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ECONOMY

What will happen to Italy’s property market in 2021?

In the second year of the pandemic, how will property prices and mortgages be affected in Italy? Here's what the experts say.

What will happen to Italy's property market in 2021?
More outdoor space is now top of house-hunters' wish lists due to the pandemic. Photo: AFP

Despite some difficult months in 2020 and ongoing uncertainty, there is now “cautious optimism” about the outlook for the Italian real estate market in 2021.

How has the pandemic affected the Italian real estate market so far?

Data from the Italian Revenue Agency shows there were 374,545 residential property transactions completed in 2020: a decrease of -13.9% compared to the same period in 2019. 

In the first nine months of 2020 property prices in Italian cities fell by -1.1% on average, compared to 2019, according to a recent joint report by Italian estate agencies Gabetti, Professionecasa and Grimaldi.

However, property prices in areas outside regional capitals rose, in many cases for the first time in years, as property experts say people are increasingly looking for larger homes in quieter areas.

“Non-capital municipalities grew most of all, by +8.1%, compared to an overall decline for the capital city municipalities (-6.7%),” the report stated.

READ ALSO: ‘Reversed trend’: Property in southern Italy is now in demand due to the pandemic

Average times needed to complete a sale remained stable, at an average of 4.5 months, as did the final discounts at the end of negotiations, with buyers getting around 12% off the asking price on average.

“Italy’s real estate market has withstood the impact of the pandemic well, under the pressure of changed housing needs triggered by the crisis, and with interest rates at historic lows,” explained Vincenzo De Tommaso, Head of the Studies Office at property portal Idealista.

“Estate agents have been able to adapt to changing circumstances by finding a way to work even in conditions of social distancing thanks to the help of technology,” he said. “We have witnessed an increase in advertisements with virtual tours and agents have started to hold open house events with live streaming.”

“The prospects for 2021 are marked by cautious optimism,” he added. “At the first signs of economic recovery, the real estate market has always been quite quick to recover.”

READ ALSO: 

Things are also looking up for the international property market, as Lake Como-based real estate expert Sara Zanotta told The Local.

Her agency, Lakeside Real Estate, was among those which adapted to the coronavirus restrictions by conducting virtual tours.

“After the first months of the emergency, that have obviously been tough for everyone, from July the Lake Como property market has undergone a real boom,” Zanotta said.

“We had international clients – unable to fly to Italy but still willing to find a property in our region – buying properties from abroad with virtual tours.”

Plus, she explains, following the first lockdown in Italy the agency saw a sharp rise in the number of Italians looking to purchase second homes “intended both for personal use and as a source of income“.

“The proximity of the lake to the big cities, especially Milan, has led to a good induced activity in recent months: compared to the same date in 2019, the increase in Italian customers to date has seen an increase of +45%.”

“Many of the stalled properties on the market were sold within a few months after the first lockdown,” she added. “We’ve reached an encouraging point where demand exceeds supply.”

Prices remained steady for the most part and rose only in certain prime locations, she said.

How will things change in 2021?

The pandemic has of course changed many peoples’ priorities when it comes to housing, and new government incentives may also be influencing choices in 2021.

The report by Gabetti, Professionecasa and Grimaldi says demand is growing for the following:

  • “Multifunctional homes, with larger dimensions and modular spaces adapted for remote working.

  • Outdoor spaces, terraces or gardens.

  • Condominium services, such as garage, gym, or multifunctional rooms.

  • Greater use or purchase of second homes, thanks to the rise of remote working (presumably even after the emergency) and the increased propensity to spend holiday periods in one's own home.”

The report also notes that government financial incentives included in the May 2020 Relaunch Decree “have created important development opportunities for the real estate sector which will materialize particularly in 2021”.

These include tax deductions of up to 110% for specific energy efficiency and anti-seismic works, the installation of photovoltaic systems, and systems for charging electric vehicles.

“This is quite interesting as it speeds up the requests for properties in need of huge renovations,” noted Zanotta.

“Enquiries for this kind of property will increase in 2021 by up to +45%,” she predicted. “From July 2020 to December 2020 these requests increased by +32% on the same period in 2019.”

There are now financial incentives for those buying a quirky old Italian property in need of serious TLC. Photo: Christophe Simon/AFP

What about mortgage rates?

Mortgage rates have been on a downward trend in Italy for some time. Renato Landoni, partner at investment firm Kiron Partners, said this won’t change in 2021 despite economic concerns. “The European Central Bank will maintain an accommodative interest rate policy as long as the level of inflation remains below 2 points,” he said. 

“No particular changes are therefore expected in 2021; rates will remain low and mortgages will be affordable, especially with regards to the fixed rate.”

He added that banks would remain “competitive in relation to mortgage offers”.

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Roberto Anedda, Vice-President of mortgage company MutuiOnline.it, told Idealista that “Many problems in the economy have not yet come to a head“.

“We’re still struggling with the long-term effects of the pandemic,” he said. “2021 will still be a year of uncertainty, but at the same time it is expected that it will not be as dramatic (as 2020).”

“In recent months there have also been positive factors; many Italians see buying a property as an excellent way to protect their savings from a crisis.”

See more in The Local's Italian property section.

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PROPERTY

PROPERTY: Should you hire a renovation agency for your Italian home?

If you're renovating a home in Italy, will you need to pay a middleman to cut through the red tape and language barriers? Silvia Marchetti looks at the pros and cons.

PROPERTY: Should you hire a renovation agency for your Italian home?

The idea of snapping up a cheap, crumbling house in a picturesque Italian village may sound appealing – but doing so always comes with tedious paperwork and the hassle of renovation.

For this reason, a growing number of professional agencies have sprung up in Italy to cater to foreign buyers snapping up cheap homes amid the property frenzy.

In many of the Italian towns selling one-euro or cheap homes, there are now ‘restyle experts’ and agencies that offer renovation services handling everything that could become a nightmare: from dealing with the paperwork and fiscal issues to finding a notary for the deed, contracting an architect, surveyor, a building team and the right suppliers for the furniture.

They also handle the sometimes tricky task of reactivating utilities in properties that have been abandoned for decades.

I’ve travelled to many of these villages and looked at this side of the business, too. Hiring these ‘middle people’ comes with pros and cons, though the positive aspects can certainly outweigh the negatives – provided you’re careful to pick the right professionals. 

READ ALSO: Why Italians aren’t snatching up their country’s one-euro homes

These intermediaries are usually locals who have expertise in real estate and a good list of suppliers’ contacts. This allows them to deliver turnkey homes that were once just heaps of decaying rubble, sparing buyers time and money – particularly those living abroad, who then aren’t forced to fly over to Italy countless times a year to follow the work in progress.

I’ve met several buyers from abroad who purchased cheap homes sight unseen after merely looking at photos posted online by local authorities, but then had to book many expensive long-haul flights to hire the architect, get the paperwork done, and select the construction team (a few even got stuck here during Covid).

Thanks to their contacts the local agents can ensure fast-track renovations are completed within 2-4 months, which could prove very useful as the ‘superbonus’ frenzy in Italy has caused a builder shortage meaning many people renovating property now face long delays

Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP

Their all-inclusive commission usually starts at 5 percent of the total cost of a renovation, or at 2.500 euros per house independently from its cost and dimension. The fee also depends on the type of work being carried out, how tailored it is and whether there are any specific requirements, like installing an indoor elevator or having furniture pieces shipped from the mainland if it happens to be a Sicilian or Sardinian village. 

However, buyers must always be careful. It is highly recommended to make sure the local authorities know who these agents are and how reliable they are in delivering results.

Town halls can often suggest which local companies to contact, and this gives the renovation legitimacy in my view. In a small village, where everyone knows each other, when the town hall recommends an agency there’s always a certain degree of trust involved and agents know that their credibility is at stake (and also future commissions by more clients). 

Word of mouth among foreign buyers is a powerful tool; it can be positive or detrimental for the agency if a restyle isn’t done the right way, or with too many problems.

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

So it’s best to avoid agencies from another village, even if nearby, who come to you offering fast and super-cheap services, or local agencies that are not suggested by the mayor’s office. 

Then of course there can be other downsides, which largely depend on how ‘controlling’ and demanding the client is. 

For those not based in Italy full-time, the most important consideration is: how much can you trust these professionals to deliver what you expect, exactly how you want it, without having to be constantly on the ground? 

Photo by Philippe HUGUEN / AFP

Language can be a major obstacle. There are technical building terms that prove difficult to translate, and if the local agency doesn’t have English-speaking renovation professionals with a track record in following foreign clients it’s best to look for an intermediary with a greater language proficiency. 

I remember meeting an American couple once who got lost in translation with a village agent for days, and had to hire a translator just to hire the intermediary.

It’s always useful to ask for a ‘preventivo’ (quote) with VAT indication, considering roughly how much inflation could make the final cost go up. Buyers should also sign a contract with the exact timeframe of the works and delivery date of the new home, including penalties if there are delays on the part of the agency. 

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But, even when there is complete trust, I think it is impossible to fully restyle an old home from a distance, contacting intermediaries by phone, emails, messages or video calls only. 

Details are key and there’s always something that could be misinterpreted. Buyers based overseas should still follow-up the renovation phases personally, perhaps with one or two flights per year to check all is going well and up to schedule.

Asking to see the costs so far undertaken midway through the restyle is useful to make sure there are no hidden costs or unexpected third parties involved – like buying the most expensive furniture or marble floor when not requested, or hiring a carpenter to build artisan beds.

While there is really no such thing as a hassle-free renovation, these agencies can ease the pressure and do most of the burdensome work – but buyers’ supervision will always be needed.

Read more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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