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House-hunting in Italy: the essential vocabulary you'll need

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
House-hunting in Italy: the essential vocabulary you'll need
Ready to start the search for your new home in Italy? Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Here are the words and phrases you're going to need when searching for your dream home in Italy.


If you've been looking at property to buy or rent in Italy, you've probably already figured out quite a bit of crucial vocabulary on your own. Casa, appartamento and agenzia immobiliare probably need no introduction.

But when house-hunting here, you'll notice there's some vocabulary that doesn't translate as easily.

Not only is property in Italy quite different in style from anything we might be used to in our home countries - with plenty of regional variation for good measure - but Italians also have their own way of thinking about and describing real estate.

So as well as a bit more vocabulary to help you on your search, here's a heads up on what you can expect to see from the Italian property market.



Italian homes aren't listed based primarily on the number of bedrooms, but on the number of total rooms, minus the kitchen and bathroom - which, as you might have noticed, are often a very poky afterthought.

So instead of listing an apartment as having three bedrooms and two bathrooms, an Italian estate agent might write it as '4 Vani + Acc', or four rooms (in this case, three bedrooms and a living room) plus 'accessories', which would be the bathrooms and kitchen.


If it's a small apartment you want, then you may come across this word. Locale is another word for room and, you guessed it, a bilocale apartment will have two of them – probably a bedroom and a living room. Meanwhile a monolocale is a studio apartment. These will be plus 'accessories', of course.

Metri quadri

In Italy, you'll find the size of all properties listed in metri quadri, or square metres.

If you're interested in a property make sure you know exactly what the agent is including in this figure and how much of it really is livable indoor space. Warning: it's not unusual to come across creative interpretations of what counts as either indoors or livable.

A dream home in Le Marche, Italy. Photo: D&G Design


This is the name for apartment blocks – usually large, modern ones. A piccolo condominio instead will usually be an old building converted into just three or four apartments.

Be aware that living in one incurs fees (spese di condominio), usually monthly, for things like lighting and cleaning of common areas.

Some shared properties might have bigger shared facilities - like a gym, tennis court or pool - and bigger fees to match, but this is rare unless you're looking at luxury property or holiday homes.


This isn't as glamorous at it might sound. The term can be applied to pretty much anything that we'd call a detached house in English, though it's usually reserved for houses that have a garden or perhaps a bit of land attached. (A farmhouse or other rural property with land however would be called a rustico.)

Meanwhile, a villetta a schiera is a terraced house, though they're not much like the ones found in the UK, for example. These are usually small, modern homes with some sort of a garden – an alternative to apartments which is becoming increasingly popular with Italian families.



No, not a loft conversion or the place where you keep your Christmas tree. The attico is the much less grand-sounding Italian name for a penthouse apartment. 


The alternative to the condominio is the soluzione independente - any sort of house with its own entrance, such as a townhouse or terraced cottage (which may also be called a terra-cielo or terra-tetto, implying that it's built over three or four narrow levels.)

Something described as semi-independente is usually one half of a house that has been divided into two and may or may not have a separate entrance.

Traditional trulli houses in Alberobello, Puglia. Photo: Christophe Simon/AFP


Living in a palazzo sounds awfully grand, but unfortunately the word just means 'building'.

Although you can find palazzi for sale in towns up and down Italy described as palazzo nobile: these are the long-abandoned residences of local aristocracy, and they really are a lot like palaces inside (though usually in a state of serious disrepair).

Box auto

We're not sure why Italians use the English word 'box' here, but this is a lock-up garage or storage space.

Be warned - many properties don't come with a garage, or even a reserved parking space, and this may have to be negotiated, bought or rented separately.

For example, traditional townhouses in southern Italy very often have a garage or cellar, known as a locale, on the ground floor - but they're not usually for sale with the rest of property. You may find a neighbour who's willing to sell you the locale under their house, though.


Da ristrutturare

You can probably guess this one – 'to restructure/renovate'. This is the search filter you need if you're looking for a crumbling ruin to rebuild.

The other options are nuovo construzione (newly-built properties) or properties in buono stato (in good condition) or abitabile (habitable) though you'll notice that this is all very subjective. Under any category you can find plenty of homes that, while not derelict, are in need of some serious work.



Almost all older houses have them – really old properties can have several – and they're often open and still used for actual fires, rather than just for decorative purposes.

If you love the idea of having a blazing fire in your living room, it won't be hard to find a house that has one. If you don't, though, it's easy enough to have them blocked up or turned into modern fireplaces.


If, like me, you're from a country where most people stick the washing machine in the bathroom or kitchen due to space constraints, you may not have thought about this when you envisioned your ideal home. But a lot of Italians seem preoccupied about having a dedicated space for laundry, fully equipped with washer, dryer, and plenty of storage.

Even in tiny houses this is seen as a priority, and is usually a converted bathroom, covered roof terrace, or an outbuilding. It may not be listed as this room would fall under 'accessories' (which may be labelled 'acc.' on property ads, but often are not mentioned at all).


Why do so many homes in Italy - even tiny two-bedroom apartments - have a second kitchen? Don't ask us, but do be prepared to find them in basements and garages and on covered balconies everywhere you go. 

This is usually a smaller, cheaper fitted kitchen tucked out of sight of visitors, and it's where all the serious (and messy) cooking is done. If you too want to be able to quickly whip up a pan of spaghetti without having to walk all the way to your actual kitchen, a cucinino (little kitchen) is a bonus.

Laundry hanging on the rooftops in Rome. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP


If you're looking for a city-centre apartment, it's not at all unusual to find properties for sale on the fourth or fifth floor in (usually very old) buildings which are senza ascensore.

If mobility is an issue or you just don't fancy all those steps, you'll want to look for apartments con ascensore.


Found a house you like? That's when the real fun begins. The prices you see on listings can seem on the high side, but they're almost always trattabile, or negotiable.

While the prices of some types of properties are rising, others are stagnant, meaning buyers can often drive a hard bargain. In southern Italy especially, it's not uncommon for buyers to offer as much as 30 percent less than the asking price.


If they insist that the price is non trattabile, you can still find ways to bring down the cost – for example by getting them to include their box auto in the deal, include a new boiler or heating system in the price, or even getting the estate agent to pay the paperwork fees at the comune.

Don't be afraid of being cheeky – the agent will be used to it (although perhaps not so much from foreign buyers, who in Italy are widely assumed to have more money than sense).


Be aware that when making an offer on a house you'll need to give an initial deposit, usually called an acconto or anticipo, as a guarantee. This is kept with the agent until the sale goes through.

I had read that the required deposit was usually around ten percent of the purchase price, but in my own case it was 1,000 euros – less than one percent. (Buyers may later need to give a second, larger deposit.)

Colourful homes in Burano, near Venice. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

The good thing about this system is that it means the owner is legally obliged to take the house off the market if they accept your offer, giving you time to get a mortgage processed without any fear of being gazumped, as can happen in the UK.

And if the seller cancels the sale for any reason, you not only get your deposit back but you also get compensation from them (they must also leave a deposit with the agent when accepting your offer), and vice versa.


If your offer is accepted and you're not a cash buyer, it's time to take out a mutuo, or mortgage. Interest rates can vary a lot, so you'll want to shop around just as you would at home - though in Italy many people use the services of mortgage brokers to help smooth the way.

And after you've gone through the application process, be prepared to wait, and wait, and wait. Patience is always a necessity as well as avirtue in Italy, but never more so than during the process of purchasing property.

The house-buying process in Italy can seem complex and confusing, but luckily we've got plenty of detailed information to help you make sense of it in our property section:



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
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[email protected] 2020/09/21 22:14
That's not true that the Seller has to also leave a deposit with the Estate Agent - only the Buyer has to leave a deposit with the Agent, which is normally 10% of the sale price. <br />However, if the Seller does cancel the sale of their property, they do have to pay the "prospective" buyer compensation.
[email protected] 2020/07/09 09:52
The offer is not legally binding until the vendor signs the proposta d'acquisto. Our offer was accepted verbally, we appointed solicitor who commenced work for us but then we were gazumped. We lost £700.

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