What you absolutely must understand before buying a property in Italy
In order to make your purchase as safe and efficient as possible, before buying a property in Italy, you should understand how the process works and who you should involve.
When you visit a country for a holiday, cultural differences are charming and exciting. This changes dramatically when you make an investment or move to that country.
You may have already bought a property in your own country. Maybe you are English and the estate agent passed all relevant information to your solicitor to process the purchase. Perhaps you are American and you used an independent and qualified buying agent.
In both cases, the most risk free and secure method for you, as a buyer has become the assumed. It is probably the only way you would consider purchasing a property. In the UK, USA and other common law countries, we take it for granted that our interests are so well protected that it is very difficult to unwittingly make a mistake.
Italy is a member of the European Union so you can assume certain rights and similarities. However, when it comes to personal liability, Italy can be very libertarian. In other words, in Italy if you want to protect yourself and your interests, you can. If you don’t want to, that’s fine too.
The consequences, and ultimately the lessons, are yours alone. This mindset, for better or for worse, is practically non-existent in Northern Europe and many English-speaking nations.
Don’t assume anything
Before buying property in Italy, you shouldn’t make any of the same assumptions that you would in your own country. You should not assume that the typical process is naturally geared to protect your interests. Nor should you assume that everyone respects the law. And, do not assume that rectifying a mistake will be a quick or cost free fix. Above all, just as you wouldn’t at home, believe everything an estate agent or vendor tells you!
Do your homework. The onus is on you
As you may know from your own country, you need to conduct certain checks and searches. Legally binding contracts need signing and you will have to pay deposits.
In Italy it is perfectly legal for an estate agent to provide a reservation offer contract and a preliminary contract on behalf of buyer and seller. Following the signing of these contracts, the buyer makes deposits. The final step is to have an Italian public notary (notaio) sign-off on the sale.
Estate agency contracts are often standard pre-printed forms. Many foreign buyers assume that the notaio, who according to law must oversee the property transaction, is the equivalent of a lawyer or qualified realtor. People believe that if anything untoward comes up, the notaio will be aware of it and inform the relevant party. This is absolutely not the case. The notaio must remain impartial and only checks the final deed of sale document.
Neither the estate agent nor the notaio are responsible for doing your due diligence – you are!
Therefore, anything omitted or glossed over in any contract will not be apparent. If the person who draws up or checks is not working for you, you are taking a risk signing it and making deposits. On top of this, you should know that the Italian language versions of contracts will prevail in a court. You can of course read and check your own contract. However, understanding depends on your grasp of Italian and/or your trust in the translator you or the estate agent engages.
Don’t take unnecessary risks
Your estate agent will of course advise you that you do not need a lawyer, which is correct. Italian law does not oblige you to engage a lawyer. However, without a lawyer you are purchasing a property entirely without independent representation. Not only that, you are choosing not to protect yourself legally in a country with one of the slowest and most complex legal systems in Europe.
In Italy prevention is always better than cure and, infinitely cheaper! If you aren’t prepared to prevent problems, you need to prepare to deal with problems that may arise later.
It is possible that a property may have debts attached to it which the seller has not disclosed. It is very often the case that the previous owner has made illegal changes to the property or, as is common, the property features an illegal swimming pool. Or, perhaps you are planning to build a pool and the seller tells you that won’t be an issue.
If you don’t have your own lawyer, no one else is going visit the property on your behalf to check plans and the actual situation. This means you could easily end up with an illegal property or a property you can’t alter. At this point, you will need to throw a substantial amount of money at the property and lawyers to try and resolve the problem.
A small amount of due diligence at the beginning of the process with someone who speaks your language will avoid risks before buying a property in Italy.
Before buying property in Italy, engage a local lawyer experienced in property matters. This should be someone you choose, not someone the estate agent or vendor recommends. Choose a lawyer who speaks your own language. That way, you not only get legal advice but also translation. Your lawyer should also be able to recommend a surveyor, builders and all manner of other professional services. In addition, you can appoint your lawyer as your power of attorney in case you are unable to get to Italy or attend completion. Again entrusting this responsibility to anyone with potentially conflicting interests, such as an estate agent, can be extremely risky.
If you would like to understand more about the process of buying and selling property in Italy, please read our free guides. You don’t have to subscribe. Our buying and selling guides are a free resource which we have made available to help you make your Italian property investment as safe as possible.
Before buying a property in Italy, why not talk to us? De Tullio Law Firm can advise and guide you throughout your Italian property purchasing journey. We have over 55 years of experience working with clients on their Italian and cross border property, family and inheritance matters. Get in touch.