Period farmhouses, charming traditional homes in tiny villages, and apartments with sweeping views… many a traveler falls for Italy’s beautiful properties, and decides to purchase one. Whether one is thinking about relocating, or choosing Italy for a real investment, mastering the basics of Italian property-related legislation, and understanding the key issues as concerns administrative and bureaucratic duties and contractual law is vital to closing a profitable deal.
Do I need a visa to buy a property in Italy?
The very first questions that spring into a first-time prospective foreign buyer’s mind usually relate to the actual possibility of purchasing property in Italy (i.e. “am I allowed to?”), if so, to what documents or authorizations one needs, and if a Visa is one of these.
All relevant issues that are interconnected by one significant factor: nationality.
Regarding foreigners being allowed to buy real estate in Italy, the future owner’s nationality is the decisive issue. As maintained by standing legislation, citizens of EU (European Union) and EEA member countries are not subject to any restrictions or requirements as for the purchase of property inasmuch as their standing equals that of Italian citizens.
As concerns non-EU and non-EEA nationals, the critical element is what is called “condition of reciprocity”. Italian law, specifically Legislative Decree N. 286 issued July 25 1998, establishes that non-resident foreign nationals are authorized to buy property in Italy if there is a standing international reciprocity treaty between the said citizen’s country of origin and Italy regulating real estate purchase, holding of company shares and other trade-related issues. Basically, “reciprocity” means that a foreign national is allowed to acquire property in Italy if there is a treaty stating that Italians are permitted to buy property in his/her country. For instance, a US national may buy a home in Italy because an Italian citizen is authorized to do the same in the US.
Regarding paperwork and documents, Italian bureaucracy is quite complex, and there’s a lot to comply with... but there are two things that prospective foreign buyers worry about without reason: having a Visa and being an Italian resident.
As respects Visa requirements these are connected to traveling, and depend on the prospective traveler’s nationality, desired duration of permanence and reasons that initiate the journey. In substance, the need for a Visa is determined by why a citizen of a certain countries wishes to travel to Italy, and for how long he/she wants to stay, but is in no way related to property acquisition.
As per being a resident, there is no standing law in Italian legislation setting forth that one must reside in Italy to buy property there. What a foreigner will need, though, is an Italian codice fiscale, the personal tax code number issued by the local Italian Tax and Revenue Agency (Agenzia delle Entrate) used to identify Italian physical persons and businesses. All Italian citizens are given a personal codice fiscale upon birth, and foreigners aiming to perform certain activities - such as buy property or a car, open a bank account or acquire utilities - are required to have one as well. Applications for a codice fiscale may be submitted directly to the local Revenue and Tax Office, via the Italian embassy or consulate in one’s country of origin. Foreigners looking for an easier, more straightforward and hassle-free procedure can contact trustworthy legal and fiscal advisors on site, for continued support and filing of all the paperwork.
After obtaining a codice fiscale a prospective foreign buyer will have to find the right real estate asset, secure it, handle negotiations as regards real estate commission, make sure all legal and administrative paperwork is filed correctly, in compliance with standing legislation and property-related bureaucracy, and (finally!) close the deal.
Definitely easier said than done…
Legal assistance for purchasing properties in Italy
Truth be told, the complex Italian legal system, somewhat baffling red tape and language barrier may turn one’s exciting Italian real estate venture into an exhausting and nightmarish experience. Starting with the sourcing of capable, competent real estate agents that are also fluent in English.
Fortunately, Italian law maintains that real estate agents and agencies have to be duly qualified, registered at the local Chamber of Commerce and hold legitimate licenses. Disrespect of these rules is severely punished, with high fines and jailing for up to 6 years, so foreign buyers may rest assured that there are few who try to cheat. Regarding agents’ commission fees, prospective foreign purchasers should keep in mind that in Italy these are demanded to both the buyer and the vendor, and are negotiable, hence to be agreed upon by the two parties.
Non-Italian nationals are generally asked to underwrite an engagement agreement that delineates commission, mandate and exclusivity with the select agency. Needless to say, this document is binding, hence requires meticulous attention as well as perfect understanding, which may be difficult to achieve for a foreigner, seeing as it will almost certainly be drawn up in Italian.
As regards influential paperwork to be drafted, prospective foreign purchasers should pay extra special care and attention to those documents mandatory by law that are demanded of the vendor of the property. These are:
- the attestato di prestazione energetica, commonly called APE - a certificate that testifies to the building’s energy rating. To be drawn up by either an engineer, a surveyor or an architect or surveyor the APE classifies the defining features of an energy-efficient dwelling, listing all relevant data concerning the type of building, heating, AC if any, electricity, hot water etc.
- the land registry certificate, as issued by the local Agenzia del Territorio. This comprises influential information regarding the property such as ownership rights, deeds, mortgages and similar. Future proprietors will want to take due notice of registering the ownership transfer at the local land registry office, and settling the payment of taxes implied, usually equal to approximately 1% of purchase price.
- the habitability certificate, certificato di abitabilità in Italian, that states a building is suited to be occupied by persons and used as a home. Pursuant to the dedicated articles comprised in the Italian Civil Code, a vendor is required to produce the unit’s certificate of habitability, and the notary in charge of ratifying the final transfer deed and witnessing the parties’ signature will ask to visualize the original document.
- the planning permission building certificate notified by the local city hall, and accessory floor plans, permits and the like, substantiating that the real estate unit in question was built in compliance with standing Italian legislation.
When all documents required by law are made available, a savvy prospective buyer will ensure they are actually in order and flawless, prior to proceeding with the next step, that can be either a first purchase proposal, offerta in Italian, or a preliminary contract, preliminare.
Commonly, parties go ahead with the preliminary contract, seeing as the presentation of a purchase proposal is not mandatory.
The so-called preliminare, i.e. preliminary contract, consists of a binding private agreement that comprises all relevant transaction-related information. In detail, it will list the agreed (negotiated) price and the terms of the agreement itself. Pursuant to current legislation, the Italian real estate agent in charge of the sales agreement is required to register the preliminary contract, and the purchaser, generally accountable for payment of the registration fee, will be asked for a downpayment of 10% to 30% of the total purchase price.
The final step of a purchase agreement is the drafting and signature of the final deed of sale, rogito in Italian. Italian law maintains that this take place before a notary, an impartial legal expert in charge of verifying all documents are correctly drafted and that both parties are fully aware of the legal consequences of their decisions. The notary’s fee, generally around 1% of the purchase price, may vary depending on the price of the property in question.
Inasmuch as the notary’s role is fundamental, selecting a competent professional, and possibly one that is fluent in the foreign buyer’s native language, is, clearly, vital. The buyer is generally the one to choose the notary, often based on the advice and information provided by his/her real estate agent or lawyer.
On the day, the notary will check the contract’s flawlessness, and enunciate it aloud, to ensure both parties verify its completeness and understand the contents. Then, the parties are asked to confirm, and sign three copies of the document before the notary. Settling of the final balance due for the property on the purchaser’s part commonly occurs via wire transfer, Italian bank draft or by way of the notary’s escrow account.
All in all, finding one’s way through the Italian real estate scenario, bureaucracy and legal system, negotiating a good deal and reading through the fine-print in Italian, may be daunting and perilous for a foreign buyer.
Having a reliable, perfectly English-speaking team of experts by one’s side for support and the assistance is the key to seamless, sleek, law-abiding, timely execution of every single phase of property sourcing and purchase.
Legal assistance for real estate in Italy: our services
Don’t hesitate to contact us, our real estate agents, accountants and lawyers are ready to help and facilitate your Italian real estate investment.
Long-practiced expertise in both Italian and international property law enable our lawyers to provide comprehensive far-reaching services ranging from consultancies as regards reciprocity status and Visa needs, to document examination, drawing up of legal due diligence, contracts and deeds. Alongside the legal team, our specialized surveyors, architects and engineers double-check the mandatory certificates, ensuring all is ship-shape, and carries our site surveys to draft complete technical due diligence reports, and our dedicated assistants deal with the paperwork, obtaining your codice fiscale in the blink of an eye and filling out all necessary documentation. Speaking perfect English allows us to correspond and communicate effectively and efficiently, and provide translation services whenever needed.
Get in touch for more info about our real estate services in Italy