Expat Interview: What You Need to Know About Buying a Home in Italy as a Foreigner

Imola, an EU citizen from Budapest, Hungary recently bought an apartment in the beautiful region of Liguria, Italy. She agreed to share with My Dolce Casa the details of her experience and her advice for other expats aspiring to purchase property in Italy.

How did you decide to purchase a home in Italy?

I have been going to Italy on vacation for many years. About 10-15 years ago I met some Italian friends who lived in Liguria, and we remained friends over the years as I continued to visit Italy on a regular basis.  

My friends’ hometown is about an hour south of Cinque Terre in Liguria, an area that is unbelievably beautiful and very convenient as a location. Having travelled to Italy frequently, owning a place was something I always wanted for myself. 

Town center of Rapallo Liguria Italy at Christmas time

How did you choose the location where to buy property? 

I visited many other locations in Italy, but Liguria was my first love. Even though homes in the South, such as Naples, Sicily or Puglia, are cheaper than real estate in Liguria, I never considered buying there. I don’t know those regions as well as I know Liguria and buying in an unknown region felt riskier to me.

I started searching for an apartment online, mainly on immobiliare.it and casa.it. On these websites, you can search property by city, postal code or region, but you can also circle an area on the map where you want to live. This is the method I used. 

I searched online in a radius around my friends’ town, encompassing several towns and villages. I then set a search alert and the websites sent me notifications when new listings became available.

After looking at listings online for a couple of months, I decided that Rapallo was the town for me. It was the cheapest town in the general area where I wanted to live. Rapallo is a nice coastal town in Liguria set in a small bay, having one of the shortest stretches of coastline in the area.

Panoramic view of Rapallo Liguria Italy

How many properties did you visit before you found the one? How long did it take to search and view apartments? 

I bought my apartment last summer, approximately one year after I first decided to buy a home in Italy. I searched for about a year on and off, mostly on the internet. In total, I selected and compared somewhere between 50 and 100 properties.

I visited properties in person in two rounds. The first time, I viewed about 12 apartments in the course of a few days. A couple of months later, I went back to Italy and visited another 4-5 properties.

After the first round of viewing, I had a good feeling about the town, a solid understanding of the town itself, the layout, the neighborhoods and so on. After the second visit looking at properties, I selected an apartment I liked.

Imola’s advice: Multiple visits to Italy to view properties aren’t necessary. If you’ve been looking online and have a good idea what is out there, you can check as many apartments as you can in one visit and select the one to buy. 

Scenic coastline of Rapallo Liguria Italy

Once you found the property you wanted to buy, what kind of research or due diligence did you do? 

First, I learned about the process of buying a home in Italy from blogs, and I am very grateful that others have shared their experience. Reading blog articles and seeing how other foreigners did it was priceless to me. I pretty much relied on the steps I read in a particular blog post and it all went well.

Typically, the parties involved when buying real estate in Italy are: the buyer, the seller and the realty agency. The contract is validated by a notary, so a lawyer is not usually required in real estate transactions.

However, you can hire a lawyer if you’re uncertain about what needs to be done, if you need a safety net. It adds to your costs, but if it makes you feel comfortable throughout the process.

After choosing the apartment, I called a lawyer, the same lawyer recommended on the blog I read, because he had represented other Hungarian citizens like me in the past.

Imola’s advice: Hire a lawyer if you don’t speak Italian and are not knowledgeable about Italian law.

Apartment building in Rapallo Liguria Italy

The lawyer turned out to be very useful to have. First of all, he was my translator. Neither the owner, nor the realtor spoke English. The Ligurian coast is mostly visited by Italian people, from Milan. Local Italians don’t speak English, so it was helpful to have an Italian lawyer who speaks English.  

The second big benefit of having a lawyer is that he did all the due diligence before I put in an offer. Here are some critical aspects he helped with:

He checked the background of the owner of the property. Real estate transactions can get complicated when a property is owned by a whole family and all family members have to agree to the sale, or by a company or an association, which was the situation in my case.
Because of the way Italian law works, it’s important to check the financial background of the seller company. For instance, if a company sells property or anything valuable and it goes bankrupt within a year, the government can claim the property back from the new owner.
As a buyer, you cannot protect yourself other than checking their financial situation and estimating how likely they are to go bankrupt within a year. A lawyer can do this for you and add clauses in the contract to protect you. They can advise against buying a property that may be subjecting you to a risk.
The lawyer also checked the energy certificate and collected details on the original plans of the property.

Imola’s advice: If the original architectural drawings don’t match the current layout, it can mean that there were changes made to the property without a permit and you can get in trouble with the authorities later on. Be sure to check on this.

How do you make an offer on a property in Italy and what is included in the offer?

Once the due dilligence is completed, the next step is to send an offer to the owner. The offer to buy in Italy is a legally binding document. If the owner accepts the offer, you cannot get out.

You also have to put down a deposit with the offer, and if you change your mind, you lose that deposit. You don’t pay the deposit at the time of the offer, but the document is binding you to pay the deposit within a certain amount of time. At this time, you have to be absolutely certain you want to buy the property before putting in the offer.

If you have a lawyer, they will prepare the offer agreement. Besides the standard terms, the offer has to mention whether you are buying the property furnished or unfurnished.

In my case, the apartment was completely furnished and the furniture was included in the offer. I did not add an itemized list of all the furniture. The offer, and later the contract, were phrased in such a way to include “everything that the buyer saw during the in-person visit”.

Bridge in Rapallo Liguria Italy

Many apartments I visited were furnished, partially or fully. Whether you want to keep or get rid of the furniture should be included in the offer. The owner might ask for extra money for the furniture.

The lawyer writes the offer contract and keeps in touch with the agent after the offer is extended.

Imola’s advice: Take a video of the property at the time of the viewing, to have a record of everything that you saw.

Did you bargain on the price of the property? How much?

In Italy it’s perfectly normal to bargain when buying real estate. You can usually start at 8-10% below the asking price. In the south, there may be even more wiggle room, 10-12% under asking.

My first offer was about 10% below the list price, which the owner declined. I submitted a second offer and a third offer, which was finally accepted.

What documents do you need to purchase property in Italy? Was there anything that was particularly difficult to obtain?

As an EU citizen, you need the following documents to buy property in Italy:

A valid ID
An Italian tax number (codice fiscale). The lawyer obtained the codice fiscale in a couple of days, as this was needed before the offer.

Although you do not need an Italian bank account, there are some important considerations as to transferring money when buying property in Italy.

If your money is not in Euro, currency exchange fees are high. The cheapest options in terms of low transfer fees from another currency to Euro are Revolut or Wise, they have the best exchange rates.

Imola’s advice: I learned that the free version of Revolut limits the amount you can exchange at any given time. To minimize exchange rate costs, you should start to exchange your money to Euros months before.

Rapallo Liguria Italy

How do you find a notary in Italy and what do you need to know about working with a notary?

After your offer is accepted, you need to find a notary, who is a key person in the process. Up to this point, if I didn’t have a lawyer, everything that my lawyer did, I would have had to do myself.

The realtor can recommend a notary or you can also call notary offices yourself and ask for an estimate of how much they would charge and when they are available to deal with your case.

You have two options, either you rely on the notary that the realtor suggests, or, if you have local friends, they can recommend a local notary. If you have a lawyer, they will call the notary on your behalf.

It’s important to mention that many notaries are fully booked for months in advance. Knowing when your notary is available is essential for your planning, as it can delay the signing of your contract.

For instance, I found my apartment in June and I submitted an offer at the beginning of July, after 3 weeks of due diligence. It took another 2 weeks for the offer to be accepted. By this time, it’s almost August, when Italy is virtually shut down. Everyone is on vacation in August, including notaries. My offer agreement was valid until September 5th, so I was running out of time. This is where the availability of a notary was important.

Imola’s advice: Give a date in the offer as far in the future as possible to allow time to find a notary. Otherwise, you may be forced to work with a notary who may not have been your first choice.

Were there any surprises along the way?

Yes, for me it was the fact that, according to Italian law, married couples can only buy properties together and both have to be present for the contract signing and for the entire process.  In other words, if you are purchasing property in Italy as a married person, both you and your spouse must be on the contract, you both need a codice fiscale, sign everything, and be included on utility sign ups.

I wanted to purchase the home in my name only, so this turned out to be a bit of a headache. If you find yourself in this situation, you must make arrangements in advance in your home country. A contract from the original country where you are married may be needed, stating that your spouse is willing to give up their share of the property. This is an additional step and an additional cost in the process.

Imola’s advice: Any contract written in your home country must be translated to Italian and apostilled to validate the contract in Italy.

Can you describe the process of signing the contract and the closing of the transaction?

It’s important to mention that you may sign the sale contract:

In-person, or
Appoint someone locally to sign it for you.

No matter which of the two options you choose, as a non-Italian citizen buyer you are obligated to hire an official translator for the signing of the contract. This is meant to protect you, to ensure that you fully understand what you are signing. The downside is that you pay the translator’s fee and you also have to find them.

If you appoint someone locally to sign the contract on your behalf, and they are an Italian citizen and native speaker, you don’t need to hire a translator.  

You don’t have to travel to Italy to physically sign the contract if you received everything in advance. If you decide to appoint someone to sign on your behalf, an additional apostilled document is needed, signed by the lawyer and your appointed person, or your translator, as is the case.  

Residential street in Rapallo Liguria Italy

What are the costs associated with the purchase of an apartment in Italy?

The standard fees you pay as a buyer when purchasing real estate in Italy are:

Notary fee
Translator fee
Lawyer fee (if you decide to hire one)
Realtor’s commission (3-5% of the purchase price, negotiable)
Property transfer tax

Property transfer taxes are usually included in the notary fee estimate. The tax amount depends on whether this property is your primary or secondary residence. As a secondary residence, the property transfer tax is roughly double than what it would be if you purchase the property as a primary residence.

The property tax is also paid annually at the rate dictated by the status of the residence (primary or secondary). You have 18 months from the date of the purchase to declare your residence.

As a long-term consideration, if you become a primary resident in Italy, any income from other countries is taxable in Italy, such as income from investments, for example. This is not applicable to your salary earned outside of Italy.

The administrative fees listed above usually add up to about 10% of purchase price, not including the lawyer’s fee.

An Italian real estate lawyer typically charges a fixed fee for the work they do, which ranges from a few hundred to a couple of thousand euros, and it includes:  

The due diligence on the property before the offer
Drawing up the offer, support and negotiation during the offer phase
Support and advice with the sale contract (The notary prepares the sale contract)

Imola’s advice: Budget for extra attorney charges if anything unexpected comes up. For example, my lawyer charged extra to check company financials and download the financial documents. 

Having gone through the home buying process in Italy successfully, what other advice do you have for other expats?  

There are two ways to transfer the payment for the property: you can either pay the owner directly or you can pay the notary, who then transfers the money to the owner. With the latter option, the owner receives the money a bit later.  

If you decide not to hire a lawyer, it’s important to know that all the due diligence will be done by the notary. The due diligence is normally the task of the notary and it includes checking the energy, architecture status, other property checks. However, the notary does the due diligence only after the offer is accepted, when you are already committed.

Apartment building with courtyard in Rapallo Liguria Italy

What are some things you need to do after purchasing a property in Italy?

The first step when you are a new owner is to sign new contracts with the utility companies, such as gas, electricity and water. Usually there are many utility companies present in an area, and you can obtain offers before signing up. The entire process is relatively easy, and the realtor can help you.

If you buy an apartment in a building, there is usually an agency that manages it (a homeowners’ association). You’ll have to get in touch with them to understand what are the fees you have to pay. Typically, there is an HOA fee of a couple of hundred euros per year. The fee go towards the maintenance of the building and the common areas, such as the garden and the pool.

The post Expat Interview: What You Need to Know About Buying a Home in Italy as a Foreigner appeared first on My Dolce Casa.

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