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Buying in Italy 3 - featured in The Italian Magazine

February 18th 2006

SECURING THE PROPERTY - In the final of a series of three articles, Mark Slaviero explains how to secure a property and make the purchase run as smoothly as possible.

After having visited Italy and conducted viewings, you may have been lucky enough this time to have found just what you are looking for. This may have been relatively easy but securing the property can be another matter.

Making the offer

It is often easy to go with your heart and leave your head in the UK. If you find a suitable property, donít make any on the spot decisions. Go back to your hotel or to a bar and make sure that you have thought the property through carefully. A second viewing will assist to clarify any outstanding issues that you may have. Take your time but donít be too complacent as although the Italian property market is not as fast moving as the UK, it is wise to close the deal before someone else discovers your dream home.

Ask the agent if the price is negotiable as many Italians are not used to negotiating on property as in the UK. If the property has been on the market for some time or is vacant, then there may be more flexibility on the price. The flexibility of the vendor depends on his/her need to sell. Bear in mind that many properties in Italy are inherited; so waving your cash may not excite the vendors at all. Prices are negotiable to a certain extent however in recent years due to the high demand of properties for both living and as an investment, the negotiation margin has been reduced. It is generally sensible to offer around 5 Ė 10% less than the asking price to see how the vendor reacts. Donít make unrealistic offers as this will insult the vendor and affect the sale. Italians are proud people and if the property has been their home or in the family for years, it will be viewed very highly.

Other aspects to bear in mind when negotiating are the timescale in which you are able to complete and the payment method. Once the offer is accepted, then it is advisable to make sure that the funds are in place as soon as possible. If you require a mortgage, this could take anything from 6 Ė 12 weeks to be in place.

Checking the property

It is usually advisable to carry out some sort of survey before signing any official documentation, as it is unusual to have contracts subject to survey in Italy. Ask the agent if there have been any previous surveys and if they can be made available. The agent should also be able to recommend the services of a local geometra (surveyor) or an architect, who can carry out a survey on the property.

Donít expect anything like a UK Homebuyer survey (often 15 pages) as the Italian version is very simple and can be as short as one page. The basic survey will comment on the roof, ceilings, walls and general structure of the property. A more detailed survey will also include condition of the doors and windows, sewage, heating systems, registrations at the town-planning department and compliance with regulations. You can expect to pay anything from 300 to 1,000 Euros for a survey. It is important to establish with the geometra what will be included in their survey and highlight any areas that you would like covered.

If the property is a new build or a total renovation, then you may well be wasting your time and money on organising a survey.

Understanding the paperwork

The Italian estate agent will draw up the sales agreement between the parties, the Compromesso. Some agents may even suggest a Proposta díacquisto beforehand, which is purchase proposal and you will be expected to leave a small cheque to show your commitment. This document does not guarantee your right to buy the property and most agencies now move directly to the Compromesso. At the Compromesso stage, it is also possible to engage the services of a geometra who will check that all the necessary documentation is in order and establish the planning status of the property and its boundaries. Expect to pay around 1,000 Eur for this.

Italians are used to signing the Compromesso very quickly and an agent may ask you to sign this when you are in Italy. It is important to bear in mind that the Compromesso is a legally binding document and once you have signed, if you withdraw you will lose your initial deposit to the vendor (of around 20% of the agreed sale price). The Compromesso will state the names of the buyer and seller, the property details, the date of completion and the agreed price of the property. If you are working with a UK based agent, then they will usually translate the Compromesso for you so that you understand what you are signing. The document can either be signed in Italy with the vendor or also arranged from the UK. You will be expected to pay the agent for their services at this stage.

In Italy, the Notaio (notary) performs the role of the solicitor and once they have received the signed Compromesso, they will conduct all the necessary final checks in order to prepare the Rogito (Deed of Sale). The notary works for both parties and is strictly neutral. Italians do not employ the services of a solicitor in addition to the notary but many English buyers will not understand the differences between English and Italian law. If buyers are not using a UK based agent to support them through the process, it is advisable to use a solicitor based in the UK from the outset. Your regular solicitor will not understand Italian property law, so it is advisable to use a specialist solicitor.

Preparing for the sale

Before the Atto (signing of the Rogito), it is important that you have obtained a Fiscal Code. This can be obtained through the Italian Consulate in the UK (allow up to three weeks), your UK based specialist solicitor or in person. If you are obtaining it in person, this is a simple process at the local tax office and your agent can usually assist with this.

You will also require an Italian bank account (which will be useful after the sale to set up direct debits, etc) and this can also be opened from the UK if required. You will need copies of your passports, your personal details and the address of your future property in Italy. Again your agent or solicitor should be able to assist with this. It is worth noting that although you can open an account and transfer funds, due to EU anti money laundering laws, you will be required to activate the account in person in Italy with your passport. Always allow ample time when transferring funds and a little extra to cover Italian bank charges. Some people have arrived at the bank of the day of signing the Rogito to find either that the funds havenít arrived in time or there is insufficient to pay all parties. Using a specialist foreign exchange company will usually save you money.

The estate agent should advise you in ample time of the costs involved in the sale. These will include the remainder of the property sale to the vendor and the purchase taxes and notary costs to the notary. Any fees due to the geometra will also normally be paid at the Rogito.

The signing of the Rogito is usually conducted in the presence of the vendor, estate agent, notary and mortgage lender (if applicable). If you are signing in person, make sure that there is a translation of the document available and an interpreter to hand throughout as it is rare for the notary to speak English. It is also possible to arrange a Power of Attorney through your agent or solicitor if you are unable to attend. The process usually lasts between one to two hours and donít be surprised if the meeting is held up due to missing paperwork or documents. The notary will only sign the deed when they are happy that all is in order. After the signing of the document, the taxes must be paid and the keys are usually made available.

As we have seen over the series of articles, buying a property in Italy can often be a complicated and drawn out affair but the more planning and preparation that goes in at the outset, combined with the right support throughout the purchase will help you to locate and secure your property relatively easily.

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