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PROPERTY

Property in Italy: A weekly roundup of the latest news and updates

Whether you're contemplating taking a step on the Italian property ladder or are already in Italy and planning renovations, stay up to date with The Local's guide to the latest property news and talking points.

Italy’s property market is thriving – but foreign residents are buying fewer homes

While Italy’s property market has been booming overall despite the pandemic, one study has found that housing sales to non-Italian residents have dropped by half – from 106,000 in the  2018-2019 period to 56,000 in 2020-2021.

The main factors behind the decline are a credit squeeze on mortgages brought about by the economic crisis and uncertain employment prospects, according to the study by independent research institute Scenari Immobiliari (Real Estate Scenarios)

READ ALSO: Escape from the city: These are the 21 cheapest Italian provinces to move to

The downturn was also attributed to the inability of prospective buyers to visit properties in person for several months during early 2020, when Italy went into strict lockdown.

Italy’s housing sector as a whole thrived during 2020 and early 2021, with prices rising more than they had in the past decade after a brief Covid-19-induced slump at the start of the year, according to provisional figures from the national statistics office Istat.

The south and Italy’s islands saw the highest level of increased interest from buyers, with prices in these areas seeing a 3 percent jump in the first quarter of 2020 on the same period a year before.

A row of houses by a lake in Lierna, Lecco

Photo: Michael Meyer/Unsplash

The town near Rome with €1 homes for sale

The list of idyllic hilltop villages in rural Italy putting neglected properties up for sale at the symbolic price of €1 just keeps getting longer. 

They’re usually in remote areas far from Italy’s major cities, but this week the town of Maenza became the first in Rome’s Lazio region to join the project.

Maenza is around 80 kilometres from Rome, or a 90-minute drive – although there are no public transport connections.

Of course, buyers must agree to some conditions. They will have to commit to renovating the property within three years, and pay a deposit of €5,000, which will be returned once the renovation is complete. They must also detail whether the property will become a private home or a business, such as a shop, hotel or restaurant.

READ ALSO: ‘What happened when I bought a house in Italy during lockdown – without viewing it’

Becoming a permanent resident is not compulsory but the city council is keen to attract young families with children, and priority will be given to buyers wanting to settle down rather than those looking for a holiday home.

Read more about Maenza’s offering here and see our list of towns offering one-euro homes here.

If you’ve made an offer on a one-euro property anywhere in Italy, please get in touch and let us know about your experience.

Should Italy sell off its abandoned ‘ghost towns’?

Renovating a house is one thing, but would you consider buying an entire abandoned Italian village? There are thousands of forgotten ‘ghost towns’ across the country with no residents left, and thousands more risk going the same way if depopulation continues at the current rate.

Our writer argues this week that the government should consider selling crumbling, uninhabited villages to private buyers who can give them a new lease of life. In fact, there are already a handful of examples of people successfully buying and renovating remote villages. You can read the full article here.

READ ALSO: Will Italy really pay you to move to its ‘smart working’ villages?

Photo: Marcello Paternostro/AFP

Did you know?

In some countries it’s seen as essential that you have a chartered surveyor assess a property for defects and likely future issues before finalising your offer.

But in Italy, house surveys prior to purchase are not a legal requirement, and there’s no shortage of estate agents who’ll tell clients that they do not need one. Plus many people assume that, when an estate agent says the house can be modified in various ways during renovation, this is the correct information.

But failure to carry out proper checks before purchase often leads to nasty surprises down the line – particularly in a country where abusivo (illegal) building work is so rife. 

If you end up the owner of a property riddled with building irregularities you could find yourself in hot water. Or at least having to pay hefty fees to regularise the paperwork.

As property and renovation experts keep reminding us, a survey carried out by a good geometra (surveyor) or engineer is likely to prove valuable – both in terms of saving the buyer money in the long term and avoiding any trouble with local authorities. Here’s more information about the issues you’ll want to avoid when purchasing a property for renovation.

What do you think?

Please get in touch at [email protected] to let us know if you’ve found this new weekly feature useful and share any suggestions you have for property-related news from Italy.

Member comments

  1. “Italy’s property market is thriving – but foreign residents are buying fewer homes”.
    No wonder! The Italian government makes it very hard to purchase property for non-EU citizens. In order to secure an Elective Resident Visa, you have to provide a property deed, or a twelve-month rental lease, before you even know if you’ll be accepted. Showing financial means doesn’t seem to be enough. If you forego the residency visa, you can only stay in Schengen for a total of 90 out of every 180 days. Hardly an incentive to want to purchase

  2. Peterjoan,
    Every country has rules about how long you can stay without a visa. I think you should contact Smart Move Italy and see if they can help you. They helped me and we are closing on a property in Apulia in a few weeks. We have citizenship, so that is a substantial difference, but we know many who have worked with SMI to secure their ERVs — some in quite a short time period. SMI has a Facebook page and are doing a Bootcamp in early September – it is free and chock full of information. No heavy sales pitch just a mention at the end that if you want to dig deeper there are options for more help available. Literally, just A sentence at the end of the Bootcamp (at least that was my experience in April 2021). Best of luck!

  3. Sound advice! We’ve just bought our ‘forever-home’ here in Sicily, and while stressful, if’n you do your homework, it becomes (somewhat) easier, yeah?
    Did have to walk away from a property here that the real estate agent claimed was ‘perfect;y fine’ but ended up being entirely illegal! But, thanks to our geometra, we avoided that one…
    Cheers, and good luck to all looking now… 🙂

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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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