Expat Guide To Buying Property In Italy

Buying Property in Italy illustration

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

If you enjoy fashion, good food and culture, then Italy is the place for you. The country has something for everyone, and this guide looks at how expats can buy a place in the Italian sun, joining the 26,000 British expats already living there.

Italians are stylish and have a zest for life expressed through fast cars, art and opera, to name but a few ways Italians enjoy the dolce vita.

Italy gives expats lots of lifestyle options, from the grandeur of Venice and Rome, the industrial cities of Turin and Milan in the north to historic Naples on the western coast and sun-parched Sicily in the south. As a result,Italy is in the top 10 expat destinations in Europe.

The varied landscape includes mountains – from the Alps in the north through the spine of the Apennines – the rolling Tuscany landscape, and beautiful lakes like Garda and Como.

Italy Is Much More Than The Romans

Italy nestles on the Mediterranean Sea, stretching 1,200 kilometres (755 miles) from the Alps in the north to the south coast of Sicily.

Italy is a peninsula no more than 140 miles wide for much of the country’s length.  In many places, central towns and cities are within easy reach of both coasts.

Sardinia is also part of Italy – the second largest Mediterranean island after Sicily.

The population numbers around 60 million, making Italy the third largest European Union nation.

Just about everyone knows about the Roman Empire that ruled the Mediterranean for around 400 years.

Other well-known historical figures include Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, political activists like Garibaldi, discoverer of the New World Christopher Columbus and despot Mussolini.

Film stars and directors like Sophia Loren, Federico Fellini and Sergio Leone have gained worldwide fame.

Where Expats Live In Italy

Expats are far-flung across Italy, with the region of Puglia proving a major draw.

Puglia is the southern heel of Italy around the coastal city of Bari typified by whitewashed stone villages perched on hillsides made up of cottages with conical roofs.

The most investable cities for expats are Florence, Milan and Venice. Milan is Italy’s largest city, and the metro area is the third-largest in the EU.

Florence and Venice are much smaller but have their own unique flavours – Florence benefitting from a legacy of art and culture, while the city of canals ruled by the Doge saw Venice once rule the seas as a great merchant centre.

Other places popular with expats include the great lakes of Como, Maggiore and Garda, Tuscany and, of course, the capital Rome.

Capri and the beautiful Amalfi Coast is the destination of choice for the wealthy, while many expats seek a quieter and cheaper lifestyle in undiscovered pockets of countryside in Umbria.

The British expat community is strongest in Tuscany, where 15,000 Brits own homes following celebrities Richard Gere, Sting and Bryan Ferry.

Make sure to read our guide to living in Italy for expats.

The Property Market In Italy

After years of decline, house prices in Italy surged by 3.1% in Q2 2020 compared to the market before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country.

Political uncertainty with the government seemingly trapped in a revolving door of resignations and compromise coalitions has dented the economy.

Milan, Italy’s capital of fashion and culture, is the most expensive city, with the average price of a new home hitting £5,050 a square metre.

Rome stands at £4,655 a square metre.

Prices in the other cities in Italy’s top eight metropolitan areas were:

CityPrice per square metre

Rents are cheap due to rent controls and other restrictions, making the number of properties small.

Based on an average 120 square metre apartment rents are £2,326 a month near Rome’s historic centre, £2,550 a month in the centre of Milan and £1,934 in the centre of Venice.

Read the guide on moving abroad before you decide on a move.

Why Do You Want To Buy In Italy?

This is the first and most important question to ask about buying a property in Italy.

Not all buyers want the same. Some want a second home; some want a property as an investment, and others are looking for somewhere to move permanently.

The next step is thinking about where you want to live – in the countryside or a city, near an airport, near a beach or just somewhere away from it all but with reasonable access to shops and restaurants.

Families have their choices restricted by catering for jobs and schools, while those nearing retirement may have access to doctors and hospitals on their minds.

After the where comes the what – how many bedrooms, garden size, do you want a pool and the like.

Draft a checklist and apply the test to every property that takes your fancy. For example, it’s an idea to award points for plus factors and take them away for negative factors to leave a final score.

Of course, budget is important, and don’t forget to consider a new build v a doer-upper.

Older, rural properties will come a lot cheaper than a swish new apartment in the centre of Rome or Milan.

How To Organise A Viewing Trip

You can fly solo and arrange your own viewings or go on an organised trip led by a developer or estate agent.

Don’t forget the trip organiser is not independent and has a financial interest in any buying decision. They are also unlikely to show you any properties from other agents or developers, however much they fit your budget and brief.

Don’t succumb to pressure to make an offer. Instead, take your time and resist the temptation of any on-the-day discounts framed to tempt you.

Do take some extra time to look around the neighbourhood. If you’re planning to make the new place home, scout out the supermarket, post office, doctor, dentist and other amenities you will need day-to-day.

Try to speak to other British expats to borrow their experiences of the area.

Searching For The Right Home

Italian property listings are online with UK portals like Rightmove and Zoopla.

You can also try Italian websites like Idealista, which lists tens of thousands of homes across the country and comes in English.

Time your viewings out of season. Italians take a summer break in July and August, so they won’t want to stick around for viewings when they should be on holiday.

Italy is more religious than the UK, and many sellers won’t entertain viewings on Sundays and holy days.

A useful contact is a geometra, a property professional like a surveyor. A geometra will look around a property, point out any flaws, and cost any refurbishment you plan to carry out.

If your Italian is excellent and confident about the process, you can manage a house purchase yourself, just like in the UK.

But most buyers hire a lawyer because the documentation is in Italian and property law is complicated.

Make sure your lawyer is independent – that means they have no commercial or financial connection with the seller that could prejudice their work for you.

The British Foreign Office publishes an online list of bilingual avvocati. However, unlike British lawyers, an avvocati cannot certify legal documents, so you will also need the services of an Italian notary.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the notary will look after your interests. They won’t. Their job is solely to check and notarize documents.

Another important job is registering to pay taxes in Italy. Expats must have a tax reference to complete their purchase.

The property purchase is split into three stages:

  • Proposta irrevocabile d’acquisto (Reservation offer) – The seller accepts an offer and the property is taken off the market for up to four weeks to allow the buyer to carry out due diligence, like investigating the title and booking a survey or geometra’s report. The buyer pays a 5% deposit.
  • Contratto preliminare di vendita (Preliminary Contract) – The draft contract that lays out the details of the purchase and the buyer pays a further deposit of 25%. Getting to this stage can take up to 12 weeks.
  • Atto di vendita (Deed of sale) – Equivalent to the completion of a sale in the UK. At this stage, the purchase price is paid, and the keys handed over. The notary (notaio) certifies the documents

Financing An Italian Property Purchase

First, cash is king when buying property in Italy.

Raising a UK mortgage for an Italian purchase is unlikely as a UK lender faces a complex legal battle repossessing property in a foreign country.

Finding a mortgage in Italy as an expat is just as difficult. The banks have strict rules about who they lend to, including:

  • Expats must buy residential property
  • Have a job, be self-employed or retired
  • Must have an income in one of a limited number of currencies, including euros, British pounds or US dollars

Expect to put down a 40% deposit.

Italian banks will not accept applications in English, so most expats hire a bilingual mortgage broker to smooth the application.

Raising the cash for an Italian purchase from a property in the UK is probably the easiest way to fund buying your new home.

The Cost Of Buying Property In Italy

The list of fees seems endless when buying a property in bureaucratic Italy.

The costs include:

  • Notary charges – up to 1.5% of the property value
  • British expats also need a certified translator
  • Buying with a mortgage means registering the loan with the notary
  • Estate agent fees – Generally between 2% and 3% of the purchase price plus VAT charged at 20%
  • Land Registry fees plus VAT
  • Purchase tax – Calculated differently depending if the property is your main or a second home. The minimum is €1,000 and ranges from 2% of the property value for a main home to 9% for a second home

Altogether, the cost of buying a property in Italy can come to as much as 20% of the purchase price.

Suppose you are considering purchasing a property anywhere in Europe. Then, make sure to check out our guide to buying a property in Portugal.

Expat Guide To Buying Property In Italy FAQ

Italy has everything for expats – lots of sun, endless beaches, great food and more than 1,000 years of culture.

British expats can buy a dream home in Italy, but the process is different from in the UK.

This guide covers some of the most-asked questions expats ask about buying a property in Italy.

How will Brexit affect my standing as an Italian resident?

If you already have a residence in Italy before December 31, 2020, your residence status does not change as long as you stay resident in Italy.

You must register as an Italian resident if you want to stay therefore more than three months.
If you have already registered, check with the authorities if you need to re-register.

Where do most British expats live in Italy?

Most expats and second homeowners are based in Tuscany – at the last count, the number was around 15,000

What’s the average house price in Italy?

According to the cost of living tracker Numbeo, the average take-home pay in Italy is £1,295 a month, and a 20-year fixed mortgage has an interest rate of 1.94%.

A one-bed city centre apartment rents around £605 a month, while the price falls to £467 a month in the suburbs.

Buying a city centre apartment costs around £3,470 a square metre, while a farther out neighbourhood is £1,865 a square metre.

What’s the Italian health service like?

Experts rate the health service as good, and treatment is mostly free for expats resident in the country.

Note, make sure you get the correct expat healthcare insurance and cover while living in Italy.

What are the ongoing costs of owning property in Italy?

Like the UK, Italian property owners pay local taxes like council tax. The tax depends on the size and location of the property but average around €500 a year.

Below is a list of some related articles, guides and insights that you may find of interest.

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