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The Most Complete Guide to Buying a House in Italy

Posted by on in Buying process

My name is Monia Di Guilmi, and I am a realtor based in Abruzzo, Italy. I have been working as an international real estate agent for the past 8 years. I speak English, Italian, and Spanish. Throughout my real estate career, I have sold numerous properties to clients from all over the world.

Lately, while browsing the internet, I’ve found many articles explaining how to buy property in Italy, including how the purchase process works. I’ve been very interested to read these articles, but the more I read, the more I’m confused by what they advocate.

For example, many websites state that to buy a house in Italy, you’ll have to hire a lawyer. Really? If so, what about the notary? Why is the role of the notary never explained? Sometimes, the notary is not even mentioned.

What about the purchase proposal — isn’t that necessary too?
How much of a down payment is required to buy an Italian house?

I’m hard-pressed to find any of this information! So, to clear up the confusion, I will try to answer these and other questions in the following article.

Before we go on, however, there’s one thing I should mention first: Every property purchase in Italy is unique. Every house has its own history, and all seller(s) and buyer(s) have their own needs. Given these facts, it’s obvious that each purchase will most likely differ from all others.

Still, there is a standard protocol that is followed in the purchase of nearly all properties in Italy. This is what I will explain below.

How the purchase process works

Table of contents

  1. The realtor
  2. The notary
  3. The lawyer
  4. What documents does a house need in order to be sold?
  5. The purchase proposal
  6. The preliminary agreement
  7. Final deed of sale
  8. Taxes and fees to buy a house in italy

The realtor

If you’re a foreigner who doesn’t speak Italian but has decided to buy a house in Italy, you’ll likely need to contact a realtor (or more than one) who speaks English. Or — if you’re lucky — you can find a realtor who speaks your own native language.

By law, real estate agents in Italy are required to be registered with the local chamber of commerce and hold a special identification card called the patentino di agente di affari in mediazione. You should request that anyone claiming to be a registered real estate agent show you their patentino di agente di affari in mediazione so that you can verify they’re above board. It should also be noted that Italian law requires agents to take out a liability insurance policy for the protection of their clients.

Together with your realtor(s), you will visit numerous houses. And eventually, when you will find the property of your dreams, you will put an offer on it.

The notary

At this point, once you’ve found the home you want to buy, it’s a good idea to choose the notary who will close the deal on your property purchase.

What is a notary?

In Italy, when you buy a house, you must have a notary. It is the notary who seals the purchase contract. More specifically, a notary is a public official. Essentially, they are a lawyer who specialises in public deeds.

To obtain their professional license, notaries must have a university degree in law and spend 18 months of training in a notarial office. Finally, they must undertake a very difficult public exam. If they pass this exam, they’ll be able to access the register of public notaries in Italy. If not, they’ll have to undertake another 18 months of training, repeating the cycle until the exam is passed.

Here in Italy, it’s the buyer who pays the notary’s fees, plus all taxes related to the purchase. Therefore, it’s a good idea to get acquainted with the notary who will be doing all legal checks of the property you wish to buy — and who will eventually seal your final deed.

You can choose any notary from the register of public notaries in Italy. But for obvious reasons, the notary you choose should be situated close to the town where your prospective house is located. It is also advantageous if the notary (or one of their assistants) speaks English.

The lawyer

Do you need a lawyer to buy a property in Italy?

No. To buy a house in Italy, you should not need a lawyer.

Italians never hire a lawyer when they buy their homes because it is the notary who does the legal checks, writes the final deed (and possibly the preliminary agreement as well), has the escrow bank account to receive the money necessary to pay for the house and the taxes, pays the transfer taxes to the government, and registers the deed to the Agenzia delle Entrate.

In other words, it’s the notary who seals the final deed. Without a notary, it’s simply not possible to buy a house in Italy.

You might need the help of a lawyer only if you have a very complicated purchase. In this case, you might hire a lawyer to undertake checks that are not overseen by notaries. Or, you might want to hire a lawyer if you are buying a house without the help of a licensed realtor or if, for some reason, you don’t trust your realtor.

What documents does a house need in order to be sold?

The realtor will conduct the price negotiation between you and the seller. Then, once a price is agreed upon, they will provide the notary with all of the necessary documents related to the house.

For the most part, there are five documents that the notary will require:

  1. Atto di provenienza (ownership titles of the house)

  2. Floor plan of the house

  3. Visura catastale (cadastral document of the house)

  4. Attestato di prestazione energetica (energy certificate)

  5. Building permits if the house was built after September 1967

  6. Seller(s) and buyer(s) identification documents: Passports and tax codes (your realtor will provide you with a tax code for free; the process does not take long)

More documents might be required as well, especially if the house is surrounded by land.

Once the notary has received all required documents, they’ll do several additional searches to make sure the house has no registered debt, mortgages, loans, etc. They’ll also check the titles of the house for the previous twenty years in order to trace the ownership history and to make sure that third parties cannot claim rights to the home.

A good realtor should only list properties that have all necessary documents in perfect order. The home should be ready (or nearly ready) to be sold. This is for obvious reasons. Naturally, the realtor doesn’t want to spend money listing and advertising properties that can’t be sold. Furthermore, they don’t want to waste their own time (or the client’s time) starting a negotiation on a property that can’t be sold. Therefore, a good realtor has previously seen the documents of the houses they’re advertising, and they know that these properties can be legally sold.

In some cases, it’s possible that the documents may present small problems. For example, a floor plan may end up slightly different than the real layout of the house. In most of these situations, however, the remedy is relatively simple. For example, in the aforementioned case, the seller would simply need to update the floor plan so that it is in complete accordance with the real layout of the house.

During this stage, the real estate agent will act as a coordinator between the notary and the seller, asking the seller to provide all of the documents that the notary requests.

Once the notary has obtained all of the necessary documents and is fully satisfied with them, they will issue an estimate, which will include their fees and the purchase taxes that the buyer must pay on the day of the final signing. The transfer taxes are paid to the notary, who will then transfer them to the government when they register the deed.

Before this process starts, you must have signed a purchase proposal or a preliminary contract in order to show your real commitment to the purchase. These documents are explained below.

The purchase proposal

The purchase proposal is a contract where the realtor communicates in writing to the seller your intention to buy the property at a certain price and within a certain amount of time. The purchase proposal is not binding until both parties have signed it.

As a realtor myself, if the buyer speaks English, I will write the purchase offer in English and in Italian. If your realtor doesn’t speak English, you should ask a translator of your choice to translate it.

The primary goal of the purchase proposal is to allow time to perform some preliminary due diligence and ensure that the seller won’t attempt to sell the property to anyone else until a certain date. For example, let’s say you want to have a survey done on the house. A survey isn’t required by the notary in order to seal a deed, so it’s not a mandatory step. But as a buyer, it might be convenient to know the structural state of the house you’re buying. So in this case, the successful conclusion of the purchase offer would be determined by the outcome of the survey. If the survey is not satisfactory, the seller would have to return the deposit to you, the buyer.

The purchase proposal is also important if you’re applying for a mortgage as it gives you the time to apply for the mortgage without the risk of losing the house.

Your purchase offer will require a small deposit — for example, 1.000,00 or 2.000,00 euro. This amount has to be returned if the documents of the house are not in perfect order or if the conditions you asked for cannot be met.

Is a purchase proposal mandatory?

The purchase proposal is a step of the purchase process that can be skipped when it’s considered unnecessary. In my experience as a realtor, I’ve often skipped this step — usually for one of the following reasons:

  1. I nearly always have all necessary documents ready for the notary, so I already know that they’re set to seal the sale.

  2. The market in Abruzzo isn’t very fast, so potential buyers generally have time to proceed with a survey without worrying that the house of their dreams will be sold to someone else.

  3. Our clients are cash payers, so they don’t usually need time to obtain the necessary funds.

  4. Often, sellers don’t want to engage themselves in a contract that might end up going nowhere.

The preliminary agreement

The second step of the purchase process is the preliminary agreement.

Once you have your verbal or written offer accepted, you’ve obtained a satisfactory survey, the notary has checked all house documents and provided a final estimate, you have all your funds in order, and you’re ready to buy, this is when you’ll proceed with the preliminary contract. In Italian, this document is called the compromesso or contratto preliminare.

The preliminary contract states all of the official data about the property, including the agreed upon price, the closing date, the deposit amount, existing mortgages, what’s included (furnishings and fixtures), and any other contractual points that need to be addressed or fulfilled.

The preliminary agreement can be written by your realtor. We usually write the preliminary agreement in two languages: English and Italian. If your realtor doesn’t speak English, you can have the preliminary agreement translated by a translator of your choice. The preliminary agreement can also be written by your notary.

Generally speaking, the timeframe between the signing of the preliminary agreement and the final signing at the notary office will be between two and three months.

Once signed by all parties, the preliminary agreement becomes a binding document that must be followed by a down payment of 10% of the total price of the property. Keep in mind that it is possible a seller might require a higher down payment if the buyer asks for a long wait time between the signing of the preliminary contract and the final signing.

When the preliminary agreement is signed by all parties and the agreed upon deposit is paid, the realtor has to register it at the local tax office according to Italian Law.

In the event that the buyer backs out of the deal, he’ll lose his deposit to the seller. On the other hand, if the seller reneges on the contract, he’ll have to pay the buyer double the amount received.

Final deed of sale

At this point, when the preliminary agreement has been signed and the deposit paid, the notary will start to write the final deed or rogito. The signing of the final deed is the last step in the purchase process. It must be signed at the notary office in front of the notary.

If you do not plan on being present during the closing, then you should give someone power of attorney to sign on your behalf. This person can be your realtor, an assistant to the notary, a friend, or anyone else in Italy you trust. If you plan to be present at the closing but you’re not fluent in Italian, you’ll still need to give power of attorney to someone who speaks Italian so that they can act on your behalf.

Otherwise, if the notary allows it, you may appoint a translator to translate the title deed into English, which will allow you to sign the document. In this case, the translator must be present during the signing to act as an interpreter. Keep in mind that not all notaries will consent to this; therefore, always be sure to ask your notary what their particular policies are.

Without a doubt, it is to your advantage to find a notary who speaks English. Not only will this allow you to ask any questions you have directly to the notary, but you also won’t need to hire an interpreter or translator. Moreover, your notary will be able to explain every step of the final signing to you as you close the purchase of your new property.

Do you need an italian bank account in order to buy an italian house?

No. It is not necessary to have an Italian bank account to buy a house in Italy. Your notary can hold your funds in an escrow account and make payments to the seller as needed.

With that said, you will certainly want to establish an Italian bank account eventually so that you can more easily pay utilities and other expenses associated with maintaining your property.

Taxes and fees to buy a house in italy

On top of the price of the house, you’ll have to pay extra taxes and fees.

The taxes you’ll need to pay include:

  • Imposta ipotecaria – land registry tax

  • Imposta catastale – cadastral tax

  • Imposta di registro – registration tax or stamp duty tax

The cost of the first two taxes is 50,00 euro each.

The third, the imposta di registro, is the main tax to the government that you will need to pay. The imposta di registro is calculated on the cadastral value of the house, not on its selling price. The imposta di registro will depend on whether you’re buying your home as a main residency or a holiday house. If you’re buying your home to be a holiday house, the imposta di registro will be charged at 9% of the cadastral value of the house. If, on the other hand, you're buying your home as a main residency, the imposta di registro will be charged at 2% of the cadastral value of the house.

Keep in mind that if you're purchasing your home to be a main residency, this will be stated by the notary on your deed of sale. From this point on (the signing date), you will then have 18 months to apply for your residency in the house you’ve purchased. If you fail to do this, the government will demand the additional taxes you own — plus a fine. Once you do obtain residency status, remember that you’ll need to spend a minimum of 185 days a year in the house.

In addition to the three taxes listed above, you must consider several other fees, including:

  • A notary fee

  • An agency fee

  • A surveyor fee (If you decide to have a survey done)

  • A translator / interpreter fee (If you decide to hire a translator / interpreter)

  • A lawyer fee (If, for any reason, you need the help of a lawyer)

The agency fee is generally 3% or 4% of the total price of the house, and it is paid by both the seller and the buyer. Usually, for low-cost properties below 100.000,00, there is a minimum fee of 3.000,00 euro.

The notary fee will generally vary between 1.000,00 euro and 1.500,00 euro.

On top of every fee, also consider that there will be the VAT* of 22%.

To these costs, add between 250,00 and 300,00 euro for the additional cost of having your preliminary agreement registered.

As a final note, if you buy a house surrounded by land (such as an olive grove, a vineyard, an orchard, or just a large garden), you have to consider that land in Italy is taxed at the 19% of its cadastral value. As a result, if you buy a property with a large amount of land, be prepared to spend a higher amount of money on your imposta di registro.

* VAT on the purchase of a house in Italy:

  • If you bought a house from a developer to be used as a rental property, you’d be subject to a 10% VAT. If the same home was to be used as your primary residence, you’d only be subject to a 4% VAT.

  • On the other hand, if you bought a house from a private seller and not from a company you wouldn’t have to pay VAT.

* You can also read this article on Overseas Property Alert:

Tagged in: Purchasing process