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PROPERTY

My Italian Home: The ups and downs of buying a property for retirement in a hilltop village in Italy

Our new series showcases readers' homes in Italy, starting with the story of how one real estate agent from the US found her dream retirement property and overcame the bureaucratic hurdles with the help of local experts.

My Italian Home: The ups and downs of buying a property for retirement in a hilltop village in Italy
Here's how one US buyer found her dream vacation home in the Le March region of Italy. All photos: D&G Design

Shayne Albright bought a home in the Marche region of eastern Italy this year and realised her retirement dream, but doing so wasn’t always plain sailing. She explains how she was able to find a unique property in a small hilltop town, and then successfully make an offer and have all the paperwork and renovation works arranged from the US.

READ ALSO: The real cost of buying a house in Italy as a foreigner

“I have had a love for Italy for decades,” says Shayne, “I’ve dreamed of buying a vacation home there and have spent a lot of time researching homes for sale online, but became a little frustrated when for various reasons the viewing trips were cancelled.”

In the end, instead of organising an independent trip to view properties, Shayne attended a five-day house-hunting workshop organised by D&G Design, local property experts in Marche.

“I subscribed to The Local and was a member of several Facebook groups dedicated to moving to Italy,” Shayne says, “and when I came across the D&G Design workshop I thought that a group event actually held in Italy would be something that I, as a single traveller, could benefit from.”

Shayne fell in love with Le Marche as soon as she arrived. “It was beautiful, and instantly I could see myself owning a vacation home there.”

During a day of viewing different typs of properties in the varied region of Le Marche, which has everything from beach towns to homes in more remote mountain areas, Shayne found it was the tiny hilltop towns that appealed to her.

These towns, with their historic centres, medieval city walls and narrow cobbled streets, offer views of the region’s rolling landscapes and the Sibillini mountain range beyond.

“With a relatively slow property market in Marche, house-hunters can take their time during searches and give the options plenty of thought”, explains property expert Gary from D&G Design.

It was only when Shayne returned to the US that she made enquiries about a two-storey apartment she had viewed in the hilltop town of Montedinove.

Situated in a tiny cobbled street in the town’s centro storico (historic centre), the stone brick home had been partially restored and retained traditional features such as wooden ceiling beams, parquet flooring and open fireplaces.

With the help of the lawyer and estate agents she’d been introduced to during the workshop, Shayne made an offer and was thrilled when it was accepted.

Shayne’s new home in Le Marche. Photo: D&G Design

While she says there were no great difficulties during the process, a bureaucratic mix-up caused some delays.

It turned out the house had been inadvertently declared uninhabitable by the local council after the earthquake that hit the region in 2016, meaning the paperwork took longer than usual.

“It turns out that the council had mistaken this building for another,” building restorer David from D&G Design explains, “so we had our geometra carry out a full inspection and our lawyer was then able to have this revoked.”

“This took time and was slightly frustrating but the most important thing is to ensure that a property is 100 percent safe.”

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As Shayne had wanted a rooftop terrace, she also asked them to investigate the likelihood of getting permission to build one from her local council.

Although not guaranteed, the planning officer has given a verbal agreement and Shayne is hopeful that this feature can be added.

“It is always worth having your engineer or geometra ask the local council if certain aspects of a renovation would be permitted,” David says.

“They will never give you a written agreement without planning permission, but if the request is not a deal-breaker to whether or not you buy the property, then have someone check with the planning department to see what is likely.”

As for the rest of the renovation, Shayne had the geometra draw up a list of projected works before she purchased the home.

“I have seen some scary quotes given to clients after they have bought a house,” David says. “We actually insist that our guests receive a full quote of projected works from ourselves and our geometra before they make any offer on the home.”

“We also look at the possibility of phasing the work so that clients can do the essentials to make it habitable during phase one, and then take their time (and save money) for any extra work needed.”

Shayne’s new home still needs some repairs to the windows and a portion of the roof to make it habitable, but “the rest is cosmetic,” she says.

“I would love to expose the stonework on some of the internal walls, and have the team create a stone backsplash in the kitchen.”

Shayne and her nephew are due to visit the property at Christmas, and they’re excited about exploring their new town.

“I can now look forward to owning my new home, furnishing and decorating it as well as getting to know the local people in my new community,” says Shayne. “My nephew is looking forward to decorating his room, and I can’t wait to find a good coffee bar.”

Have you bought and renovated a property in Italy? We’d love to hear about your experience. Get in touch and let us know if you’d like your own Italian home to be featured.

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ENERGY

What are the rules on using wood-burning stoves in Italy?

Sales of wood burners have increased since the start of the energy crisis, but some Italian regions have rules regulating their use.

What are the rules on using wood-burning stoves in Italy?

As the European energy crisis shows no sign of abating and Italian gas bills are once again expected to climb in the coming weeks, many families across the boot are considering switching to alternative (and more affordable) heating systems to keep their houses warm over the winter.

For some, the best option might be using a wood-burning stove, a heating system which seems to have undergone somewhat of a resurgence since the start of the energy crisis. 

READ ALSO: Electricity bills in Italy to rise by 59 percent, says energy regulator

According to energy group AIEL (Italian Association for Forestry Energy, or Associazione Italiana Energie Agroforestali), sales of wood- or pellet-burning stoves in the first five months of 2022 registered an impressive +28 percent against the same period of time last year. 

But those who are looking to turn to wood burners to keep warm over winter should be mindful of regional rules regulating the use of stoves and fireplaces. 

In fact, as many as five Italian regions – Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany – currently have laws banning residents from using low-efficiency wood burners, with fines up to €5000 for those flouting the rules. 

What’s the point of these rules?

Regional laws banning the use of low-performance wood burners were introduced well before the current energy crisis to reduce CO2 (carbon dioxide) and PM (particulate matter) emissions across the country.

Fireplace with burning fire.

Bans on low-efficiency wood burners were introduced long before the European energy crisis to reduce CO2 and PM (particulate matter) emissions across the country. Photo by Stephane DE SAKUTIN / AFP

All relevant rulings on the subject use the national ‘five-star’ energy rating as their system of reference.

Briefly, in 2017, the Italian government established five different energy classes for wood-burning heating systems and allocated a set number of ‘stars’ to each category. The lower the number of stars, the greater the ecological impact (i.e. the amount of pollutants released into the atmosphere) of the wood burner in question, with ratings going from a minimum of one star to a maximum of five stars.

For a full breakdown of the five energy classes recognised by the Italian government and to know what types of stoves and fireplaces belong in each category, please consult this extract from the 2017 Gazzetta Ufficiale (the official government gazette).

What rules are in place and where?

Laws on wood burners vary from region to region, so here’s a brief overview of the rules enforced by each of the five above-mentioned regions.

Lombardy – As of January 1st, 2020, all Lombardy residents are banned from using wood stoves or fireplaces with an energy rating lower than four stars. 

Fines for those breaking the rules range from €500 to €5000.

Furthermore, only pellets of the A1 type (i.e. with residual ash lower than 0.7 percent) can be used for pellet-burning stoves with a maximum heat output (potenza termica nominale) lower than 35 kW (kilowatt). 

Wood pellets at a plant belonging to Graanul Invest, Europe’s biggest wood pellet producer.

In Lombardy, only pellets of the A1 type can be used for pellet-burning stoves with a maximum heat output lower than 35 kW. Photo by Ivo PANASYUK / AFP

Veneto – Veneto forbids the use of wood stoves or fireplaces with an energy rating lower than three stars. 

Also, people looking to install a new wood burner must ensure that the stove or fireplace in question has an energy rating of at least four stars. 

Piedmont – As of October 1st, 2019, Piedmont residents are banned from using wood-burning heating systems with a maximum heat output (potenza termica nominale) lower than 35 kW and an energy rating lower than three stars. 

Also, residents can only install new wood burners with a maximum heat output of 35 kW or more and an energy rating of at least four stars.

For additional details on the rules currently enforced in Piedmont, refer to the following website.

Emilia-Romagna – Things get slightly more complicated in Emilia-Romagna, where residents are banned from using wood stoves or fireplaces with an energy rating lower than three stars if their homes have an alternative heating system and they live in municipalities (comuni) whose elevation is less than 300 metres above sea level.

Emilia-Romagna also currently offers financial incentives for those who reside in one of the following comuni and choose to replace their old stoves or fireplaces with latest-generation heating systems with a five-star energy rating.

A retired farmer lights his wood stove.

Emilia-Romagna currently offers financial incentives for those who choose to replace their old stoves or fireplaces with new wood burners with a five-star energy rating. Photo by Jean-Francois MONIER / AFP

For further information about the rules currently in place in Emilia-Romagna, please consult energy regulator ARPAE’s website.

Tuscany – In Tuscany, rules on the use of wood burners are tethered to the individual PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 micrometres in diameter) emissions of each comune

That means that, in municipalities that have exceeded the permitted amount of daily PM10 emissions, residents are banned from using stoves or fireplaces with an energy rating lower than three stars, unless wood burners are their only available source of heating or they live in comuni with an elevation of 200 metres above sea level or more.

At the present time, the above ban only applies to the municipalities located in the so-called ‘Piana Lucchese’.

For further details, please see the following regional decree.

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