What work can I do?

Patrick L Image
01/18/2010 - 06:46

Hello every one, I,m a new member on this group. My brother and I are looking at a property in the frosinone / Lazio area that needs a lot of work, roof, floors underpinning etc. We were originally hoping to do a lot of this work ourselves, ( I build oak barns and outbuildings but have no formal qualifications) but have been told that DIY build in parts of Italy is not on. Can anyone tell me what we could and could not do? Thanks Patrick, PS If I dont answer back straight away its because I,m in and out of the house today.



As I understand it you can do all the work but you must be 'overseen' by a Geometra. You must also build according to Italian Law - which is obviously different to the UK's Building Regulations. All buildings have to be built in accordance with the siesmic laws which change periodically and are getting tougher and tougher! Your first point of call is to appoint a Geometra who will be able to help you. Proably best to get one that speaks English. You will pay about 10% + VAT (Iva) (for fees) of the building costs (based on what a builder would charge) but this might go up slightkly as he would need to provide you with more support/input during the contruction phase.  Good Luck tho!!

You will need any electrical work and plumbing work signed off by a registered electrician and plumber and what you can do will depend on what permission you have. If it is a full renovation then a registered builder will also be required on the building permit. There is, however, nothing to stop you setting yourself up as a builder to fulfil this requirement. You will have to pay Italian INPS which is currently approx €2900 a year but I know several people who have done this.

In reply to by Penny

thishi, yes this is true as most of the other posts concerning registered plumbers and electricians,The problems could come however from another quarter.IF you registered as a builder,then started paying your national contributions to INPS later on the revenue people will come to you demanding significant sums on your presumed "undeclared" earnings to which you sustain that you were working on your own house not on other people's however they will say that if you are a registerd builder paying your national security contributions then acxcording to their parameters /( studi del settore) ( an unpleasant system run by a computer system called interestingly enough JERICO ) That is they "study" various business sectors then they tell you what you earn...! failure to comply with THEIR paramters entails a full blown revenue study of you and everything you have,earn etcpersonally i would suggest that the easier way would be to get a builder to do all the external/structural work then do all the inside finishing yourself jobs like rendering,tiling floors,wood treatment,painting at the end of the day nobody really bothers about what goes on inside houses it's the external work which attracts the interest of the authorities.anyway best of luck with your project

  What a good idea to set oneself up as a builder in order to save 10% (even allowing for the annual INPS fee of €2900) on a large project.  And they say Italians are corrupt!  What awful smileys you have on this forum!

 You will need a geometra [or an architect if you have money to burn] to draw up the plans etc to get the Commune's permission for the works to go ahead Plumbing, electrics and gas [if mains] will need signing off by a registered 'professional' in the relevant trade

Not wanting to put you off but I think there has been an influx to Italy of many self styled "builders" who have done up a few places back in the UK and so feel ok about their "transferable skills". What they don't seem to have taken account of are the many and very different permissions they will need from the local commune-this needs a geometra.The second thing to consider is the very different building styles/methods of the various and historically protected parts of Italy, this needs empathy and respect for those traditions and would most likely only be guaranteed  by the use of muratore who are extremely skilled and able to realise them.

Sorry - I wasn't clear. You still need a geometra and a registered plumber & electrician even if you register as the builder. The idea is to avoid having to have a registered builder on a full renovation project if you are able to do the work yourself which will obviously save money. There is nothing particularly strange about the way buildings are constructed here. My husband has renovated many stone barns in the UK and says the construction is very similar in fact. A good geometra should deal with all the building regs and permissions and be available to give advice. The main difference in construction here in Marche is to do with earthquake regulations and seems to affect the roof and openings more than anything else. With our renovation, very detailed roof construction drawings were provided by the geometra to meet these regulations. In an ideal world with unlimited funds we would all use local muratore who do a very good job but are vey expensive and just too expensive for some of us unfortunately.

Thanks for the advice everyone. we have appointed a geometra as it happens, he has done an extensive survey in which the total building works came to considerably more than the price of the house, but has not mentioned that he could oversee our work. I susspect  its probably a matter of not putting peoples nose's out of joint, would a builder be prepared for a fee to over see our work I wonder and sign it off if satisfactory? The house is over 500 years old and has 18 inch Chestnut beams, does anyone know if these become as hard in the middle as Oak ones do? or are they likely to be soft right the way through. The Geometra has advised replacement. Patrick

My 'compagno' comes from that area and has property there- the difference in asking price for building works- surveyers fees etc between what is charged to his relations who live there- and to him (we live in tuscany.. so not very far away) is incredible- so dread to think how much more they charge foreigners... always get more than one quote! What I have noticed also about that area is that they seem to allow you to do pretty much what you want - at least compared to tuscany... get a second opinion on the beams too-

I can't comment on Lazio as I don't live there :) In his experience working for his father's building firm in North Yorkshire for many years, yes the way rural buildings are constructed here in Marche are very similar to those on the Moors. Patrick, I think you'd be very lucky to find a builder to sign off your work as if they are on the building permit, they have legal responsibilities over the site. There are also insurance issues. If you had an accident on the building site, they could be liable so you can see why they would be reluctant.

 Hi Patrick L, the advice that has been given, especialy by Penny an Sebastiano is absolutly correct. It is however, assuming you require a Geometra for a specific project, the Geometra's legal responsability to ensure that the relative trades persons have the correct documentation, one of the main ones being the DURC (Documento Unico di Regolarita Contributiva) this proves to inspectors GDF etc that you are insured and have paid your taxes. If the Geometra is found to have failed to do the above the penaltys for the Geometra are steep, some Geometras will take risks others will not, so sound out your Geometra and see what he is willing to let you do personaly. As Sebastiano says, one the shell is up, I do not think there is anything to stop you doing your own finishing which is probably most of the cost of a new build anyway. As for Electrics Plumbing and Gas, these need to be completed by a registered trades man and certified by that tradesman and registered with the relevent authorities. Without these certificates you will not be able to get a habitability certificate if one is required. To many people part of the dream of liing in Italy is to potter one those sunny days and do a little work on there house or renavate part of it and having the satisfaction of standing back and looking at a finished project that you have done or partialy do yourself. With this in mind, I am thrashing out a plan that could make this possible and still come out at the other end with all the correct documentation for electrics and plumbing. Good Luck with your project. SteveW

Just on a practical note....bear in mind that there are not as many large DIY superstores here (B&Q etc). There's a Leroy Merlin next door to the Porta di Roma Ikea...but other than that, buying materials is not going to be as easy as in the UK, and from what others have told me, lots of the basic stuff ends up costing more from builders merchants and the like... Hiring large equipment is also not as easy in the UK...you will probably be able to hire a cement mixer (and bulldozers, tractors etc) if you have a hunt around...but the variety of tools that can be hired in most medium to large sized towns in the UK from the average "hire shop" are unlikely to be on offer. One way around the problem is borrowing from neighbours...but you will need to get to know them first - or perhaps tapping in to the expat community around where you live and draw on their knowledge and experience about where to get what. If you do end up hiring a builder - be aware that Buffetti (a nationwide chain of stores selling mostly office stationary and government "booklets"...have book that gives you the min/ max from/to price of all building jobs...so you can at least check and see if you are being given a fair quote. Also bear in mind that many builders prefer to work entirely or partially "in nero" - in black, i.e. no formal invoices.  An advantage is that the overall cost to you is cheaper (no vat) but on the other hand you will have even less likelihood than usual of any recourse if something turns out to be poorly executed / wrong!  Also - there are tax breaks available on some of the costs incurred in restoring / renovating an existing property - so you should check this out with an informed and trusted geometra /architect - but even the estate agent that sold you the property (if you went through one) should be able to give you that info. Finally....be wary of accepting the first recommended builder / tradesman....(I'm not talking price here)  often it is a relative friend of whoever you are talking to...they may well be the best ever at what it is they do...but try and get the quality of work confirmed by someone you KNOW is not connected in any way (I was caught out this way, as were other expats I know...and later, once we had become a more integral part of the community people would say...well, what do you expect, so and so has always had a reputation for being sloppy / unreliable / whatever!)  In my experience, the idea of going to see a person's work at a previous client's house is not as readily accepted here as it is perhaps in the UK. Good luck!

Thank you all very much for the advice, one of the   major expenses of the project was that they were going to have to put up internal scaffolding to do the roof and in order to do this would have to demolish 2 floors beneath that were rotten, I,m afraid the costs of renovation by a proffesional have become more than the purchase price and so sadly we may have to look elsewhere in the area. I'll let you know how we get on. great friendly group! Patrick

If you've decided on Lazio, but not necessarily where in Lazio...why not come and have a look around the Sabina...about 60 km NE of Rome...(I wrote about it when I signed up)  I think you might find prices a bit cheaper here... Most of the big franchises have got branches here....and there are a few "independents" too...Best Immobiliare, Polidori, Case di Famiglia. For names of towns and a map...got to www.sabine.it

 Patrick, As I design the heating systems for restorations I see many projects under way and I've seen original quotes halved through understanding what is involved and conversely I've seen parts of projects doubled in cost through lack of detailed understanding.... so keep studying your way in until the clouds lift.  For example your beams and the floors coming out. After the earthquake proofing has been done your new reinforced concrete floors will be tied into the walls with re-bars and the beams underneath will be pretty much decorative rather than structural... for example we have one fragile but lovely beamed room with wooden slats and rotting beams - one broken and strapped.. all has been retained. You might have to support suspect beams with acrows while the pour is done.

I'm in agreement with Penny; a stone contruction in any rural area will be bult along roughly similar lines; there may be areas of Italy ( parts of Abruzzo for example) where a type of cob or eath building is also found. I've visited many of these buildings and photographed then and in terms of their construction they are quite similar to the cob buildings here in the West Country. One myth I'd like to blow out of the water is that Italy is full of skilled builders all more capable than Penny and her husband and with a unique understanding of old buildings. NOT TRUE! What it is full of is builders who are used to working on modern appartments and commercial buildings and who then try to use the same methods on old buildings resulting in total disaster. Any builder or geometra who advises you to demolish or take apart areas of your home whether its floors or ceilings should be questioned with intensity !!! Often they are simply working on the fears of housebuyerrs who've not owned or lived in an old property before and can be easily scared by threats of wet rot and rooves collapsing.Of course a house must be made safe in an earthquake zone - thats very reasonable but often I see cases where perfectly good beams 100's of years old are removed for no reason. Wood boring insects can be a problem but even then they can attack some types of wood and not others.Its not too dificcult to do a bit of detective work before going down the rip it out line! Don't forget there is more 'in it' for the builder or geometra if they can get you to agree to the plan of rennovation work they come up with  than if they use what's already there.    

The geometra who has been working with us has been marvelous, and I know he has tried to pare  costs down to a minimum I do trust him. It all boils down to the fact that we could only afford the property if we were allowed to do  the bulk of the work ourselves. I would still like to know if chestnut goes hard in the middle like oak. One thing I was finding it hard to get to grips with was the standardised  quoting system for building works. I,m sure the builders in Italy are pretty much the same as in the UK , good ones and bad ones,   We are very fortunate in having Italian friends to help us with these problems, and I,m very thankful for all your advice, but when it boils down to it house buying is a stressy business and thats all there is to it! Patrick

Patrik I've found wonderful help and support on The Period Property forum - google it- its uk based.I'm sure they will have an answer! Hardwood like oak and sweet chestnut is very strong and long lasting and I would expect that chestnut would be as hard as oak but it depends on whether insects have got to it or its got wet. Sometimes wood beams were covered in lime wash as this gives a protection against boring insects . Good luck- I'm sorry if I appear cynical but we've been involved with several Geometras and workmen all who we liked and seemed trustworthy but turned out to be anything but. I was warned by several people, some on this forum but I had felt that I could trust my instincts.Turned out I couldn't.  

Just wanted to add that I think we have spent 3 times the purchase price of our house on materials and labour and that's with us doing all the plastering, pointing, floors and window sills / finishing! If you buy an old place for £50,000 expect to send at least £60,000 on the work and half of that could be roofing work and measures to protect against earthquake damage.

 I hate to see you worry about the beams still.  For instant peace of mind take a hand brace and auger bit and bore a series of diagonal holes down onto the beam... this will reveal the quality of the wood and leave you with some holes for squirting in some anti-tarlo to kill the bugs... you can plug the holes later if they are unsightly.