll mostly likely need to sign a compromesso di compravendita, or preliminary sale agreement. Signing this agreement usually comes with a deposit you agree to make, similar to earnest money in the U.S. However, DO NOT take this document, and its requirements, lightly. This is not like being in the U.S. when you submit an offer, pay a deposit, and then, for whatever reason, you back out and take your deposit with you. You’ll have to come up with a pretty damn good reason, and proof, for legitimate breach of contract. The same goes true for the seller. In fact, the penalties for failure to complete the contract can be stiffer for the seller.
In other words, be certain this is the property you want to buy before signing such a contract. Let your agent guide you as to what to do and say, as well as what not to do or say.
One of the things that Americans are used to is having a thorough property inspection after an offer agreement has been signed. Then, they use the report to either negotiate the price further, or back out of the agreement. Don’t expect the same here. If you are interested in a property, you probably can hire someone to come look at the property with you and make call-outs as to anything that might be problematic. But, you’ll want to do that before you sign a sales agreement.
If you have the vision (and the stomach) for a renovation of a property, it can be an incredibly rewarding process. It was for me. But, prior to signing a sales agreement you might want to hire a geometra and/or an architetto to take a thorough look at the property so as to paint a picture as to the magnitude of the renovation, and the general cost. Romantic visions sometimes can obscure the realities and difficulties of a renovation.
Certificato di agibilità
If you are buying a home or an apartment that is considered habitable, the seller is required to provide a certificato di agibilità. You’ll also need this document when you apply for your Italian visa, and your permesso di soggiorno. If you do a major renovation, you’ll need this certificate upon completion. Certain older houses, which have been moderately updated, are not required to have this certificate, but they do need to have proof/documentation registered that the systems (e.g. electrical, water) properly were updated. Check out lavorincasa.it for more details on the certificato di agibilità. Regardless, make sure you speak with an expert to determine the requirements for your particular property.
Closing the deal
In Italy, a notary manages the final settlement. A notary in Italy is not the same as a notary in the U.S. A notary here is a more elevated legal function, and he or she will make sure the property transfer and sale is done properly, and all required documents are filed.
I wasn’t present for my closing. My agent provided a power of attorney document, which I had notarized at the local Italian consulate. The closing went without a hitch.
Your real estate agent should provide you with an estimate of commissions, and closing costs prior to the closing. The taxes you pay depend on the type of property you purchase. If you are purchasing something that is considered “new construction” don’t be surprised if you are paying 22% IVA on top of the purchase price. Be sure to inquire about this before you sign on the dotted line.
One last word of advice. If you are seeking to finance the purchase of your home here in Italy, you are entering into a world of great complexity. Mortgages exists here, but it’s complicated. If that is what you are considering, be sure to do your research as to how this works before you start shopping for a home.
If you buy a home that is need of a renovation, you have yet another adventure waiting for you. Bringing a neglected home back to life can be immensely gratifying, but it comes with its own set of dos and don’ts. I’ll write about that in another post.
In conclusion, buying a house here in Italy turned out to be amazingly easy. I am thankful to my real estate agent for making it go smoothly, and for helping me along the way. For you, it can be a good experience as well. Just know the steps and the legal requirements and you’ll be in good shape.
Disclaimer: These observations and suggestions are based solely on my experience of purchasing property in Italy, and in no way should serve as a substitute for your own due diligence in understanding and following the legal requirements associated with purchasing a home in Italy.