Renovating A Property In Italy – Great Things To Know

Owning a property in Italy and living in Italy as an expat was something I always wanted to do. I started looking at several properties in different regions of Italy a few years ago. I finally decided to buy a flat in the historic city of Volterra. In my view, the area around Volterra and San Gimignano is the best part of Tuscany. I purchased the property for around $65,000. At the time of purchase, the property was livable but it had outdated kitchen and bathroom. The roof had issues and the bedroom floor was off kilter. I decided to do a complete renovation including refurbishing the roof and the floor. The building is approximately 450 years old and now has about 10 flats.

I decided to hire a property management company based in Volterra, to manage the renovation process. The property management company hired the Geometra, architects and the contractors and sub-contractors. Renovating a property in not easy in Italy. I have heard several horror stories. Fortunately my renovation went smoothly and ended on time. The big hurdle that I faced was getting all the permissions required from the authorities in Pisa (Volterra is in the province of Pisa). After several months of waiting, we were informed by the authorities in Pisa that the local government in Volterra can sign off on the permissions!!

During the renovation, we found out that under the current tile flooring (which was about 70 years old), the older terra cotta flooring was still there. So I decided to tear up the entire floor of the apartment and then refurbish the old terra cotta flooring.

The building is like a palazzo with a courtyard in the middle. All units have windows facing the courtyard to bring in light. Since my unit is in the third floor, we had to use the scaffolding in the courtyard to bring in the materials and remove the trash. I also found out the owners of the ground floor unit, lived two miles away from where I live in Philadelphia. It’s a small world!!

Street Vendor Rome
Rome, Italy.

Property renovation is a fantastic way to add value to your property, improve the house or apartment’s livability and ensure that it’s up to scratch in terms of environmental legislation, something which can be quite onerous in the European Union.

There’s always a lot to consider when you’re embarking on a property renovation and because it can be quite a costly undertaking you want to be sure that you’ve done the necessary research and have created a feasible plan for the project.

Things To Consider Before Renovating Your Italian Property.

The following are things that you should consider before renovating your property in Italy:

Reasons For Renovating Your Property In Italy.

When you are deciding whether or not to renovate your property you should be sure about the reasons why you are doing so. There’s many reasons why you may need to renovate your property in Italy which include:

  • Upgrade The Property’s Comfort And Luxury Status: One of the main reasons why people decide to renovate their property is to improve it’s comfort and livability. You may want to expand the kitchen, add an extra bathroom or increase the modern features that you can enjoy while you’re in residence.
  • To Resolve A Safety Issue Or Concern: If you’ve purchased an older property then there may have been invisible problems that you didn’t notice at first but later realized needed to be resolved as a result of safety concerns. For example, an old rural property in Italy may have unsafe electrical wiring which has to be replaced to reduce the risk of fire, dangerous cracking foundations or a newly leaking roof! This can be frustrating but it’s vital to ensure that your property is safe and up to date with modern health and safety standards, particularly if you hope to rent it out in the future.
  • Raise The Property’s Value: Well planned renovations can massively increase the value of a property by making it more competitive and desirable on the market place. This type of renovation will require some detailed research to ensure that you get good long term returns on the money you spend upfront.
  • Energy Efficiency: Improving your property’s energy efficiency can lead to massive savings in the long term, particularly if you are using a lot of central heating or air conditioning throughout the year. A home that is properly upgraded to make it more energy efficient is also more attractive to future buyers and so it also raises the property value while offering you savings in the short to medium term.

  • Modernize The Style Of The Property: While it’s true to say that older properties can be very attractive in other cases you may decide that you want to upgrade the style and look of the house. You may want to renovate your home to fit a modern trend in interior design although if you plan to sell the property in the future it’s usually a better idea to stick to a timeless style which won’t look outdated in a decade’s time.
  • Renovate To Prepare The Property For Sale: A major reason for renovating your property is to prepare it for immediate sale. During the renovation you will be seeking to address any underlying issues while maximizing it’s value on the market. You should always use neutral colors and seek specific advice from an industry professional who can explain which cosmetic and functional upgrades would have the best impact on the price of the property.

Who Are You Renovating The Property For?

When you are planning a renovation in your property you should consider who you are renovating it for. For example, if you’re planning to renovate your Italian property to make it more attractive to short term AirBnB renters then you’ll want to focus on upgrading its luxury; for instance, installing a large modern bathroom, an outdoor swimming pool or a top of the range kitchen.

However, if you are renovating the property simply to resell it then you may want to be thinking more in terms of its energy efficiency, it’s structural integrity and the features which will boost its price on the property market.

Vatican Museum Statue
Vatican Museum.

On the other hand, if you want to upgrade the property for you to live in then you should start out by writing a wish list of the things to improve and then work backwards to determine what’s feasible in terms of your budget.

Is Demolition Work Part Of The Renovation?

In some cases you’re going to need to demolish all or part of the property before you begin your renovation project. Naturally, it will cost more to rebuild the entire property, or parts of it, rather than simply upgrading various aspects of it.

To determine whether you need to demolish the property before renovating you should seek professional advice from a Geometra or architect who can draw up plans and explain what needs to be done and why.

What Is A Geometra In Italy?

A Geometra is a uniquely Italian job type which combines the skills and training of a land surveyor and a junior architect. They are employed to oversee all aspects of construction and renovation work in properties in Italy as well as helping to handle parts of the bureaucratic process. Refer to my article about the role of the Geometra when it comes to renovating a building. It is important to state that it may be okay to use a Geometra for minor renovations. You should always use professional architects if the renovation is a major one.

What Is The Difference Between Renovation And Restoration?

There’s a lot of confusion as to the precise differences between renovation and restoration work; however, understanding the main differences between the two is essential when planning any upgrades to your property!

Renovation is the act of making repairs, improvements or upgrades to your property. Renovation projects can be large or small and encompass most aspects of developing and improving a property.

Restoration work is a much more specialized aspect of property improvement which aims to repair or fix a building while still using materials and techniques that are in line with the property’s original design. Restoration work aims to respect the property’s heritage and maintain its original historical look while conducting any necessary upgrades.

The Process Of Renovating A Property In Italy.

The process of renovating a property will vary depending on the requirements of the property as well as the extent to which you want to make any changes. However, there are general aspects of the process which you will have to navigate your way through regardless of the specific property type and the project you have planned.

NOTE: The process detailed below is the traditional way to renovate properties in Italy. As noted before, I first hired a Property Management company and put the onus on them to hire the rest of the team and manage them. I paid the property management company a small down payment (a percentage of the overall renovation cost) before renovations began. The rest of the payments were made periodically only after the relevant work was completed, inspected and after the contractors provided their bill to the property management company.

Hire A Geometra Or Professional Architect.

When you’re renovating a home in Italy it’s absolutely essential to hire a Geometra (if the renovation is minor) or an architect to help with the project. They not only oversee the architectural, engineering and design work but they also help with the extensive paperwork that usually accompanies a renovation work.

A good geometra’s or architects services can easily cost upwards of several thousand Euros although it is worth paying for the peace of mind, local knowledge, contacts and skills that they’ll bring to the project. However, if you are arranging a large scale job it’s definitely wise to get several quotes to make sure you get the best price for the work and you’ll probably need to hire an architect as well.

When you are working with a Geometra or architect, you need to be careful that they don’t completely take over the project! They may have expertise that you don’t but it’s still your property and ultimately your vision of what needs to be done should be respected.

Keeping control of the project will also prevent the Geometra or architect from overpaying their cousin who happens to be a builder and other nepotistic behaviors that are all too common in Italy!

However, once you’ve found a great Geometra or an architect, the renovation should run smoothly as you work in partnership with them to make your dream come true. They will also be able to help you with all the local municipal regulations and can ensure that your property meets the strict local environmental and health and safety requirements.

Drawing Up The Plans For The Project.

The Geometra and architect are trained to draw up professional plans for your renovation project. You can work with the them in consultation to ensure that they draw up plans which fit your vision.

San Pietro Trento Italy
Trento, Italy.

You will have a lot of interactions with them throughout the course of the renovation. It is a good idea to try to find one that has pretty good English language skills so you can more easily communicate your requirements.

Get A Quote For The Project.

Before you sign any contracts you need to make sure that you get a quote for the expected cost of the work you’ve planned to be done. It’s worth remembering that there will usually be unexpected costs that arise during the course of the project but it’s essential to have a broad quote for the job before you sign any contracts.

You should insist on getting a written quote because if you simply rely on a verbal quote it won’t have the same legal protections! Getting an accurate quote will help you to properly plan your budget for the project, something that can be particularly important if you’re planning to manage the project from overseas.

Hiring Contractors.

Once you’ve got the quotes for the job you’ll have to formally hire the contractors who will do the construction work for you. In most cases your Geometra or architect should be able to arrange this for you by making use of their local contacts and insider knowledge.

If you’ve managed to find a trustworthy Geometra or architect, you’ll get much better prices and contractors for your project so it’s worth making sure that you choose well! If you’re wondering how you can find a good Geometra, architects and other contractors for the project, then you can start out by asking other people in the Expat community for recommendations.

Getting All The Permissions.

It’s well known that the Italian bureaucracy and red tape can be extremely extensive compared to what you’re probably used to back at home in the United States. Every aspect of the property market is highly regulated and this even includes strict rules on what you are allowed to do in a renovation project!

For instance, in most regions of Italy it’s illegal to extend the size of a property by more than 20%! In other cases, your renovations must be stylistically inline with the other properties in the community; and although this is done to maintain the traditional look and feel of towns and cities it’s something you need to be aware of.

Your architect will be able to tell you everything you need to know about the local municipality’s rules, permissions and regulations surrounding any restoration project. As well as these types of regulations you will have to ensure that your renovation work is in compliance with environmental regulations, health and safety requirements and any other regional tax laws.

It will take months in most parts of Italy to get all the permissions you need before renovations can begin. Traditionally, the architects or Geometra will submit all the paperwork on your behalf.

The Actual Renovation Itself.

Based on the size of the renovations, the renovations can typically last from a few weeks to months. During this time, you should be in constant contact with the architects or project managers. You should ask for periodic updates on the bucket of work they are actually working on. Ask them to send you photographs from the job site and visit the apartment as much as possible to actually see things for yourself.

Piano player in Verona, Italy.
Verona, Italy.

Italy is a very social country. Personal connections matter. Very early on, I was able to form rapport with the manager/owner of the construction company. I do not speak Italian and I come from a very different part of the world (India), but I was able to hit it off when we first met. It had a positive impact on the process. We did encounter a few things that we did not expect (one of the bedroom walls was structurally weak and had to be reinforced and the newly discovered terra cotta floors had to be refurbished). But on the other hand, the contractor was able to save me about 7000 to 10,000 Euros in other areas.

What Are The Costs Of Renovating A Property In Italy?

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to estimating the cost of a renovation in Italy because each property will have its own problems and be a different size, shape and type; all of which impact on the price of a renovation project.

However, there are a few broad pricing guidelines that you should keep in mind when planning your property renovation.

A Ruined Property – Demolition And Complete Rebuild.

If you’re renovating a property that is a total ruin then the costs can be quite high even though you can often purchase the property for as little as 1 Euro! Nonetheless, the price of renovating a ruined property can be quite steep and can easily cost upwards of 1,500 Euros per square meter!

This will include the costs of installing new doors, windows, fixtures, bathrooms, a kitchen unit and all the materials and labor for the project. A ruined property may also need structural work which can quickly add up too. Therefore, if you’re considering buying a ruined property to renovate them you should get a few quotes from local geometra before you commit to the purchase.

For example, a 200 square meter ruin that requires a complete renovation from the ground up can be bought for between 20,000-25,000 Euros but the rebuild and renovation would likely cost around 300,000 Euros.

Major Renovation – No Demolition.

Many Expats buy properties in Italy that are in an extremely poor condition, due to earthquake damage or a lack of proper maintenance, in order to renovate to either live in or rent out as a long term investment. Major renovation does not require demolition but still requires extensive work on all aspects of the property to make it safe and habitable.

For instance, a lovely hill top property that has been neglected for many years can be purchased for under 100,000 Euros. However, it will need renovation work that generally costs somewhere in the region of 1,000 Euros per square meter. This will include the costs of replacing floorboards, windows, roofing, rewiring, plumbing upgrades as well as materials and labor costs for the project.

If the property has been damaged in the past by earthquakes then you’ll also need to pay for specialized anti-seismic work to keep it safe in the future. This usually requires the walls to be pinned together with specialized iron bars. This is why it’s important to find out what the local seismic conditions of the region are when making a decision about a potential property purchase.

I would categorize my renovation as a “major renovation with minor demolition”!

Minor Property Renovations.

Minor renovations may simply be cosmetic but they can also be undertaken to improve the property’s energy efficiency, upgrade a bathroom or install a swimming pool.

Cafe in Venice Italy.
Venice, Italy.

These renovations will vary enormously in cost and depend entirely on the work you choose to undertake. To find out how much a specific job will cost you can easily get a free quote from a local geometra or contractor before you decide if it’s right for you.

Additional Costs To Consider.

You will always need to take the specific costs of a new kitchen, bathroom fittings or other appliances into account. You can keep these costs down by buying second hand appliances or low cost kitchen units although for a luxury property you’ll have to spend the extra money to maintain the property’s market value and rental potential.

Renovating A Property In Italy – Boost Your Property’s Value And Improve Its Livability.

If you’re planning to buy a property to renovate in Italy then you should always do some serious research before committing to the purchase. You’ll also need to do your legal due diligence to ensure that your potential plans will comply with local regulations and municipal planning rules.

However, you can get a quote in advance from a geometra and decide on whether it’s worth the associated costs and potential returns. By doing this you’ll be able to get a clear idea of exactly what work will be required and how the renovation will impact on the value of the property; both in terms of its market value and it’s future rental potential.

5 comments

  1. adam greenberg says:

    Thanks for putting this together. Its very informative. My family just inherited a property in Volterra and are beiginning to look for resources and this helps us immensely.

  2. Jay says:

    thanks Hari for your informative posting. Curious if a kitchen remodel in Italy would require any permits. I am am remodeling Contractor from California who can perform most all of my upgrades.

    • Hari says:

      Welcome Jay. I don’t think you need a permit for simple kitchen remodel like maybe changing the kitchen countertop. But I think if the remodel results in a “reorganization of interior spaces”, moving of fixtures etc., then you might need permission. I suggest you talk to a local geometra. Thank you.

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