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

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House-hunting in Italy: the essential vocabulary you'll need
Ready to start the search for your new home in Italy? Photo: Depositphotos
11:04 CEST+02:00
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 have their own way of thinking about and describing real estate.

Typical whitewashed houses in Puglia, Italy. Photo: Depositphotos

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.

Vani

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 (n this case, three bedrooms and a living room) plus “accessories”, which would be the bathrooms and kitchen.

Bilocale

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

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 liveable indoor space. (It's not unusual to come across creative interpretations of what is indoors and liveable.)

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

Condominio

This is the name for apartment blocks – usually large, modern ones. A piccolo condominio will usually be an old building converted into two or three 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 have things like a gym or pool, but this is quite rare unless you're looking at luxury properties or holiday homes.

Villa

This isn't always glamorous - it can be applied to pretty much anything that we'd call a detached house, though it's usually reserved for houses that have a bit of land or at least a garden.

And 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 that's popular with Italian families.

Attico

Not a loft conversion or the place where you keep your Christmas tree – attico is the much less grand-sounding Italian name for a penthouse apartment.

Independente

The alternative to the condominio is the soluzione independente - any sort of house with it's 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.

Photo: Depositphotos

Palazzo

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 nobility, 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. 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, our townhouse near Bari has a garage/storage space on the ground floor, but it belongs to someone else – and they wouldn't sell it to us, despite the fact that they live in the next town and never use it. So instead, we bought the garage under the house next door. Apparently this is all completely normal!

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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 of course this is subjective, and under this category you can find plenty of homes that, while not derelict, are in need of some serious work.

Camino

I'd never thought about this until I looked at property in Italy. 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.

Lavanderia

Here's another thing I'd never really thought about - I'd be happy to stick the washing machine in the bathroom. But a lot of Italians seem preoccupied about having a dedicated space for laundry, equipped with washer, dryer, and plenty of storage. Even in tiny houses like mine, this is seen as a priority. It may not be listed as it falls under “accessories” and is usually a converted bathroom or outbuilding in homes without basements.

Ascensore

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.

Medieval buildings in central Florence, which now contain apartments. Photo: Depositphotos

Trattabile

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 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, as with our house, 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 just 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!)

Acconto

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. (Ibuyers may later need to give a second, larger deposit. In our case that wasn't necessary.)

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 theirs (they must also leave a deposit with the agent when accepting your offer) and vice versa.

Mutuo

If your offer is accepted, you may want or need to take out a mutuo, or mortgage. Interest rates can vary a lot, so shop around just as you would at home. And after you've gone through the application process, be prepared to wait, and wait, and wait. In Italy, patience is always a virtue, but never more so than during the process of buying a house!

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.

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