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PROPERTY

How to stay out of trouble when renovating your Italian property

Buying and renovating a home is rarely a straightforward process, and here in Italy you could face some very unexpected problems - and even end up in trouble with the authorities.

How to stay out of trouble when renovating your Italian property
Think carefully before you decide to buy a quirky old Italian property to renovate. Photo: Christophe Simon/AFP

Some common issues can be avoided, as Le Marche-based renovation expert Gary Edwards from D&G Design explains.

You may have read about the issues faced by Dame Helen Mirren when she bought and attempted to restore two properties in Puglia.

The first, purchased in 2012, caused a neighbour to launch a lawsuit, claiming that she had not been consulted about planning applications that affected her boundary wall. During a second dispute in 2018 when Dame Helen was renovating her beachside property, local police halted the work, insisting that correct permission had not been applied for.

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

And issues such as these do not just affect celebrities. As property renovators who have worked on numerous projects in both the UK and Le Marche, we have seen a multitude of errors made by home owners who are not aware of local planning regulations and laws when buying a home in Italy (and indeed in the UK.)

Our advice, which goes for all situations that buyers find themselves in, is ‘do not do anything that you wouldn’t do at home.'

Even Dame Helen Mirren has had trouble with Italian property regulations. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Get the right advice

House surveys prior to purchase are not a legal requirement in Italy, and there will be estate agents who tell you that you do not need one. Or you may assume that if the agent says the house can be modified in any way you choose, that this is the correct information.

But we insist that our engineer or geometra visits a property that our clients show interest in and carries out a full audit of the works that will need to be done, together with the cost of each element. This ensures that there are no surprises.

Get realistic quotes

You may think that a simple rewiring job will suffice or be aware that the roof needs to be repaired, but what if the rewiring requires planning permission or the entire roof needs to be replaced?

One thing to note is that engineer’s quotes may differ greatly. Some engineers or technical teams can offer a low lead-in price that inflates as the job goes on, as ‘discoveries’ are made during the project. We ask our engineer or geometra to quote with a ‘worst case scenario’ approach, and you should too.

Find a good surveyo

We have seen structural surveys that leave a lot to the imagination. Recently a new owner produced one that was nothing more than a brief description of the property, on two sides of A4 paper and that anyone with good vision could have written.

A disclaimer at the bottom of page two stated that, should any defects be found in the home post-purchase, the surveyor would not be liable for missing these.

A property in Abruzzo in need of some TLC. Photo: propertyupto50k.com

Know the rules on planning permission

Much like in the UK, a listed building will require planning permission from the local council before any work begins.

This is to ensure that works are carried out in a sympathetic manner and that period features are retained and not damaged, or worse, thrown away. In the UK these applications do not cost anything and can be submitted by the homeowner

In Italy however, there is a charge for planning applications (charges vary depending on what you are asking for) and applications must be submitted by an engineer or a geometra.

Think about earthquake-proofing

In seismic zones, local planning departments will usually insist that large scale works include earthquake-proofing if the property has never had this type of work done.

We were slightly horrified last year when a prospective client who had purchased a tiny house and felt no need for any kind of assessment on the property, told us ‘as my cousin in Naples said, if this house hasn’t collapsed in an earthquake before, then it’s not likely to now.’

Regardless of what relatives, or anyone else for that matter may say, there are regulations and rules around restoration that, if not adhered too, can incorporate hefty fines and even prosecution. This is not unique to Italy, the rules are strict in the UK as well.

Check what's really possible before you buy

The good news is that local councils will permit many types of work to be carried out on period homes, particularly if the home has been neglected and run down for years. But a simple glance around your new town will not guarantee that you will be allowed to do similar work to your neighbours, who may have made their modifications during the 70’s and 80’s when rules were more relaxed.

Just because the people next door were able to build a roof terrace does not mean that you will be able to.

We are lucky to work with a geometra who has very good relationships with most of the local comunes in Le Marche and is able to ascertain what will be permitted before clients buy a home.

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If you require written permission from the council prior to purchase, a planning application can be submitted by the current owner at your request, provided you pay the fee.

It’s a small expense if your desire for that new roof terrace, extension, widening of windows or knocking down walls are the deal-breaker to whether or not you buy a property. A report from an engineer or geometra is also a great negotiating tool should you discover that the house is overpriced.

Our engineer’s pre-purchase audit has helped many a homeowner evaluate the potential a house holds for them, and has ensured our clients have avoided some of the horror story outcomes we frequently read about online.

So rather than have your dream in pieces, go for peace of mind.

Dame Helen, I know it’s a bit late, but I hope you are reading this for house number three!

Property expert Gary at work. Photo: D&G Design

Member comments

  1. In absolute agreement with your advice. We have bought and restored 5 houses in Piemonte over 20-odd years and our geometra has saved us many times. I particularly wanted to suggest using a good geometra, not only for the preliminary assessments, and technical expertise–but, also for organizing estimates and work schedules. I am the on-site manager of our projects, but I have in hand a clear and detailed geometra’s compilation of works–signed by the builder, including an end of works clause whereby time overruns are fined.

  2. I recently purchased a home in Piedmonte in the village of Exilles in the Susa valley. At the time of purchase I new the roof would need replaced and I am hopeful I can do this in the next year. The house I bought comes with a Rustic designation at this time. I know I need electrical as well as plumbing, but truly I would like to first get a new stone roof put on.

    I did receive a bid from a local roof contractor, but I have had mixed messages about whether work can begin without an architect or Geometra? Should I reach out to the commune first to get an idea of the permits? I really can’t find a play by play guide to how to begin my project for the roof. Do you have to have a geometra, or can you start with the roofing contractor?

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For members

MONEY

How to get a discount on the cost of solar panels for your Italian property

Solar panels are an understandably popular choice in Italy, and if you're thinking of installing them on your own home there's funding available to help lower the cost. Here's what you need to know.

How to get a discount on the cost of solar panels for your Italian property

As utility bills rise, more home and business owners in Italy are looking at installing solar panels as a possible way to reduce costs in the long term.

Solar panels are already hugely popular in Italy, with the nation ranking top worldwide for solar-powered electricity consumption.

READ ALSO: Who can claim a discount on energy bills in Italy?

And no wonder: it’s a solid bet in a country where there is sunshine in abundance. But what about the costs of installation?

The good news is that there’s financial help available from Italy’s national government aimed at encouraging uptake of solar energy, as well as other incentives from regional authorities in many parts of the country.

It’s in the government’s interest to incentivise solar power, as Italy has vowed to transition to greener energy with its National Integrated Plan for Energy and Climate (Piano Nazionale Integrato per l’Energia e il Clima 2030 or PNIEC).

So how could this benefit you? Here’s a look at what you can claim at both a national and a regional level.

Regional funding for installing solar panels

As well as the national government subsidies available for covering the cost of solar panel installation, some regions have introduced their own bonuses or discount schemes.

The sunny southern region of Puglia and the wealthy northern region of Lombardy have seen the highest number of residential photovoltaic systems installed, according to market research.

it’s not surprising, then, that these two regions’ governments are offering cash incentives to help cover the cost of installing solar panels.

Depending on the type of system you opt for, you could expect to pay between around €5,000 and €13,000 for installation, design, labour and paperwork.

To contribute to this initial outlay, the local authority in Puglia has created a pot to help homeowners on lower incomes move towards renewable energy.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about installing solar panels on your home in Italy

Newly introduced in 2022, the so-called Reddito energetico (energy income) offers households with an annual income below €20,000 a bonus of up to €8,500 for installing photovoltaic, solar thermal or micro-wind systems in their homes.

The bonus is intended for residents who have citizenship of an EU country or, if you are a citizen of a non-EU country, you can still claim the bonus if you have been resident for at least one year in a municipality in Puglia.

The €20,000 annual income refers to a household’s ISEE – an indicator of household wealth calculated based on earnings and other factors.

A worker fixes solar panels. (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP)

For this particular scheme, if you claim this bonus from the authorities in Puglia, it precludes you from also claiming funds at national level concurrently – such as through the popular superbonus 110 home renovation fund (see below for more on this).

Although there are other government bonuses, such as the renovation bonus (bonus ristrutturazione) that offers a much higher maximum total expenditure of €96,000, it can only be claimed as a 50 percent tax deduction spread over 10 years in your tax return.

For lower income families in Puglia, this may not be as cost effective as the grant from the regional authorities, which may equate to more money towards the cost and supply of solar panels.

For more information and to apply for Puglia’s renewable energy bonus, see here.

Lombardy is also stumping up funds to continue the solar power momentum experienced in the region.

While the coffers for private properties are currently closed, the region has made funds available for those with small and medium-sized businesses – again, in a move designed to lessen the impact of rising energy costs.

Business owners can claim a 30 percent grant for the installation of solar panels. There are more funds available to cover the cost of consultancy during the process too.

For more details on applying for this energy bonus in Lombardy, see here.

Other regions have also taken the initiative with encouraging more homes and businesses to change to solar-powered energy.

The region of Tuscany is offering an incentive on installing solar panels to residents in the form of tax deductions spread out over several years.

Works permitted include installing winter and summer air conditioning and hot water systems using renewable sources. This covers heat pumps, solar panels or high-efficiency biomass boilers.

For further details and information on how to apply, see here.

Each region may have its own solar panel bonus, either in the form of grants or tax deductions, available to private residents and/or businesses.

Check your regional government’s website to find out what may be currently on offer.

Solar panels are an increasingly popular option for those renovating homes in Italy. Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

National subsidies for installing solar panels

If your region isn’t offering any cash incentive to install solar panels on your property, there are government funds available, which cover all 20 regions.

The authorities introduced and extended a package of building bonuses in order to galvanise the construction industry following the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

While there is no single, separate package of incentives for installing solar panels in 2022, you can take advantage of other government bonuses that include the cost of solar panel installation and supply.

As noted, you could use the renovation bonus (bonus ristrutturazione), which amounts to a 50 percent tax deduction spread over 10 years in your tax return – or through the superbonus 110, a scheme that promises homeowners a tax deduction of up to 110% on expenses related to property renovation and making energy efficiency measures.

READ ALSO:

The property must make at least a double jump in energy class or reach the highest efficiency rating when accessing these bonuses.

There’s a substantial amount of funds on offer to install your solar panels.

Using the renovation bonus, there is a maximum total expenditure of €96,000 (per single housing, including condominiums). Remember this amounts to a 50 percent tax deduction, so the maximum saving you would make is €48,000.

The renovation bonus has been extended until 2024 and, where solar panel installation is concerned, you can claim for the costs of labour, design, surveys and inspections, as well as VAT and stamp duty.

You must tell Italy’s energy and technology authority, ENEA, that you’ve done the works within 90 days in order to access the state aid for solar panel installation.

If you choose to use the superbonus route to claim funds for your solar panels, however, you can spread out the tax deduction costs over five years. Alternatively, you can apply for it as a discount on the invoice (sconto in fattura) or through the transfer of credit (cessione del credito).

The limit when using this bonus is €48,000, which can now be accessed for a while longer as the government extended the deadline for single family homes.

See HERE for details on how to claim it.

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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