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Step-by-step: A beginner’s guide to buying a house in Italy

Jessica Lionnel
Jessica Lionnel - [email protected]
Step-by-step: A beginner’s guide to buying a house in Italy
If you are looking to buy in Italy, follow this guide. Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

Buying a house in Italy may sound like a dream come true, but it can be hard to know where to start. We’ve got some pointers from the experts.

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It’s no big secret that Italy has its fair share of beautiful places to buy property in. Think Lake Como, where Sir Richard Branson and George Clooney have bought, or actor Colin Firth, who has a house in Perugia.

Whilst those celebrities more than likely hire someone to handle buying in Italy, what process should the rest of us follow when looking to purchase - and is there a big difference between residents and non-residents of Italy?

READ ALSO: Five things non-residents need to know about buying property in Italy

“First of all, what you have to consider is that buying in Italy is very safe and relatively easy legally speaking, depending on your situation,” says Mario Mazzeschi, head of and attorney at Law of Mazzeschi Consultancy. 

“There are procedures to follow as with any country, but they can be summed up in four key areas,” he continues.

Searching for your property 

Whether or not you go down the agency route depends on you, and whether you have an existing relationship with the seller. However, most buyers and sellers tend to opt for the estate agent route. When you want an estate agent to assist you in finding a property, you enter into a contract with them.

“Normally the agency fee is around two percent to five percent of the overall asking price, and both buyer and seller usually pay the fee,” says Mazzeschi.

He also advises to be aware if your agency contact has an exclusive or non-exclusive clause in the contract.

READ ALSO: Five pitfalls to watch out for when buying an old house in Italy

“With an exclusive clause, you agree not to appoint another agency and may still have to pay said agency even if you find a property by yourself or through another agency. With a non-exclusive clause, you don’t have this,” Mazzeschi adds.

He also warned that estate agencies should always have a VAT number and be registered with the local chamber of commerce.

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The binding proposal

Once the property of your dreams has been selected, your agency may ask you to sign a proposal called proposta irrevocabile d’acquisto. The buyer signs this document and agrees to buy the property at a certain price should the seller accept. 

“In this stage, you might also be asked to pay the deposit, but it is safer for the buyer to pay the deposit to an escrow account of a notary,” says Mazzeschi.

When the paper has been signed by the buyer, it is binding to them for a period of time, but not to the seller. This is until the seller accepts and then the document is fully binding.

If the buyer pulls out, they will lose their deposit. If the seller pulls out, they are liable to pay the buyer a double deposit.

If no one pulls out, the agreement proceeds to the next stage.

A row of houses by a lake in Lierna, Lecco

There are plenty of steps to consider before buying your dream home. Photo: Michael Meyer/Unsplash

The preliminary contract

In Italian, the preliminary contract is called a compromesso. The prospective buyer and seller agree on a completion date and the payment of the deposit (a caparra). This sum is usually 10 percent to 20 percent of the asking price.

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The preliminary contract must have the agreements the parties made on the proposal, and further information on the property being sold such as address and cadastral data and the sale price.

Mazzeschi says: “During this part and before the preliminary is signed, I would always advise potential buyers to hire a surveyor so they can really check the property. They might get money off the overall asking price by doing so.

“We had such a case once where the buyer shaved €5,000 off the asking price because his surveyor found something.”

READ ALSO: What is an Italian notary and what do they do?

Once the agreement is signed by both parties, usually with a notary present, the notary writes a contract to the public property register. The seller will be protected from any offers the buyer puts in place afterwards. This is known in legal terms as the effetto prenotativo, or ‘booking effect’.

“Generally speaking, the property purchase completion takes one to three months after signing the preliminary contract,” Mazzeschi adds.

Final contract and completion

Both parties have to sign the final contract before a notary. The buyer must indicate how the payment will be made. 

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“Again, it is advisable to send any payments through to the notary’s escrow account so that they can pass it onto the seller,” Mazzeschi says. 

The buyer then usually gets the keys and the notary makes a start with tax payments and with the transfer of ownership. 

What are the key differences between non-residents and residents buying property in Italy?

“The first and foremost is reciprocity,” Mazzeschi says. “Those who are non-resident and whose countries do not allow non-residents to buy in their country, cannot buy in Italy.”

Recent examples include Canada and certain cantons within Switzerland. 

“If you want to benefit from the lower taxes on your first house too, you will have to become a resident of Italy within 18 months of purchasing a property,” Mario continues.

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At the moment, non-residents pay up to nine percent of the cadastral cost whereas residents can pay as little as two percent.

“The last thing to consider is how difficult it is to obtain a mortgage in Italy if you are non-resident,” says Mazzeschi.

“Other than that, Italy is a safe place to buy because there are many procedures in place to protect both parties.”

Please note that The Local cannot advise on individual cases. For more information about buying property in Italy, contact a legal or financial professional.

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