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PROPERTY

The ups and downs of buying a property for retirement in a hilltop village in Italy

Our new series showcases readers' homes in Italy, starting with the story of how one real estate agent from the US found her dream retirement property and overcame the bureaucratic hurdles with the help of local experts.

The ups and downs of buying a property for retirement in a hilltop village in Italy
Here's how one US buyer found her dream vacation home in the Le March region of Italy. All photos: D&G Design

Shayne Albright bought a home in the Marche region of eastern Italy this year and realised her retirement dream, but doing so wasn’t always plain sailing.

She tells us how she was able to find a unique property in a small hilltop town, and then successfully make an offer and have all the paperwork and renovation works arranged from the US.

“I have had a love for Italy for decades,” says Shayne, “I’ve dreamed of buying a vacation home there and have spent a lot of time researching homes for sale online, but became a little frustrated when for various reasons the viewing trips were cancelled.”

In the end, instead of organising an independent trip to view properties, Shayne attended a five-day house-hunting workshop organised by D&G Design, local property experts in Marche.

READ ALSO: The real cost of buying a house in Italy as a foreigner

“I subscribed to The Local and was a member of several Facebook groups dedicated to moving to Italy,” Shayne says, “and when I came across the D&G Design workshop I thought that a group event actually held in Italy would be something that I, as a single traveler, could benefit from.”

Shayne fell in love with Le Marche as soon as she arrived. “It was beautiful, and instantly I could see myself owning a vacation home there.”

During a day of viewing different typs of properties in the varied region of Le Marche, which has everything from beach towns to homes in more remote mountain areas, Shayne found it was the tiny hilltop towns that appealed to her.

These towns, with their historic centres, medieval city walls and narrow cobbled streets, offer views of the region’s rolling landscapes and the Sibillini mountain range beyond.

“With a relatively slow property market in Marche, house-hunters can take their time during searches and give the options plenty of thought”, explains property expert Gary from D&G Design.

It was only when Shayne returned to the US that she made enquiries about a two-storey apartment she had viewed in the hilltop town of Montedinove.

Situated in a tiny cobbled street in the town’s centro storico (historic centre), the stone brick home had been partially restored and retained traditional features such as wooden ceiling beams, parquet flooring and open fireplaces.

With the help of the lawyer and estate agents she’d been introduced to during the workshop, Shayne made an offer and was thrilled when it was accepted.

Shayne’s new home in Le Marche. Photo: D&G Design

While she says there were no great difficulties during the process, a bureaucratic mix-up caused some delays.

The house had been inadvertently declared uninhabitable by the local council after the earthquake that hit the region in 2016, meaning the paperwork took longer than usual.

“It turned out that the council had mistaken this building for another,” building restorer David from D&G Design explains, “so we had our geometra (surveyor) carry out a full inspection and our lawyer was then able to have this revoked.”

“This took time and was slightly frustrating but the most important thing is to ensure that a property is 100 percent safe.”

READ MORE: How and where to find your dream renovation property in Italy

As Shayne had wanted a rooftop terrace, she also asked them to investigate the likelihood of getting permission to build one from her local council.

Although not guaranteed, the planning officer has given a verbal agreement and Shayne is hopeful that this feature can be added.

“It is always worth having your engineer or geometra ask the local council if certain aspects of a renovation would be permitted,” David says.

“They will never give you a written agreement without planning permission, but if the request is not a deal-breaker to whether or not you buy the property, then have someone check with the planning department to see what is likely.”

As for the rest of the renovation, Shayne had the geometra draw up a list of projected works before she purchased the home.

“I have seen some scary quotes given to clients after they have bought a house,” David says. “We actually insist that our guests receive a full quote of projected works from ourselves and our geometra before they make any offer on the home.”

“We also look at the possibility of phasing the work so that clients can do the essentials to make it habitable during phase one, and then take their time (and save money) for any extra work needed.”

Shayne’s new home still needs some repairs to the windows and a portion of the roof to make it habitable, but “the rest is cosmetic,” she says.

“I would love to expose the stonework on some of the internal walls, and have the team create a stone backsplash in the kitchen.”

Shayne and her nephew are due to visit the property at Christmas, and they’re excited about exploring their new town.

“I can now look forward to owning my new home, furnishing and decorating it as well as getting to know the local people in my new community,” says Shayne. “My nephew is looking forward to decorating his room, and I can’t wait to find a good coffee bar.”

Have you bought and renovated a property in Italy? We’d love to hear about your experience. Get in touch and let us know if you’d like your own Italian home to be featured.

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PROPERTY

Five expensive mistakes to avoid when buying a house in Italy

Italy may be known for property bargains, but the purchase process itself isn't cheap - and certain mistakes can make it far more costly for buyers.

Five expensive mistakes to avoid when buying a house in Italy

There’s always a lot to keep in mind when buying property, but the Italian purchase process may be quite different to what you’re used to in your home country.

As well as involving high taxes and fees, it’s likely to be more complex and formal in some ways – and this can lead to potentially costly pitfalls.

The Local spoke to three Italian property law experts at legal firm Mazzeschi to find out what foreign buyers should be aware of before they sign anything. 

1) Check your estate agent’s contract

If you use a real estate agency in your Italian home search, normally you’ll need to sign a contract with them. That contract should stipulate their fees, their duties, and their tax information.

There is one other thing in the contract which potential buyers must look out for: an exclusivity clause, meaning the potential buyer may use only that estate agent in their property search for a set period of time.

“Usually in Italy estate agents like using this exclusivity clause. It is normally the same for sellers as it is for buyers. It means you cannot have another estate agent and usually contracts say this, “says Caterina De Carolis, Lawyer at Mazzeschi.

READ ALSO: How to avoid hidden traps when buying old property in Italy

“If the time frame is not yet up, and the potential buyer uses another agency, they may still be liable to pay the agency fee for the initial estate agent they entered their contract with,” she adds.

Some contracts might not have an exclusivity clause. It’s always worth double-checking.

“If you use another agency to find a house, you’ll be liable to pay the agency with the exclusivity clause in the contract around 2-5 percent of the house’s sale price,” says De Carolis.

“The exact percentage is always in the contract.”

2) Make sure to agree on a price beforehand

This rule is universal, and may sound obvious. But there are costly consequences in Italy if the price is not formally agreed and written down.

Lawyers at consultancy firm Mazzeschi urge their clients to make sure the full price of the property is declared in the transfer deed (l’atto di trasferimento).

This is because if you resell at a market price higher than your purchase price, you are subject to pay a capital gains tax called plusvalenza. Plusvalenza is the difference between purchase and sale price.

Checking the price of the property beforehand will save you in the long run. Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP.

3) Don’t change your mind – it will cost you

If the potential buyer has signed a binding proposal (proposta vincolante) – the process before a preliminary contract is drawn up – it becomes less straightforward to withdraw from the purchase.

“This is because the binding proposal in Italy is a lot more formal,” says Mario Mazzeschi, Head of and Attorney at Law of Mazzeschi Consultancy. 

The binding proposal works similarly to an offer. When the potential buyer puts forth their offer, the potential seller decides whether or not to accept. The period of time for this part depends on the proposal drawn up.

READ MORE: Five things non-residents need to know about buying property in Italy

If, before the time is up, the potential buyer decides to withdraw their offer for any reason, they will likely lose their deposit.

“This deposit is usually around 5-10 percent in most cases, so the buyer will have to pay that,” says De Carolis.

“If the buyer decides to withdraw, they are usually liable to pay the seller twice the amount of the deposit.”

If the proposal is not accepted by the potential seller, the potential buyer pays nothing.

4) Don’t pay anything before the preliminary contract is signed

With the exception of the above, buyers are advised not to pay anything until the preliminary contract is signed. The preliminary contract allows both parties to set out clear guidelines.

“The buyer should check with a lawyer before signing the preliminary contract as it will save them in the long run,” says Mazzeschi.

A notary should be present at this signing, adds Giuditta De Ricco, Lawyer at Mazzeschi Consultancy.

“Notaries are public functionaries. They are never on the side of the buyer or the seller, but for sure a notary is needed.”

“They are completely neutral and often it is wiser and safer for the potential buyer to put their deposit into the notary’s escrow account so the notary can transfer the money to the potential buyer.” 

5) Have the property checked beforehand

While the notary will normally check the paperwork before the sale goes through, you’ll need a different professional to check the property itself.

It may then be in the buyer’s best interest to hire a contractor themselves (this will normally be a qualified geometra, or surveyor) to get the structure of the building checked out and detail any faults or repair work needed.

This should be done before the negotiation stage, as unless there is something specific in the preliminary contract you may lose anything you have paid by pulling out of the purchase at this stage.

“The only way out of this after signing a contract is if you can prove the seller acted maliciously,” says Mazzeschi.

Key vocabulary

Transfer deed – l’atto di trasferimento

Binding proposal – proposta vincolante

Notary – notaio

Preliminary contract – contratto preliminare di vendita

Final contract – atto di vendita or rogito notarile

Deposit – caparra

Surveyor – geometra

Estate agent – agente immobiliare 

Please note that The Local cannot advise on individual cases. For more information about how you can buy property in Italy, contact a qualified professional. 

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