Buying Italian Property. Advice for Expats
If you are buying Italian property, never sign any paperwork without fully understanding the implications
The most important piece of advice for expats buying Italian property is that they should never sign any paperwork without getting it checked.
If you don’t fully understand all the legal implications of paperwork, your signature could result in potential financial and/or legal problems. In addition, your signature may negate any possibility of complaints at a later date.
We would always recommend that you use an experienced, independent property lawyer to safeguard your Italian purchase. A surprising number of expats buying Italian property don’t use a lawyer. Instead, they take a DIY approach or use someone unqualified such as the estate agent or vendor. It is not uncommon that this ends up being a stressful and expensive mistake.
Expats buying in Italy may encounter language barriers
If you are not a fluent Italian speaker, it’s important to engage a lawyer who speaks your language. This ensures you not only have crucial legal advice but also a someone who can act as a legal translator. As previously mentioned, the issue of signing paperwork is critical. Expats should only sign documents that they fully understand, which may mean that documents need translating. In fact, when you complete the purchase, the Italian notary may require a translation of the deed of sale. In addition, you may also have to engage an interpreter at completion. However, if you have a lawyer who speaks your language, this will not be necessary.
In order to avoid conflicts of interest, the lawyer should be independent of the estate agent and/or the vendor.
Make sure your lawyer has a license to practice. In other words, your lawyer should be a member of the Italian Bar Association. The lawyer should also have public liability insurance.
It is worth bearing in mind that regardless of how charming and friendly an estate agent is, at the end of the day, an estate agent is a sales person working on a commission from the sale of the property. They are not qualified to provide legal advice and do not conduct due diligence on properties. The base their sales information on what the vendor tells them.
An estate agent may ask you to sign an agent’s brokerage contract, which could include up front fees.
Make sure that your estate agent is from a reputable company. Italian estate agents must register with their local chamber of commerce. They should have a certificate issued by the local town hall as proof of their professional registration.
Many expats buying Italian property decide not to invest in the knowledge and expertise of a professional surveyor.
Construction quality varies hugely in Italy and you cannot know everything about a property just from viewing it with the vendor or estate agent. Buyers should ensure the property they want to purchase is actually worth the money they are paying. This means checking there are no fundamental problems. Amongst other things, structure, planning, zoning, ownership and geological location.
Certificate of Habitability
It’s also surprising how many expats buy a property that has neither electricity nor water connections. If a property has no utility connections, it may indicate a problem. It suggests that the property may not have a Certificate of Habitability. If this is the case, the property may never gain mains utilities despite what the vendor or estate agent claims. When it comes to reselling the property, later on, it is likely to be a struggle to find a buyer.
Buying an Italian off-plan property
Expats should exercise caution if buying an off-plan property. There are many risks entailed with buying Italian off-plan property. One of the major risks is that a developer becomes insolvent during the build. Never make large payments as a deposit to secure what appears to be a dream home.
Ensure, amongst other things, that the developer or building company has a building licence for the property before parting with any cash. Don’t be afraid to ask the property developer about their portfolio, their history of delivering quality buildings, on time. Ask for references. If you are buying a resale property, check that there are no hidden fees or legal complications.
Take your time. Don’t be rushed
When buying a property in Italy, don’t rush into a purchase and, never buy a home on impulse. Think long term. Always assess the pros and cons, research the area and understand all the present and future legal and tax aspects.
Familiarise yourself with the process of buying Italian property
Because the process of buying a property in Italy can move quickly and expats should be prepared for the purchase completion taking between four to eight weeks on average.
The purchasing process in Italy is completely different to the UK, the USA and many other parts of the world. First, the buyer makes an offer on the property. If it’s accepted, then the buyer and vendor will sign a reservation offer and the buyer will pay a small deposit. Second, the buyer and seller will sign a preliminary contract at which point the buyer will pay another deposit, usually a minimum of 10% of the sale price. Finally, at completion, the new owners pay the balance of the sale price, along with other costs and taxes.
It is important that expats appreciate all the financial and legal implications of each stage of the process.
For over 55 years, De Tullio Law Firm has been providing international clients with independent legal advice. We offer services in all the major fields of Italian law. Our particular expertise is in cross-border real estate, family law and inheritance matters. If you would like more information, or you need advice and support with your Italian property purchase, please get in touch with us.