For members


How to buy a house in Italy

All the practicalities of making your Italian home-buying dream come true.

How to buy a house in Italy
Locations don't get much better than this. Photo:

If you’re up for a spot of renovating and keen to put your stamp on a house with history, Italy has some spectacular older properties on offer at surprisingly low prices.

And if you’re looking for something more modern and ready to move into, you can still grab a decent bargain.

But it’s important to get yourself clued-up on the Italian property buying process and some key terms before making the leap, so The Local has spoken to relocation experts and estate agents to give you the lowdown on buying a house in Italy.

The process

First, the good news – no lawyers and no gazumping! In Italy, both the agent and notary are working for both the buyer and the seller. So there is no need to instruct a lawyer, although you may want to for extra peace of mind when buying abroad, particularly if you don’t know the language.

Nigel Ayres, CEO of the Expat Network, says: “In Italy you generally do not need a lawyer because the agent and the notary are both working for you, the buyer as well as the seller, and are legally bound and professionally indemnified to conduct the sale fairly. With the notary knowing the law and the agent knowing the property intimately, all angles should be covered.

“Every time the law changes, as it does frequently, estate agents have to go on more courses to maintain their professional standing.”

Italian property expert Linda Travella of Casa Travella says: “The buying process in Italy is different from the UK and other countries and has one great advantage: ‘gazumping’ as we know it does not normally exist assuming you have a properly drawn up contract.

There are three stages to buying a property in Italy: making an offer, exchange of contract and completion.

“Once you have decided upon a property, the first stage is when you put in a formal offer in writing,” says Linda.

“Once the offer is accepted you will normally pay 10% of the purchase price, although this could be less on higher end properties over €750.000. The initial contract will state all the dates for the payment, all personal details and the full details of the property. It will also have a ‘by the’ completion date.

Many people dream of buying a typical Tuscan farmhouse. Photo: Observer/depositphotos

“The second stage of the contract is called the ‘compromesso’ or the exchange of contract and normally another 20% of the price is paid. This is normally between one and two months after the first stage. If you opt to have a survey carried out it is normally between the first and second stage.

“The third stage is the completion, where the balance of the monies is paid, along with any land registry tax or VAT, the notary fees and any translation costs.”

You can opt to carry out the transaction in two stages only. In this case, the first stage generally becomes the exchange of contracts or ‘compromesso’, where 20% is paid, with the balance paid upon completion.

Key terms you need to know

Agenzie immobiliari – estate agents Italian estate agents normally charge fees of between 3% and 8%, plus 22% VAT. While this may seem pricey, remember you are making a saving on not having to instruct a lawyer. As long as you work with an authorised, registered agent, you can place more trust in them than perhaps you would in the UK – they will have studied legal issues, land registry, map reading and the cadastro (census) and have to pass exams to be enrolled and registered as an estate agent with the local Chamber of Commerce.

Notaio – In Italy, the notary is chosen by the buyer but acts for both parties, organising searches and deeds at an early stage.

Proposta d’acquisto – the offer letter, written by the agent and passed to the seller. If the deal is between two Italians the offer letter would normally include a cheque for 10% or 20% of the sale price. The cheque is never cashed – it is simply a that the buyer is serious. This tradition is not followed with overseas buyers. The letter offer, however, is official, and includes such details as the land registry address and co-ordinates. The proposta is signed by both parties and within 10 days the process moves to the second stage.

Contratto preliminare di vendita – the preliminary contract, formalising the sale. The preliminare will also include a date of completion, normally within 30 to 60 days.

Caparra confirmatoria – a deposit of at least 10% of the purchase price, paid by the buyer into the seller’s account by banker’s draft.

Atto di vendita – the deed of sale, drafted by the notary and signed at their office.

A dream home in Italy complete with pool. Photo: depositphotos


Property expert Linda Travella of Casa Travella answers your frequently asked questions about buying a home in Italy.

1. What percent should I add to sale price if I am looking to buy a second home?

If you're buying a resale property you should add about 12% to the purchase price; this figure may increase if the property is under €100,000.

2. If I am intending to reside in Italy will the purchase costs remain the same?

No, if you are going to be resident in Italy the purchase costs will be less than for a second homeowner. Add about 7% to 8% to the purchase price.

3. How long does the buying process take?

That depends upon the property but I would say on average three to four months.

4. Is the buying process the same as in the UK and other countries?

No, it's not. The most positive point about the Italian system is, as long as contracts are drawn up correctly, is that you cannot be gazumped! Take advice from your property consultant and/or lawyer.

5. I don’t speak Italian, how can I manage?

You should deal with a company that is bilingual and never sign anything you don't understand.

6. Do I need to use a lawyer?

There is a legal requirement when you buy to use an Italian notary, who acts for both sides.

7. Can I use an independent lawyer as well as the notary?

Yes, we suggest you do so. An Italian English-speaking lawyer is the best option.

For members


PROPERTY: Why buyers need to watch out for Italy’s conservation rules

Old Italian homes featuring frescoes, loggias or ancient cellars are appealing, but such buildings are often protected by Italy’s cultural heritage authority - meaning lots of red tape for owners, as Silvia Marchetti explains.

PROPERTY: Why buyers need to watch out for Italy's conservation rules

Italy is dotted with gorgeous hilltop villages full of centuries-old homes for sale complete with characteristic features. But many people don’t realise that these buildings, even if they’re abandoned or decaying, often fall under restrictions (vincoli) enforced by Italy’s ‘art authorities’, known as the sovraintendenza belle arti.

Due to the artistic and historic value of these buildings, they’re considered a part of the national heritage. This is usually because they date back to medieval and Renaissance times, or because they feature frescoed walls, emblazoned vaults or entrance portals with coats of arms. 

READ ALSO: How to avoid hidden traps when buying an old property in Italy

Italy has the most UNESCO-listed cities in the world, and here these vincoli are even more binding. Many buildings in Rome have entrance portals sculpted by Renaissance masters which are ‘off-limits’ even if they’re in need of repair. 

It is a widespread way of protecting Italy’s heritage, and yet awareness of the risks buyers face if their property happens to be ‘supervised’ are often hidden, and are especially unknown to foreigners.

In almost every old rural village there are private houses and palazzos with ancient loggias, decorated ceilings and lavish stone columns, and even simple former farmers’ dwellings with ancient cellars, over which the art authorities have the final say on renovation work, even small upgrades like adding an extra room or pulling down a wall.

READ ALSO: Charming or boring – What do Italians think of life in the old town?

Giovanna Rosetta Fraire was forced to give up her dream of buying a portion of a two-floor 1700s building in the village of Civita Castellana, in Lazio, because it needed upgrades but the frescoed walls, ceilings, decorated fireplaces and elegant entrance were ‘vincolati’ (under restrictions).

“It was a historic building with an artistic value. The peeling façade needed a makeover but it was still the original color dating back centuries so we couldn’t paint over it,” she explains.

“The rusty wrought-iron balconies were made in the 18th century while the location was in the heart of the historical center, right in front of the Gothic cathedral, so any change to the building would have affected the scenery, too.”

Fraire only found out about these rules by chance, just before signing the purchase deed, thanks to a tip from a local resident.

According to Italian law, fixes to similar buildings of value need to be coordinated and approved by the sovrintendenza, which seldom allows any changes to the exterior and only minimal ones inside crumbled rooms, for instance those struck by an earthquake.

Usually the structure of a ‘vincolata’ building cannot be modified at all: walls cannot be pulled down, nor a room expanded or divided in two.

And when old homes are embedded within the fortified medieval walls or share a wall with a castle or fortress it is even more complicated. 

Civita Castellana. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

Cesidio Diciacca bought a former abbot’s lodgings dating from the 1700s, embedded within the rampart in the village of Picinisco, north of Naples, 

He contacted the local belle arti before restyling it to find out whether there were any restrictions, which is always the best thing to do. Unearthing an updated map of your property from the catasto (land registry) is also useful. 

“The belle arti stopped all external changes as we are in the centro storico,” he says. “The only external fix allowed was to remove the top level of the guard tower which was ugly and out of place, and we had issues also placing solar panels. 

“The whole of the centro storico of Picinisco and neighboring hill towns are protected in some way which is both good and bad as it prevents necessary work of modernisation.”

It should be a matter of striking the right balance between preservation and valorization of old properties, but this is rarely the case in Italy when art authorities are involved. 

Cesidio Diciacca’s house in Picinisco. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

Giovanna Rossi owns a tiny dwelling in the picturesque Tuscan village of Pitigliano, where old homes are cropped on a high plateau and carved from the tuff rock. 

Like most other villages in the area, Pitigliano has Etruscan roots and many dwellings come with pagan caves considered by authorities to be monuments of anthropological interest, a bit like Matera’s.

“I have this stunning underground canteen accessible from my kitchen but cannot change it in any way to make it habitable, it’s a pity. I just show it to friends and keep wine bottles in it,” she says. 

Even private gardens and patches of land, set within or close to ’archaic’ protected parks where Etruscan or Ancient Roman tombs and ruins have been unearthed, have archaeological vincoli and cannot be modified without the necessary green lights.

These are ‘vincolati’ by authorities unless there are specific geological permits which allow the construction of a swimming pool, a gazebo or tiny cottage, following land surveys proving the spot is clear of historic finds. 

That’s without mentioning that when a Roman sarcophagus or column pops out buried in your backyard, you must tell the belle arti at once or face fines, and potential seizure. 

Other European countries have similar rules, like Historic England’s listed buildings, but these seem to create restrictions to a lesser degree compared to Italy’s huge and sometimes cumbersome heritage.