Buying a House in Italy: Where have the original features gone?

Now that we are looking for a house to buy in England, Hubby is getting a lot of surprises about how English people do it.

“Are you SURE they’ll leave the kitchen behind?” he asked me in the first house we viewed.

“Yep, the whole lot,” I reassured him, “even the kitchen sink.”

We went upstairs.

“Don’t be silly, why would they leave the wardrobe behind?” he asked me, laughing.

“Because it is completely stuck to the wall, floor and ceiling, so they have no choice,” I explained.

“That wouldn’t stop an Italian,” he muttered under his breath, as we proceeded towards the bathroom.

 

A cosy and intimate home which benefits from a wealth of period features, including the electrical wiring.
A cosy and intimate home which benefits from a wealth of period features, including the electrical wiring.

***

This has started me reflecting on how Italians buy houses. Rather a lot of people I know dream of buying a house in Italy, so I have decided to write a few posts about it.

The house will be gutted

When you view and buy a house in Italy, it will usually be empty.

Italians don’t have “chains” when selling houses. (Just think about their general organisation skills. Of COURSE they don’t have chains. They could last decades.) If you view the house with people living in it, be ready to find it empty when you take possession.

When I say empty, I mean:

  1. The kitchen will be an empty room, with a wall of dirty tiles with wires dangling out of certain points, and some blocked off pipe ends where the kitchen sink once was
  2. All the light fittings will just be wires dangling out of the ceiling
  3. The curtain poles and any other items you thought were “fitted” will have been “unfitted”
  4. Don’t expect to find a shower door
  5. The bath tub may have mysteriously vanished
  6. In some cases the internal doors and the electric sockets and light switches may have gone away too
  7. If there was a pergola against one of the external walls, there is no guarantee you will still find it
  8. I have heard of cases where the bannisters were also taken with the rest of the decor
  9. Basically, if you can take it away without making the house actually fall down, they will take it.

If the sellers tell you they will leave something, assume they are joking unless it is actually written in the contract.

You have to pay a third of the money right away

When you decide to buy a house in Italy, you have to pay around a third of the agreed price right away for the sale to be agreed upon. This is called the “compromessa” and it signals the start of a nerve-wracking period of time. If the sale falls through for any reason, you will not get any of this money back.

At this point you agree on the dates for the further payments and completion, which may be in two instalments or may all be in one lump sum at completion date.

Just needs a lick of paint
A luxury town house with a wealth of period features. The facade may benefit from a lick of paint to enhance kerb appeal.

The estate agent takes 7%

Yes, really. This is why most house sales in Italy these days are organised online and the estate agents are bypassed. Estate agents have more legal burdens than they do in England to protect both buyer and seller from getting ripped off, but it is cheaper, and more protective, to save on their massive fee and hire a proper lawyer instead.

Next, get the survey done by a geometra

In Italy, you must never forget that you are an outsider, whereas THEY are all related to each other, and probably having lunch together tomorrow.

As soon as you decide to buy a house, you need a report from a structural surveyor. In Italy this person is called a geometra and the report is a perizia giurata. (That is a generic term meaning a report written by  professional, and stamped and signed before a government official so that the person who wrote it now has legal responsibility for its accuracy).

Yes, of course isa structurally sounda. Isa build it my cousin.
Yes, of course isa structurally sounda. Isa build it my cousin.

Italians are a bunch of scofflaws and this legal mumbo jumbo is a joke to them. If you choose a local geometra, you need to remember that the bloke selling you the house is his cousin, or was the best man at his wedding, or has been selling him cigarettes and lottery tickets since they got out of high school, or most likely all of the above. He is going to portray that house in the best possible light in order to help his cousin/best man/Marlboro Man to sell it.

My advice is CAVEAT EMPTOR, and to choose a geometra from a different town somewhere far away.

You DO need a lawyer

Italians often buy houses without involving a lawyer at all.

One of the main reasons they do this is because they are mad. Actually, I cannot think of any other reasons.

I suggest you wait outside during earthquakes
The property boasts a wealth of original features including antique roof tiles and plumbing. We suggest you wait outside during earthquakes.

There are many ways in which a house in Italy could land you with a shocking amount of bills and paperwork.

For example, it may have been built without planning permission and you might suddenly get a legal order to knock it down, at your own expense. (I could tell you about the friend this happened to and how many sangrias I had to buy her afterwards, but it was a trying period for us both so I shall scim over it).

For example, you could find out that it was not legally a human dwelling but listed on the land registry as, say, a slaughterhouse. Just to take a random example, I don’t know anyone this happened to. Ahem!

For example, you could find out that it didn’t have any of the legally required anti-seismic reinforcements put in. These are steel girders and so on. If this happened, you would have to pay upwards of 40,000 to retro-fit them. (In older houses this is very likely.)

For example, you could find that the previous owner of the house mortgaged it. In Italy, mortgages belong to the HOUSE not to the owner. If you buy it, that debt – possibly equal to the amount you paid to buy the house – is now YOURS.

I could go on, but, just get a lawyer.

Italians don’t specifically have conveyancing lawyers, as all their lawyers are jack-of-all-trade ones who do a bit of everything. So you may need to give your lawyer that list I have just written out, to remind them of all the things they need to check. I would also double check them yourself, too, just in case.

The property benefits from a recently refurbished interior and a well-established garden with mature cactuses
The property benefits from a well-established garden with mature cactuses

Completion

You the buyer have to go to a Notaio (notary) with the seller to complete. These people are responsible for making updates to the land registry, which they write in a big fat book and then transfer to online records as well.

They will suggest writing down on the land registry a sum of money that is a little fraction of what you actually paid for the house. This is so that you will pay less stamp duty. It is up to you if you decide to go along with this or not, as it is your money. As far as I know, virtually everyone does do it.

The house has recently been reqired by a qualified electrician and benefits from multiple socket points and additional loose wires where you can connect literally anything you like to the mains.
The house has recently been rewired by a qualified electrician, and benefits from multiple socket points and additional loose wires where you can connect literally anything you like to the mains.

Moving in

Moving into Italian houses is the fun part. They have mobile escalators to raise and shove your sofa through the upstairs windows. They use those little firemen’s crane things to carry your wardrobe up to the roof terrace.

And then, when you offer them all spaghetti for lunch, they actually wire up your new oven AND intervene in the cooking to make sure the food tastes decent.

Result!

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19 thoughts on “Buying a House in Italy: Where have the original features gone?

  1. Wow, this sounds like an exhausting process! I’ve seen shows where people are looking for homes in Italy and they don’t have kitchens. Seems like such a hassle to move your kitchen! Something so amazing though about living in a house that’s hundreds of years old! We have nothing so old in the US so I’m always so amazed.

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    1. They make it so easy. The whole wall is tiled all over. There are metal strips screwed on in the right position for standard kitchen units. Then the back of each hanging unit has a massive metal hook that slots down into it. So they can literally hook and unhook them in minutes!

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  2. The kitchen cabinets are considered ‘furniture’. That’s how I look at it. Wow, reading this makes me glad I bought my casa from my cousin. All we had to do was have the money ready and go to the notaio. Renovations were organized and done by my Mamma’s cousin’s son Michele so that wasn’t too bad, aside from not being present to make some of the decisions. If I didn’t have family, I would definitely just rent. It works out cheaper! Ciao, Cristina

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  3. Well I must say I bought a house prov. Agrigento and I can honestly say I didn’t experience anything like that – perhaps we were lucky. In Belgium, where I live, there is also a compromis de vente, just as in Italy, where you have to pay 10% immediately and the rest within 4 months. Estate agents also take 8.5% commission and on top of that the taxes are horrendous. They call it registration fees, similar to stamp duty, but here it can vary from 10-17%. Usually the sale goes very smoothly through a notary and I must say you will find everything in place such as the kitchen, wardrobes etc.

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  4. The “compromessa” part ist amazing. You do not get it back? And is it the same in southern and northern Italy to buy a house?

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    1. Yes, it is nation wide. I have heard stories where people did pay back the compromessa, or at least part of it, when the sale failure was not the buyer’s fault… But legally they don’t have to

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  5. Sorry I forgot to mention that Belgium and most of the continent use mobile escalators which I find are fantastic and do the job very well.

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      1. Back in 1970 I lived in Venice for about 6 months. It’s a very special place. But having invested in a second home in Cornwall I couldn’t possibly afford to consider Venice!!

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  6. This is a great post (and cautionary tale) for anyone considering buying a house here! I learned all of this a few years ago when we bought our place in Milan. The only thing more stressful than buying. was later deciding to do some remodeling work, which was the worst experience ever. I would also advise checking the “solaio” attic space before buying and having the old owner clean it out beforehand. Otherwise you’ll be in for an annoying surprise when you find decades of their old junk and have to dispose of it yourself.

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