House buying – Italy vs UK!


Well, well, well! Sorry it’s been an age since I’ve written! It’s been an extraordinarily busy month and a half back in the UK sorting various things out. I’m back in Italia now as of yesterday. So, let me tell you what I’ve been up to. I’ve been a bit cagey about it in the blog because writing it makes me seems like a property mogul. I’m honestly not, it sounds more impressive than it is!

Property Numero Uno

Before I moved out to Italy, I’d worked out my budget and what I could live off comfortably and I had saved some money for a house in Italy too. It was quite finely tuned. I would live off rental income from a flat in London and bolster that with earnings from something more creative (still working on it!). However, as soon as I went to Italy my finally tuned budget required an upheaval because now over the next 5 years, I have to find a significant chunk of money to repair the lifts for the flat I’m letting in London (I think I could hire dedicated people to carry my tenants up to the flat for less).

What to do? Well, I taught English. You’ve probably all read about how successful that was 😉 I can confirm I’m not a natural! So, I decided to chop the savings I was going to use for a house in Italy in half and buy a place in the UK for letting. It was a better option than buying a dream house in Italy but still having to teach!

So the flat I bought was a bit of a mess to start off with but the price reflected that and it had great potential. It completed the day I got back to the UK. It couldn’t have been better timing! The next month or so was focussed on painting and putting in a new kitchen and carpets etc. (Thank you Mum and Dad – I couldn’t have done it without you!) and now I think it looks really nice! I have tenants due in on Friday so fingers crossed that all works out!


Property Numero Due

I have an Italian House! 🙂 I think! After a week, I still have not a scrap of documentation confirming that! So, what useful titbits can I impart to you all about buying a house in Italy? I really don’t know! I think I’ll be able to give you more insight on that in a week or so when I’m physically in the house (or not!). At the moment my advice is balanced 50 /50 on “just run with it and accept that the Italian house process is massively inefficient, it’ll all work out in the end” or “don’t do it – they’ll take your money and you won’t even have a house to show for it”.

UK VS Italy – Who has the best house buying process?!

So in the absence of being able to provide a decent set of lessons learnt yet, I thought it would be interesting to highlight the key differences between buying in the UK and buying in Italy having done both in the last month or two. Please note, this is all my own personal experience – perhaps other people have found it a bit easier! In fact, if you’ve bought somewhere in Italy yourself, please let me know in the comments below how it went for you! 🙂

Finding a house

UK: 99% of houses for sale will be advertised on the internet. Every estate agent has a website. Every house advert has photos of the house.

Italy: Maybe 30% of houses for sale are on the internet. To find a house, you have to physically go to the location you want to buy and trawl the streets looking for yellow ‘vendersi’ signs which often have no details of the house itself, only a phone number. House adverts that do make it onto the internet rarely have a photo of the house. If they do have a photo, it will be of a lamp or a scooter the owner is proud of.

Estate Agents:

UK: Once you’re ‘registered’ with an Estate Agent, you’ll get email updates and phone calls from agents whether you want to be notified or not. They are generally expert sellers – they’re really very keen to sell you a house, that’s how they make their money. 

Italy: Once ‘registered’ with an Estate Agent, nothing will happen at all. They don’t email, they don’t call and they don’t reply to emails or calls either. They often don’t go into the office. If you manage to get an Estate Agent to take you around a house, they make you sign something first to promise that you won’t try and buy the property without including them. My Estate Agent for the Italy place was American. It was a coincidence that I ended up with an English speaking Estate Agent; I wasn’t looking for one. He was simply the only estate agent that responded!


UK: When you purchase a house it’s a wise idea to get it surveyed and in fact, mandatory if you’re buying it with a mortgage. In the UK, the surveyors job is to ensure that the house you’re buying is what you think you’re buying. The surveyor will have a look at the property and give you a very detailed lengthy report on the roof, damp, structural stability etc. If you do something to the inside of your house, generally, people in the UK don’t care.

Italy: They have ‘Geometra’s’. The Geometra seems to be similar to a surveyor but also has a key role in terms of comparing house /property plans with what is actually there. If you change something to the inside of your property, it matters and the authorities need to be aware of it. In my experience, you don’t receive any documentation from the Geometra and it was me drawing attention to the discrepancies in the plan rather than vice versa. As well as providing thoughts on how the property could be renovated (genuinely useful), they provide useful suggestions on how to resolve issues like doors being where there shouldn’t be doors – simply pile some breeze blocks in the doorway and voila – no door! Change the plans?! Pah!


UK: What’s a Notary?! They serve no purpose in the English house buying process.

Italy: Qualified lawyers are not enough for the Italians. As with many things in Italy, there needs to be an additional and costly level of bureaucracy. I was buying the Italian house whilst I was in the UK so I needed a Notary to give `Power of Attorney` to my lawyer in Italy so she could sign off the documents. Then I had to get something called Apostille to authenticate the Power of Attorney form to verify that the Notary was indeed a Notary and not a con artist (ha!). You can save a bit of money by doing that yourself by sending it to a Government office (££’s). THEN, I needed a Notary in Italy to read through the documentation and sign that off. That was 2250 Euros. Apparently this is an excellent deal, negotiated by my lawyer (I am still in the process of summoning up enough gratitude to respond). My UK Notary had a really lovely antique looking embossing device, beautifully intricate stickers, an infra-red marking device and a signature so elaborate it must have taken months of effort to devise. The only thing I’ve seen of my Italian Notary is an invoice. It’s not embossed. There’s not even a sticker. In fact, it’s not even signed. I feel hard done by.


UK: We pay a deposit but I think there’s still a danger of “gazumping”. Until you exchange, having the house you’ve been planning at night when you can’t sleep being pulled from underneath you is always a risk.

Italy: You sign a contract to say that you’re committed to the purchase of the property – if you go back on that as the buyer then you lose your deposit and if the owner does, they have to give you your money back and pay you the same amount again. I quite like that.


UK: Your lawyer works for you. They will make sure that you’re not going to get fleeced even if you’re not that bothered yourself. They’ll hold up the entire buying process if you haven’t had a drainage report for instance, so keen are they that you know what you’re getting into. Any concerns were addressed with a detailed response outlining options and a considered recommendation.  

Italy: I think my lawyer could have also been working for the owner as well. I also suspect they’ve not even heard of a drainage report. Concerns were rebuffed with “don’t worry, it’s not a problem” even though all evidence indicates that it was. My thoughts at the end of the process was not to ask for advice but to do my own research and just state what I would and would not accept. That worked a lot better.


UK: The paperwork from the UK property may have made a significant dent in the Amazonian rainforests.

Italy: So far, the paperwork has amounted to less than 10 pages. Not that I’ve even seen the final contract.


UK: In the UK there’s maybe a 10 week average to house buying but you can do that any time during the year.

Italy: You must get your house all signed off before August otherwise Italy as a nation goes on holiday and you can’t get the documentation done.

Weighing things up, I think it’s safe to say that my buying experience was a lot less stressful in the UK than it was in Italy.  I feel a bit like I’ve been over so many barrels that I can no longer stand upright. Alas the UK property is not set in the Sibilini Mountains.

So that’s my thoughts on the buying process!

Next up, I’ll report back on my lovely return trip to Italy in the Nanmobile via Orleans (France), Freiburg (Germany) and Somewhere-in-Switzerland (Switzerland).

A presto!


Categories: Uncategorized | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “House buying – Italy vs UK!

  1. I understand entirely your frustration with buying in Italy and I’d like to add two points regarding estate agents.
    Firstly, estate agents very often they have to deal with buyers who are not committed and waste enormous amounts of agent’s time (to say nothing of the cost of driving around all day). My advice to buyers is to make it very clear that they are serious and that they have already honed down the search to a specific area and property type.
    The second point is that buyers should use only officially authorised agencies, in other words, those that are registered with the chamber of commerce as being estate agents.. At the very least these agencies will have insurance coverage and will know and understand the purchase process. Any agency that does not have autorization, including those that claim to give a consultancy but that actually have houses to sell and get a commission, are entirely illegal and could land buyers in trouble.
    Unfortunatly, more often than not the illegal agencies are run by foreigners who think that running an estate agency and selling a few houses to unsuspecting foreign buyers is an easy way to make ends meet. In reality the process can be extremely complicated especially if title is not absolutely clear or if the property is subject to third party buying rights (not just neighbouring farmers by the way).
    The tax office in Marche is currently running checks by going through websites to verify that organizations that claim to be estate agents are in fact authorised to do so.
    Furthermore, notaries will only deal with bona fide agencies. If you want proof of the legitimacy of an agency, just ask whether the agency will be mentioned in the deeds as the law requires.
    Many thanks,
    David Parish
    Vinci Properties
    Great Estate & Chesterton Group.

    • Thanks David for the detailed response! That all makes sense. Still waiting for all my documentation to come through but now I’m in the house it seems a little less like I’ve been horribly ripped off! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Property of the week – Beautiful Castle in the Sibillini Mountains | movetoitaly

  3. Has your commercialism, told you of the tax we have to pay on houses owned in the UK, it scared the pants off me. Mine is up for sale and the sooner it goes the better.

    I hope you enjoy the fun of Italy and I wish you all the best

    • Noooo!!!!!!!!!!??????????? As in we have to pay tax in Italy and not the UK?! Surely one lot of tax is enough for anyone?!?! Is it for rental income or a sort of capital gains thing?! ?! Thank you!

      • If you own a house it is about 1% of the purchase price a year, I don’t know what happens if your have several, but knowing Italy it will not be good. The fine if they catch you is 3% I think, plus back dated…… I would quietly check it out before asking anyone too official. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news

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