The Best Way To Renovate A Property In Italy

Project Architecture Italy

Property renovation among people buying houses in Italy is an extremely popular option; with more than 60% of foreigners buying properties that require some renovation work and over 15% buying properties that need complete renovation.

More than 5 million expats live in Italy. Many of them own property and are attracted to the local housing market by the relatively low prices, the stunning landscape and the excellent lifestyle that the nation affords.

If you have been thinking of joining the ranks of Expats in Italy or are intending to renovate your own property in the country then it’s vital that you are aware of the potential pitfalls that may arise. This will make the project easier to manage, hassle free and leave you with the results you had envisioned.

Hire A Project Manager.

It’s always going to be tempting to try to manage your property restoration in Italy on your own, especially if you have experience with similar projects back in your home country. However, property renovation and restoration in Italy is a very different ball game compared to the United States or other Western nations.

There is an incredible array of bureaucratic hoops to jump. In addition local customs, language barriers and ways of doing business differ considerably to what you’re used to back at home.

Therefore hiring a property manager or using a reliable expert, such as a geometra or an architect, to help you manage the renovations is essential. Trying to oversee the whole restoration project yourself can lead to serious consequences including technical building problems, legal issues, environmental fines and complications with the municipal renovation heritage requirements. Please read my article about important things to know about renovating a property in Italy. It has some information about how I went about renovating my flat in Volterra.

Work With A Trusted Geometra Or Architect.

A geometra is a combination of an architect, a land surveyor and an administrative expert in local regulations and municipal requirements. This is why, particularly as an Expat, you should work with a geometra on your renovation project; and even though it will increase your costs the extra fees will remove an enormous range of problems and make sure that your project runs smoothly from start to finish. IMPORTANT: You should use a geometra only if the renovations are minor. But for all other types of renovations, you must use a professional architect. When in doubt, use an architect.

Not only will a good architect communicate with tradespeople, contractors and builders but they can help you navigate the maze of bureaucracy that surrounds any renovation project in Italy! They can also help you with the design and planning work as well as make suggestions about the best materials to use in the project.

Their technical expertise, local contacts and knowledge of the regional rules and regulations make their services extremely valuable to Expats who are renovating their properties; so make sure you get in touch with other Expats in the area to see if they can recommend a top quality geometra or architect to help with your project.

Ensure That You Have All The Necessary Permits And Permissions.

There are a lot of permissions and permits that you are required to have by law in Italy and although it can seem like a real headache, under no circumstances should you ignore the rules! If you do then you can face serious fines and legal action in the future. Find out what you need to do and ensure that you are in full compliance with local regulations.

You should note that some provinces and municipalities have their own unique local ordinances which you have to be aware of, however, you can always contact the local municipality office to find out the precise details. NOTE: There might be some permissions that you need from the local authorities (in my case from Volterra) and there might be permission that you need from the capital of the province (in my case from Pisa).

Before you begin any renovation work you should first check whether you need any or all of the following:

  • Planning permission for the renovation work – particularly if you are extending the property’s exterior.
  • Proper building approval and official assurances in writing that your plans are in compliance with municipal regulations.
  • Advanced authorization of any planned demolition work that may be involved in the renovation.
  • Whether you have to notify your neighbors and what permissions you need to seek from them before you can commence work on your property.
  • Any other permissions from other third parties. Some property deeds include quite restrictive covenants and leases which your lawyer can advise you further on because they may be unique to your property or municipality.

You should always check the requirements in advance because although you can apply for planning permission retrospectively if your renovation work is rejected then you can face criminal prosecution and significant fines. In the worst case scenario your property can even be seized by the government and getting back will be costly and time consuming!

Ultimately, you should seek the advice of a local geometra or lawyer because they can navigate you through the necessary permissions and legal requirements. Not all your renovations will need advanced approval. As a general rule, any renovation work that will not impact on the environment or the local community does not require third party permissions or licensing.

Renovations That Might Not Require Permissions.

Since 2018, the following categories of renovation no longer require permissions of any type. Do not assume this is always the case, discuss and confirm with your architect.

  • Installing or replacing indoor and outdoor flooring and plasterwork.
  • Repairing or replacing gutters, downpipes, external railings and security grilles.
  • Replacing any windows, stairs and doors.
  • Installations of an air to air heat pump that has a total output of below 12kW. Other green alternatives also don’t require permissions although this varies by region.
  • Repairing, replacing or installing an indoor lift.
  • Outdoor improvements such as installing a tool shed, a fountain, benches, a children’s play area, a dog kennel or a barbecue.
  • Repairing or installing partitioning garden walls provided they are not made of stone.
  • Repairing or installing solar panels or wind turbines.

Despite the allowances, it’s always worth giving the municipality a quick call to check that your plans do not require any permissions or breach any local regulations.

Keep Your Neighbors Informed About Your Renovation Plans.

Neighbors in Italy are not like your neighbors in the United States. I have lived in apartment complexes in the United States for years without knowing anything about my neighbors. This is not the case in Italy. Italians are very social and within a short period of time will know everything about you and your friends and family!! Some of my American friends here find the Italians a little “nosey” but it does not bother me much (I am originally from India where the neighbors behave exactly the same way).

Before you undertake any renovations on your property it’s not only polite but may also be a legal requirement for you to inform your neighbors about your plans. This is not the case for minor indoor work but for any external or large scale renovations you will almost certainly need to inform your neighbors to seek their permission.

In some cases your neighbors may have objections to your planned renovations while in other cases they may wish to take the opportunity to undertake renovations on their own property in conjunction with you. In fact one of my neighbors in Volterra is from Philadelphia and we decided to jointly renovate the open courtyard!

It’s always good to remain on cordial terms with your neighbors and community and so if you’re planning to undertake some renovations work then try to be as accommodating as you reasonably can be. However, in many cases, your neighbors will be pleased to see you improving your property because it will also reflect well on the rest of the community!

Calculate The Impact Of The Renovations On Property Value.

When you’re considering undertaking some renovation work you need to take a very practical perspective when it comes to the finances. While it’s true to say that your renovations will add value to your property, if you miscalculate the upfront costs of your project, you may end up spending more money on the renovations than the property will increase in value!

You need to keep the long term prospects of the Italian housing market in mind when you’re making your calculations. The Italian property market is not predicted to grow at such a fast rate as other European Union nations including Germany, France and other comparable countries.

Talk to a local financial advisor if you have questions about whether the amount you are spending on the renovations makes sense from a financial perspective.

Don’t Spend On Superficial Improvements.

When you’re planning your renovation you need to be extremely cautious about spending too much money on superficial improvements without setting money aside to pay for the more important aspects of the renovation, such as the property’s foundations, the roof, the flooring and the utilities in general.

When it comes to planning your renovation you should undertake the work in order of importance as well as how long the additions will benefit you and your property. For instance, if you spend all of your budget on superficial elements of interior design while overlooking an issue with the foundations you can find you’ve wasted your money! If, for example, you find out in a year’s time that the foundations need immediate attention you might have to tear out the recently installed interior design work to fix the foundations.

Hence, you should always have the property properly inspected by a geometra or surveyor so they can provide you with an overall report on the property’s status so you can then prioritize the necessary work in an order that will best serve you in the long term.

Background Check The Architect & Contractors.

When you take on the services of a geometra, architect, contractors, a lawyer or other professionals during the course of your renovation project you should always do your very best to vet their previous work and reputation.

One easy way to find contractors and other professionals to help with your project is to ask around the local Expat community. If you join Facebook groups or other offline Expat clubs you can quickly make inquiries amongst the community.

There’s a good chance that many of the other Expats in your area will have previously had renovation work done on their own properties and will be able to give you first hand testimonies about the best contractors and geometra that they’ve worked with in the past.

Alternatively, you can check a contractor’s online reviews to try to get an idea of the quality of their work and their overall reliability. You can also check their website to get a sense of their professionalism although it’s usually better to try to find reviews or first hand recommendations before you make a choice that could impact you for many years to come!

Remember, even a tiny issue during a renovation project can quickly get out of control and become a real nightmare! If contractors, subcontractors or other professionals you are working with fail to provide you with a good service it can easily spiral into a much larger issue.

Running Out Of Cash!

One of the biggest problems that you must try to avoid during your renovation is running out of cash mid way through! Realistically, there will always be unexpected costs that arise during the renovation which you’ll have to cover before work can continue.

The first thing that you should always do when embarking on a renovation project is to have at least 10-20% of the total predicted cost set aside as an emergency fund that you can dip into if necessary. This should be enough of a reserve to cover any of the unpredictable costs that might spring up during the course of the works.

Summary – Cover Your Bases For A Hassle Free Experience.

During any renovation project there are bound to be unexpected issues that arise but there are also easily avoidable pitfalls that you can avoid with the right advanced knowledge and understanding.

Once you are aware of the potential issues that you’re likely to face during a renovation, remodeling or rebuilding project you can take active measures to mitigate their impact on your plans.

This means that your project will run smoothly and you won’t have to deal with easily avoidable problems along the way. That’s why doing some research and making yourself aware of the issues in advance is a crucial aspect of preparing for any renovation project you have in the pipeline.

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