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PROPERTY

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 Immobiliare.it, 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.

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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. 

READ ALSO: 

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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PROPERTY

‘It’s so frustrating’: My 25-year Italian property renovation nightmare

When US-based Davide Fionda embarked on renovating his mother's Italian property, he couldn't have imagined the obstacles and the timescale in store.

'It's so frustrating': My 25-year Italian property renovation nightmare

Building a home in Italy was almost inevitable for Davide, as he’s been visiting the same area in the Le Marche region, where his Italian-born mother grew up, since he was five years old.

Although he lives in Boston, US, and speaks with a charming East Coast twang, he’s also an Italian citizen and has long dreamed of having his own place to stay for the summer.

He began making this dream a reality back in 1997, when a barn that had been in his mother’s family for generations, in the village of Schito-Case Duca, was damaged by an earthquake.

“My mother, who had both her mother and sister in Italy, decided that it would be really nice for us to build our own new home instead of relying on family to host us each time we visit,” Davide said.

“The goal was simple. I would acquire the barn from my mom, renovate it and move in for the summers, as I’m a college teacher and can spend time in Italy,” he added.

“Simple” the goal may have been, but the project itself proved anything but, as Davide came up against unforeseen bureaucratic problems, legal hiccups and personal disappointments.

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

As a former entrepreneur in his professional life, he said he’s “used to getting things done”, owning five companies and selling three.

But conquering Italian property renovation is his biggest challenge to date: “Never in my life have I had so many complications as I’ve had with this house,” he told us.

The earthquake-damaged barn. Photo: Davide Fionda

“In the beginning, I knew exactly what I needed and the costs to carry out the project. My mother was, and is still, living in the United States: the project started when she was approached by her godson, who is a geometra (civil engineer), to help her rebuild this barn.

“I started with what I could control. I sat down with an architect and we created a design. I did research on furniture and fixtures. But then the problems started,” Davide said.

His mother wanted a simple design: an open plan house with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the mountains, spanning two floors – a ground floor and a first floor for the bedrooms.

When they went to look at the progress in 2004, he said they were “horrified” at what they saw.

Instead of windows across the front as we asked for, with views of the spectacular Gran Sasso mountains, he took the entire view with two hallways for entering the property and for the bathroom. The bedrooms upstairs were unusable,” he added.

Davide describes himself as “not a typical Italian”, at two metres in height ,and says he always looks for suitable showers and beds when visiting Italy.

It was one of the reasons building his own home was so attractive, as he could custom-make it to fit his needs.

READ ALSO: What taxes do you need to pay if you own a second home in Italy?

But when they viewed the build, he discovered the first floor had ceilings of just one metre and 40 centimetres – not liveable for most people, never mind someone with Davide’s towering frame.

The results didn’t match the renovation plans that had been filed with the comune (town hall) – they wouldn’t have been approved otherwise, as Davide discovered Italian regulations deemed this height of ceiling in a bedroom uninhabitable.

He said he grew up with the geometra and knew him well, saying they were “best friends”. However, on raising the problems with him, Davide said the building professional “refused to fix the house”, adding, “he took my mother’s money and built a house with no bedrooms”.

He said his mother decided to stop construction after spending almost $100,000 on a house that they “could not live in”, adding that they “returned many times over the years to see the shell of the building that we thought we were going to call our home”.

READ ALSO: My Italian Home: How one ‘bargain basement’ renovation ended up costing over €300K

Faced with a stalled project and unsure what to do next, Davide tried to sell the property but got nowhere. He said the “market wasn’t right” for selling it, so he considered his options for fixing the botched renovations to date.

His Italian property project has been stalled for over two decades. Photo: Davide Fionda

Then, eventually, in January of this year he decided “he was sick of looking at it and it was time to act”.

He intended to use Italy’s Bonus ristrutturazioni (Renovation bonus), which allows homeowners to apply for a 50 percent tax reduction on carrying out renovation work.

On asking for professional opinions on whether the house qualified for this bonus, he said he asked five different people and got five different answers.

In the end, he discovered it was eligible and so he could, in theory, proceed with his latest plans.

READ ALSO:

The aim is to create his mother’s original vision – an open plan space with huge windows overlooking the mountains and bedrooms on the first floor – but habitable this time.

Since the beginning of this year, however, Davide has been stuck and hasn’t made progress.

Setbacks have included trying to get a permit to renovate the house, which has proved difficult since the first geometra reportedly didn’t update the changes to the building.

This thorny issue goes back to exactly who owned the house, as Davide told us it had been sectioned off and parts of the house were owned by various members of the family.

The building headaches roll on for Davide. Photo by Martin Dalsgaard on Unsplash

“Italian law makes you want to rip your hair out,” he said.

Getting the deed in his name has been a huge obstacle in itself, as his mother wasn’t the sole owner and some parts of the land that belonged to her were never recorded.

It’s meant months of waiting while archives have been searched and deeds have been drawn up and transferred, made all the trickier by coordinating it all from thousands of miles away.

Plus, the house category was never changed to a residential one, listed previously as farmland and therefore illegal to live in.

It’s just more unexpected bureaucracy for a project that seems to have no end.

“It has been months and months of all these twists and turns, it’s so frustrating,” he told us.

“This has been a 25-year nightmare,” he added.

A partly restored, but unliveable barn for Davide now. Photo: Davaide Fionda.

Although Davide had originally planned to sort out the more practical parts of the project by the end of May, with a ticket booked to Italy to choose the windows, he’s still stuck in the paperwork part and can’t move forward.

Nothing has happened since January. Three or four times I said, ‘screw this’. But it’s not in my DNA to give up,” he said.

Although he has a strong will, the house has taken its toll on him.

Every time we go, this house stares us in the face and it’s upsetting. Family always ask us, ‘when are you going to finish the house?’ It’s a real source of heartache,” he told us.

From this point, he hopes the paperwork will be completed by August and then he can meet with the contractors to get the process started.

That in itself was a tall order, due to the construction demand and shortage of building companies Italy is currently experiencing.

READ ALSO:

It’s a problem made even more challenging by the fact that he’s based in the States and had to find a company that would apply for the credit for the bonus on his behalf.

Despite it all, he’s hopeful that he will get the house they dreamed of by next August and says he’s learned a lot about renovating property in Italy.

For other would-be home renovators, he advised people to “adjust their timeframe expectations” and expect “anything to do with land or real estate to take forever”.

So what is his secret for not giving up, despite the rollercoaster of events and emotions?

It seems he’s holding on to his vision of blissful summers in il bel paese.

“The beauty of Italy is to be, sit in a town square and have conversations,” he told us.

“It’s a beautiful thing.”

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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