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How Italy’s building bonus uncertainty is causing headaches for homeowners

Homeowners face being left with unfinished properties or high construction bills if Italy's building 'superbonus' isn't extended in the new budget as hoped.

Italy's superbonus is facing delays and deadlines, leaving many homeowners worried about their building projects.
Italy's superbonus is facing delays and deadlines, leaving many homeowners worried about their building projects. Photo by Anastasiia Krutota on Unsplash

After Italian authorities gave the green light to next year’s Budget Law at the end of last month, many homeowners carrying out renovations didn’t get the news they were hoping for.

The plans aren’t favourable for those with single family homes, as Italy decided to extend the superbonus only for condominiums until 2023, meaning there isn’t as much time to move through construction projects.

EXPLAINED: How Italy’s proposed new budget could affect you

As things stand, based on the manovra – or financial measures – set out by the government, there are just eight months left to access the superbonus for those with a single family home.

It spells a timeframe potentially too short for many waiting for their building project to get off the ground or those stuck in a backlog caused by high demand for construction companies.

‘No house and all the bills’

Many homeowners have already successfully accessed the bonus, with the government approving over 9 billion euros of investments.

But we count among those waiting tensely for news. Solely on the basis of the superbonus, my husband and I bought a wreck in the northern region of Emilia Romagna in May.

After months of searching and waiting for the sale to go through, once we finally had the deed in our hands we thought we’d be able to move through the process and start on the demolition and build of our new home.

House renovation in Italy using the superbonus.
Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Yet, seven months later, the original and unliveable old farmhouse is still standing in its crumbling glory while we grow ever more anxious for works to start – and potentially finish – in time.

For us, this would be our primary residence, our only home. We have both borrowed money and also sunk every penny we’ve ever had to our names and saved up over the years to afford it.

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The superbonus was an opportunity too good to miss, as we would never have been able to undertake a project like this without it.

But if we are left stranded halfway through, we will be left with an old building not fit to live in and nowhere else to call home as we have sold our current apartment – at a loss too.

Soon enough, we’ll be living in a trailer on site and all we can do is cross our fingers that we’ll have a real roof over our heads soon.

Italian property.
Photo: Mattia Bericchia on Unsplash

We’re not the only ones fast in the superbonus quagmire. Paul Bains who lives in Sicily almost embarked on the same idea – a full demolition and rebuild – on the house where he resides, but he was worried that it would be “a disaster” and scrapped the plan.

Echoing our fears, he said, “We would have run out of time and I would have ended up with no house and all the bills.”

A shortage of building professionals

Paul still wanted to access the government coffers to upgrade his property without knocking it down in any case. After initially discussing ideas in September and October 2020, an architect eventually came to visit his home in January 2021 to make assessments.

Months passed and on asking for progress, Paul was told that they’ll need another architect after being unable to reach the first one.

READ ALSO: Italy’s ‘superbonus’ renovations delayed by builder shortages and bureaucracy

By July, the builder he had been liaising with also “disappeared”.

He said that he feels like he has lost a year by waiting and asking around for other contacts, but so far is stuck and unable to move forward.

“In some ways I’m just resigned to it,” he said, nodding to the culture of bureaucracy which he described as slow in rural Sicily.

“In some ways I just accept it as perhaps a good thing and move on,” he added.

Bureaucracy is causing delays to accessing Italy's superbonus.
Photo by Julia Solonina on Unsplash

Using the superbonus on a second home

Not everyone is experiencing the same frustration and worry.

Roger Hampton is a British citizen living in Norway and his renovation project is underway on a second home in Italy.

He and his family found the holiday home of their dreams in Ancona, in the Marche region.

Despite breaking one of the biggest rules of house buying in Italy – buying the property unseen – they are successfully progressing through their building plans, blogging the developments as they go.

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“I first read about the superbonus when it came out and then changed my property search, as I realised there was more we could do than we could initially afford,” he said.

Without the superbonus we couldn’t have done this,” he added.

Due to the various lockdowns, he couldn’t travel from Norway to view properties, so his engineer did it on his behalf and just sent photos and videos. It worked out and now they are embarking on a full demolition and rebuild in the end, as the foundations were too weak to stay in place.

Despite only having visited Italy twice this year, his second home project is moving at a pace.

As an architect by trade, Roger admitted he found the process less stressful than most as he understood a lot of the jargon and the protocol. Regardless, accessing the bonus and progressing through construction from a distance is an achievement.

He met a technician last September who used his contacts to get the appropriate contractors for construction.

READ ALSO:

For us, this is currently the greatest stumbling block as there’s high demand for thermal technicians (termotecnici) and we cannot move forward without this key contact.

In fact, we have found a construction company to knock down the wreck and build our new home, but without the final approval from technicians, we are at an impasse.

Other home renovators I spoke to said they are having the same issues with appointing these particular professionals.

Soberingly, one told me that it took a year to start works after buying the property. In our case, that would definitely be too late to claim the superbonus under the current rules.

One reader of The Local contacted us to say that they also had this experience, saying, “Getting knowledgeable professionals has been a real struggle.”

In their case, they are moving within the same comune (municipality) and it will be their primary residence. They actually didn’t intend to use the superbonus initially, as they began their project before it was introduced.

However, due to the difficulties of finding the right professionals, time has rolled on and they can now benefit from more government aid than they originally thought.

“The whole thing has been hard but we stand to gain so much if it works out for us, it’s well worth it,” they said.

It’s a positive sentiment that Roger expressed too. “It’s a case of having the patience and it’ll work out,” he said.

For those who are jittery and restless, they might not be far off the mark with such optimism.

The budget proposals indicated a change in the superbonus to cover only those single family homeowners with an ISEE (the social-economic indicator of household wealth) of 25,000 euros maximum for the whole of 2022.

If you don’t fall into this category, the deadline of June 30th 2022 applies.

READ ALSO: Building superbonus: Italy’s draft budget leaves homeowners in limbo

However, some respite is still possible as the Budget Law has not yet been examined by parliament and has so far not been made into law.

At this point, amendments are being made and pressure is mounting to remove the income ceiling and to scrap the shorter deadline for single family homes.

“We are fine-tuning amendments to remove references to ISEE ceilings as a requirement for continuing to benefit from the superbonus on single- and multi-family houses,” Agostino Santillo, vice-president of the Five Star Movement party is reported to have said in a Senate meeting.

He criticised the measure as “discrimination”, saying his party have “put an alternative option on the table that does not create obstacles”.

The government launched the so-called ‘superbonus 110‘ back in May 2020, one of a raft of measures aimed at boosting the Covid-hit economy. It offers homeowners large tax deductions on expenses related to energy upgrades and reducing seismic risk.

Property owners have been petitioning to extend the bonus for the same amount as planned for condominiums, with some arguing that those with single or multi family homes shouldn’t be excluded or labelled “houses of the rich”.

Reports suggest that news on who can access the superbonus and for how long are expected this week.

All proposed measures and extensions to come into force from next year are yet to be converted into law and are still subject to change.

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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PROPERTY

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. 

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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.

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