Guide to Buying
Once you have found the property in Italy that you wish to buy, the first step is to make an offer – the proposta irrevocabile di acquisto (irrevocable proposal to buy) – so that the property is removed from the market, usually for around a fortnight.
The amount of the deposit is agreed privately between you and the seller but is often around 5% of the total value. It can be refunded should the purchase fall through at this stage.
This is a stage at which many unsuspecting foreign buyers are caught out. Bear in mind that as soon as this document is signed by both parties, it becomes legally binding.
You then need to hire a surveyor – a geometra in Italy – and ideally a lawyer (avvocato) as well to carry out certain checks on the property.
A good surveyor will examine not just its physical state but also carry out other tasks such as ensuring there is appropriate permission for features such as a swimming pool.
However, one of the most important checks is to ensure that no third party has a right to buy the property that supersedes yours – a right sometimes extended to some smallhold farmers, sitting tenants and occasionally local authorities in Italy.
Further investigations will be needed to make sure, for instance, that the property belongs completely and solely to the seller, that the buyer will not assume liability for any outstanding mortgages and that there are no imminent projects, such as nearby road building, that would adversely affect the property.
When your surveyor and/or lawyer advise you all is in order, you may then proceed with the next stage, the contratto preliminare di compravendita (preliminary sales contract), better known as the compromesso. Both parties agree a timetable to finalise the purchase and the buyer makes a second deposit, usually taking his total downpayment to between 10% and 30% of the property price.
This document, even more so than the proposta irrevocabile di acquisto, represents a serious commitment with serious penalties for infringing its terms. Should the buyer default on the deal, he loses his deposit. Should the seller default, however, he may have to repay twice the deposit, depending on the exact terms of the compromesso.
Before making the final payment you will need to have applied to local tax authorities for a codice fiscale (fiscal code). This code, available from local authority or tax offices, permits you to open a bank account and register for property taxes.
The final stage involves signing the rogito (final contract) in the office of a notaio (notary), who will inspect all documents. The property is not officially registered as the buyer’s until the notary lodges the contract with the land registry office.
The notary usually requires foreign purchasers who are not fluent in Italian to grant power of attorney for the purposes of the meeting to someone who is fluent. Your lawyer will normally fulfil this role.
Within 48 hours of signing the rogito, the buyer must lodge a denuncia di cessione fabbricato (a document confirming them as the new owner) at a police station.
The entire process, from initial proposta irrevocabile di acquisto to final rogito, often takes between six and eight weeks. Note that purchase taxes and professional fees often amount to an extra 8-10% of the purchase price. This includes some 2-4% to the estate agent, around €700 for a surveyor and €4,000 for a notary.
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