10 pitfalls to avoid when buying a property in Italy
Buying a dream home in Italy has rarely been easier or more desirable, especially with the pound strengthening against the Euro, Italian taxation changes that have made the buying process cheaper and falling property prices.
Throw in the chance to swap yet another lousy British summer with the almost year-round sunshine that large swathes of Italy bask in, as well as companies such as ourselves at Homes and Villas Abroad, who provide you with a range of 2,500 properties to choose from all across Italy…and it’s almost enough to have you booking your plane ticket in no time at all.
Buying property in Italy should be a dream move. But as with any property purchase, especially one abroad, there are commonsense guidelines to follow to ensure everything goes as smoothly as it should.
If you are new to the process, we suggest you look at our informative guide to the buying process in Italy. Otherwise, you may skip straight to our 10 pitfalls to avoid, below:
One would be amazed at the number of people who head off on cheap and cheerful inspection tours and buy on the spot, only to decide three months later they don’t like the area. It’s a good idea to spend a few days holidaying in and looking around different places. If it’s important to you, find out how close facilities such as banks and shops are.
Visit at different times of year
Some resorts are very seasonal – lively and full of people in summer, virtual ghost towns in winter. If you plan on using your property solely as a summer home, that won’t matter much. But if you plan on using it as more than just that, try – if you have the time – to visit at different times of year for a feel of what it is like in different seasons.
Historically, Tuscany has always been the top destination of people coming to buy property in Italy – a trend exacerbated by Frances’ Mayes 1990s bestseller-cum-film Under The Tuscan Sun, about her property adventures in the picturesque hilltown of Cortona.
But with high demand come high prices. And although there are some relatively cheap areas of Tuscany, such as the Maremma, in the south, by and large €50,000 will not buy you a perfectly finished three-bedroom house set in a couple of acres.
If you are prepared to consider other parts of Italy, however, such as Calabria, Abruzzo and Sicily, you may be able to find what you are after well within that budget.
Choose a reliable agent
This almost goes without saying. The last thing you want is to be taken for a ride by some cowboy or well-meaning but incompetent amateur. The Italian business and commercial sector can be over-burdened with regulation at times, but this is one occasion to be thankful that it is.
All estate agents must be professionally qualified and licensed, registered with their local chambers of commerce and must hold indemnity insurance.
Additional symbols to look out for on their website and other publicity material are membership of one or more of the following: FIAIP (Federation of Professional Estate Agents), FIMAA (Federation of Mediators and Agents) or AICI (Italian Association of Estate Agents).
What property is right for you?
Which is not necessarily the same thing as what property you would like. Common mistakes include buying a house with far more bedrooms than you need. Does it come with a large, Olympic-style swimming pool and five hectares of land? Nothing could be more idyllic. But make sure you take into account the maintenance that would need.
Dedicate time to search properly
If you’re coming to Italy to look at a number of properties, set aside an adequate amount of time to do so. Don’t squeeze it in as an afterthought in between long, boozy lunches and then end up cancelling appointments at the last minute. Estate agents and property sellers will have gone to great lengths to schedule your visits.
On the other side of the coin, don’t cram in too many viewings. We’ve heard of buyers trying to see 40 properties in four or five days. It’s more exhausting than you think. And by apartment No25, can you remember anything of the first dozen that you saw?
Get legal advice
If you’re buying in Italy, it’s not just the language that will most likely be different, it’s the entire legal process. This is one area in which you don’t want to cut corners.
Hire a reputable, independent lawyer – ideally English-speaking but well-versed in the Italian legal system – to guide you through the entire process and ensure you avoid any pitfalls. Has the property got proper planning permission? Are there any loans, mortgages or third-party claims on the mortgage? Any plans to build a motorway 100 yards away? Without a lawyer, all very common traps waiting to ensnare the unwary buyer.
Whatever you do, do not sign any document without proper legal advice. Far too many buyers sign the first piece of paper waved in front of them – and find they have made a legal commitment they cannot back out of. We can recommend the independent legal department at Italian property search specialists The Property Organiser.
Ignore exchange rate fluctuations at your peril. The Euro-sterling rate, for instance, has over the course of a year veered between a high of €1.29/£1 and a low of €1.02/£1.
For a €500,000 property, the difference between exchanging at the top and bottom of that upswing is an extra £102,600. That’s where a currency exchange specialist comes in such as Worldwide Currencies.
They can offer fixed rates for future transactions to safeguard against possible falls in the value of sterling. Virtually all foreign exchange companies will offer better rates than a high street bank or – an even worse option – an airport exchange kiosk. On a typical £250,000 exchange, they could save you up to £10,000 compared with bank rates. You can learn more about foreign exchange at www.forexfloor.com.
If you plan to let out your property, vicinity to transport hubs is crucial – especially if you are targeting foreigners rather than Italians. Aim for a maximum 1½ hrs from the nearest international airport. There are exceptions, for instance, Cortona and Chianti in Tuscany. But they are exceptions.
Properties within easy access of principal attractions also rent better. In a ski or beach resort, you ideally want to be walking distance away from the pistes and sea.
Cerca di parlare la lingua
That’s “try to speak the language”. Even if you’re only going to be using your home for a couple of weeks of the year, bear in mind not everyone speaks English. And no, speaking English slowly and loudly doesn’t help either.