Purchasing a property is a vital part of creating a new life abroad for many Expats who are relocating to Italy. However, buying a property in Italy can be very complicated and with so much red tape to deal with it’s extremely difficult to make all the arrangements on your own. On top of the complex legislation and bureaucracy of the Italian housing market you also have to overcome the language barrier.
Fortunately, you don’t need to do it on your own because there are a wide range of estate agents in Italy that can help you to buy your dream home abroad. An Italian real estate agent will have good local knowledge and the professional connections to handle the legal side of the purchase on your behalf. They will also be able to advise you about which neighborhoods to avoid living in and where you might be happiest in the long run.
Essentially, to buy a property in Italy you really do need the help of a local estate agent. Therefore, you are going to have to be quite discerning when it comes to making a decision about who to work with since so much of your future happiness might depend on finding the right home abroad.
NOTE: I use the word expat, foreigner and overseas buyer interchangeably in this article. But there are differences between an expat and a foreign buyer/overseas buyer. If you are an expat, you probably already have a Codice Fiscale (Tax ID). You are also very likely to have an address in Italy and maybe an Italian phone number and drivers license. But this might not be the case if you a foreigner who is trying to buy a property in Italy.
How Do You Choose The Right Real Estate Agent In Italy?
The following are few important things to keep in mind before hiring a real estate agent in Italy.
Does The Real Estate Agent Speak English?
Unless you speak and read fluent Italian, wading through the legal documents and negotiating with the parties involved in the sale of the property will be almost impossible. That’s why you absolutely have to find a real estate agent that can provide you with a multilingual service. This will allow your estate agent to explain all the ins and outs of the purchasing process and ensure that you are kept in the loop at all times.
However, before you commit to working with an agency you should make sure that they can also provide you with English translations of all the relevant legal documentation. This is a very important service that not all real estate agencies provide but without it you’ll be forced to sign legal documents that are written in Italian without necessarily understanding all the fine print!
Office Hours And Communication.
If you’re buying a property in Italy then it’s unlikely that you’ll be in the country throughout the whole process. This makes it vital to find out if the estate agents work outside of office hours and are available to contact at times that are convenient for you.
For instance, can you get through to an agent by phone outside of their regular office hours? Can they give you a guarantee that your emails will be answered within 24 hours, even on a weekend? How quickly will they send you information about a new property that has just come onto the market?
When you’re working with a real estate agent in Italy it’s critical to maintain good lines of communication. The real estate agent should clearly understand your requirements and contact you instantly if a suitable new property in their portfolio might be a good match for you. They should also show initiative and send you information or property suggestions without you having to ask them for it.
Basically, you need to be able to trust your real estate agent to be your eyes and ears on the ground when you’re not there. It’s vital that they are always just a phone call away and are willing to drop everything, even out of office hours, to help you find the ideal property abroad.
Is The Agent Fully Licensed & Registered With The Correct Italian Authorities?
Estate agents in Italy are closely regulated by law and must be properly qualified and licensed in order to operate in the housing market legally. They are also required to hold up-to-date indemnity insurance. You should always do your own due diligence and ask to see proof of their documentation to avoid getting into legal difficulties later on in the process.
Every estate agent has to be registered with their local Camera di Commercio (Chamber of Commerce) and should have been issued with an official proof of registration which you can see. The agent should also be registered with the Italian Association of Estate Agents (AICI), the Federation of Mediators and Agents (FIMAA) or the Federation of Professional Estate Agents (FIAIP).
As well as asking the estate agent to provide proof that they are properly registered with the necessary authorities you should also consult with a local lawyer. They can check out the estate agent’s credentials on your behalf before you contract to work with them or hand over any deposits.
Does The Estate Agency Have A Strong Online Presence?
In the modern world a huge proportion of property transactions take place online, and so if an estate agency doesn’t have a professional website then you can be fairly certain that the rest of their services will be substandard too. This statement is only partly true in Italy because most of the real estate agencies, particularly those ones outside the major cities, will not have a decent website.
It’s also worth checking if they have a strong social media presence with a wide range of professional contacts. Not only does this give them an element of authority in the industry but it means that they will be able to leverage a wider network to help to find you the best possible property in your budget range.
Any estate agency that doesn’t have its own website or social media account is unlikely to be able to provide you with the service you need, especially if you’re trying to buy a property in Italy while you’re in the United States.
Does The Real Estate Agency Work With Overseas Buyers?
You should only work with an estate agent who has plenty of experience of working with overseas buyers. Of course, your estate agent should have local knowledge and understand the Italian legal requirements in the property market but they should also be aware of the unique needs of foreign buyers.
There are a whole multitude of factors that an estate agent needs to take into account when working on behalf of an Expat buyer. Not only are there extra requirements and legal hoops that need to be jumped through for Expats but there are linguistic barriers, time zone differences and tax exceptions that all need to be considered.
Should You Work With A Specialist Agency?
There are many estate agents in Italy that specialize in working specifically with Expats or overseas buyers. Also, there are agencies who specialize in buying and selling luxury properties, farmhouses or city apartments. If you’re buying a property in Italy and already know exactly what you’re looking for then it might be worth working with a specialist agency.
Generally speaking, if you can find an estate agent that primarily works with Expats then you will probably have a better service that is more tailored to your needs than a standard local estate agency in Italy. The best Expat estate agencies will ensure that the legal side of the purchase is smooth and hassle-free as well as provide you with translated documents and open lines of communication that suit your time zone, not theirs.
Should You Work With An Agency Who Represents Both Buyers And Sellers?
An agency that works with both the buyer and seller, also known as a ‘dual agent’, conducts all the paperwork, communications and negotiations on behalf of both parties. Theoretically, they are supposed to remain neutral in their dealings but since the agent is paid based on the final sale price there could be certain conflicts of interest that creep into the process.
Alternatively, you can work for an agency that only represents you, with another agency representing the seller of the property. This is a more common way of conducting a property sale although the quality of their service will depend on the agency that you choose.
The Italian property market is heavily regulated but even so, there is quite a lot of nepotism and underhanded tactics that are employed by some estate agents. In cities you will have the option of working with a buyers or sellers agent depending on your situation. But you will find that in rural areas, a typical agency will represent both buyers and sellers because there are not many agencies to begin with.
What Fees Does The Real Estate Agency Charge?
When selecting an estate agent it’s not always wise to choose the cheapest or the most expensive. Overall, it’s better to analyze the services that they provide and be prepared to pay for the quality. Even so, fees in Italy vary from about 3-10% of the total price of the property so the differences can be quite considerable!
An estate agent in Italy usually earns a commission after the successful sale of a property to a buyer. The cost of the fee is normally split between the buyer and the seller although there may also be a minimum fee that you will have to pay the agent to contract with them in the first place.
Once you’ve established what the fees will be you also need to find out when the fees are payable. In some cases, the fees are paid immediately after you have signed the purchase contract whereas in other cases the fees are only paid after the completion of the sale.
Some agencies charge extra fees for the services they provide. For instance, you may have to pay an additional fee to receive documents that have been translated from Italian into English. Sometimes, you might have to pay an extra fee if the estate agent helps to arrange the connection of the utilities in your new property or for additional viewings they have conducted on your behalf.
These additional costs can quickly add up so it’s a good idea to get a detailed breakdown of the fees that the agency charges before you contract with them. This is even more important if you’re working with an agency from overseas because they will have to conduct multiple viewings and other activities on your behalf while you’re out of the country.
Recommendations And Reviews.
One of the best ways to get an unbiased insight into the services that an estate agent provides to their customers is to read the reviews of their former clients. You can often find reviews on forums although it’s not worth paying much attention to the testimonials that they have on their website because these will have been carefully handpicked by the agency!
A great way to get some honest recommendations is to reach out to the Expat community in the area where you want to buy a property. Other Expats who have successfully bought a property in the area will be able to recommend the agency that they used and since they are likely to have faced the same hurdles as you, their advice will be more relevant than what you’ll find on most forums.
Meet Up With The Estate Agent In Person.
If it’s at all possible, you should really try to meet with the representatives of the estate agency that you plan to work with before you sign any contracts or hand over a deposit. Meeting an estate agent in person will allow you to put a ‘name to a face’ and help to foster a better working relationship.
Of course, sometimes when you meet an estate agent you’ll instantly get a bad feeling. If you do, then it’s usually a good idea to trust your instincts and keep on looking for a better option.
To meet your estate agents you could take a short week-long trip to Italy and while you are there you can also take the opportunity to view some properties with them. This way you can better explain to the estate agent what you are looking for and what types of property you wouldn’t consider.
There may be times when it’s simply impossible to meet up with the agent before you contract them due to your personal circumstances. If this is the case then you should still arrange a Skype meeting with them so you can get to know them a little better and run through the types of things you’re looking for in a property.
Hiring A Property Law Firm That Can Assist With Property Purchase.
There are several property law firms in Italy that focus on assisting non-Italians. They can help you with tax issues, fight legal cases, provide translations and market analysis. Many of them also provide help with initial assessment of the property and also property purchase and management.
I used such a firm when I purchased my property in Volterra. This company had a real estate division and a legal division. There were several issues during the whole buying process, but they were handled in a very professional manner. They did everything for a flat fee which was partially based on the price of the property. Due to personal reasons, I was not able to travel to Italy for closing. So the law firm represented me during closing (which was in Florence). All the documents and the keys were then mailed to me. I did not even have to dial in during closing!!
The Right Estate Agent Is Essential When Purchasing An Italian Property.
Buying, or selling, a property abroad can be difficult at the best of times due to the unique legislation, regulations and local customs of a country; and Italy is no different!
This means it’s very important to find an estate agent you can trust to keep your interests at the fore, even when you’re not around. It’s always worth reaching out to other Expats or people in your network to see if they can recommend a good estate agent in Italy from their own personal experience.
If no one can recommend a good estate agent then you need to do your research and make sure to establish all the fees and the services that they can provide before you sign any paperwork. However, once you’ve found a good estate agent you can look forward to finding your perfect home and settling into your new life abroad.