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PROPERTY

‘What happened when I bought a house in Italy during lockdown – without viewing it’

Buying a house in Italy during a pandemic might sound crazy, and buying a house without visiting it sounds even crazier. One of our readers did both - and told The Local why he doesn't have any regrets.

'What happened when I bought a house in Italy during lockdown – without viewing it'
Buying a property unseen is the one thing everyone tells you not to do. Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP

The first time that Jon Freeman saw his new house, he already had the keys.

Jon, from Cambridge in the UK, owned the property on paper by the time he viewed it in person. He broke the first rule of buying a house – sign without viewing – and he couldn’t be happier.

“I love it, that was lucky!” he told The Local in August, when he flew to north-west Italy to find out whether his gamble paid off.

By the time Italy went into coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, Jon had been looking for an Italian home for two years – and he’d already missed out on one property that went to another bidder before he could make it over from the UK.

So at an extraordinary time, he decided to take an extraordinary risk.

Was it as crazy as it sounds? We asked Jon to explain his house-hunting process, as well as what he’d advise others looking to buy in Italy in a year like no other.

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The province of Asti, Piedmont, is among the cheapest places to live in Italy. Photo: AFP

Jon knew he wanted a second home in Italy, but he wasn’t set on where.

Having only ever visited cities, he allowed his search to be guided by price. Looking at property listing website Gate-Away, which specialises in second homes in Italy for overseas buyers, two regions seemed to fit his “very limited budget”: Abruzzo and Piedmont.

“Let’s start diving into what’s in these regions a touch deeper – transport links, airports with flights from UK, beach and ski access, climate… me and the sun don’t get on that well,” explains Jon. “Seems Piemonte is in the lead – the final straw was a quick search on earthquake activity on the last 50 years, wow! Bye Abruzzo, Piemonte just won!

“Cool – now I’ve some focus… Where? It’s a fair size region and I want beach access with under an hour if possible. Ok, south of Turin it is, as I also plan to drive I want motorway access fairly close, oh, and don’t forget the skiing!”

READ ALSO: The very best Italian towns to move to – according to people who live in them

He settled on the area around Ceva, a town in the south of Piedmont. But despite finding a few properties that fit his criteria, “nothing was getting me excited enough to actually fly out and see it for myself”, Jon says.

Eventually, after checking online property listings weekly for more than a year, he spotted a place he really liked. He contacted the estate agent, confirmed it was still for sale and planned to fly to Italy in two weeks, the earliest that work commitments would allow him to travel.

But just as he was preparing to book flights, there was bad news from the agent: another bid had been accepted earlier that day.

“Damn – that’s the best one I’ve found in my whole time searching… Start again, this is how life is,” he recalls thinking.

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Early this year another house caught Jon’s interest, this one in Montezemolo, a small village in the same province as Ceva.

Listed at €50,000, it was detached, had two bedrooms, came with some land and lay within walking distance of a bar, bakery and restaurant – enough plus points that Jon thought it would be worth travelling from the UK to see it.

But this time there was a bigger problem: the coronavirus pandemic, which had prompted Italy to tightly limit travel to and within the country. Someone from the next region over wouldn’t have been allowed to view the house, let alone someone from another country.

The Italian estate agent told Jon he’d have to wait until the restrictions were eased. He asked the agent to inquire how low the seller might go on the price. The answer came back: €38,000.

“Wow, that’s in my budget, detached which many I’ve seen aren’t, actually in the best state of repair I’ve seen and the closest I’ve ever found to some kind of shop… ‘Ok! Bid the amount!’” Jon recalls himself telling the agent.

READ ALSO: House-hunting in Italy: the essential vocabulary you’ll need

While the agency couldn’t quite believe it, they went ahead and placed the bid – and it was accepted a few weeks before Italy lifted its restrictions on travel between regions and reopened to visitors from within the EU.

“The agent suggested there were hundreds of people asking to view as soon as lockdown was over but there was only one person mad enough to get his money out and go for it just from 15 pictures on the internet,” said Jon.

It would be another couple of months before he would see the house in person. He travelled to Piedmont in early August to sign the paperwork, collect the keys and find out “what my life savings have turned into”.

Fortunately for Jon, he wasn’t disappointed.

“What was bought as a holiday home is currently steaming into first place as my new home! It’s everything I ever dreamt it would be and more,” he says.


Jon’s new house in Montezemolo, Piedmont. Photo: Jon Freeman

While Jon got lucky, there were a few other things in his favour too: firstly, he’d done two years of research. He’d thought about an area to look in, spent time comparing properties and considered the amount of renovation he could take on.

He’d received a property survey that didn’t flag any major structural problems. And he’s willing to tackle the less urgent work the house and garden need, including clearing out old furniture, adding an oven, replacing the single-glazed windows, cutting down a few trees and making a driveway.

He was looking for a second home, so he didn’t need to be within commuting distance of a workplace or school, nor to move in right away.

He also wasn’t borrowing from an Italian lender, which can prove difficult to secure and add to upfront costs. And he’ll still have to pay sales tax, the agent’s commission, stamp duty and other local taxes on top of the house price.

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One factor he couldn’t have foreseen was that the sellers, a mother and her daughter, would be keen to make a quick sale. Her husband, who built the house in the 1960s, passed away from Covid-19 and his family “just wanted it sold”, Jon says.

But if you’re house-hunting in Italy at the moment, you can’t assume that every seller will feel the same.

It’s a mistake to think Italian families are willing to part with treasured properties for peanuts amid the current crisis, Dave Benton of Abruzzo-based real estate agents Vignaverde recently told The Local.

“Understand the reasons why people sell, be mindful of their sacrifices. There are people here who saw and survived the atrocities of World War Two. The coronavirus won’t make anyone give away their homes,” he advised.


The view from Jon’s property. Photo: Jon Freeman

Jon, who has since flown back to the UK but is hoping to return to Montezemolo soon, has his own advice for others looking to buy a home in Italy from overseas.

“I think the moral of the story is be patient, there are still bargains to be had in the market and when you find the one grab it with both hands and never look back,” he says.

Now that Italy’s lockdown is over, though, we’d suggest you at least visit your new home. Preferably before you buy it.

Member comments

  1. we too did exactly the same this year, when we bought an house in pontremoli in tuscany.. we decided to just go for it, we had seen the pictures, and got the agent to send us a video of the house.. that was it we were sold!
    we have visited the house in august for 2 weeks (5 days quarrantine) and we love it.. we cannot wait to return in november.

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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.

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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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