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The Italian properties ‘nobody’ wants to buy in 2021

The lockdown and travel restrictions caused by the pandemic are changing what potential buyers are looking for in future homes in Italy, as well as what they’re trying to avoid.

The Italian properties ‘nobody’ wants to buy in 2021
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

It’s a generalisation, but it’s fair to say that before the pandemic many Italians didn’t give too much importance to the place they put their head down to sleep at night.

Italy is statistically a nation of apartment-dwellers (more than two-thirds of the population live in apartment blocks), preferring to spend most of their time outdoors and meeting friends and family in cafés and bars rather than hanging out at home.

This doesn’t mean people in Italy don’t care about the state of their homes – far from it, in fact. But one cultural difference those from northern Europe often find with Italian partners or flatmates is that there’s not much interest in making the space especially comfortable or cosy. After all it’s mainly just somewhere to sleep, shower, and make a quick coffee before dashing to work.

Or at least, that was the case until about a year ago.

The pandemic seems to be changing several property trends in Italy, including the penchant for apartment living that’s been around since the 60s.

Photo by Tiziana FABI/AFP

We’re not predicting that Italians are all looking for a life in the suburbs now that remote working is catching on. But some property types have become far more popular – others less so.

The following are all factors to bear in mind if you’re thinking of selling or buying a property in Italy in 2021.

Too small

More space was one of the things Italians under lockdown yearned for most in 2020, and this is clearly reflected in current market trends.

The average size of an Italian home is 81 square metres – smaller than the Spanish (97 m2), German (109 m2) and French (112 m2) averages.

READ ALSO: ‘Smart working’? Here’s what you need to know about going self-employed in Italy

According to a study by real estate website, searches have increased for properties that are 100 sqm or larger over the past year.

This change in priorities is thought to have contributed to property price drops of more than 10 percent in central parts of big cities such as Milan, Rome and Bologna, where small apartments have long been the only affordable option for most.

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

No outdoor space

There’s no doubt Italians will continue living in blocks of flats once the pandemic is behind us, but having some form of outdoor space such as a balcony, a terrace or a garden is more important than ever. 

According to property search engine Idealista, the filter for homes with balcony or terrace is now being used up to 40 percent more than this time last year.

And it seems that some people have re-evaluated their priorities completely and are searching for even more space.

In Italy, rural homes have long been perceived as the preserve of retirees and foreign second-home owners – but this is another trend that appears to be changing.

One survey last year highlighted a rising trend among young people (20 percent more than during the same period in 2019) hoping to move away from urban areas.


Italy has a large stock of older, often rural properties which have long proved difficult to sell in a market where apartments and new-build homes have long been more in demand.

But the government’s renovation superbonus, introduced as part of a package of financial aid for the country, is now making the prospect of renovating an old house in the countryside a more realistic prospect – especially for younger generations who previously would’ve been unable to afford such a project.

READ ALSO: Italy’s building bonus: Can you really claim back the cost of renovating your Italian property? 

“This is quite interesting as it speeds up the requests for properties in need of huge renovations,” noted Sara Zanotta of Lakeside Real Estate, based on Lake Como.

“Enquiries for this kind of property will increase in 2021 by up to +45%,” she told The Local in January.

“From July 2020 to December 2020 these requests increased by +32% on the same period in 2019.”

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Outdated or no facilities

Older houses and apartments with an outdated layout, lack of natural light or poor funtionality are big no-nos nowadays in Italy thanks to the pandemic, as well as being key factors in why new, more practical builds are likely to see prices remain stable.

However while old-fashioned apartments with long corridors and lots of tiny rooms are not desirable, more modern open-plan layouts (or “open space”, as they’re often called in Italy) are also becoming less popular as people now spend more time at home, estate agents say.

Since most apartments available in Italy now fit one of those descriptions, buyers are reportedly making more changes to new homes than before – knocking through walls or otherwise altering unsuitable layouts.

Properties without a lift in the building or without parking spaces are also less in demand. 

Among estate agents’ predictions for Italy’s property market in 2021 are an increased interest in “multifunctional homes, with larger dimensions and modular spaces adapted for remote working.”

And those who do continue living in apartments will increasingly be looking for blocks with more facilities, “such as a garage, gym, storage or multipurpose spaces.”

Location, location

Houses in premium locations, such as by the coast or lakes, have also always commanded higher prices and this is unlikely to change.

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%),” a joint report by Italian estate agencies Gabetti, Professionecasa and Grimaldi stated.

As in many other countries, Italian cities are experiencing the trend of losing some of their population as people move to the provincial outskirts of the big urban areas in search of space, greenery and more freedom. 


While real estate agencies focused on the international market say there’s continued interest from would-be buyers abroad despite the pandemic, Italians too are increasingly looking at buying a second (or first) home in the country.

But as well as the traditionally expensive areas, demand is rising in previously less sought-after parts of the country.

Many are considering relocating to rural areas due to the rise of remote work or ‘smart working’, with southern Italy now a sought-after destination among people looking to swap city life in the north for a lower cost of living.

While there are suggestions that more people may move back to Italy’s many depopulated hilltop towns as a result of the pandemic, these hopes may be hampered by the fact that such areas usually lack infrastructure and internet connectivity.

If a property offers neither the transport connections of a city nor the extra space afforded by the countryside or suburbs, it’s unlikely to be snapped up under the current circumstances.

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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For members


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

Buying a cheap home to renovate in Italy sounds like the dream, but it can quickly turn nightmarish amid restrictions, red tape, and bickering relatives. Silvia Marchetti explains some of the most unexpected pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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

With so many Italian towns offloading cheap old properties for sale, lots of people have been tempted by the chance to buy a fixer-upper in a sunny, rural area and live in the perfect idyll. And most are oblivious at first of what risks the purchase might entail. 

The older the properties are, the more potential traps along the way.

READ ALSO: The Italian towns launching alternatives to one-euro homes

There have been several villages in Italy eager to sell €1 and cheap homes that have had to give up on their plans once hidden issues came to light.

Back in 2014, the towns of Carrega Ligure, in Piedmont, and Lecce nei Marsi, in Abruzzo, tried hard to sell their old properties off at a bargain price but just couldn’t get past Italy’s labyrinthine red tape, hellish property restrictions, and scores of bickering relatives.

Both towns’ mayors found themselves chasing after the many heirs of unknown property owners who had emigrated in the 1800s. All existing relatives, who technically owned small parcels of the same house (whether they knew it or not), had to all agree on the sale.

Under Italian law, over time and generations a property ‘pulverizes’ into many little shares depending on how many heirs are involved (if one single heir is not named).

You can end up in a situation where you agree with two owners that you’ll buy their old house, and then one day another five knock at your door saying they never gave their consent, nullifying your purchase. So it’s always best to check beforehand the local land registry to see exactly who, and how many, are the owners, and where they are. 


In Carrega Ligure and Lecce nei Marsi, families had long ago migrated across the world and the many heirs to some properties were impossible to track down.

But there were also other obstacles.

“We wanted to start the renovation project by selling dilapidated one euro houses, and then move on to cheap ones, but the tax office would not agree on the price – saying that the old properties had a greater value, that they weren’t classified as abandoned buildings but as perfectly livable houses in good shape”, says Lecce nei Marsi mayor Augusto Barile. 

This meant buyers would have ended up spending tons of money in property sale taxes.

“Even if these were just small houses, potential property taxes start at €700, and could have been much higher,” he explains.

“This would have been a nightmare for any buyer finding out about this at a later stage, after the purchase”.

Barile says the town hall had not made a prior agreement with the tax office to reclassify and ‘downgrade’ the value of the old buildings, which also required an update of the land registry. 

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

Council officials in the village of Carrega Ligure faced a wall of red tape when they tried to sell off abandoned properties. Credit: Comune di Carrega Ligure

Several potential buyers I spoke to back then said that when they found out about the tax office’s involvement by word of mouth (mostly thanks to village gossip at the bar while sipping an espresso), they fled immediately without even taking a look at the houses. 

The best advice in this case is to pay a visit to the local tax bureau ahead of any formal purchase deal and make sure that the old, dilapidated house you want to buy is actually ‘accatastata’ (registered) as such, or you might end up paying the same property sale taxes as you would on a new home. Hiring a tax lawyer or legal expert could be of huge help.

In Carrega Ligure, where old shepherds’ and farmers’ homes are scattered across 11 districts connecting various valleys, a few abandoned homes located near pristine woods came with a nice patch of land – which turned out to be another huge problem.

Old estates often cannot be disposed of due to ‘vincoli’ – limitations – either of environmental or historic nature, that do not allow the property to be sold, or simply due to territorial boundaries that have changed over time, particularly if the original families haven’t lived there for a long time.

READ ALSO: How Italy’s cheap homes frenzy is changing rural villages

In Carrega Ligure it turned out that “a few dwellings located in the most ancient district couldn’t be sold because of hydrogeological risks. State law forbade rebuilding them from scratch, as floods and mudslides had hit the area in the past”, says Carrega Ligure mayor Luca Silvestri.

Meanwhile, other properties were located within or close to the protected mountain park area where the village districts spread, and where there are strict rules against building to preserve the surroundings.

Another issue was that a few old homes came with a patch of land which was quite distant, on the opposite side of the hill, says Silvestri, making it inconvenient for buyers looking for a house with a back garden.

In this case, checking territorial maps, and speaking to competent bodies such as park authorities if there are ‘green restrictions’ in place, can spare future nuisances.

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.