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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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PROPERTY: Why buyers need to watch out for Italy’s conservation rules

Old Italian homes featuring frescoes, loggias or ancient cellars are appealing, but such buildings are often protected by Italy’s cultural heritage authority - meaning lots of red tape for owners, as Silvia Marchetti explains.

PROPERTY: Why buyers need to watch out for Italy's conservation rules

Italy is dotted with gorgeous hilltop villages full of centuries-old homes for sale complete with characteristic features. But many people don’t realise that these buildings, even if they’re abandoned or decaying, often fall under restrictions (vincoli) enforced by Italy’s ‘art authorities’, known as the sovraintendenza belle arti.

Due to the artistic and historic value of these buildings, they’re considered a part of the national heritage. This is usually because they date back to medieval and Renaissance times, or because they feature frescoed walls, emblazoned vaults or entrance portals with coats of arms. 

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

Italy has the most UNESCO-listed cities in the world, and here these vincoli are even more binding. Many buildings in Rome have entrance portals sculpted by Renaissance masters which are ‘off-limits’ even if they’re in need of repair. 

It is a widespread way of protecting Italy’s heritage, and yet awareness of the risks buyers face if their property happens to be ‘supervised’ are often hidden, and are especially unknown to foreigners.

In almost every old rural village there are private houses and palazzos with ancient loggias, decorated ceilings and lavish stone columns, and even simple former farmers’ dwellings with ancient cellars, over which the art authorities have the final say on renovation work, even small upgrades like adding an extra room or pulling down a wall.

READ ALSO: Charming or boring – What do Italians think of life in the old town?

Giovanna Rosetta Fraire was forced to give up her dream of buying a portion of a two-floor 1700s building in the village of Civita Castellana, in Lazio, because it needed upgrades but the frescoed walls, ceilings, decorated fireplaces and elegant entrance were ‘vincolati’ (under restrictions).

“It was a historic building with an artistic value. The peeling façade needed a makeover but it was still the original color dating back centuries so we couldn’t paint over it,” she explains.

“The rusty wrought-iron balconies were made in the 18th century while the location was in the heart of the historical center, right in front of the Gothic cathedral, so any change to the building would have affected the scenery, too.”

Fraire only found out about these rules by chance, just before signing the purchase deed, thanks to a tip from a local resident.

According to Italian law, fixes to similar buildings of value need to be coordinated and approved by the sovrintendenza, which seldom allows any changes to the exterior and only minimal ones inside crumbled rooms, for instance those struck by an earthquake.

Usually the structure of a ‘vincolata’ building cannot be modified at all: walls cannot be pulled down, nor a room expanded or divided in two.

And when old homes are embedded within the fortified medieval walls or share a wall with a castle or fortress it is even more complicated. 

Civita Castellana. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

Cesidio Diciacca bought a former abbot’s lodgings dating from the 1700s, embedded within the rampart in the village of Picinisco, north of Naples, 

He contacted the local belle arti before restyling it to find out whether there were any restrictions, which is always the best thing to do. Unearthing an updated map of your property from the catasto (land registry) is also useful. 

“The belle arti stopped all external changes as we are in the centro storico,” he says. “The only external fix allowed was to remove the top level of the guard tower which was ugly and out of place, and we had issues also placing solar panels. 

“The whole of the centro storico of Picinisco and neighboring hill towns are protected in some way which is both good and bad as it prevents necessary work of modernisation.”

It should be a matter of striking the right balance between preservation and valorization of old properties, but this is rarely the case in Italy when art authorities are involved. 

Cesidio Diciacca’s house in Picinisco. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

Giovanna Rossi owns a tiny dwelling in the picturesque Tuscan village of Pitigliano, where old homes are cropped on a high plateau and carved from the tuff rock. 

Like most other villages in the area, Pitigliano has Etruscan roots and many dwellings come with pagan caves considered by authorities to be monuments of anthropological interest, a bit like Matera’s.

“I have this stunning underground canteen accessible from my kitchen but cannot change it in any way to make it habitable, it’s a pity. I just show it to friends and keep wine bottles in it,” she says. 

Even private gardens and patches of land, set within or close to ’archaic’ protected parks where Etruscan or Ancient Roman tombs and ruins have been unearthed, have archaeological vincoli and cannot be modified without the necessary green lights.

These are ‘vincolati’ by authorities unless there are specific geological permits which allow the construction of a swimming pool, a gazebo or tiny cottage, following land surveys proving the spot is clear of historic finds. 

That’s without mentioning that when a Roman sarcophagus or column pops out buried in your backyard, you must tell the belle arti at once or face fines, and potential seizure. 

Other European countries have similar rules, like Historic England’s listed buildings, but these seem to create restrictions to a lesser degree compared to Italy’s huge and sometimes cumbersome heritage.