Many people have a dream of owning a property abroad and despite the fall in sales of Spanish and Portuguese properties and the rise in demand for holiday homes in Bulgaria and Croatia, the Italian market remains constant: in 2012 and 2013 more holiday homes in Italy were purchased by German and English buyers.
So, if you are looking to buy yourself a slice of Sicily or a bolt-hole in Bari, here are six things to consider before you start your search.
Whether you’re looking for a holiday home or a permanent residence, make sure you do your research. Italy’s twenty regions are a diverse mix of mountains and valleys and dusty plains and lush grasslands, so finding the one best suited to your needs should be your first priority. For example, Florence has an average winter temperature of two degrees compared to Positano’s nine degrees. Summer temperatures in Calabria can exceed a blistering 32 degrees in comparison to Lombardy’s average of 23, and in May Puglia on average has 37 mm (1.5 inches) of rain, whereas Sicily only experiences a quarter of this.
If you’re partial to a spot of skiing then Piemonte or the mountains of Abruzzo would be an ideal place to start your search. If you’re more of a holiday resort lover, then maybe the Venetian lido or Le Marche’s coastal towns will be better suited.
The only way to truly decide upon any region is to visit it, and once you have made a decision then revisit at different times of the year; a coastal town may seem exciting when full of beach umbrellas and holiday makers, but how will you feel about it when the tourists have left? The mountainous Abruzzo has charming, ancient villages to explore on a sunny June afternoon, but only those who truly love the place will still see the charm on a dreary February morning.
Holiday Home or Residence
One thing to consider is will the property be a holiday home or a permanent residence. At first you may think that they would both have different considerations, but there’s very little to separate them.
Obviously for a holiday home two of the most important things to think about are proximity to an airport and transport links and, importantly, security is an issue during the weeks when it will be unoccupied.
If you are choosing to locate permanently consider if you need to find work. Your chance of obtaining employment will be increased if you are closer to a major town or city. If you are hoping to set up a business this will require serious consideration; will there be the same demand for English language lessons in rural Basilicata as for holiday accommodation in Sardinia?
But before you make any decision, consider this, many holiday home owners eventually become full time residents when they decide to retire.
What type of property would tick all your boxes? Some people will be content with an apartment and sea view, whilst others may prefer a townhouse on a piazza or a rural retreat.
Pay close attention to the type of house that you think will suit you as you may find your requirements change during your search. A townhouse that’s tucked up a cobbled vicolo may have a traditional charm, but consider how far away the nearest parking spaces are. If you want to come completely absorbed into everyday Italian life, then a townhouse may be ideal, but don’t forget to factor in the sound of late night revelry during the summer festivals.
A rural property has its own pros and cons: a positive is the tranquillity and, if you’re lucky, spectacular views coupled with the opportunity to grow your own produce. However, on the downside is the prospect of being snowed in during winter, the distance from local amenities and periods of isolation.
Habitable or Restoration
A house for restoration may seem a bargain in comparison to a new build, but before you even consider viewing anywhere, sit down with a calculator and start doing your research.
A tumbledown farmhouse on a hillside may make a perfect restoration project, but will it be cost-effective? Look out for those hidden costs such as converting its use from a previous farming property to an urban residence. Make sure you check the land boundaries and if anyone has a contract to work it: it won’t help your relationship with the locals if you suddenly tell Nino that, despite a long-standing agreement, his family can no longer grow their artichokes on your land.
If you have decided on the locality where you wish to buy, make enquiries at the comune (council) offices about the cost of obtaining work permission and any restrictions. I personally know someone who had to repaint the outside of their house as the colour they had originally chosen was not on the council’s list of acceptable colours.
Habitable in Italy has a completely different meaning than the English or American definition; in Italy, habitable can refer to anything with a roof and four walls, it may not mean the building has windows and it certainly won’t indicate that all services are connected.
One thing to also point out is, if you view a property that is furnished, make sure you ask what is included in the purchase price. More often than not, when vacating a property, the vendor will, apart from the bathroom’s sanitary ware, remove everything including the light bulbs. If you want the kitchen fittings, then you’ll need to negotiate a price and have the purchase written into your contract to buy.
Italian people are mostly hospitable towards foreigners and welcome both the increased financial support they bring to the community and the development of redundant properties.
If your grasp of the language is limited, then it might help to consider more populated areas where the possibility of meeting local people with working knowledge of your native language is higher. In more rural locations, if you need the security of your native language, make an important part of your search the need to enquire if there’s an expat community nearby. Maybe consider joining one of the many forums online and use this to determine if the area you have selected has any pockets of expats nearby.
Finally, to be doubly sure you’ve made the right decision regarding location and house type, it’s a good idea to rent for a period of time that is longer than the usual two-week break, and if this isn’t possible, most definitely rent out of season. Renting will give you the opportunity to truly experience the day-to-day life around you, whilst giving you the opportunity to make friends, which in turn may lead you to discover your dream house in Italy. This said whatever and wherever you choose to buy, the important thing is to enjoy the experience.