Buying and Renovating Dream Home in Italy

Renovated Tuscan Farmhouse Italy

It’s a day for expert collaboration on Expatra – and we love teaming up with specialists in their sector to provide you, our readers with pertinent, experienced and valuable advice. 

Now it’s the turn of Alison Harris, bilingual project manager and consultant specialising in the management of real estate related projects in her beloved Italy.  She has put together a handful of expert tips for successfully buying and renovating your dream home in Italy.

Alison, a former lawyer, is now a full time consultant, assisting buyers from all nations and with all types of budget buy, restore, renovate or build their dream homes in Italy. 

She has faced many a challenge on behalf of her client, and plenty more as a direct result of her client going against her advice!  Therefore she is best placed to tell you how to and how not to approach your Italian property purchase.

If you’re dreaming of living la dolce vita, you want to retire to Italy or just buy a home and make it your own, this report contains some very relevant and useful information and advice for you.

The number one piece of advice is Research Your Location!  I.e., before getting carried away with dreams of restoring that crumbling former monastery in Tuscany that you so fell in love with, or extending that mountain chalet with breathtaking views of the Dolomites, it is imperative that you carry out your due diligence on the specific area and location of this, your dream property.

This is especially important where you’re considering renovation works of any sort, as that seemingly idyllic property might just happen to fall within a conservation area dogged with stringent planning restrictions, and even more severe sanctions imposed for breaching them! 

Or your home might be caught within an area of significant archaeological interest – which could mean kissing goodbye to those plans of digging a pool you so hoped to cool off in during those scorching summer days. 

Perhaps the property is located in and around an earthquake zone – this could seriously affect your insurance premiums, not to mention the structural considerations and limitations you and your engineer (“Geologo”) will need to address when making changes to the building.

If, after reading that top tip, a renovation project now sounds like too much hard work, and you’d rather simply buy an apartment in a new development for example, research into the local area, the transport links, local attractions and amenities is still vital, especially if you are hoping to use the property as a means of income through rental. 

Seek advice from, or even better still, get help from an Italian speaking project manager to help you restore your house. Hiring a project manager to renovate your property in Italy can be invaluable. A project manager can guide you through the whole process, reduce the pressure and avoid costly mistakes.

The second top tip is Make sure it’s legal, or be prepared to pay the price! 

Although parts of Italy are often perceived as being vastly more “flexible” than other countries when it comes to bending the law, ignorance of the rules is still no defence, regardless of whether you’re a foreigner or not! 

You may be surprised by how many local surveyors (“Geometras”), architects and building contractors are prepared to turn a blind eye, (often only when the price is right), to illegally extending the footprint of your property by overseeing and putting in that extra room or slightly bigger kitchen you were so hoping for, but which the council (“Comune”) and planning offices refused to approve – no matter how much money you offer them!

If you choose to go down this route of ‘back handers’ and rule bending, be warned that there are risks involved. 

Even if your Geometra allegedly has ‘the right connections’ with the local planning office and the Forest Rangers (“Corpo Forestale”) – who incidentally are notorious for their impromptu site inspections – and even if you’ve managed to complete the whole project without any questions being asked, remember that there could be other complications further down the line. 

For example, you may be financing your renovation project via a mortgage from an Italian lender.  This means that the lender, (usually a bank), will be granting you a loan based on plans previously submitted and approved by the relevant bodies and local jurisdictions. 

On completion of the works the lender will instruct its own expert/surveyor (“Tecnico”) to inspect and sign off the project before any funds are released.  Any discrepancies or variations to the original drawings, (even the change in the positioning of a window or door by only a few centimetres), will be spotted by the bank’s expert and duly noted.

If the terms of the mortgage dictate that the funds are released in instalments, but the bank is informed that you have not complied with the terms of the original plans, you not only risk having your future instalments frozen until you’ve rectified the issues, but you may also incur substantial additional costs to remedy the issues, (depending of course on whether you need to knock down a wall or lower the ceiling height of you entire house for example!).

In addition there are possible fines or sanctions by the Comune or relevant body, depending on who catches you out and whether that well connected Geometra of yours can get you out of hot water.

Lastly, you should bear in mind that carrying out unauthorised building work of any kind may result in complications if and when you ever come to selling your property. 

When the prospective buyer makes enquiries with the the local land registry office (“Catasto”) they will be sure to spot that what’s on paper – i.e., on the official plans outlining exact layout and dimensions of the property – doesn’t match up with the reality of the building they’re thinking of buying! 

Either way, be warned that taking the unauthorised road to your dream home can be paved with unexpected, pricey and sometimes unpleasant surprises!

Just ensure you seek the right independent advice in advance, to discuss the possible implications and repercussions on the options available, so that you are able to make an informed decision and feel as comfortable (as you can be) with whichever route you decide you take. 

These are just a couple of issues to think about when embarking on a property project in Italy.  It is essential that you are fully aware of what’s involved and what steps to take to guarantee compliance with regulations and to ensure the smooth running of your purchase or redevelopment project. 

There will usually be a multitude of parties involved in the process, ranging from estate agents, notaries, bank managers, lawyers, builders, local surveyors and planning offices. 

Keeping on top of a project and all parties involved can be a challenging task even for those who speak the language and understand how the Italian buying and planning process works. 

Appointing a Project Manager who, for the duration of the process, is able to take the burden off you by overseeing and managing some or all of the aspects of your purchase or project can be crucial to ensuring your purchase or project runs smoothly, on time and within the budget.

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