...or Asking the Right Questions!
One of the best pieces of advice that one should take to heart when looking for property in Italy is to ask the right questions at the beginning... and then roll with the punches when the answers are not quite those you'd like to hear!
If you're buying in a rural area rather than a city it may well take months to get all the answers you need or even for the agency to gather the paper work in order to proceed. This can be very unsettling for the foreign buyer, but it needn't necessarily mean that you're wasting your time or that you should simply walk away! Patience is a requirement...everything you learn in the buying process will stand you in good stead as preparation for all the joys and frustrations of living in one of the most tediously bureaucratic countries in Europe!
- Who owns the property?
Actually, this first question is the first of three questions! In some cases you may need to ask:
- How many people own the property?
which will lead very naturally to another question that unfortunately also needs to be asked:
- Are all the owners in agreement about selling the property?
If there's a brother/cousin/uncle who lives in Rome whom the other family members don't seem to have actually spoken to for fifteen years, then warning bells should start going off!
- How did the present owner acquire the property?
If, for example, the property is owner by a charming elderly woman who has inherited the property from her recently deceased husband, ask the agency for assurances that the family have actually gone to the trouble of registering the legal succession of the property. If they haven't, this is obviously not an insurmountable problem but it may create quite a delay whilst the owner's affairs are put in order and in some cases may leave a gap for long lost heirs to pop out of the proverbial woodwork.
- Is the building listed at the Urban Land Register?
All ex-rural properties in Italy which are no longer used exclusively for agricultural purposes (which covers a huge number of the restored / un-restored farmhouses on the property market) should at some point in time have been transferred from the Agricultural Register to the Urban Register.
This is known as the accatastamento in Italian - quite a mouthful, so write it down to show your agent if you can't actually pronounce it! You should really insist that your property and the immediately adjacent land plot (corte in Italian) is put on the urban register by the vendors at their own expense before the final deed of sale.
- How much land is available with the property?
For most city types heading to Italy to buy a farmhouse measurements like 4 hectares of land, for example, sound impressive ...yet in reality, few of us, if we're honest, can really visualise what those figures mean in real terms. The first time you visit a property it's perfectly reasonable to be simply given a rough idea of the land but if you are serious enough to visit a second or third time make sure you've seen the land maps and walked out the perimeter of the land (where accessible) with the agent and/or owner so you really understand what you're buying before you make an offer.
- Does the land need to be cut?
If you are buying a portion of land which isn't already defined by existing plot boundaries the land may need to be cut. This is usually a mere formality although it is a job that will require a geometra (surveyor) who can actually survey the land and make all the necessary applications at the land office. This is called the frazionamento and again, it's something you might want to insist that the vendors pay for and arrange before the final deed of sale.
- Who are the neighbours and do they have pre-emptive rights to buy the property?
Probably more than any other issue it's the question of neighbours with pre-emptive rights to the property which has spawned a million horror stories. In reality, it happens rarely, but if the neighbouring property owner is legally registered as a farmer who exclusively earns his or her living from the land, technically he or she may have rights to buy the property at the price declared in the deed of sale. Seek assurances from your agent that they will protect you from this eventuality and even insist on a clause in the compromesso (preliminary agreement) to the effect that there are “no impediments regarding pre-emptive rights to the property”. One solution is that neighbours actual participate in the deed of sale itself and literally sign away their rights. Problems only usually arise if there is bad blood between neighbours, but again...be wary, but not overly paranoid about this issue.
- Is the property a listed building?
As above, there are also pre-emptive rights associated with listed buildings whereby local authorities or public bodies have the right to a property is they can match your offer. You will also find it more difficult to make physical changes to the property, particularly if it is found in the historic centre of a town.
- What is the valore catastale of the property?
As of 1st January 2006 real estate purchase taxes are paid on the land registry value, known as the valore catastale NOT the full market value. The notary's fees , however, will be calculated on the market value declared in the deed of sale - with a 20% discount as an "incentive" to declaring the full amount. Try to get a ballpark figure for your legal costs as soon as is feasibly possible and do insist on declaring the full market value at the deed of sale. It was previously customary in Italy (this seems strange for UK and US citizens) to declare a much lower value at the deed of sale than actually paid. However, things have tightened up considerably with new tax laws, and whatever your agent may advise, it's now always the best idea to declare the full market value at the deed of sale for one very important reason: if you were to sell the property within 5 years you would be liable to pay 20% capital gains on the profit – a lower value declared at a previous deed of sale could have serious implications on the tax you would be obliged to pay on the resale if your purchaser were to insist on declaring the full amount.