The vast majority of people who buy a home in Italy don’t obtain independent legal advice and most of those who experience problems take no precautions whatsoever. Of those who do take legal advice, many do so only after having paid a deposit and signed a contract or, more commonly, after they have run into problems.
Never sign anything, or pay any money, until you’ve sought legal advice in a language in which you’re fluent, from a lawyer who’s experienced in Italian property law.
You will find that the relatively small cost (in comparison with the cost of a home) of obtaining legal advice to be excellent value, if only for the peace of mind it affords. Trying to cut corners to save a few euros on legal costs is foolhardy in the extreme when a large sum of money is at stake.
Your lawyer ( avvocato) will carry out the necessary searches regarding such matters as ownership, debts and rights of way. Your lawyer should also check that the notary does his job correctly, thereby providing an extra safeguard. It isn’t wise to use the vendor’s lawyer, even if this would save you money, as he’s primarily concerned with protecting the interests of the vendor and not the buyer.
Enquiries must be made to ensure that the vendor has a registered title and that there are no debts against a property. It’s also important to check that a property has the relevant building licences, conforms to local planning conditions and that any changes (alterations, additions or renovations) have been approved by the local town hall and have planning permission ( concessione edilizia). If a property is owned by several members of a family, which is common in Italy, all owners must give their consent before it can be sold.
Before hiring a lawyer, compare the fees charged by a number of practices and obtain quotations in writing. Always check what’s included in the fee and whether it’s ‘full and binding’ or just an estimate (a low basic rate may be supplemented by much more expensive ‘extras’). A lawyer’s fees may be calculated as an hourly rate (e.g. €200 per hour) or as a percentage of the purchase price of a property, e.g. 1 to 2 per cent, with a minimum fee of €500 to €1,000. You could employ a lawyer just to check the preliminary contract before signing it to ensure that it’s correct and includes everything necessary, particularly regarding conditional clauses.
You may be able to obtain a list of lawyers who speak your national language and are experienced in handling Italian property sales, either in Italy or in your home country, e.g. British buyers can obtain a list from the Law Society in Britain. Note, however, that if you use a lawyer in your home country, you may have to pay extra fees, as your lawyer will almost certainly have to use the services of a lawyer in Italy too.
However, be careful who you engage, as some lawyers are part of the problem rather than the solution (overcharging is also rife)! Don’t pick a lawyer at random, but engage one who has been recommended by someone you can trust.
A galoppino is an official agent licensed by the Italian government as a middleman between you and the bureaucracy. It isn’t compulsory to employ a galoppino, but without one you will usually need to speak fluent Italian (or have an interpreter), possess boundless patience and stamina, and have unlimited time to deal with the mountains of red tape and obstacles. A galoppino’s services aren’t generally expensive.
The quality of service provided by galoppini varies and they cannot always be relied upon to do a professional job (some have been known to take money from clients and do absolutely nothing).
This article is an extract from Buying a Home in Italy from Survival Books.