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How and where to find your dream renovation property in Italy

Searching for the ideal Italian property to renovate? We've got some expert tips on finding 'the one'.

How and where to find your dream renovation property in Italy
A renovated house in Monferrato, Piemonte. Photo: Toni Hilton

Finding a bargain Italian property and turning it into your dream home – or a profitable holiday rental – is something many people dream of. But it’s not always easy to do, especially if you've never bought property in Italy before.

We recently shared a list of expert tips on renovating Italian properties but of course, you’ll have to find a house to renovate first.

So where exactly do you start? We asked local property experts to weigh in with their advice.

Where to look

The first task is to pinpoint a region depending on your requirements.

“Depending on your budget and the kind of property you’re looking for, you could opt for a countryside location with many farmhouses, or for an apartment or palazzo in one of the many old town centres that dot the peninsula,” says Simone Rossi, Managing Director at Italian property portal Gate-away.com, “whether of small villages or major cities like Florence.”

A farmhouse near Ascoli Piceno, Marche, completely renovated by its British owners. Photo: Gate-Away.com

But huge regional differences exist.

Rossi points out that Tuscany, for example, “doesn’t have many casolari (country houses) still in need of restoration, since it has been one of the most sought-after Italian region for decades, especially the so-called ‘Chiantishire’”

Instead, he recommends looking south.

“Just think of Basilicata or Molise, where you can choose from a wide range of housing solutions to be restored, in marvellous scenery, in less touristy areas,” he says.

“And keep an eye on Abruzzo, which is growing in popularity and has plenty of countryside houses to restore which are quite affordable,” he adds.

“It’s possible to find a nice farmhouse or a stone house to renovate in the countryside with prices starting from as little as 50,000 euros or less.”

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

Local renovation expert Gary Edwards from D&G Design recommends the picturesque region of Le Marche, which he says is “a relatively undiscovered region of Italy that rivals its Tuscan neighbour with miles of rolling hills, medieval hilltop towns, a beautiful Adriatic coastline with 26 blue flag beaches, an abundance of authentic food and wine, fewer tourists than most other regions and a property market that offers homes for sale at a fraction of the price.”

He says the region has homes to suit all budgets and tastes.

“Rustic ruins ready for a full restoration can start at €15,000, while a 2 bedroomed villa with pool and views of the Sibillini mountains are available for around €295,000.”

These homes appeal to “the more adventurous buyer” and “anyone wanting a full immersion into traditional Italian life”, he says, considering that few people locally speak English.

A huge restoration project in Le Marche. Photo: D&G Design

But if you’ve got your heart set on the north of Italy, those regions shouldn’t be overlooked.

As one reader points out, there are corners of picturesque Piemonte where bargain renovation properties can still be found.

“I think that in our area there are still good prices to be found for fixer-upper houses,” says Toni Hilton, a reader who has restructured several properties in Monferrato, Piemonte, where the main draw is the spectacular landscape.

“I’ve noticed lately that prices for a total re-do – a house that needs work from roof to cellar and all of the impianti (plumbing/heating/electric) and new infissi (windows/doors), are lower than ever. “

“I think a lot of houses in poor state have come on the market in recent years, as elderly owners have died. Families don't want, or don't have the means to restructure them,” she explains.

Some houses, she adds, are even priced symbolically at less than 10,000. However the cost of buying a house, usually around 5,000, should be factored in too.

Finding the house

While most property searches are centred on online property websites and portals, Edwards says the best thing to do once you’ve found an area you love is to get to know it extremely well. Walk around, talk to people, and ask about properties for sale.

“Talk with people who know the area, or live in the area you are considering. Better still if you can find foreigners who bought and restored a ruin,” he says.

“Many hidden gems that are being sold privately may not be listed with local real estate agents.”

A property in Abruzzo in need of some TLC. Photo: propertyupto50k.com

If you’re living outside of Italy, he says “a test visit to areas you are drawn to” is essential.

“Check for local events or speakers who may be discussing real estate or renovation,” he says.

Hilton points out that not all houses are worth investing in, and that in her area at least, location is the biggest factor to consider.

“Out of every 50 properties that I see, there may be one that has a location worth investing in,” she says.“Here in Piemonte, that almost always means a great view and walking distance to a shop or café.”

Edwards advises any potential buyer to “speak with experts regarding the small print.”

“The local regulations, restrictions, licensing and government by-laws” should all be investigated before putting in any offers or getting too carried away with grand plans for restoration.

And Rossi says expert opinions can help uncover hidden treasures, too.

“When buying a house in Italy, it is a good idea to do a proper inspection to identify possible shortcomings, but also to establish if there are any valuable hidden architectural marvels to be discovered, especially if it was built several centuries ago, like frescoes, precious ornaments, or exposed beams or bricks.”

Have you renovated your own property in Italy? Do you have any of your own tips or stories to share? Get in touch!

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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

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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