Buying property in Italy is fairly easy.
While buying a car isn’t, unless you’re a bona fide resident. You see, cars have to have a comune in which to be registered, and only residents are on the rolls of the anagrafe (registry) office. But laws permit non-resident ownership of a home or land.
The biggies for setting yourself to complete a real estate transaction are:
1. Italian Codice Fiscale (Italian tax number). It can be procured online or at a L’Agenzia Entrate office fairly quickly and easily. Without it, buying property in Italy is impossible.
2. A non-resident bank account. This one isn’t always so easy as many banks are balking at the extra paperwork needed for Americans. However, that might be primarily for resident-based accounts. When I needed mine almost fifteen years ago, my real estate agent made that happen (along with the Codice Fiscale) like clockwork.
You’ll need the account to issue checks and make deposits or for the rogito/atto (closing).
3. A Power of Attorney. I highly recommend this if you have someone in Italy that you trust to act on your behalf while you’re back home. Getting the POA in the United States is a royal pain in the boohiney. It has to be written perfectly in Italian and then notarized at the Italian Consulate. You might encounter individual peculiarities like I did, forcing me to find a local FedEx work center to make tweaks.
If you don’t have a POA, you’ll risk slowing down the process. My real estate agent did the closing for me while I was at work back in California. I had a high level of trust in him.
So these are the basics to clear your path. But there are some things that I believe you should be particularly mindful to do.
When buying property in Italy use a resource like Idealista.
It’s the closest thing to an MLS (multiple listing service) we’ve been able to find. Idealista.it helps to find and research properties within the geographical confines of your search. Properties from the different agencies are listed there along with contact information. There’s an Idealista app available for your phone. You can set it up to send you alerts of new properties and price reductions of your favorite properties.
Build relationships with multiple agents.
Each agency office has different properties. They do not share a database/MLS with different agencies. In other words, you only can a property through the agency that represents it. Split commissions between agents from different companies are fairly non-existent. And if you like a property but you don’t like the agent, you still have to buy through them.
I know, it can make for a frustrating and complicated search. But if you’re buying property in Italy and you want a good selection, it’s essential.
Without casting a net wide with multiple agents, you’re going to be severely limiting your options. When you work with multiple agents they get to know you and what you’re looking for. They’ll be more likely to call you when they sniff out a property that might fit your needs before it’s actually on the market.
Clearly communicate your expectations.
Once you’ve chosen a property, be clear in communicating to your agent your expectations. Also, ask to understand their expectations of you. I’d like to say that agents in Italy consistently are on their toes and customer-focused. There are great agents, as we’ve experienced personally. But there are also agents who do the minimum and expect their clients to do most of the work. There are unscrupulous agents who will say whatever is expedient for them to get the sale, leaving you to pay the price down the road.
When buying property in Italy, understand the agency fee (it varies).
In the States, it’s the seller who pays the real estate commission. Here in Italy, it’s both buyer and seller. For each, it normally is between 4% and 6%. That means an agent can be getting up to 12% of the sale price.
Depending on how the terms of the sale go, you might be able to negotiate a lower commission.
Employ a really good geometra.
For buying property in Italy, this sits at the top of my list.
A geometra is an Italian hybrid that falls somewhere between surveyor, junior architect, contractor, and supervisor. This is the most important person for making sure buildings are done and registered properly with the comune. They’re the ones who submit building and system plans to make sure they are in compliance.
A big deal here (and getting even bigger) is making sure a property matches the registered schematic/floor plan. Years ago, people tended to feel more emboldened to make house or apartment renovations without the necessary permissions and without updating the registered floor plans. A solid geometra can tell you if there are any problems in this regard to a property you are considering. We once were considering purchasing a small property. Our geometra ascertained that it had multiple issues as to how it had been registered and advised us against making the purchase.
A good real estate agent should already be on top of this, but the geometra is an important double-check. You’d like to believe that all sellers are disclosing all potential issues. But some can be surprisingly mute about important matters that can plague you down the road.
Have your geometra do a thorough property inspection.
Please do this prior to making an offer. If your home purchase might involve significant renovations, you might want to ask your geometra to bring an engineer as well.
A couple of decades ago people were more relaxed (and sometimes downright negligent) about their properties and renovations. That’s why having a solid geometra involved is an essential step to ferret out all potential issues before making an offer.
When we rented an apartment in Rome for over a year, we heard a story of a neighbor who decided to add a window to their apartment in a palazzo (apartment building). They’d done it without permission, possibly assuming that they’d live there until they die and let it be someone else’s future problem. Yikes!
Making the offer.
This is very different from how real estate is being sold in the US. There, more and more buyers accept and review multiple offers, often specifying a single day to increase the competition and sales price. In Italy, you craft your offer with your agent. You write a deposit check and the agent meets with the seller. Once your offer has been received and until the seller has given a yay or nay, other potential buyers are not able to submit offers. This is how it is SUPPOSED to be (and we’ve been shut out from making offers before because of this). But there are unscrupulous agents who will do some backroom dealings and use your offer to prod another buyer to action.
Understand your closing options.
Your property purchase, depending on the timing and circumstances, may require a compromesso, which is a legally binding sales agreement. This is different from an initial deposit with your offer to get the apartment secured. However, especially if there will be several months before the actual closing, you may be asked to sign a compromesso. It is a very detailed agreement between buyer and seller as to the terms of the act (sale). A substantial payment (often 20% of the sales price) must accompany the compromesso at signing. Now, here is the important thing: backing out by either the seller or the buyer comes with onerous consequences. If the buyer backs out, they lose their deposit. Don’t think it’s like in the US when you have an inspection done after the fact and you discover something that you think is problematic, and then you get your deposit back and walk away.
If the seller backs out after the compromesso is signed, they are legally obliged to pay you back double your deposit.
So, don’t take the compromesso lightly and make sure you have a good lawyer or notaio (a much more elevated function here in Italy) to review the terms with you before signing.
If you have an accepted offer and you are able to move to the atto (the closing act) in short order, then you may be able to bypass the compromesso. This often is the best scenario for all involved. You know, get ‘er done before people start changing their minds. Also, not having to a compromesso saves you money. Because the compromesso is a legally binding agreement, it must be registered with L’Agenzia Entrate and a hefty registration fee paid.
The closing with your notary.
As the buyer, you are the one who determines the notary. Your agent may steer you toward one with whom they have worked successfully and expeditiously. Often times that’s the way to go, but I recommend having a short meeting with the notaio to get a sense of their energy and how they work. Also, if you can speak with other people who have experience with a particular notaio, even better.
The best notaries are super precise and proactive in getting all necessary documentation (working through your agent mostly). They don’t leave things for a last-minute rush and will be able to move through the closing effectively and expeditiously. Beware of a notaio whose office reeks of rushed or frenetic energy.
The Relazioni Conformità
This is an incredibly important document for you as part of your closing. This is a document provided by the seller that states and certifies through their geometra that all systems have been done properly and registered with the comune.
More and notaries are asking for this which is a very good thing. Technically, the seller is not legally obliged to provide this document. But it is becoming standard operating practice to protect buyers from improperly done work in the past. You might even want to include that as a requirement on the sales offer to be sure everyone knows up front. If the buyer or your agent balks at the request, I believe it’s better to know that sooner than later. It’s a red flag if they don’t want to provide it since it puts them on the hook for possible undisclosed surprises later.
Certification of the closing
When you leave the office of the notaio, you should be provided with a one-page document attesting to the completion of the act with the necessary details. This is important for you to have and present to utility companies in order to set up service. You’ll probably also need to do the most current meter readings to provide to the companies to get set up.
A copy of the full notarized act will be provided once it has been registered with L’Agenzia Entrate. Be sure to ask your notaio for an electronic copy in addition to a hard copy.
If you’re working without an agent…
Then it will be doubly important to have a reliable geometra in tow and to have a good notaio or attorney to review and advise you before you sign anything! Don’t laugh, but some people end up signing a napkin or a discarded piece of paper that they think is nothing but ends up as evidence of a promise to buy in court.