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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


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. 


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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IN MAPS: How Italy’s property prices vary by region

If you’re in the market for an affordable Italian home, how far your budget will stretch depends on which part of the country you’re moving to and whether you plan to buy or rent. Here’s how regional prices compare.

IN MAPS: How Italy’s property prices vary by region

Italian property prices have remained relatively stable in recent years compared to the steep rises seen in many countries, but that’s not to say they’re always cheap. Where exactly in the country you want to move to and the type of property you’re looking for will dictate whether or not you’re able to snap up a reasonable offer.

This map using data compiled by Italian property search portal shows how average listed prices per square metre compare across Italy’s regions.


The highest prices were recorded in Trentino Alto Adige, at €3,151 per square metre, and the cheapest place to buy was Calabria, with an average price of €922 per square meter.

Average prices are generally pushed up by just one or two hotspots, data shows: for example in the region of Tuscany, central Florence and the sought-after Fonti dei Marmi coastal resort command some of the highest prices per square metre in Italy, but in most other parts of the region you can find plenty of more reasonably-priced homes.

Milan, in Lombardy, is famously an expensive place to live, however this region ranks as slightly more affordable for buyers than the nearby northern autonomous provinces of Bolzano and Valle d’Aosta – though Lombardy is ranked top in terms of rental prices.

Average property rental prices by region. Image:

In Sardinia, there are extreme contrasts in purchase prices – between the luxury properties in coastal resorts and crumbling homes in inland villages – but overall, costs tend to be above average in the more easily inhabitable areas. 

Italy’s north-south divide is evident in any comparison of nationwide property prices, and while southern Italy is famous for cheap homes, within these regions you’ll find certain cities or tourist hotspots where prices far exceed the average. For example, prices in Bari, the regional capital of south-eastern Puglia, are among the highest in the country as well as the fastest-rising.

Property market experts have cautiously predicted price rises in some areas in he coming months – but any increases are expected to be modest.

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

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

As a result, Italian property prices overall are not expected to undergo any significant changes this year.

See more in The Local’s property section.