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PROPERTY: Should you hire a renovation agency for your Italian home?

If you're renovating a home in Italy, will you need to pay a middleman to cut through the red tape and language barriers? Silvia Marchetti looks at the pros and cons.

Construction worker wiping sweat off his brow.
Renovating an Italian property can be a daunting task, and some buyers opt to have an agency handle many parts of the process. Photo by Valentine CHAPUIS / AFP

The idea of snapping up a cheap, crumbling house in a picturesque Italian village may sound appealing – but doing so always comes with tedious paperwork and the hassle of renovation.

For this reason, a growing number of professional agencies have sprung up in Italy to cater to foreign buyers snapping up cheap homes amid the property frenzy.

In many of the Italian towns selling one-euro or cheap homes, there are now ‘restyle experts’ and agencies that offer renovation services handling everything that could become a nightmare: from dealing with the paperwork and fiscal issues to finding a notary for the deed, contracting an architect, surveyor, a building team and the right suppliers for the furniture.

They also handle the sometimes tricky task of reactivating utilities in properties that have been abandoned for decades.

I’ve travelled to many of these villages and looked at this side of the business, too. Hiring these ‘middle people’ comes with pros and cons, though the positive aspects can certainly outweigh the negatives – provided you’re careful to pick the right professionals. 

READ ALSO: Why Italians aren’t snatching up their country’s one-euro homes

These intermediaries are usually locals who have expertise in real estate and a good list of suppliers’ contacts. This allows them to deliver turnkey homes that were once just heaps of decaying rubble, sparing buyers time and money – particularly those living abroad, who then aren’t forced to fly over to Italy countless times a year to follow the work in progress.

I’ve met several buyers from abroad who purchased cheap homes sight unseen after merely looking at photos posted online by local authorities, but then had to book many expensive long-haul flights to hire the architect, get the paperwork done, and select the construction team (a few even got stuck here during Covid).

Thanks to their contacts the local agents can ensure fast-track renovations are completed within 2-4 months, which could prove very useful as the ‘superbonus’ frenzy in Italy has caused a builder shortage meaning many people renovating property now face long delays

Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP

Their all-inclusive commission usually starts at 5 percent of the total cost of a renovation, or at 2.500 euros per house independently from its cost and dimension. The fee also depends on the type of work being carried out, how tailored it is and whether there are any specific requirements, like installing an indoor elevator or having furniture pieces shipped from the mainland if it happens to be a Sicilian or Sardinian village. 

However, buyers must always be careful. It is highly recommended to make sure the local authorities know who these agents are and how reliable they are in delivering results.

Town halls can often suggest which local companies to contact, and this gives the renovation legitimacy in my view. In a small village, where everyone knows each other, when the town hall recommends an agency there’s always a certain degree of trust involved and agents know that their credibility is at stake (and also future commissions by more clients). 

Word of mouth among foreign buyers is a powerful tool; it can be positive or detrimental for the agency if a restyle isn’t done the right way, or with too many problems.

READ ALSO: How to avoid hidden traps when buying an old property in Italy

So it’s best to avoid agencies from another village, even if nearby, who come to you offering fast and super-cheap services, or local agencies that are not suggested by the mayor’s office. 

Then of course there can be other downsides, which largely depend on how ‘controlling’ and demanding the client is. 

For those not based in Italy full-time, the most important consideration is: how much can you trust these professionals to deliver what you expect, exactly how you want it, without having to be constantly on the ground? 

Photo by Philippe HUGUEN / AFP

Language can be a major obstacle. There are technical building terms that prove difficult to translate, and if the local agency doesn’t have English-speaking renovation professionals with a track record in following foreign clients it’s best to look for an intermediary with a greater language proficiency. 

I remember meeting an American couple once who got lost in translation with a village agent for days, and had to hire a translator just to hire the intermediary.

It’s always useful to ask for a ‘preventivo’ (quote) with VAT indication, considering roughly how much inflation could make the final cost go up. Buyers should also sign a contract with the exact timeframe of the works and delivery date of the new home, including penalties if there are delays on the part of the agency. 

READ ALSO:

But, even when there is complete trust, I think it is impossible to fully restyle an old home from a distance, contacting intermediaries by phone, emails, messages or video calls only. 

Details are key and there’s always something that could be misinterpreted. Buyers based overseas should still follow-up the renovation phases personally, perhaps with one or two flights per year to check all is going well and up to schedule.

Asking to see the costs so far undertaken midway through the restyle is useful to make sure there are no hidden costs or unexpected third parties involved – like buying the most expensive furniture or marble floor when not requested, or hiring a carpenter to build artisan beds.

While there is really no such thing as a hassle-free renovation, these agencies can ease the pressure and do most of the burdensome work – but buyers’ supervision will always be needed.

Read more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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PROPERTY

Where in Italy are house prices rising fastest?

Property values are expected to continue rising overall in Italy in 2023, but the situation looks much better in some cities than others. Here's how average prices compare.

Where in Italy are house prices rising fastest?

Until 2020 Italy’s real estate market had long suffered stagnation, weighed down by a large number of old, neglected properties which were proving difficult to sell.

But the pandemic turned Italy’s property market on its head, leading to the first increase in house prices for years at the end of the first quarter of 2020.

This trend has held up since, and industry experts cautiously predict further price growth in 2023 – albeit more modest than previously hoped.

Factors putting the brakes on growth include the soaring cost of living eroding households’ purchasing power, rising mortgage interest rates, the soaring cost of building materials, and a shrinking economy.

REVEALED: Where in Europe have house prices and rent costs increased the most?

Mortgages are also expected to become more difficult to obtain in 2023, meaning fewer people able to make a purchase.

But despite the gloomy picture overall, the outlook varies significantly around the country and some cities are expected to see a significant rise in prices this year.

Milan remains by far the most expensive major Italian city for a property purchase, but prices are rising faster elsewhere. Photo by Ron Dylewski on Unsplash

A recent report from Idealista Insights, the property search portal’s research team, looked at changes in the average prices per square metre in property listings in Italy’s biggest cities.

In 2022, the price per square metre “generally increased throughout the country, with ‘exclusive’ neighbourhoods becoming even more inaccessible to the average buyer,” the report found.

But, while bigger northern cities saw rising prices across the board, most southern cities were struggling with “stagnation”, it said.

Based on Idealista’s data, here are the ten most expensive cities to buy property in Italy, in order of the rate at which prices are rising.

  1. Genoa: the Ligurian capital is Italy’s tenth-most expensive city to live in – but prices here are rising faster than anywhere else on average, according to Idealista. An increase of 4.5 percent is forecast for Genoa in 2023, meaning the price per square metre will go from 1,602 to 1,674 euros.
  2. Bologna: Bologna records the second-highest price increase in Italy compared to 2022. The citywide average price per square metre will rise by an estimated 3.9 percent, reaching 3,419 euros.
  3. Verona: in seventh place we find the city of Romeo and Juliet, where the increase in prices is substantial, equal to 3.2 percent. The average cost will rise by around 80 euros per square metre, going from 2,483 to 2,563 euros per square metre.
  4. Milan: Italy’s economic capital will easily remain the most expensive city for property purchases, with prices set to rise by 2.9 percent compared to 2022. The average price per square metre is expected to exceed 5,300 euros, 150 more than now, with significant price variation between city districts.
  5. Bari: The capital of Puglia in the south-east is set to record an price increase of 2.8 percent, with the citywide average price per square metre going from 1,909 euros to 1,962 – making it the ninth most expensive Italian city in which to buy property and the only southern city to record a significant increase. 
  6. Turin: The northwestern city can expect an overall price increase of 1.5 percent, equal to around 30 euros more per square metre for a final price of 1,979 euros on average. 
  7. Florence: The Tuscan capital still has the second-highest prices, and can expect an average price increase of 1.4 percent, with the cost per square metre to rise from 4,128 to 4,184 euros .
  8. Rome: The capital may have some highly sought-after and expensive districts, but overall average prices will remain at around 3,336 euros, up slightly from 3,360 in 2022. This is equal to an increase of just 0.76 percent.
  9. Venice: La Serenissima remains the fifth-most expensive city to buy property again this year as the average price will remain almost unchanged with a reduction of -0.3 percent, meaning the cost per square metre will be around 3,090 euros.
  10. Naples: The southern capital is set to go against the trend, with a -1.5 percent drop in house prices expected. This means the average price per square metre will go from 2,737 to 2,696 euros, a difference of 41 euros.
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