Tips for buying in Italy
When house hunting for a permanent or second home in a foreign country, you can soon become consumed by details such as bedroom sizes or kitchen fittings and forget all the sense of fun and the reason you are there. Remember this is most likely a discretionary – or luxury – purchase. It’s a place bought for enjoyment and your search for it will probably entail several weekends spent exploring different parts of the country, trying out new restaurants and seeing new cities. Savour the moment.
Decide between town or country
In the two decades that Knight Frank has worked in the Italian residential market, we have seen a slow movement away from the remote towards more urban markets. Decide whether you want to be in the centre of town where you can walk to your favourite bar for breakfast, or in the surrounding hills a short drive from the centre – or whether a remote, rural villa an hour from the nearest shop fulfils your vision of Italian perfection.
To Tuscany and beyond
For many foreign buyers, Italy is all about Tuscany. But this is a country made up of many beautiful and contrasting areas, each with its own attractions. You probably won’t have time to try them all, but once you have decided whether you want a cultural city, rural bolt hole or coastal retreat, you can begin to narrow your search criteria.
We ask every prospective buyer whether they want to take on a renovation project and the most common answer is: “Something fully restored – or maybe with a small amount of work to do”. Undertaking building work in a foreign language is a daunting task, but in many of the regions where we have offices, we can offer project management assistance. Don’t buy a recently restored house that isn’t to your taste as you will be paying full price for someone else’s renovation project that you are about to completely change to suit your own tastes. And don’t be fooled by houses that were restored 30 years ago and may look habitable but under the surface reveal a money pit. You will quickly realise you could have started from a shell and saved money.
It’s easy to get lost in the romance of the views, but take a minute to think about how you will get to the house. Are you close to an airport and town? And if you ever going to rent it out to other people, can they get there easily too?
Sizing it up
Italian estate agents work in square metres, which you may not be familiar with. You also need to get to grips with the different between internal and external measurements, which can vary by up to 25%. You may find it easier to tell the agent how many bedrooms you need and any other specific needs you have.
The issue of what type of house you want is often underestimated. Do you instinctively prefer a symmetrical villa with high ceilings or a more rustic farmhouse? Are you a townhouse with small garden person or a top floor apartment type? Do you want a development whose houses are easy to lock up and leave? Long views over rolling hills or wooded valley? Venetian canal or shimmering sea?
Getting the price right
How much do you tell your agent you want to spend? It always amazes us how little most people take their agent into their confidence. Be as specific as you can about what you want and give the agent feedback about the house you don’t like so they can refine their search and tell you urgently when the perfect house hits the market. Be honest about what you want to spend, taking into account all the other costs involved in the purchase process. It doesn’t mean you will only be shown properties at that level and above.
The great outdoors
In town you will be lucky if you find a property with a garden, but rural property must come with land or you will have a resale problem down the line. Land has to be looked after. Are you sure you want that vineyard you have always dreamed of or will a dozen olive trees do the trick?
Prepare for viewing days
The process should be fun, but you should also approach it fully prepared. Study the website, read the research reports and get a feel for what property values are really like in the different areas. Ensure the day starts on time; often owners have arranged for a caretaker to open the house, or travelled to the house themselves to prepare for your arrival and it helps to keep to schedule. Try to limit your search to six houses in a day – and take brief notes and photos as you go. Also, do bring some water and wear comfortable shoes! Ask lots of questions such as how long has the house been on the market and what are its downsides. Put the Italian agent on the spot a bit and make them work for their money. They will expect to be paid a fee if you buy a house that they have introduced you to, even if they have done little else. Statistically we sell the first house we show people more than any other, so please don’t assume that as it’s the first one, there is bound to be better.
Neighbours or not?
We always ask buyers how close they want to be to other people. Many would like to be within walking distance of a local market town but not see or hear a car or person. We all have a different definition of what we consider to be an acceptable distance from our nearest neighbour. View different situations and see how you feel about them.
Making the final chioise
Whilst you of course want to find your dream house, you should also be prepared to accept some compromises. With plenty of choices available in the market, it is tempting to think the perfect property will eventually come along, but what sometimes seems an issue will very often not even be noticed after a little while of using the property. Have requirements of course, but discuss with your agent what is realistic.
To read more about buying in Italy download our buying guide.