Italy has some of the most spectacular historic properties in Europe, and many of these magnificent homes are on the market for extremely low prices – at least compared to other parts of Western Europe and the United States. For less than a cramped apartment in central London or a moderately sized family house with a swimming pool in California, you can buy a historic villa in the beautiful Florentine hills or on the Sardinian coastline!
With prices like these, surrounded by the iconic Italian scenery, it’s no surprise that many Expats make the decision to buy a unique, historic property in the country. Of course, some of the more palatial properties do come with a multimillion-dollar price tag, but even in these cases, you still get amazing value for money.
What Is A Historic Property?
Italy has countless historic properties and residences. These include villas, old farmhouses, castles, apartments, homes in renovated historic buildings, stately palaces and everything else in between. Even so, defining a ‘historic property’ can be a little tricky! In fact, oftentimes, when you see an estate agent advertising a ‘historic property’ it might just mean that the property needs a bit of renovation work to get it up to scratch.
However, generally speaking, a historic property is at least 100 years old or is an example of a recognizable period of Italian history or architecture. For instance, a 17th Century period villa, an old 19th Century farmhouse, a property in a converted Roman building or an 18th Century stately home, would all be classified as historic properties. Any residential structure that predates World War 2 would also usually be classified as a historic property.
Of course, famous residencies, such as the Vatican in Rome or the Sforzi Palaces in Milan are definitely historical properties but they aren’t on the market and are certainly not for sale!
The majority of historic properties that are available to buy are located in rural parts of the country or inside the boundaries of the historical parts of Italian towns and cities. Many of these historical properties in cities have been redeveloped in recent decades to accommodate contemporary tastes and a general preference to live in homes that have all the modern conveniences. However, you can still find a lot of historic properties in smaller town centers and in the outskirts of major cities that have not been renovated.
Technically, I live in a historic property. It is located inside the walled city of Volterra (which is on top of a hill). There are plenty of buildings outside the walled town and also along the valley. The building itself is about 450 years old. Within the past 100 years, the palazzo has been subdivided into four apartments. I live on the smallest one (about 600 square feet).
The Italian Register Of Historic Houses Of Excellence.
The Italian Register of Historic Houses of Excellence lists some of the nation’s most prestigious properties. The database only contains around 8,000 historic properties which mean that the vast majority of historic residences do not meet the extremely high standards that are required to be on this registry.
The primary purpose of the Italian Registry of Historic Houses of Excellence is to certify the very finest historic properties that are engaged in some aspect of the hospitality industry – so it shouldn’t be confused with a registry of private residences that are also historic in nature. The properties on this list include locations that are engaged in tourism and hospitality in general, as well as hosting high level business meetings and events.
Therefore, while this database is certainly useful if you are arranging a unique holiday, business meeting or celebration, such as a dream wedding, it’s not a good guide to the true wealth of residential historic properties that are actually available in Italy.
Vital Considerations Before Buying A Historic Property In Italy.
The following are some of the important things to consider before buying a historic property in Italy:
The Importance Of Proper Due Diligence.
When it comes to buying a historic property in Italy there are often extra layers of due diligence that are required before the sale can be completed. For example, many historic properties have been owned by the same family for multiple generations which means that the precise ownership, deeds and titles can be quite hard to legally assess.
In other cases, a historic property may require extensive structural work, renovations and other maintenance before they are fit to live in. Therefore, before you can properly decide the true value of the property and the costs associated with taking it on, you’ll have to arrange a detailed inspection of the property by a structural engineer, Geometra and a local estate agent.
The only way to effectively deal with these issues is to employ the services of the appropriate local expertise. In most cases, your estate agent should be able to arrange this on your behalf but it’s still crucial that you ensure the proper steps are taken to correctly assess the value and future renovations that might be needed on the property.
The Language Barrier.
Purchasing any property in Italy can be difficult because of the language barrier. All official documents must be submitted in Italian, not English, and not all the local contractors, engineers and other property experts that you will need to deal with during the purchase of a property will speak fluent English. This can not only make the process confusing but can also lead to you taking on a property without fully understanding what you’re signing for on the dotted line.
However, in today’s increasingly global property market, you can easily arrange to work with local Italian lawyers and real estate agencies that can provide you with English translations of all relevant documents. This will allow you to stay up to date with the latest developments in the purchasing process and ensure that you don’t commit to buying a historic Italian property without fully understanding all the relevant information.
Italy’s Famously Bureaucratic System.
One of the biggest worries for foreign buyers in Italy is that the nation’s bureaucracies are fraught with problems and unnecessary layers of red tape. While this is true to some extent, it’s certainly not onerous enough to put you off buying a property in Italy.
That said, it’s definitely a bad idea to try to do everything yourself. Instead, you should always take on the services of a local real estate agent and, if necessary, a local bi-lingual lawyer or property consultant as well. Even though you will inevitably have to pay fees for the services of these professionals, the costs are more than worth the potential problems of tackling the red tape on your own.
Advantages Of Buying A Historic Property In Italy.
The following are some of the advantages of buying a historic property in Italy:
A Truly Unique Property.
Whenever you buy a historic property you can be sure that it will be unique and even, at times, a little quirky. While this doesn’t suit everyone, for others it’s a deciding factor in buying a new property in Italy. Historic properties often have beautiful frescoes, sometimes dating right back to the Renaissance, mosaic tiled floors and walls, marble features, high ceilings, stunning gardens and distinctive facades on the property’s exterior.
There’s a certain magic that historic properties have which just can’t be replicated in the modern world. This gives you a wonderful opportunity to invest in your own slice of Italy’s iconic history.
History Property Can Be A Fantastic Investment.
If you’re looking to buy a property to rent out to tourists and visitors throughout the year, then a historic property is bound to stand out from the competition. Historic properties, such as villas, townhouses and castles are all hugely popular with tourists and you’ll usually be able to leverage considerably higher rental prices than a modern build.
This makes a historic property a great investment that can provide you with a fairly consistent passive rental income. If you’re not planning to live full-time in Italy then you can also arrange for a local estate agent to manage your property and the rentals while you’re away.
Furthermore, historic properties are highly likely to retain their value over time, provided that you invest the necessary funds into maintenance and keeping them up to scratch in terms of the bathroom, kitchen and living areas. This is because a property that has unique frescoes, period features such as mosaic tiling and eccentric facades, will always be in demand, even in the years to come.
Disadvantages Of Buying A Historic Property In Italy.
The following are some of the disadvantages of buying a historic property in Italy:
Repairs and Maintenance Work.
It’s an unavoidable fact that historic properties tend to require much higher levels of investment in maintenance and, in some cases, major renovation works. Older buildings will always be subject to the basic wear and tear of daily life but they may also require structural improvements to remain up to the high standards of Italian residential property regulations.
Renovations are not going to be easy either. You may have to custom order parts and materials because they are no longer available in stores for you to buy off the shelf.
Another factor that needs to be taken into account is that historic properties are less energy efficient. On the one hand, this may mean that you need to refit the heating systems in the property but you might need to replace the windows, doors and other aspects of the property to improve energy efficiency. Either way though, the poor insulation and low energy efficiency of historic properties will either cost you extra money on your utility bills or will require additional work to be done on the house to bring it up to modern standards of efficiency.
However, the Italian government does offer a range of generous tax benefits to help incentivize upgrades and renovations to improve the property’s energy efficiency.
The Majority Of Historic Properties Are Located In Rural Areas.
Even though you can find some beautiful historic properties on the market in large cities and urban areas, the vast majority are situated in smaller towns, villages and relatively isolated rural areas. This fact alone may be a deal breaker for some property buyers who would prefer to live in a central city location. However, for other people, this is exactly what they are looking for!
Historic Properties May Not Be Suitable For Retirees.
Despite the numerous benefits of a historic property, they may not be suitable for people who are looking forward to retirement. This is because historic properties frequently have narrow staircases, high steps and other features which can make getting around the house more difficult if your mobility is limited and becoming more difficult with age.
On top of these essentially structural considerations, features such as marble floors can be slippery and dangerous to fall on. In essence, anyone who is getting older or has mobility limitations should think carefully before buying a historical property to live in.
Limited Access To Local Amenities.
Given the fact that many historical properties are located in rural areas, you should take into account the limited access to local amenities. Amenities such as clinics, hospitals, supermarkets, restaurants, leisure centers and other facilities that you would expect to have easy access to in a city, are few and far between in rural Italy.
As well as the limited access to local amenities, public transport is less frequent and, in some rural parts of the country, virtually non-existent. Even so, you can still find fantastic historic properties within easy reach of a major town or city with excellent public transport links, plenty of nearby restaurants and other amenities, although they usually come with a higher price tag as well.
Italy’s Enchanting Historical Properties Are The Pride Of The Nation.
Historic Italian properties make great family homes but they are also a good investment if you plan to rent them out to tourists and visitors throughout the year. Historic properties usually have special architectural features and can often be a lot more spacious than a modern build. Regardless of any other considerations, there’s always going to be an undeniable charm to owning a slice of Italian history in the form of a beautiful property that you can live in, rent out or even renovate and sell on for a profit.