What you should look out for


Always discuss with a surveyor exactly what will be included in a survey and, most importantly, what will be excluded (you may need to pay extra to include certain checks and tests).

A general inspection should include the structural condition of buildings (particularly the foundations, roofs, walls and woodwork), plumbing, electricity and heating systems, and anything else you want inspected such as a swimming pool and its equipment, e.g. filter system or heating.

You should receive a written report on the structural condition of a property, including anything that could become a problem in the future. Some surveyors will allow you to accompany them and may even produce a video of their findings in addition to a written report. A home inspection can be limited to a few items or even a single system only, such as the wiring or plumbing in an old house. You may also wish to have a property checked for termites and other pests, which are found in many areas, and to have a radon test on a building or land in an area where radon levels are high.

Below is a list of items you should check or have checked by an expert when inspecting a property.


  • Make sure that the property corresponds with the description in the title deeds.
  • Check the number of rooms and the area of the property, terraces and the plot.

If there are added rooms (e.g. an extension), terraces, a garage or a swimming pool that aren’t mentioned in the property description, the owner should provide proof that planning permission was obtained. Additions or alterations to a property may require new registration for the entire property. If so, enquire whether the current owner will register the change before you buy or pay the costs if they’re obtained on completion.


  • Check for cracks and damp patches on walls.
  • On older properties check that the walls are vertical and not bulging;
  • Check that all the roof tiles are in place and that there’s no sagging. Plants growing on a roof are an indication that it isn’t well maintained.


  • Check for damp patches throughout a property, including inside cupboards and wardrobes.
  • Check for cracks in walls.
  • Check that the floor is level and that tiles are in good condition.
  • Check the condition of doors and windows and whether they close properly.
  • Check the woodwork for rot and signs of wood-boring insects, such as woodworm and termites (termites are difficult to detect unless damage is extensive).

Furniture & Fittings

  • Check what is included in the sale.
  • Check that any appliances included in the sale are in good working order.


  • Check that the water/electricity/gas supplies are functional, particularly the hot water supply and central heating system. Don’t take someone’s word that these are functional but check them yourself.
  • Enquire about the annual cost of heating and air-conditioning systems.
  • Check the reliability of the electricity supply.
  • If a property doesn’t have electricity or mains water, check the nearest connection point and the cost of extending the service to the property, as it can be very expensive in remote rural areas. If there’s no mains electricity supply, find out whether you can install alternative means (e.g. solar panels).
  • In the case of a waterside property, you should ensure that it has been designed with floods in mind, e.g. with electrical installations above flood level and solid tiled floors. You should be particularly wary of purchasing a waterside property with a ground floor in Venice, where high tides (aqua alta) are common in autumn and winter (the incidence has increased in recent years). High tides can also cause havoc with the plumbing. Avoid a ground floor property unless you’re certain it isn’t affected by flooding – check for yourself or ask neighbours in the area (but take their information with a pinch of salt, as almost all Venetians have a good flood story to tell!).
  • Check the water supply. If the property’s water is provided by wells, make sure that there’s sufficient for your needs.
  • If a property has a well or septic tank, have it tested. If it doesn’t, check whether one can be installed and how much it will cost.

Septic Tanks

The absence of a septic tank ( fossa settica) or other waste water system isn’t usually a problem, provided that the land size and elevation allows for its installation. If there’s a stream running through a property, it may mean that an expensive system needs to be installed to cope with the effluent, which costs three or four times that of a septic tank.

If a property already has a septic tank, check that it’s in good condition. An old-style septic tank takes bathroom waste only, while new all-purpose septic tanks on a soak-away system can cope with a wide range of waste products. Make sure that a septic tank is large enough for the property in question, e.g. 2,500 litres for two bedrooms and up to 4,000 litres for five bedrooms. Note that you mustn’t use cleaning agents such as ammonia in a septic tank, as it will destroy it. Specially formulated cleaners are available, including products that will extend the life of
the tank.

Pool & Equipment

  • Check that the pool and equipment (especially the pump) is in good working order.
    Look for cracks in the pool structure and check the condition of paving around the pool.
  • Enquire how much the pool costs to maintain and how much it will cost to refill it, e.g. if it’s emptied in winter.
  • If a property doesn’t have a swimming pool, check that there’s room to build one, that the terrain is suitable and that planning permission can be obtained if necessary.


Before buying a home with a garden or any type of land you should walk the boundaries and look for fences, trees and the eaves of buildings that may be encroaching upon the property. If you’re uncertain about the boundaries (e.g. of an unfenced rural property), you should have the property surveyed by a land surveyor ( perito agronomo), which is wise in any case when buying a property with a large plot. If the plot isn’t enclosed, check the local regulations regarding the height and type of boundary permitted.

When buying a rural property in Italy, you may be able to negotiate the amount of land you want to be included in the purchase. If a property is part of a larger plot owned by the vendor or the boundaries must be redrawn, you will need to hire a surveyor to measure the land and draw up a new cadastral plan. You should also check the local land registry to find out what the land can be used for, whether there are any streams or underground springs and whether any neighbours have rights to water on your land, and whether there are any rights of way ( diritto di passaggio) across it or hunting rights on it. You or your lawyer should also ensure that there are no disputes over boundaries and that any buildings on your plot don’t encroach on to neighbouring plots.

On rural land, find out whether the trees require maintenance, e.g. olive and fruit trees, and investigate what you can do with the crops after the harvest. If land is classed as agricultural, check your right of access to a water supply and whether this sufficient for your needs.

If you’re unable to maintain the garden yourself, check how much a gardener will cost. If you aren’t prepared to pay for a gardener, check what it will cost to turn the garden into a low-maintenance one.

This article is an extract from Buying a Home in Italy from Survival Books.

Further reading

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