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How Italy’s building bonus uncertainty is causing headaches for homeowners

Homeowners face being left with unfinished properties or high construction bills if Italy's building 'superbonus' isn't extended in the new budget as hoped.

Italy's superbonus is facing delays and deadlines, leaving many homeowners worried about their building projects.
Italy's superbonus is facing delays and deadlines, leaving many homeowners worried about their building projects. Photo by Anastasiia Krutota on Unsplash

After Italian authorities gave the green light to next year’s Budget Law at the end of last month, many homeowners carrying out renovations didn’t get the news they were hoping for.

The plans aren’t favourable for those with single family homes, as Italy decided to extend the superbonus only for condominiums until 2023, meaning there isn’t as much time to move through construction projects.

EXPLAINED: How Italy’s proposed new budget could affect you

As things stand, based on the manovra – or financial measures – set out by the government, there are just eight months left to access the superbonus for those with a single family home.

It spells a timeframe potentially too short for many waiting for their building project to get off the ground or those stuck in a backlog caused by high demand for construction companies.

‘No house and all the bills’

Many homeowners have already successfully accessed the bonus, with the government approving over 9 billion euros of investments.

But we count among those waiting tensely for news. Solely on the basis of the superbonus, my husband and I bought a wreck in the northern region of Emilia Romagna in May.

After months of searching and waiting for the sale to go through, once we finally had the deed in our hands we thought we’d be able to move through the process and start on the demolition and build of our new home.

House renovation in Italy using the superbonus.
Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Yet, seven months later, the original and unliveable old farmhouse is still standing in its crumbling glory while we grow ever more anxious for works to start – and potentially finish – in time.

For us, this would be our primary residence, our only home. We have both borrowed money and also sunk every penny we’ve ever had to our names and saved up over the years to afford it.

READ ALSO:

The superbonus was an opportunity too good to miss, as we would never have been able to undertake a project like this without it.

But if we are left stranded halfway through, we will be left with an old building not fit to live in and nowhere else to call home as we have sold our current apartment – at a loss too.

Soon enough, we’ll be living in a trailer on site and all we can do is cross our fingers that we’ll have a real roof over our heads soon.

Italian property.
Photo: Mattia Bericchia on Unsplash

We’re not the only ones fast in the superbonus quagmire. Paul Bains who lives in Sicily almost embarked on the same idea – a full demolition and rebuild – on the house where he resides, but he was worried that it would be “a disaster” and scrapped the plan.

Echoing our fears, he said, “We would have run out of time and I would have ended up with no house and all the bills.”

A shortage of building professionals

Paul still wanted to access the government coffers to upgrade his property without knocking it down in any case. After initially discussing ideas in September and October 2020, an architect eventually came to visit his home in January 2021 to make assessments.

Months passed and on asking for progress, Paul was told that they’ll need another architect after being unable to reach the first one.

READ ALSO: Italy’s ‘superbonus’ renovations delayed by builder shortages and bureaucracy

By July, the builder he had been liaising with also “disappeared”.

He said that he feels like he has lost a year by waiting and asking around for other contacts, but so far is stuck and unable to move forward.

“In some ways I’m just resigned to it,” he said, nodding to the culture of bureaucracy which he described as slow in rural Sicily.

“In some ways I just accept it as perhaps a good thing and move on,” he added.

Bureaucracy is causing delays to accessing Italy's superbonus.
Photo by Julia Solonina on Unsplash

Using the superbonus on a second home

Not everyone is experiencing the same frustration and worry.

Roger Hampton is a British citizen living in Norway and his renovation project is underway on a second home in Italy.

He and his family found the holiday home of their dreams in Ancona, in the Marche region.

Despite breaking one of the biggest rules of house buying in Italy – buying the property unseen – they are successfully progressing through their building plans, blogging the developments as they go.

READ ALSO:

“I first read about the superbonus when it came out and then changed my property search, as I realised there was more we could do than we could initially afford,” he said.

Without the superbonus we couldn’t have done this,” he added.

Due to the various lockdowns, he couldn’t travel from Norway to view properties, so his engineer did it on his behalf and just sent photos and videos. It worked out and now they are embarking on a full demolition and rebuild in the end, as the foundations were too weak to stay in place.

Despite only having visited Italy twice this year, his second home project is moving at a pace.

As an architect by trade, Roger admitted he found the process less stressful than most as he understood a lot of the jargon and the protocol. Regardless, accessing the bonus and progressing through construction from a distance is an achievement.

He met a technician last September who used his contacts to get the appropriate contractors for construction.

READ ALSO:

For us, this is currently the greatest stumbling block as there’s high demand for thermal technicians (termotecnici) and we cannot move forward without this key contact.

In fact, we have found a construction company to knock down the wreck and build our new home, but without the final approval from technicians, we are at an impasse.

Other home renovators I spoke to said they are having the same issues with appointing these particular professionals.

Soberingly, one told me that it took a year to start works after buying the property. In our case, that would definitely be too late to claim the superbonus under the current rules.

One reader of The Local contacted us to say that they also had this experience, saying, “Getting knowledgeable professionals has been a real struggle.”

In their case, they are moving within the same comune (municipality) and it will be their primary residence. They actually didn’t intend to use the superbonus initially, as they began their project before it was introduced.

However, due to the difficulties of finding the right professionals, time has rolled on and they can now benefit from more government aid than they originally thought.

“The whole thing has been hard but we stand to gain so much if it works out for us, it’s well worth it,” they said.

It’s a positive sentiment that Roger expressed too. “It’s a case of having the patience and it’ll work out,” he said.

For those who are jittery and restless, they might not be far off the mark with such optimism.

The budget proposals indicated a change in the superbonus to cover only those single family homeowners with an ISEE (the social-economic indicator of household wealth) of 25,000 euros maximum for the whole of 2022.

If you don’t fall into this category, the deadline of June 30th 2022 applies.

READ ALSO: Building superbonus: Italy’s draft budget leaves homeowners in limbo

However, some respite is still possible as the Budget Law has not yet been examined by parliament and has so far not been made into law.

At this point, amendments are being made and pressure is mounting to remove the income ceiling and to scrap the shorter deadline for single family homes.

“We are fine-tuning amendments to remove references to ISEE ceilings as a requirement for continuing to benefit from the superbonus on single- and multi-family houses,” Agostino Santillo, vice-president of the Five Star Movement party is reported to have said in a Senate meeting.

He criticised the measure as “discrimination”, saying his party have “put an alternative option on the table that does not create obstacles”.

The government launched the so-called ‘superbonus 110‘ back in May 2020, one of a raft of measures aimed at boosting the Covid-hit economy. It offers homeowners large tax deductions on expenses related to energy upgrades and reducing seismic risk.

Property owners have been petitioning to extend the bonus for the same amount as planned for condominiums, with some arguing that those with single or multi family homes shouldn’t be excluded or labelled “houses of the rich”.

Reports suggest that news on who can access the superbonus and for how long are expected this week.

All proposed measures and extensions to come into force from next year are yet to be converted into law and are still subject to change.

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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