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Expert tips on renovating your Italian property

Thinking of buying an Italian property to renovate? It can be a lot of work, but local property experts have some tips.

Expert tips on renovating your Italian property
A property renovation project in Marche, Italy. Photo: D&G Design

When deciding to buy an Italian property for renovation, there are all kinds of things to consider; from location to budgeting to finding the best supplies locally.

Renovation projects can be enough work in your home country, so adding foreign laws and language to the mix can make the idea seem daunting.

But plenty of people have done it before, and there's help and advice available if you're thinking of making the leap.

We spoke to Italian home renovation experts David and Gary from D&G Design, based in the Marche region, who renovated their own property in Italy and now assist others doing the same.

”Homes, just like ours, offer fantastic potential and could be an attractive option for foreign buyers,” said Gary. “They can easily be transformed into stunning second homes, holiday rentals or even bed and breakfasts.”

A renovated dream home in the Marche countryside. Photo: D&G Design

They gave us their top renovation tips for anyone thinking – or already in the process – of buying a home to renovate anywhere in Italy.

Find a geometra

When carrying out major restoration works, you’ll need to enlist the services of an ingegnere or geometra (civil/structural engineer) who will oversee the project and provide a quote for all works, Gary said.

A good one will provide an accurate estimate for the job at hand, and work with you to arrange tradespeople or builders to carry out the works.

Get planning permission

Look out for the hidden extras. “Anything that requires planning permission will need to have an ingegnere or geometra submit these applications, required by law,” says Gary.

“There are fees for planning permission, so have your ingegnere/geometra provide you with a full cost of these prior to purchasing the house.”

Check your costs

“Check your local government guidelines on costs of each aspect of a renovation/restoration project. Make sure that you are aware of these so that you can cross-check any quotes you receive.”

Don’t forget anti-seismic work

You might come from a country where this just isn’t a consideration, but in Italy it’s vital.

“A good ingegnere/geometra will insist that anti-seismic works are carried out to homes needing renovating – this is a requirement by law.”

Photo: D&G Design

Budget realistically

We often hear about restoration projects with runaway budgets, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you’re realistic from the outset.

“A good way to determine the cost of a project is to anticipate spending €1,000 per square metre of the home on full restoration projects where rebuilding, rewiring, plumbing, heating, etc is needed,” says Gary.

For smaller renovation projects, he says €600-€800 per square metre is a good guideline to budget.

“Then add 20 percent to your estimate to cover any hidden surprises, taxes and fees. With any luck, you’ll have money left over!”

Make use of funding schemes

There are some good schemes in place for residents who restore historical homes, usually receiving some of the costs of the project back via deductions on your taxes.

If your plan is to become an Italian resident then investigate whether these schemes exist in your area before work commences. 

Consider a project manager

“If you’re not going to be present during the renovation works, enlist an English-speaking project manager who can be on site and work together with your ingegnere/geometra to provide you with full details and updates weekly,” Gary advises.

David and Gary in Italy. Photo: D&G Design

Choose tradespeople carefully

“Don’t be afraid to ask to meet with builders and tradespeople beforehand. Ask to see other projects that they have worked on,” says Gary.

You should also beware of quotations that seem to be lower than government guidelines.

“All quotes are estimated and chances are that a lower quote will increase as the work progresses. Ask your ingegnere/geometra for a worst-case scenario quote so that you budget for all eventualities.”

Get to know your neighbours

Making time for the neighbours is invaluable, Gary says. “They will appreciate you making the effort, especially if you can use a few Italian words and phrases, and they will be very knowledgeable on where to find the best items from trusted local suppliers.”

Seek out local artisans

This has to be one of the best parts of restoring a property in Italy.

“There are some amazing hidden talents in Italy, artisans producing work that may be dying arts in your home country.”

“Have fun finding local ceramics makers, flooring specialists, carpenters, etc. After all, Italians have produced some of the world's most famous art and architecture, and many are still creating works of art even in the smallest of towns.“

Go antique hunting

When it comes to decorating and finding furniture for your new Italian home, you can be very creative.

One of Gary’s favourite pastimes is visiting Italy’s famous antiques markets, where he says you can pick up one-of-a-kind pieces for a fraction of the price you would pay elsewhere. 

The famous monthly antique market in Arezzo, Tuscany, is a good place to find unique pieces. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

Have you renovated your own property in Italy? Do you have any of your own tips or stories to share? Get in touch at [email protected]

READ ALSO: The best renovation properties you can buy in Italy for less than €50K

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‘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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