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Palazzi, a convent and a lighthouse: The state properties Italy is auctioning off

Fancy buying a villa in Florence or a palazzo in Piacenza? Now's your chance. The Italian government is auctioning off dozens of historic buildings across the country, starting from this month.

Palazzi, a convent and a lighthouse: The state properties Italy is auctioning off
All photos courtesy of Agenzia del Demanio.

The Italian government announced this summer that it would be auctioning off dozens of state-owned properties in the hopes of raising up to a billion euros, ranging from an ex-convent in Venice to army barracks, half a golf course, and a lighthouse.

The details of the 93 properties for sale are now online ahead of the auctions, the first of which are to be held on October 16-17.

Italy owns a large number of buildings, donated to or confiscated by the state over the years, which stand unused and are costly for authorities to maintain.

The government hopes the auctions will raise around €950 million. But even if the properties only go for their starting prices, €145 million will be raised, which the government has saiid will help fund its expensive vote-winning policies such as those on pensions and welfare.

After months of tussling with Brussels over plans for even more public spending, the Italian government hopes the money raised from the sale of property will give it some leeway.

Italy is weighed down by €2.4 trillion in public debt – the highest in Europe after Greece.

But whether or not this property sale will help Italy dig itself out of this deep financial hole, there's no doubt it's good news for anyone interested in buying and restoring a unique piece of Italian history. 

The Agenzia del Demanio (Italy's state property agency) has listed the properties online ahead of the auctions, complete with photos, drone videos and virtual tours of the properties. While many are priced in the millions of euros, there are also some more modestly-priced properties going under the hammer. 

From grand palazzi and a convent in Venice to a lighthouse in Calabria, here are some of the properties you could bid on.

Villa Camerata, Florence

A former noble residence set in parkland on the slopes of the Fiesole hill, to the north-east of Florence. Starting price: €7.4 million.

Palazzina Magnani, Bologna

This once grand two-story villa in Marconi, central Bologna, is complete with a typical Bolognese arcaded gallery overlooking a garden. Starting price: €1.9 million

Palazzo Costa Ferrari, Piacenza

A historic palazzo in central Piacenza, a short distance from central Piazza Cavalli. This vast renaissance-style building has three internal counrtyards. Starting price: €3.1 million

Ex-convent of San Salvador, Venice

By far the most expensive property up for auction is this former convent in central Venice. No doubt this large, prestigious property will be snapped up by a hotel developer with its central location, large courtyard and frescoed halls. Starting price: €28 million

Lighthouse, Calabria

Built in 1923, this lighthouse is the last on the Ionian coast of Calabria, about 100 metres from the sea. Sold as part of a small complex of buildings, it's immersed in unspoilt nature. Starting price: €309,000

Fort Barbarigo, Venice

This very unique plot of land comes with its own ruined fort, dating back to 1800 and currently belonging to the italian navy. It's in Ca Roman, on the southern edge of the coastline that separates the Venice lagoon from the sea, and forms part of the UNESCO-listed area of central Venice and its lagoon. Starting price: €690,000

Army outpost, Cuneo

This mountain hut at 1,900km above sea level, once a remote army base, is at the beginning of hiking trails through the Valle Varaita. Starting price: €130.000.

See mall 93 listings and find further information on the official Agenzia del Demanio website.

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

Buying a cheap home to renovate in Italy sounds like the dream, but it can quickly turn nightmarish amid restrictions, red tape, and bickering relatives. Silvia Marchetti explains some of the most unexpected pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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

With so many Italian towns offloading cheap old properties for sale, lots of people have been tempted by the chance to buy a fixer-upper in a sunny, rural area and live in the perfect idyll. And most are oblivious at first of what risks the purchase might entail. 

The older the properties are, the more potential traps along the way.

READ ALSO: The Italian towns launching alternatives to one-euro homes

There have been several villages in Italy eager to sell €1 and cheap homes that have had to give up on their plans once hidden issues came to light.

Back in 2014, the towns of Carrega Ligure, in Piedmont, and Lecce nei Marsi, in Abruzzo, tried hard to sell their old properties off at a bargain price but just couldn’t get past Italy’s labyrinthine red tape, hellish property restrictions, and scores of bickering relatives.

Both towns’ mayors found themselves chasing after the many heirs of unknown property owners who had emigrated in the 1800s. All existing relatives, who technically owned small parcels of the same house (whether they knew it or not), had to all agree on the sale.

Under Italian law, over time and generations a property ‘pulverizes’ into many little shares depending on how many heirs are involved (if one single heir is not named).

You can end up in a situation where you agree with two owners that you’ll buy their old house, and then one day another five knock at your door saying they never gave their consent, nullifying your purchase. So it’s always best to check beforehand the local land registry to see exactly who, and how many, are the owners, and where they are. 

READ ALSO:

In Carrega Ligure and Lecce nei Marsi, families had long ago migrated across the world and the many heirs to some properties were impossible to track down.

But there were also other obstacles.

“We wanted to start the renovation project by selling dilapidated one euro houses, and then move on to cheap ones, but the tax office would not agree on the price – saying that the old properties had a greater value, that they weren’t classified as abandoned buildings but as perfectly livable houses in good shape”, says Lecce nei Marsi mayor Augusto Barile. 

This meant buyers would have ended up spending tons of money in property sale taxes.

“Even if these were just small houses, potential property taxes start at €700, and could have been much higher,” he explains.

“This would have been a nightmare for any buyer finding out about this at a later stage, after the purchase”.

Barile says the town hall had not made a prior agreement with the tax office to reclassify and ‘downgrade’ the value of the old buildings, which also required an update of the land registry. 

READ ALSO: The hidden costs of buying a home in Italy

Council officials in the village of Carrega Ligure faced a wall of red tape when they tried to sell off abandoned properties. Credit: Comune di Carrega Ligure

Several potential buyers I spoke to back then said that when they found out about the tax office’s involvement by word of mouth (mostly thanks to village gossip at the bar while sipping an espresso), they fled immediately without even taking a look at the houses. 

The best advice in this case is to pay a visit to the local tax bureau ahead of any formal purchase deal and make sure that the old, dilapidated house you want to buy is actually ‘accatastata’ (registered) as such, or you might end up paying the same property sale taxes as you would on a new home. Hiring a tax lawyer or legal expert could be of huge help.

In Carrega Ligure, where old shepherds’ and farmers’ homes are scattered across 11 districts connecting various valleys, a few abandoned homes located near pristine woods came with a nice patch of land – which turned out to be another huge problem.

Old estates often cannot be disposed of due to ‘vincoli’ – limitations – either of environmental or historic nature, that do not allow the property to be sold, or simply due to territorial boundaries that have changed over time, particularly if the original families haven’t lived there for a long time.

READ ALSO: How Italy’s cheap homes frenzy is changing rural villages

In Carrega Ligure it turned out that “a few dwellings located in the most ancient district couldn’t be sold because of hydrogeological risks. State law forbade rebuilding them from scratch, as floods and mudslides had hit the area in the past”, says Carrega Ligure mayor Luca Silvestri.

Meanwhile, other properties were located within or close to the protected mountain park area where the village districts spread, and where there are strict rules against building to preserve the surroundings.

Another issue was that a few old homes came with a patch of land which was quite distant, on the opposite side of the hill, says Silvestri, making it inconvenient for buyers looking for a house with a back garden.

In this case, checking territorial maps, and speaking to competent bodies such as park authorities if there are ‘green restrictions’ in place, can spare future nuisances.

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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