You are ready to buy a property in Italy? Here is a step by step overview of what’s ahead as you make your purchase.
As recently outlined in Helpful tips on buying a property in Italy, buyers are currently spoilt for choice and prices are also relatively stable. In this favourable climate, be sure not to get too carried away and allow for adequate time to analyse and source the best investment opportunity available. Once found, prepare for the fact that some time may pass before the purchase process is completed.
Average timescales are around four to five months with more difficult cases lasting up to a year or more. Properties on the market usually come with building or planning irregularities that need resolving before the sale can go ahead. Some will be minor and easily fixed; others may even render a property unsaleable. Be prepared for some red tape!
However, with the proper assistance and safeguards in place, timing to complete can be reduced to a minimum and the purchase process can be organized in accordance with the buyer’s needs. Note that both the purchase offer and preliminary contract (if required) are binding, so they must allow for the possibility to withdraw from the purchase without any penalty or obligation to proceed.
Any contracts signed should be subject to the successful outcome of due-diligence investigations, needed to ascertain many factors including the legal status of the property, the absence of any encumbrances and the conformity of the property with building permits and regulations.
If the property is purchased with the aim of carrying out renovations works, check these will indeed be possible and whether any permission has been given for developments in the surrounding area that may block any views or decrease the value of the property. Check that the area is not at particular risk of earthquakes, landslides or other environmental hazards.
Italian banks are still fairly cautious and it is generally possible to borrow around 60% of the purchase price. The mortgage contract must be signed in front of a Notary Public, generally at the same time as the purchase deed is signed. When the buyer does not understand Italian, it is much easier for the mortgage agreement (and purchase deed) to be signed by means of powers of attorney, generally given to the buying party’s lawyer.
An Italian tax number (codice fiscale) will be necessary and an Italian bank account is advisable, both of which are easily attainable.
This is a written agreement under which the buyer unilaterally commits to buy. As mentioned, the offer needs to contain the necessary conditions or contingencies (e.g. conformity of the property).
Once the seller accepts the offer, both parties are committed in the same way as a preliminary contract.
Together with the purchase offer, the buyer is normally required to leave an initial deposit (normally between 0.5-3% of the final price). These offers can often be written in ambiguous terms and if handled incorrectly can lead to the loss of the amount.
In Italy, it is very common to sign a “preliminary contract”, particularly when the property is not ready for immediate delivery to the buyer. This may occur when the selling party is a developer or is carrying out renovation work, when some important details are yet to be resolved (e.g. checking building permits) or when a buyer does not have the full funds available and a mortgage is required. The rights on the property do not pass on signing the preliminary contract, but from that point onward, the seller is obligated to sell and the buyer is obligated to buy. If the buyer defaults, the seller may withdraw from the contract, keeping the confirmatory deposit. If instead the seller defaults, the buyer may demand double the down payment. Alternatively, a court order may be requested to ensure the defaulting party fulfils its obligation.
The confirmatory deposit (caparra confirmatoria) is an amount of money, normally 20-30% of the total price, paid to the seller by the buyer at the signing of the preliminary contract.
The purchase deed, completion and payment
The purchase deed must be in written form and must be signed before an Italian Notary, who is an officer of the State. The Notary verifies that the rights can indeed be transferred and checks whether the property is subject to any encumbrances. Each Notary has their own standard contract they prefer to use but this can be negotiated together with the buying party’s lawyer.
The full rights on the property pass when the Notary completes the procedure and registers the contract at the local land registry. If the buying party does not understand Italian, the entire contract must be translated and an interpreter nominated. Alternatively, as for the mortgage contract, a power of attorney can be given to a lawyer or Italian speaker. The power of attorney must be signed in front of a Notary in Italy or in the country of the buyer. In this case, the procedure is simplified as only the power of attorney needs to be translated and, if overseas, the buyer does not need to travel to Italy to be present at the signing.
The most common method of payment is the delivery of a cashier’s cheque at the time the final deed is signed.
If there are no complications, the meeting in front of the notary generally takes one to two hours.
When the purchase involves a listed building, the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage can exercise its right of pre-emption so a further duration of 60 days is needed before the sale is finalized. Likewise, in the case of agricultural land, neighbouring farmers are duly informed and they also have the right of first refusal, which must again be exercised within 60 days of signing the purchase deed.
Article by Kate Taylor
Additaly – Real Estate & Consulting
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