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10 things you need to know about property on Lake Como

If you've ever dreamed of buying a home on Lake Como, here's everything you need to know about the area's very particular property market.

10 things you need to know about property on Lake Como
It's not hard to see why so many people dream of buying a home on Italy's Lake Como. Photo: Lakeside Real Estate, Lake Como.

The Italian market in general has a few pecularities that potential buyers (and sellers) need to be aware of. For one thing, it's the only country in the EU where house prices, overall, are actually dropping.

But if you've got your heart set on a home in the Lake Como area, you can expect the market to be very different. It's one part of the country where prices just keep going up, and yet, properties are quickly snapped up by eager buyers.

The shores of Lake Como. Photo: Depositphotos.

But that doesn't mean buying in this sought-after region is an impossible dream.

The Local asked property experts from Lakeside Real Estate, based in Menaggio and Argegno on Lake Como, what potential buyers in the area need to know.

Why is the property market on Lake Como so different from elsewhere in Italy?

Here, the agency explained, prices just keep on rising – they expect prices per square metre to increase by around two to three percent every year.

And while, in many areas of Italy, houses can languish on the market unsold for months or years, Lake Como properties are often snapped up before agents even get chance to advertise them.

This is because demand in the area is increasingly outstripping supply – no doubt in part because Como's image as a glamorous, cosmopolitan place to be is constantly being boosted by celebrities buying homes in the area.

George Clooney's Italian home, Villa Oleandra, situated on Lake Como's southwestern shore. Photo: AFP

Is all property on Lake Como expensive?

Despite what we may imagine, there's “something to suit all budgets” in the area, according to Sara Zanotta, the founder and managing director of Lakeside Real Estate.

In fact, the area has “properties of very different types, from the little stone rustico, to the standard apartment in classic or modern style, to the villetta surrounded by greenery, up to the finest and most valuable waterfront properties,” she explains.

Prices range from €20,000 for a rustico in need of total renovation, to €200,000 – €300,000 for apartments in residential complexes, up to €800,000-€1 million for a detached villetta.

New apartments are also an option around Lake Como. Photo: Lakeside Real Estate.

But if your heart is set on that dream lakeside property, you probably will need a film star's budget. “The waterfront segment is a peculiar niche, with prices ranging from €1.5 million to €40 million,” she explains.

Are there any bargains to be had?

Even in this sought-after area, Zanotta says prices are “pretty much always negotiable.”

You could negotiate a discount from five percent up to as much as 30 percent, or even more, she says, adding: “Generally, it depends a lot on the personal situation sellers are in.”

What’s the average price per square metre?

Though this is one of the most common questions Zanotta gets, she says it's hard to give an exact answer. “Prices vary significantly depending on lake view, specific location, and condition of the house,” she says.

READ ALSO: What kind of property can you buy for 500K around Italy?

“For instance, we could have a brand new house with a stunning view for €7,000/sqm, and another one – still brand new – without the view for €3,000/sqm.”

The agency gives the following price guidelines, which Zanotta stresses “must be taken with a grain of salt”:

  • Brand new properties for circa €6,000-7.000 per sqm; ‘
  • 70s-80s-90s properties for €2,000-2.5000/sqm;
  • Renovation projects for €1,000-1,500 per sqm;
  • Waterfront properties for €10.000-20.000 sqm.
  • Recently built and inhabited properties (dating back to the ’00s) for approx. €3,000-4.000/sqm.

Who’s buying?

Buyers from all over the world are becoming increasingly interested in the area. “In the last five years, the Lake Como property market has been flooded with a burst of enquiries from all over the world, with the British and Americans always ahead,” Zanotta says, “After that come Scandinavian countries, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Israel, France.”

She says this is “yet more proof that Lake Como has become a brand with international appeal.”

What's so special about property here?

Como isn't the only lake in Italy, and the entire country is dotted with beautiful towns and villages. So what is it that makes this area in particular so irresistible, particularly to international buyers?

“Compared to the other lakes in Lombardy, Lake Como has retained an undeniably timeless appeal,” Zantta says. “Lake Como is an old painting, and that’s why their properties – even the little townhouses – are so precious.”

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“Buying a property here means taking over the responsibility to protect the history of each single brick, the memories behind a window, a fresco, a vaulted cellar. Buyers have the important task of respecting the soul of our properties,” she says.

“The conservative restoration of them is an opportunity to become “part of the chain” and add new stories and new beauty to the house. That’s something exciting for the majority of buyers coming to Lake Como.”

What if I want to buy a property as an investment?

According to Zanotta, a whopping 70 percent of buyers in the Como area purchase property as an investment, with a ROI (return on investment) ranging from six to seven percent annually.

“That’s because the “hot” tourist season on Lake Como is very long, starting in May and ending in mid-November,” Zanotta explains, with the season stretching out in recent years as the lake becomes ever more popular.

Lake Como. Photo: Depositphotos

“Most clients generally rely on local agencies for property management. Some of them, however, decide to manage their Airbnb profile on their own, leaving just the basic services to local agencies, like check-in and cleaning.”

“Anyway, most owners reserve some weeks of the year for their own enjoyment of the house,” she adds.

Has the “flat tax effect” hit Lake Como?

A “flat tax” incentive means wealthy foreign buyers can pay a fixed €100.000 tax to get fiscal residency in Italy. Some expected this policy might lead to a boom in the number of overseas investors snapping up higher-end properties. Has this happened in Lake Como?

“Not really,” Zanotta says. “We can confirm the flat tax hasn’t really boosted the purchase of properties on Lake Como, and in Italy as a whole.”

She points to a recent survey by Scenari Immobiliari, showing that in Italy only 200 foreign buyers have benefitted from the policy so far.

“This is mainly because it’s not linked to the property purchase, as happens – for instance – in Spain and Portugal”, she explains.

Should I buy a renovation property in the Lake Como area?

“There are plenty of properties begging for renovation on our lake,” says Zanotta. “The only fact to bear in mind is that Lake Como is a highly protected area, so every single change on the exterior of every building, such as adding a balcony or a window, must receive permission from an office in Milan called the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti & Paesaggio.

“Everything must be organised perfectly with the most well-known local companies and a network of professionals,” she advises. “DIY is never a good idea. it's fine if you just want to paint the internal walls of the property, but that’s it. No hammering if you don’t want to have issues with the local authorities!”

READ ALSO: How and where to find your dream renovation property in Italy

“You’ll need to choose an Italian technician (an engineer or an architect) who will prepare a project for you, to be sent to the competent authority,” she explains. “The technician will be your project manager and will assist you in all the stages of renovation.”

If you live abroad, she says, “no worries at all. The technician can send you photos and videos, and he’ll make live calls to show you the progress.”

Will it be difficult to get a mortgage?

In short, no. And Zanotta stresses that if you want a mortgage in Italy, now is the time.

“The amount released by Italian banks is 60 percent of the value of the house, for a maximum of 15 years for international clients,” she says. “What’s more, the fixed rate today is 0,76 percent.”

She explains that the paperwork required (which must be translated into Italian and legalized with an apostille) includes a tax declaration, the buyer's last three pay slips and last three bank statements, and the declaration of any other income, such as from rentals.

Photo: Depositphotos

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PROPERTY

‘It’s so frustrating’: My 25-year Italian property renovation nightmare

When US-based Davide Fionda embarked on renovating his mother's Italian property, he couldn't have imagined the obstacles and the timescale in store.

'It's so frustrating': My 25-year Italian property renovation nightmare

Building a home in Italy was almost inevitable for Davide, as he’s been visiting the same area in the Le Marche region, where his Italian-born mother grew up, since he was five years old.

Although he lives in Boston, US, and speaks with a charming East Coast twang, he’s also an Italian citizen and has long dreamed of having his own place to stay for the summer.

He began making this dream a reality back in 1997, when a barn that had been in his mother’s family for generations, in the village of Schito-Case Duca, was damaged by an earthquake.

“My mother, who had both her mother and sister in Italy, decided that it would be really nice for us to build our own new home instead of relying on family to host us each time we visit,” Davide said.

“The goal was simple. I would acquire the barn from my mom, renovate it and move in for the summers, as I’m a college teacher and can spend time in Italy,” he added.

“Simple” the goal may have been, but the project itself proved anything but, as Davide came up against unforeseen bureaucratic problems, legal hiccups and personal disappointments.

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

As a former entrepreneur in his professional life, he said he’s “used to getting things done”, owning five companies and selling three.

But conquering Italian property renovation is his biggest challenge to date: “Never in my life have I had so many complications as I’ve had with this house,” he told us.

The earthquake-damaged barn. Photo: Davide Fionda

“In the beginning, I knew exactly what I needed and the costs to carry out the project. My mother was, and is still, living in the United States: the project started when she was approached by her godson, who is a geometra (civil engineer), to help her rebuild this barn.

“I started with what I could control. I sat down with an architect and we created a design. I did research on furniture and fixtures. But then the problems started,” Davide said.

His mother wanted a simple design: an open plan house with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the mountains, spanning two floors – a ground floor and a first floor for the bedrooms.

When they went to look at the progress in 2004, he said they were “horrified” at what they saw.

Instead of windows across the front as we asked for, with views of the spectacular Gran Sasso mountains, he took the entire view with two hallways for entering the property and for the bathroom. The bedrooms upstairs were unusable,” he added.

Davide describes himself as “not a typical Italian”, at two metres in height ,and says he always looks for suitable showers and beds when visiting Italy.

It was one of the reasons building his own home was so attractive, as he could custom-make it to fit his needs.

READ ALSO: What taxes do you need to pay if you own a second home in Italy?

But when they viewed the build, he discovered the first floor had ceilings of just one metre and 40 centimetres – not liveable for most people, never mind someone with Davide’s towering frame.

The results didn’t match the renovation plans that had been filed with the comune (town hall) – they wouldn’t have been approved otherwise, as Davide discovered Italian regulations deemed this height of ceiling in a bedroom uninhabitable.

He said he grew up with the geometra and knew him well, saying they were “best friends”. However, on raising the problems with him, Davide said the building professional “refused to fix the house”, adding, “he took my mother’s money and built a house with no bedrooms”.

He said his mother decided to stop construction after spending almost $100,000 on a house that they “could not live in”, adding that they “returned many times over the years to see the shell of the building that we thought we were going to call our home”.

READ ALSO: My Italian Home: How one ‘bargain basement’ renovation ended up costing over €300K

Faced with a stalled project and unsure what to do next, Davide tried to sell the property but got nowhere. He said the “market wasn’t right” for selling it, so he considered his options for fixing the botched renovations to date.

His Italian property project has been stalled for over two decades. Photo: Davide Fionda

Then, eventually, in January of this year he decided “he was sick of looking at it and it was time to act”.

He intended to use Italy’s Bonus ristrutturazioni (Renovation bonus), which allows homeowners to apply for a 50 percent tax reduction on carrying out renovation work.

On asking for professional opinions on whether the house qualified for this bonus, he said he asked five different people and got five different answers.

In the end, he discovered it was eligible and so he could, in theory, proceed with his latest plans.

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The aim is to create his mother’s original vision – an open plan space with huge windows overlooking the mountains and bedrooms on the first floor – but habitable this time.

Since the beginning of this year, however, Davide has been stuck and hasn’t made progress.

Setbacks have included trying to get a permit to renovate the house, which has proved difficult since the first geometra reportedly didn’t update the changes to the building.

This thorny issue goes back to exactly who owned the house, as Davide told us it had been sectioned off and parts of the house were owned by various members of the family.

The building headaches roll on for Davide. Photo by Martin Dalsgaard on Unsplash

“Italian law makes you want to rip your hair out,” he said.

Getting the deed in his name has been a huge obstacle in itself, as his mother wasn’t the sole owner and some parts of the land that belonged to her were never recorded.

It’s meant months of waiting while archives have been searched and deeds have been drawn up and transferred, made all the trickier by coordinating it all from thousands of miles away.

Plus, the house category was never changed to a residential one, listed previously as farmland and therefore illegal to live in.

It’s just more unexpected bureaucracy for a project that seems to have no end.

“It has been months and months of all these twists and turns, it’s so frustrating,” he told us.

“This has been a 25-year nightmare,” he added.

A partly restored, but unliveable barn for Davide now. Photo: Davaide Fionda.

Although Davide had originally planned to sort out the more practical parts of the project by the end of May, with a ticket booked to Italy to choose the windows, he’s still stuck in the paperwork part and can’t move forward.

Nothing has happened since January. Three or four times I said, ‘screw this’. But it’s not in my DNA to give up,” he said.

Although he has a strong will, the house has taken its toll on him.

Every time we go, this house stares us in the face and it’s upsetting. Family always ask us, ‘when are you going to finish the house?’ It’s a real source of heartache,” he told us.

From this point, he hopes the paperwork will be completed by August and then he can meet with the contractors to get the process started.

That in itself was a tall order, due to the construction demand and shortage of building companies Italy is currently experiencing.

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It’s a problem made even more challenging by the fact that he’s based in the States and had to find a company that would apply for the credit for the bonus on his behalf.

Despite it all, he’s hopeful that he will get the house they dreamed of by next August and says he’s learned a lot about renovating property in Italy.

For other would-be home renovators, he advised people to “adjust their timeframe expectations” and expect “anything to do with land or real estate to take forever”.

So what is his secret for not giving up, despite the rollercoaster of events and emotions?

It seems he’s holding on to his vision of blissful summers in il bel paese.

“The beauty of Italy is to be, sit in a town square and have conversations,” he told us.

“It’s a beautiful thing.”

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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