However, to buy privately you will need to speak good Italian or use an Italian intermediary who speaks English or your mother tongue. For this reason, foreign buyers often miss out on the best property buys as well as some of the more interesting properties.
Most Italian agents are local and don’t have a list of properties in other regions. This may mean that the seller is a friend or relative, in which case the agent won’t have the buyer’s best interests at heart. There are no national property listings, and most agents jealously guard their list of properties, although many work with overseas agents in areas popular with foreign buyers.
Nation-wide estate chains in Italy include Gabetti (www. gabetti.it), Grimaldi (www.grimaldi.net) and Tecnocasa (www. tecnocasa.it) all operating on a franchise basis with numerous agents around the country. If you wish to find an agent in a particular town or area, look under Agenzie Immobiliari in the local yellow pages, which are available at main libraries in many countries and via the Internet (www.paginegialle.it). In Rome and Milan there are property ‘exchanges’, where you can buy and sell properties through agents. Buyers can list their details (name and telephone number and the type of property they’re looking for or selling), which are accessed by estate agents.
It’s common for foreigners in many countries, particularly the UK, to use an agent in their own country, who works with one or more Italian agents, or a British agent (for example) in Italy. Italian agents aren’t noted for their efficiency and you may receive a better service from a British or other foreign agent who speaks English and is used to dealing with foreigners and their particular requirements (such as old rural properties requiring renovation). On the other hand, you may pay higher fees when dealing with a foreign agent, as there may be more people involved and local property owners may inflate the price when they think a ‘rich’ foreigner (all foreigners are rich to Italian country folk) is interested in buying their home. In the past, owners and agents selling to the British have been known to increase prices by as much as 50 per cent. Go around with a local agent or, even better, get a local person to negotiate the price for you –but make sure you can trust them!
A number of Italian agents advertise abroad. Many of them speak English or have English-speaking staff (so don’t be discouraged if you don’t speak Italian). You can also find English-speaking agents through the English Yellow Pages (www.englishyellowpages.it).
Whoever you buy through, make sure that you know the local market value of property, as it’s easy to pay over the odds in popular areas.
Italian estate agents are regulated by law and must be professionally qualified and licensed, and hold indemnity insurance. They also hold deposits on behalf of buyers and sellers, thus ensuring that the seller won’t abscond with your money.
To work in his own right in Italy, an agent must be registered with the local chamber of commerce (camera di commercio) and have a certificate issued by the local comune as proof of registration. An agent should also be registered with the Italian association of estate agents (AICI, Via Nerino 5, 20123 Milan, Tel.: (+39) 02-7201 0974, www.aici-italia.it), federation of mediators and agents (FIMAA, Via Tritone 201, 00187 Rome, Tel.: (+39) 06-6994 2303, www.fimaa.it) or federation of professional estate agents (FIAIP, Piazzale Flaminio 9, 00195 Rome, Tel.: (+39) 06-321 9798, www.fiaip.it).
There are a number of unlicensed agents operating in Italy, and you shouldn’t view properties with anyone who isn’t a professional agent registered with one of the above bodies (which should be mentioned in the Elenco Iscritti section of the agent’s website).
Some British estate agents operating in Italy may be registered with the Federation of Overseas Property Developers and Consultants (FOPDAC, Lacey House, St Clare Business Park, Holly Rd, Hampton Hill, Middlesex TW12 1QQ, Tel.: (+44) 020-8941 5588, www.fopdac.com), an organisation whose members are English-speaking agents, lawyers and other property specialists. There are strict criteria for membership and all members are bound by an extensive code of ethics.
Agents vary enormously in their efficiency, enthusiasm and professionalism. If an agent shows little interest in finding out exactly what you want, you should look elsewhere.
Agents’ commissions ( provvigione) vary considerably (e.g. from 3 to 8 per cent) and are usually shared equally between the vendor and buyer. Some agents levy a fixed commission, e.g. €2,000 on properties costing up to €50,000 and a maximum of €12,000 million on properties costing up to €300,000. The cheaper the property, the higher the fee as a percentage of the sale; on the most expensive properties fees may be negotiable.
Check in advance how much commission you’re required to pay in addition to the sale price (apart from the normal fees and taxes associated with buying a property in Italy) and when they must be paid. Check also whether the agent charges extra for services such as additional viewings, checking the property on your behalf, and arranging for the connection of utilities.
An agent’s fees may be payable at the time the preliminary sales contract is signed and not on completion, and you should ensure that they’re refundable if the sale doesn’t go through.
Many foreign agents work with Italian agents and share the standard commission, so buyers usually pay no more by using a foreign agent.
This article is an extract from Buying a Home in Italy from Survival Books.