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Essential Advice for buying in Italy

  •  By Stefania Russo

Doubtless you’ll have done a fair bit of research into your Italy property hunt by now, deciding on a preferred location, working out a budget, planning a few visits and, perhaps less enjoyable, starting to read through all of that small print.

Just in case you’ve been finding any of the terms and procedures a little confusing, here’s a quick overview of what’s involved, what’s required from you and what’s expected from the vendor.

The process of purchasing a property is divided into three main stages:

1. the offer

2. the preliminary contract (compromesso)

3. the completion or closing (rogito).

In Italy, the offer is a binding document, so you need to be absolutely 100 per cent convinced that the property is right for you. There is no cooling off period like in the US, or an option to change your mind without any consequences, as in the UK.

However, an offer can be ‘conditioned’. This basically means that you can include certain conditions and, if they’re not met, you then have the option to change your mind and get your deposit back (eg. making the offer conditional on a successful mortgage application or survey).

There is no specific rule about how much deposit needs to be put down, though many agencies ask for 10 per cent. Remember, the less deposit you need to pay the better, just in case something should go wrong.

Because the offer is binding, it also means that you cannot make multiple offers and compare deals, unless you plan to buy more than one property if more than one vendor agrees to the proposal!

Where does the deposit go? In Italy it is custom for the sellers to receive the deposit directly to their bank account or a cheque can be kept by the agency until the next step is reached.

However, cheques in Italy are very different than in the UK or US; indeed, they are a guarantee and they cannot be cancelled therefore, unless you have already an Italian bank account, the payment by foreign cheques are not acceptable. Some agencies, although not many, do accept to keep the funds in escrow.

2. The compromesso or signing of the preliminary contract usually happens a few weeks after the offer, signed once the conditions specified in the offer have been met.

At this point, the buyer normally pays 25-30 per cent to the owner of the property.

It is important to note that if the buyer changes their mind after the preliminary contract has been signed, they will lose all the money paid so far. Equally, should the vendor change their mind, they have to pay the buyer double the amount that they received. But for this rule to apply, the preliminary contract should explicitly state that the deposit is a caparra confirmatoria, otherwise only the buyer will lose the down payment while the vendor would only need to return the exact amount of the deposit received.

The preliminary contract can be signed personally in front of the agency or remotely, via email and/or post. It can also be signed in front of the notary, although this would increase the closing costs for the buyer.

3. Finally, there is the completion, which is when you go to the notary and ownership passes from vendor to buyer. In Italy the transactions are not dealt with by lawyers but the NOTAIO.

The notary is an independent figure and does not represent either the buyer or the vendor, although I am afraid that notary’s fee is buyer’s sole responsibility.

If you want to read about the related costs for buying in Italy please check Taxes and Likely costs.

The notary's role is to check that all paperwork handed in by the buyer and vendor is correct, therefore the notary will check the various property details, ownership, any outstanding debts and so on.

Should there be any legal problems with the property, the notary’s role is limited to simply pointing them out, rather than rectifying them. Therefore, and especially for foreign buyers, it is vital that you hire a specialist Italian property lawyer as early as possible to guide you through the process and ensure you avoid any pitfalls.

In Italy properties to be legally sellable need to comply to planning permission too. The notary cannot confirm if the property complies with planning regulations and therefore it is recommended to instruct a geometra, architect or engineer to carry out a home survey report and check the situation of the property, not just its structural conditions.

Many prospective purchasers unwittingly sign documents, unaware of what they are committing themselves to. They then later discover that they have paid large, legally binding deposits that they cannot get back.

During the completion the notary reads documents already prepared and then everyone signs them. I have been in completions that take 30 minutes, while others have taken four hours, so be prepared for a potential long haul.

And what happens if you cannot attend the closing?

The final deeds need to be personally signed in front of the notary in Italy and therefore, if you cannot travel you will need to arrange for a power of attorney and appoint a person you trust to sign the final contract on your behalf.

The appointed attorney-in fact will only have the tasks to sign on your behalf the final deed and check the content of the contract, which should have been sent to you in advance to accept. The power of attorney will expire at the same time as the final deed is signed.

Daunting as it may initially seem, the various processes involved in buying Italian property are long-established and mutually beneficial practices and problems are rare, so long as you have a local specialist on hand to guide you through everything.

Now, time to get back to the fun stuff. Have you booked your trip to Italy? Contact us for your personalised search



Thank you for sharing, your advice was invaluable during all these months. Hope you guys stay all safe and healthy!

Ahmed Kincaid, 06.11.2020


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