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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
Davide Fionda's Italian property renovation began 25 years ago - and there is still no end in sight. Photo by Jamison Riley on Unsplash

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.

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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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For members

MONEY

How you can claim a discount on air conditioning units in Italy

Thinking of installing a new cooling system in your Italian home? Here’s a breakdown of the incentives you might be able to benefit from.

How you can claim a discount on air conditioning units in Italy

With summer 2022 likely to go down as one of the hottest summers in Italian history, it’s safe to assume that many homeowners are looking at buying an air-conditioning system at the moment.

And with energy costs constantly rising, even those who already enjoy the perks of artificially cooled air might be thinking of replacing their old ACs with a brand-new system.

READ ALSO: How to stay out of trouble when renovating your Italian property

Having a cutting-edge, high-efficiency AC unit might make all the difference when it comes to the size of your bollette (bills). Switching from a class B to a class A ++ model can reduce running costs by around 30-40 percent every year, according to newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Regardless of whether you’re installing an AC system for the first time or you’re simply replacing an old unit with a new one, the work is still going to set you back quite a bit. 

The price for the purchase and installation of a multi-split AC generally ranges between 1000 and 2500 euros

But don’t despair (yet). As part of its 2022 Budget Law, the Italian government has made a number of financial incentives (AC bonuses, bonus condizionatori) available to those looking to buy an AC unit for their home.

There are three main ‘bonuses’ homeowners may be able to use. Here’s what you need to know about each. 

Renovation bonus (Bonus Restrutturazioni)

If a new AC system is installed as part of wider home renovation works, part of the cost could be covered by this bonus.

Italy’s renovation bonus grants a 50-percent discount on the total amount spent on renovation-related works, including any expenses associated with the purchase and installation of a new AC unit.

Note that the bonus in question only applies if the purchased AC system has an A+ energy efficiency rating or higher (a breakdown of all available classes can be found here) and if the relevant home renovation works started after January 1st, 2021.

The renovation bonus is only applicable when the total amount spent on renovation is below 96,000 euros.

READ ALSO: From weddings to new furniture: 24 Italian tax ‘bonuses’ you could claim

Scaffolding in Barcelona, Spain

The Renovation Bonus grants a 50-percent discount on the total amount spent on renovation-related interventions, including the purchase and installation of a new AC unit. Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP

Furniture bonus (Bonus Mobili)

The ‘Furniture Bonus’ also grants a 50-percent discount, this time to works involving the purchase of new furniture and/or domestic appliances, including AC units.

Once again, the discount is only applicable if the unit has been purchased after January 1st, 2021.

The incentive is not available if expenses exceed 16,000 euros for items purchased in 2021 and 10,000 euros for items purchased in 2022. The threshold will drop to 5,000 euros for 2023 and 2024.

Ecobonus

Homeowners can also claim back part of the cost of a new AC unit using the ‘Ecobonus’, which affords a 65-percent discount on construction works aimed at enhancing the energy efficiency of a property.

Any expense related to the installation of a new AC system can be included in the Ecobonus as long as the purchased item is a high-efficiency, heat-pump unit with an A+++ energy rating (the highest available rating).

READ ALSO: Do you have to be Italian to claim Italy’s building bonuses?

Under the current Ecobonus regulation, the maximum amount you can claim back is 46,154 euros. Also, as in the previous instances, the bonus only applies to construction works and purchases made after January 1st, 2021.

How to claim your discounts

There are two ways to claim the above-mentioned bonuses:

  • Through the independent tax declaration form known as ‘Form 730’ (Modello 730). In this case, the amount you’re owed will be divided into 10 equal yearly instalments.
  • Through a discount directly applied to your invoices. This option is only available if the homeowner agrees to pay via bank transfer. 

To avoid any delay in the disbursement of the discount, homeowners are advised to keep a copy of all relevant invoices and bank payment receipts.

Worker carrying out construction works in an apartment.

All of the AC bonuses can be claimed via a 730 tax declaration form and through direct invoice discounts. Photo by Henry & Co on Unsplash

A further bonus: Superbonus 110

Technically, the famed superbonus 110 does not cover the purchase of AC units. 

However, homeowners may be able to enjoy a tax rebate of up to 110 percent of the cost if the unit is installed as part of ‘leading construction works’ (lavori trainanti) aimed at increasing the property’s energy efficiency by at least two classes (or at reaching the highest possible rating). 

READ ALSO: How Italy’s building ‘superbonus’ has changed in 2022

In particular, the replacement of a property’s central climate control system is considered to be a lavoro trainante and the purchase of a unit suitable for both heating and cooling can be included in this category.

The superbonus can be claimed via a 730 tax declaration form and through direct invoice discounts. Additionally, homeowners can also choose to transfer their tax credit to third parties such as tax credit institutes or banks. See further information on the tax agency’s official website here.

Useful links

Renovation Bonus (Bonus Ristrutturazione)
Furniture bonus (Bonus Mobili)
Ecobonus
Superbonus 110

Please note that The Local is unable to advise on individual cases. For further information about claiming tax rebates in Italy, consult your local Italian tax agency office or an independent tax advisor.

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