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How To in Italy

Casa Dolce Casa – Buying a House in Italy

View from Piazza Poggi - Via San Niccolo' on the left.

Here I sit in our new house feeling very grateful that the kitchen remains quite cool as it is currently 38 degrees outside and we don’t have any air-conditioning!

Today I am also 38 weeks pregnant with 2 more weeks until my due date!  I have told the baby that it better stay inside for a bit longer as the heat on the ‘outside’ is pretty unbearable!

Getting back to the house, it seems incredible that we are finally owners of our own property in Florence, especially considering the difficulties (and frustration) one faces (as a foreigner) with the whole house hunting and buying process.

You might think the difficult part about buying a house in Italy is actually finding the house of your dreams but this is just the first of many hurdles and new experiences to come.

I was used to the Australian way of selling and buying a house. The impressive billboards placed outside houses advertising the upcoming sale and the large glossy real estate magazines which made the houses all look like something out of the latest Vogue Living magazine.  I was also used to having the same amazing detail available on the internet.   When we started to seriously look at houses here in Florence, the first thing I did was pick up a local real estate magazine and much to my disappointment noted that there were hardly any photos included.  Here, the only indication that a house is for sale from street level is a pathetic little sign saying ‘Vendesi’ (For Sale).

VENDESI - For Sale. / AFFITASI- For Rent.

A look on the internet was also not too exciting.  The photographs (if included) of the houses available are of pretty poor quality.  They have usually been taken by the vendor or the real estate agent, sometimes just with their phone!  No effort seems to be made to actually make the house look as attractive as possible either.

Once we had found a few places that we wanted to actually go and visit, we were surprised to find the owners of the house also sitting there when we arrived.  As the agent showed us around, some of the vendors followed us from room to room pointing out the ‘features’ of the house which was a bit uncomfortable as I felt that I couldn’t open cupboards and really look at the place as thoroughly or objectively as if we were there alone.  Another thing that I learnt was that you must ask if the kitchen is included!  The majority of people here take the whole kitchen with them when they sell and just leave you with the empty room.  I’m not just talking the appliances either – all kitchen cabinets, appliances and yes, even the kitchen sink is removed!

We were at first looking at properties outside of Florence as I wanted to be surrounded by some countryside but when we found the notice for this house, we were surprised at the price for the area and size of the apartment.  We found a small notice on the internet advising address – Via San Niccolo’, Size – 85 sq meters and price which seemed too low for this area of town.  San Niccolo’ is found on the south side of Florence, walking distance from the Ponte Vecchio and on the opposite side of the river from the Duomo, below Piazzale Michelangelo.  It is very popular for it’s restaurants and bars and very coincidentally is also where I lived 18 years ago when I first came to Florence so I know the street and area very well.

View back to the street entrance from our front door

Our place - First Visit!

When we first saw the house, we were pleasantly surprised by the position and layout.  It was described as a ‘Terratetto’ which means that  the property is from the ground (terra) to the roof (tetto) and not an apartment.  This was a big plus!  Luckily for us, the house had been on the market for a while during a time when the Italian economy was suffering so not a good time to sell but a very good time to buy!

Our Front Door at street level

It was obvious that no-one had lived here for a while as it was very dusty and dirty (and the fridge was empty and turned off!) but my first impressions were good ones – I could see the potential and I could see us living here.  And did I mention that the position was amazing too?

We were shown the house by two agents who were working together but one was the representative for the seller and the other was there for us.   As my boss knows the San Niccolo’ area very well, I mentioned the property to him and asked him to go and have a look and give me his opinion.  He of course didn’t tell the agents that he knew me and went and looked at the house posing as an interested buyer.

After a few more visits to the house, positive comments from my boss, a surveyor friend and especially an approval from Dad who fortunately was visiting here at the time for my birthday, we decided to place an offer on the house.

We were told that the vendors would probably accept 20,000 euro less than their listed price so we took an additional 20,000 off (40,000 off their listed price) and made our offer.

When you make an offer on a house here in Italy, it must be in writing and usually the real estate agent has a form that they fill out for you.  This also lists when you want to have the ‘compromesso’ (next part of the buying process explained below and the Rogito (final settlement.)  You also agree with the real estate agent at this point their commission rate – yes another surprise for me.  In Italy the agents receive a commission from the vendor as well as the buyer!

So basically this is the process and time-line :

  • The First Offer is made with a cheque for a small sum of money (3, 5 or 10,000 euro)which serves as a guarantee.  If the seller accepts your offer and then a few weeks later decides to change their mind, they must give you back double whatever amount you paid with the offer.  If we decided to pull out of the sale, we would also have to pay this penalty.
  • The Compromesso / The Preliminary Contract –  This formal meeting is held anywhere from 3 – 6 months after the first offer!  It is conducted by a Notary (our choice), the real estate agents and the seller.   Another surprising fact is that you will see the vendors face to face during the contract arrangements and final sale.  This meeting is very important as the first contract is presented and signed by all parties.  We received a copy of it a few days earlier so we had time to have a look at it and run it by a lawyer.  It is at this meeting that a bigger deposit is paid, usually 10% of the sale price.
  • The Rogito – This is the final settlement meeting which was held at the bank.  This can also take place another 3-6 months after the compromesso!  Once again, our Notary was present, together with us, the sellers and we also had our lawyer present to ensure that our final contract protected us as much as possible due to a few anomalies our surveyor found when checking the technical report of the house.

It is the sellers responsibility to provide the plans and a technical report of the house.  The ‘relazione tecnica’ is put together by a ‘Geometra’ (Surveyor) and this lists the history of the house, from all past owners to any renovations carried out.  It should also show the approval and relevant permits from the council for all renovations and any major work done.  Most Italians accept that the technical report provided by the seller is correct but we decided to have our own geometra double check this report as for me it seemed standard that we would also conduct our own technical inspection.  This history of this country makes any research very interesting as the Florence archive goes back quite a way.  Our geometra found plans going back to the 1940’s on our place and it was fascinating seeing the changes that had taken place in the last 70 odd years!

Another interesting fact we learned was that due to the 1966 flood here in Florence, all building permits and archives between 1941 – 46 were destroyed as they were filed on the lower floors – Luckily our place did not fall into that category but little did we know what our geometra would uncover when he took on the job of inspecting our house for us!

The first thing he asked when looking at the plans was, “Where is the kitchen” as it was not labelled on the map.  To not show where the kitchen is (or any other room for that matter) is apparently not correct or legal and was the first error found on the plans.  The next major problem was a small bathroom which was attached to the kitchen.  This is also illegal according to the sanitary laws here in Italy. You must have a room which divides the bathroom from the kitchen.  For our geometra to further investigate the house, he needed the sellers permission to go to the council and request the necessary plans and council approvals for all renovations.   And of course, Italy being Italy, it is not as easy as turning up to the council expecting to walk away with your requested plans.  The ‘research’ can take up to a month if not longer but of course if you are willing to pay an extra fee, the plans can be provided in a much quicker time-frame!  We didn’t have time on our side though – apart from a very quick settlement, we were approaching the August summer holiday when most public offices close or run on very limited staff.  Our geometer, notary and bank manager were also planning their summer holidays!  We decided to postpone the settlement by 2 weeks to give our geometra time to do his research.  We had advised that we would settle by the 31 July so we still had this time on our hands.

By some small and incredible miracle, our geometer managed to get the necessary documents from the council in less than a week due to knowing one of the guys at the council.  Our house was apparently once 3 houses (still can’t imagine how small they each much have been!) and unfortunately the plans and approvals for the major renovation when they were made into one house were not able to be found – they were in fact lost, most probably filed in with another house somewhere.  Our geometer was not going to accept however that these plans did not exist though!  I don’t know how he traced the original architect down but he found that the son of the architect had continued his father’s work and kept all of his old archive, our plans included!

So to cut a long story short, there were renovations on those plans that had been approved and not carried out and then other changes to the house that there was no record of.  One major discrepancy was the height of the ceiling upstairs.  In one plan it was listed as 2.50mt and in another 3.16mt.  We could have decided to ignore these inconsistencies but if and when we ever decided to do any renovations ourselves, when seeking a permit at the council, all of these errors would come forth and we as the owners of the property would be liable to pay for the required permits!  And the estimate for how much this would cost is like asking ‘how long is a piece of string!’

Our Rogito / Settlement was in a few days – on the 26 July and we were waiting for our geometra to complete his technical report which needed to be submitted to the notary before settlement.  We also wanted our lawyer to see it as we felt we had valid reasons to bring up the problems found with the vendors before the settlement, hoping that they would maybe offer some kind of compensation for the council costs we would have to pay for all building indemnities.

It literally got down to the wire!  We received the technical report at 3pm the day before settlement so arranged a 6pm meeting with the notary, vendors and our respective geometers.  Our lawyer was also present, much to the dislike of the vendors!  What followed was a very heated four and a half hour meeting where the vendors rejected the findings of our geometra and refused to offer any reduction in the price of the property.  They also verbally insulted our lawyer and geometra – I wish I could have recorded the meeting!  I was portrayed as the poor signora about to give birth any moment and so obviously wanted to move into the house as soon as possible (as the vendors thought we were trying to pull out of the sale).  To pacify the vendors and explain why we had bought a lawyer, I was also the dumb foreigner who wanted the security of a lawyer as it was the first time I had purchased a property in Italy!

After being separated into two rooms, our notary acted as the mediator and at the end of the night, all parties had agreed to the following :

  • The Vendors Geometra had until the end of October to submit the documents for the necessary approvals and business indemnities to the council, following the technical report from our geometer.
  • The vendors would be responsible for all costs relating to obtaining the required permits plus pay the costs of our geometer.
  • The Vendors also agreed to leave a 9000 euro cheque as guarantee with the notary in the event that they forfeited on the above.

26 July – The Settlement

We all arrived at the bank at 8.30am where the settlement would take place.  The notary then proceeded to read through the whole contract, out loud, word for word!  Our very thorough lawyer kept interrupting to clarify points and add a few words here and there much to the annoyance of the vendors.  They would huff and puff and roll their eyes to the ceiling every time he opened his mouth.  I found this quite amusing!  When the vendor made a comment after the meeting that our lawyer was not very ‘friendly’ I was shocked and wished I had of replied, “We are not paying him to be our friend but to do his job!”

Once we had got through this stage and were all happy with the modifications, the vendors went outside to wait for us to then sign our mortgage documents with the bank.  The notary also then read our mortgage contract out loud, word for word (it was torture and took forever).  After an epic five hours, (and no, that is not a normal time for these procedures!) once all was signed and cheques passed hands, we were finally given the keys to our new house!

The final contract needs to be registered and we should receive a copy of that in September – once everyone returns from their summer holidays of course!

I feel that I need to add a little glossary to this post – some new words that I learnt going through this prices and to also teach you a few important words in Italian that you will need to know when buying a property here!

Vendesi – For Sale

Immobiliare – Real Estate Agent

Lettera di Offerta – Letter of Offer

Compromesso – Preliminary Contract

Rogito – Settlement / Deed

Geometra – Building Surveyor

Notaio – Notary

Avvocato – Lawyer

Venditrice – Seller/vendors

Sanatoria – Act of Indemnity

Condono Edilizio – Amnesty for infringement of local building regulations.

Planimetria – Plans

Catasto – Land Registry

Below are some photos of the house – Before & After.  Amazing what a difference a fresh coat of paint can make!  The kitchen is still a work in progress which we hope to renovate soon.


Office / Study

Our Bedroom

Baby's Room - Still not complete




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Ciao, I'm Lisa B,
I’m a magazine founder & editor, a private food & shopping guide and watercolour artist who wants to share everything I know about the best-kept secrets in Tuscany with you.

I created This Tuscan Life blog, magazine and experiences to share everything I love about Florence & Tuscany, one of the most popular and visited regions in Italy.   Add a splash of watercolour & you've got a creative mamma of two who wants to show you the true & authentic side of Tuscany.

Learn more