[Read Part Two here.]

Many people dream of owning property abroad, but are put off by red-tape and what they believe will be a complicated process. Whether you are considering purchasing a house for a holiday getaway or investment, it can be a straightforward and relatively simple procedure.

This is part one of a two-part series that will show you how easy it can be to buy in Italy if you follow the basic rules. Today we shall look at the search for a property, making an offer and il compromesso, the agreement to buy.

Looking for a Property

If you are at the beginning of your search, please take a look at our previous story, Six Things to Consider Before Buying a Property in Italy

Assuming that you have already decided which part of Italy you’d like to buy in, it’s a good idea to make a checklist of exactly what you are looking for; it will save time in the end. Make a note of everything that you want, including the number of bedrooms, kitchen size, outdoor space, garage etc., but also take into consideration minor things that may not seem important at the start, things like do you want balconies or the work that comes with owning an olive grove.

Next thing to add to the checklist is the type of property, do you want a new build or something that requires no refurbishment; if you fancy a project, then consider the amount of work you are prepared to do and add your restoration budget into the checklist.

Now that you have your checklist, looking for your ideal property becomes easier. Most people will begin their search on the internet, and there’s no end of websites out there advertising properties for sale. Many will have a search facility that allows you to type in your requirements; this is where a prepared checklist comes in handy and speeds up the process.

One thing to be aware of is that many agencies don’t update their sites as often as they should, so it’s important, once you’ve found something you like, to open up a dialogue with them before you book a viewing trip. Ascertain that the property on the webpage is still for sale and that the price is as quoted. If the response is vague and the agent offers to show you similar properties, then you can safely assume that the property is no longer for sale.

Many agenzie immobiliari, estate agents, offer viewing trips and, although these can be fun, they will not take your checklist into consideration and you could waste several days looking at properties that are unsuitable. Also not all agents have websites, so a good idea is, if you want to spend time in Italy on a viewing trip, take a day to visit the agencies in town and armed with your checklist, ask them what they have on their books that matches your requirements. You can get a list of agents in your chosen area before you leave for Italy by visiting www.agenzieimmobiliari.com and clicking on the "Agenzie" tab.

Finally don’t rule out private sales, take time to drive around looking for the houses that are displaying vende signs. Private sales will save money on agency fees and may lead to you discovering other gems for sale that are not being advertised.

The Next Step

Once you have found the house you’d like to purchase, the next step is to clarify what is included in the price. If the property comes with land, make sure that you are made aware of the boundaries and if there are any restrictions and also if anyone has rights of access.

Before you make a formal offer, you may consider whether or not it is worthwhile hiring a consulente immobiliare, a valuer. If you are buying the house with a mortgage, then the lender will certainly request you get a valuation. If you are a cash buyer then you may want to go with your instinct. In Italy very few people have a formal valuation, but if you want peace of mind the valuer will assess the property worth based on other houses in the area, give you a detailed plan of the house and its land, including any encumbrances and will also be able to advise on the planning status of the property and if there any restrictions that the local council impose in the area.

If the property requires work, such as rewiring, plastering or a new bathroom, it is a good idea to get an estimate (il preventivo) for the work, as this can then be factored into your offer. For major jobs, particularly structural work or anything that alters the house footprint, such as adding an internal staircase, you will need to hire a geometra who will liaise with the council on your behalf and obtain any permissions required.

The Offer

Once you are completely satisfied, you can then make an offer and, should that offer be accepted, you will be ready to hire a lawyer (notaio), whose job it is to see that the sale goes through smoothly and efficiently; it’s not unheard of for both the seller and the buyer to use the same lawyer; this can often speed up the process and allays any communication problems.

Once you have agreed to purchase the property you will be required to do two things. Pay a deposit as proof of intention to buy and to sign il contratto preliminare, a pre-sale contract, also known as il Compromesso. The contract is binding and, should you pull out, you will lose your deposit and, in some cases, may be asked to pay compensation to the seller, so it is vitally important that you are committed to buying before you reach this stage. Should the vendor pull out of the sale you will be refunded your deposit and, in most cases, the vendor will have to match your deposit as compensation.

The contract will stipulate the property dimensions, the land and its boundaries and the actual price to be paid. At this stage, ensure that any extras that have been agreed upon and are included in the sale are also written into the contract.

If your purchase is dependent upon achieving a mortgage the contract may have a clause stipulating this, which will safeguard your deposit should the mortgage be declined.

Once you have got to this stage in the purchase, it’s not just a case of sitting back and waiting for the lawyers to do their jobs, there’s still much more that you will need to do, but the hardest part is now over, so reward yourself with a glass of something sparkling and start to realise that your dream is almost a reality.

Glossary of Helpful Words and Phrases

Vende / In vendita – For sale

Casa – House

Comprare – To buy

Casa a schiera – Terraced (town) house

Casa indipendente – Detached house

Masseria - Farmhouse

Fienile – Barn

Lavori da realizzare – Work to be done

Da restaurare – For restoration

Da rinnovare – For renovation

Alimentazione – Supplies (electricity, water etc.)

Cantina – Cellar

Giardino – Garden

Terreno – Land

Mappa catastale – Map of land ownership

Read Buying a Property in Italy - Part Two here