Finding A Home On Lake Como

June 25th, 2010

Given that offers of a reported US$26million failed to get George Clooney to part with his luxury mansion on the banks of Lake Como, the recent dredging up of a half-tonne store of WWII explosives close by wasn’t likely to budge him. Guess it’s official: the film icon simply adores Lake Como.

And that’s perfectly understandable. Most people who come to Italy’s lakes region are in no hurry to leave. Just some of the other star names who own property on Lake Como are singer Sting, British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho and fashion guru Donatella Versace, while relatives of late designer Gianni Versace sold their property for US$40million. Such is its glitzy allure that parts of Daniel Craig’s first movie as Brit secret agent 007 and Star Wars epic Attack of the Clones were filmed here while Cernobbio, on Lake Como’s south-western banks numbers everyone from Angelina Jolie to Yves St Laurent among its fans.

Since Clooney bought his property in Laglio eight years ago, a few miles north of Cernobbio, regular visitors have included the likes of Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. Clooney also picked up a rundown property neighbouring his for an extra US$4million that has been converted into a guesthouse for his famous chums.

Lake Como forms an inverted “Y” that starts in the foot of the Alps close to the Swiss border and runs south for around 50km. Its magnificent views and the Alps forming a stunning backdrop make this one of Italy’s most desired locations.

One of the most expensive as well. The presence of the actor precipitated a boom in the market that at its peak meant a 25% acceleration in prices in little over two years. Forget the global housing crash, the situation here has stayed firm, fuelled by demand from wealthy Milanese and financiers and bankers based across the Swiss border. This part of Italy is choc-a-bloc with multi-million Euro properties if you have your heart set on an illustrious home by the lake with a movie star for a neighbour.

Yet the good news is you don’t require a movie star’s bank balance to pick up a property in Lake Como. In Laglio, a lake-view development of nearly 40 apartments recently came on the market with prices ranging from Euro 137,600 for a studio flat to Euro 400,000 for a two-bedroom flat. Some 10 miles north, in Lenno, you can find a new-build flat for just Euro 165,000. Meanwhile, in nearby Tremezzo, Euro 240,000 may be enough for a property with two bedrooms and lake view.

Even bigger bargains can be found as you head north. Areas on the north-west coastline such as Dongo, Musso, Domaso and Pianello Lario are a great alternative if you want to spend less than Euro 250,000.

In Pianello Lario, a development of lake-view properties just 500 metres from the lake and with communal pool has one-bed flats from just Euro 110,000. With the Alps nearby, rental potential is pretty strong, up to around Euro 900 weekly. Gravedona, some four miles away is more affordable still. Here, expect just over Euro 100,000 for a two-bedroom lakeview property, albeit you may have to settle for being slightly away from the water.

Lake Como has drawn superlatives from visitors from all walks of life for centuries. The Roman poet Virgil, who would have known it as Lake Lario, spoke of its allure. Some years on, Roman politician Pliny The Younger owned a couple of villas here. Early in the 19th century Shelley waxed lyrical about how Como “exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty”. And author Henry James was left awestruck as he said: “One can’t describe the beauty of the Italian Lakes, nor would one try if one could.”

It’s not hard to see why. The lake is Italy’s third largest after Garda and Maggiore and is just under 150sq km of serene blue water bordered by mountains, hills and woods, a picture postcard of breathtaking beauty.

The scenery is majestic from almost throughout the 178km coastline. However, it’s hard to beat its middle section of Varenna, Bellagio and Menaggio, where the lake divides into two forked legs, one leading to Lecco, the second to Como.

Bellagio is known to Italians as “La perla del lago” (The pearl of the lake) and many Italians will tell you this is the prettiest town in Europe. Walk along its charming medieval lanes, gazing at the view, or take a ferry to Menaggio or Varenna, the snowy Alpine peaks soaring majestically in the background, and you would think likewise too. Six airports serve the area: three in Milan and others in Verona, Brescia and Lugano, Switzerland.

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Finding A Dream Home In Sicily

June 23rd, 2010

It was once almost synonymous with the Mob. Now Sicily, the Mediterranean’s largest island, is turning itself into one of the key property in Italy hotspots.

One key factor behind the soaring popularity of property in Sicily is the island’s prices, which are in general not just infinitely less expensive than in Tuscany but among the most affordable in Italy.

Another has been the increased availability of properties on the Sicilian market. Until recently, they were in the main handed from parents to their offspring. But younger people are more willing to sell their family heirloom to make their own way elsewhere.

Bear in mind you would be hard pushed to come across deals to beat the the Euro 1 properties offered in Salemi, 70km south of Palermo, a few years ago after they were destroyed in a 1968 tremor. Nonetheless, just Euro 55,000 can get you a 70sq m fixer-upper if you are content to be a quarter of an hour by car from the coast. Expect to pay Euro 65,000 for a flat about a 10-minute stroll from the beach in places such as Calatabiano on the island’s east coast and near the highly sought-after resort of Taormina. If you insist on being a few yards from the beach, you might pay Euro 90,000 in nearby sites such as Giardini Naxos.

The rising popularity of sunny Sicily among real estate hunters and holidaymakers has also been fuelled by the setting up of new direct routes by low-cost carriers such as easyJet and Ryanair to its three coastal airports in Catania, Palermo and Trapani. A further airport is due to be inaugurated shortly in Ragusa. Furthermore a proposal has been unveiled for a Euro 6billion bridge connecting Sicily with Calabria on the mainland. By the way, dismiss the overstated spectre of the Mafia, which foreigners never come into contact with.

Stefania Russo, head of property specialists the Property Organiser, sums up Sicily’s appeal as she says: "It has always been a great holiday destination because of its sunny temperatures, rich history, spectacular landscape and affordable prices. Until a few years ago, there wasn’t a great selection of homes for sale except for in beach resorts because they tended to remain within families. Now a younger generation is less wedded to tradition. They are prepared to realise these assets to enable them to buy elsewhere themselves.

"It is quite straightforward to buy a three bedroom property in Sicily for less than Euro 225,000. Bear in mind some areas are expensive, such as Cefalu, Giardini Naxos and Taormina, but they offer superb rental returns given that they are tourist meccas almost all year round."

The majority of overseas buyers are still attracted to beach resorts such as Castellammare del Golfo, Marsala, Cefalu, Scopello and Trapani. Expect Euro 160,000 for a two-bedroom apartment in Cefalu. If you insist on a sea view, expect to pay Euro 220,000 either here or in nearby Castellammare.

Taormina is arguably the region’s most sought-after location for overseas buyers and consequently its most expensive. In comparison, properties Catania, 30 miles to the south can often be half the price. Top-end villas in and around Taormina often go for more than one million Euro. On the flip side letting potential is huge and Euro 12,000 a month is not unknown. Notwithstanding this cut-price deals can be had if you look around. Typically, a sea view property will come with a price tag of around Euro 300,000 while one 10 minutes away but without the view will cost some Euro 220,000-Euro 230,000.

Sicily has star quality in spades. Cinema Paradiso was filmed in Cefalu, while parts of George Clooney adventure Ocean’s Twelve were made in Castellammare del Golfo, further along Sicily’s northern coast. In addition a number of famous names have villas on the island, such as 1980s Brit singers Jim Kerr, Mick Hucknall and Peter Gabriel as well as designer Giorgio Armani, football manager Fabio Capello and French actor Gerard Depardieu.

Even going back in time the island had no shortage of famous fans, from D H Lawrence and Truman Capote to Sophia Loren and Marlene Dietrich. In the 1700s the poet Wolfgang Goethe called it "a land unutterably beautiful" while a century later Richard Wagner orchestrated his final opera, Parsifal, in its capital Palermo.

The island’s obvious attractions are its incomparable architecture and breathtaking scenery. Its centuries-old ruins are evidence of the series of civilisations that have ruled the roost across history: everyone from the Romans and Greeks to the Normans and Brits. Sicily can boast an unparalled natural beauty too, from its 620 miles of coasts that include mile upon mile of sandy beaches to its magnificent mountain ranges. Then again there aren’t many places where you can have an apartment overlooking Mount Etna, soaring 10,000ft above sea level.

Sicily is not just its mainland, it also has sun-drenched islands. Close to the northern shores are Vulcano, Stromboli and the remaining cluster of Aeolian Islands. Facing Sicily’s western shores are the Egadi Islands and Pantelleria and the Pelagie islands of Lampedusa and Linosa off the south coast are actually closer to the North African coast than Sicily.

All this and pretty much constant sunshine. Go on…you might just make some houseowner an offer he can’t refuse…

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Getting a mortgage in Italy

May 1st, 2010

By Stefania Russo of The Property Organiser
Exchange rate fluctuations mean that if you’re buying a property in Italy, it makes sense to get a mortgage there as well. But just how likely are Italian lending institutions to grant home loans to non-nationals? It’s a question clients ask me all the time.

The Italian system has no self-certification mortgages, so if you are applying for one you will need to provide proof of your earnings. For people who are employees, that means three months of wage slips and six months of bank statements. The self-employed on the other hand must show three years of audited accounts, 12 months of business bank statements and six months of statements from your personal account.

Be aware that while considering whether or not to grant a mortgage on a property, Italian banks take no account of its potential earnings from rentals.

They typically give up to 80% mortgages, with a maximum loan term of up to 40 years. However, if you are embarking on a restoration project or new-build, the maximum mortgage is typically 70% of the final property value or 80% of the cost of the restoration work. Funds will be released as work progresses.

For a construction, the maximum loan is usually 70% of the final property value. The first payment will be released once 50% of the work has been completed (typically, outside walls & roof finished) The lender will request your surveyor’s reports at each stage.

Before an Italian bank gives you a yes on any type of mortgage application, they will assess your net income and outgoings (existing mortgage/rent payments, credit card repayments, etc). These outgoings will have to remain under 45% for a reasonable chance of your mortgage going through. Italian lenders offer interest-only and repayment mortgages on a variable or fixed-rate basis, or a combination of both.

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Italy real estate optimism at 2-year peak

April 2nd, 2010

The second half of 2009 saw Italy real estate agents at their most optimistic since 2007, new figures suggest. This new, upbeat mood stems from growing confidence among prospective property purchasers as  evinced by the gradual ebbing away of anxieties about the economic crisis that in previous months have seen many put buying decisions on hold.

Since Summer 2009 there has been an increase in housing demand, proof that new-found optimism is slowly translating into increased searches for properties. This renewed confidence among purchasers has also been in part prompted by price realignments observed in recent years. There has been growing recognition among sellers that artificially inflating values above their properties’ intrinsic worth risks leaving them unsold for months or even years.

In addition, there has been continued growth in the demand for property – in beauty spots such as Cortona and Lucca – as an investment, a trend that could be accelerated by the provision of fiscal tax shelters. As has traditionally been the case, Italian home loan providers continue to demonstrate characteristic prudence both in terms of number of approved mortgages, the length of time before an approval decision is given and the amount lent.

On the flip side, it is an approach that has avoided saddling Italian personal and business borrowers with unmanageably high debt, meaning the country has avoided the vertiginous booms and busts that have hit other property markets. Those finding it hardest to acquire home loans have been single-income families, immigrants and workers on short-term employment contracts.

The most current of the data, compiled by real estate conglomerate Tecnocasa, suggests an average of just over 22 weeks to complete purchases. It also points to prices in Italy’s largest cities bearing up best. They saw a 1.5% decline in the second half of 2009, a slight improvement on the fall witnessed in the preceding six months. Milan and Rome were the best (or least worst-hit), recording almost negligible declines in the second half of 2009 of 0.8% and 0.4% respectively.

To break the statistics down even further, the centres of largest cities are where prices have been least affected, with the outskirts bearing the brunt of the steepest prices declines. Worst hit were the suburbs of Palermo in Sicily (-3.3%); Rome; and Bari in Puglia (both -3.1%)

In terms of provincial capitals, those in the North and South of Italy were worst affected, with average declines of 2.3% in both extremities of the country. In comparison, provincial capitals in the centre of Italy reported a 1.7% decrease.

Property in Italy market to bounce back next year

April 1st, 2010

The property in Italy market will begin to see values rise again from next year, the think-tank Nomisma forecast this week.

It tips prices in Italy’s 13 largest cities to go up 0.6% in the first six months of 2011 and 1.3% in the following six months, buoyed by the resurgence in the US and UK property sectors. And despite turbulent market conditions, demand for luxury Italian real estate remained strong, the report by the Bologna-based organisation added.

The data again reinforces previous findings that the Italian housing market has weathered the tough global conditions better than most other countries, because prudent mortgage lending has saddled Italy with far lower household and business debt than elsewhere.

But the Nomisma study shows how not even Italy has managed to stay completely immune from dwindling property values. Prices in 2009 were on average 0.7% less on 2008, with large cities (down 4.1%) and medium-sized conurbations (down 3.7%) bearing the brunt of the decline. Its experts predict 2010 will also see a modest decline in prices – by 1% in the first half of 2010 and 0.9% in the second half.

According to the organisation’s chief executive Gualtiero Tamburini, though, among the most significant data unearthed by his researchers regards the 30% decline in housing sales volume, down from 850,000 to 600,000 over the past two years. The aggregate value of the Italian real estate market, €154billion in 2007, is now put at €109million, of which €91million (83.5%) relates to the residential sector and €18billion (16.5%) to commercial property.

These statistics are thought to indicate that prospective vendors are delaying selling until prices rise, while prospective purchasers are delaying buying in the hope of values coming down. Unsurprisingly, this uneasy equilibrium has increased the typical length of time required to complete real estate transactions.

The period has also seen a €10billion fall in property investment accompanied by the loss of 200,000 jobs – 150,000 in the construction industry and 50,000 in real estate services.

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