Real Estate in Italy
Charming Italian Real Estate and Property
Wherever you choose to purchase real estate in Italy, you'll be surrounded by so many good things that you'll find it hard to believe you lived without them for so long.
But where in Italy do you picture yourself buying property and living? There is probably more beauty per square mile here than almost any other corner of Europe. It's going to be no simple matter to hit on the ideal Italian location, even if you know for sure that you prefer big city life to the tranquility of the countryside. How do you choose between the watery beauty of Venice, the exuberance of Rome, or the glories of Florence?
And if you have small-town life in mind, the regional decision is likely to prove just as excruciating. For its geographical size, no other country possesses so many towns that are so overwhelmingly blessed with art and history. In fact, Italy has so many wonderful little towns, it seems almost impossible to pick one over another.
Should you find Italian real estate and settle on somewhere around the northern lakes, or in one of the Renaissance hilltowns of Tuscany, Umbria, or Le Marché? Or maybe the Amalfi coast beyond Naples, strung with sheltered coves and delectable pastel-colored perched villages?
Although Italy is not generally perceived as being a bargain location for property buyers, there's something for everybody. Dreaming of a 3,000-square-foot restored farmhouse with space enough for all your family and friends…or an unconverted farmhouse or villa that you can do up and then run as a B&B? Or perhaps you picture yourself in a cozy village house just big enough for two…or a home overlooking the piazza (square) in a small historic hilltown? A villa beside the looking-glass northern lakes? An apartment on the Mediterranean or Adriatic coast…or in a major city such as Rome, Florence, or Venice? Rolling fields and hillsides crowned with castles? The excitement of the city? Whatever your dream, Italy can make it come true.
Although the best areas of Rome, Florence, and Milan are admittedly expensive, not all regions are as unaffordable as you might expect. In rural areas and small towns, plenty of Italy real estate is available for less than $100,000.
What Type of Real Estate in Italy Do You Want to Buy?
Italy has more than farmhouses to offer. Say you're looking for a simple village house in fairly good condition…but you don't want to pay more than $150,000.
You won't find one on the shores of Lake Como at that price, but look to Apulia and you'll be spoiled for choice. It's usually necessary to venture beyond the fashionable destinations to find sensible prices. What kind of home are you looking for? Villas and villettas, farmhouses, towerhouses, village houses, medieval townhouses, chalets in the mountains, apartments in the city or at the seaside--it's up to you. A palazzo if you wish, but if your heart is set on a medieval palace in Venice or Florence, you'll need bottomless pockets. Apartment living is the norm in cities, and many ancient properties have been divided up into separate households.
Real Estate Agents in Italy
Once you have found your dream location, you will undoubtedly need the services of a real estate agent. Should you choose an Italian agent or an American or British agent?
First, much depends on whether you can even find an American/English agent in your target area. Even today, some parts of Italy remain virgin territory to foreigners. Some buyers prefer to use Italian real estate agents, as their fees are usually a couple of percentage points lower. If they're local, they may also have a greater understanding of zoning regulations and any potential problems. And if you go through a professional Italian real estate agent, you're less likely to be overcharged. Not that all Italian agents are angels. In fact, some are out-and-out rogues.
On the other hand, a professional foreign real estate agent who speaks your language is likely to have a better understanding of your needs. They will probably have already dealt with buyers who don't intend to live in Italy year-round and who need to transfer money from abroad. As good communication between agent and buyer is of vital importance, choosing between the two alternatives will ultimately be decided by how fluent in English an agent is--and how fluent you are in Italian. Italian real estate agents are called immobiliari and over 15,000 of them belong to FIAIP (Federazione Italiana Agenti Immobiliari Professionali).*Prices as of 2013
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Peace of mind. Less hassle. That’s what it’s all about. A lock-and-leave condo is perfect if you want to leave behind harsh North American winters and escape to a snowbird getaway. Or perhaps you’ve found your dream spot and got a great deal on a property, but you’ll be renting it out until you can move down in a few years. No matter what your situation, the lock-and-leave condo is ideal.
Mist-shrouded castles clinging to dramatic cliffs… Opulent noble palaces with elegant gardens full of exotic plants… Snow-capped mountains towering over picture-perfect medieval towns… Verdant pastures and neat vineyards stretching into the horizon. No, this is not a scene straight out of a fantasy book. This is Piedmont, in northwest Italy.
There’s something special about wine country. All around you, rows of vines stretch off to the horizon. A short stroll to your local café is all you need to enjoy the regional vintage, with each wine variety tempered by the terroir of the region: the combination of factors (including weather, soil, and even bedrock) that feed into a wine’s flavor.
Rich in sunshine, vineyards, culture and cobblestones, Umbria in central Italy is where I chose to base myself a couple of winters ago. Umbria borders the tourist’s favorite, Tuscany, but it’s just as laidback and soaked in that ”wine-with-lunch” Italian culture. It’s the perfect place for long walks down cobbled lanes and through mist-shrouded parks, shopping for stylish Italian clothes, sipping hot cappuccinos while people-watching from cafe windows, and getting to know the diverse, international group of people living and studying in the area.
European real estate is on sale…at least in a few select locales. You know the story by now. In the early and mid-2000s, Europe’s real estate markets embarked on a massive tear. It became a gold rush. A mad frenzy. Values rose and rose…until everything stopped. Credit dried up. The market imploded and real estate owners found themselves deeply underwater.
The Romans’ influence stretches down the millennia into architecture, literature, theater, warfare, politics… They are a pillar upon which Western civilization is built. At its height, the Roman Empire held sway over much of Europe, the Near East, and North Africa. Its borders expanded over the centuries as the Romans took new lands… or shrunk in the face of barbarian hordes that invaded as the empire declined.
Cheerful songbirds greet you as you enjoy a rich Italian coffee on your terrace. The sun rises from the direction of the Adriatic Sea—a mere half-hour drive away.
Europe offers rich culture, history, sophistication and—with today’s strong dollar—affordable living as well. The InternationalLiving.com report points to the five best-value countries for a European retirement today.
The glittering, cerulean Mediterranean. Not a bad view every morning as you enjoy coffee and croissants from your terrace. Life is good. Sunny days. Freshcaught seafood. Crashing waves your lullaby every night…or for those drowsy, afternoon, after-lunch siestas. And salt-scented breezes keeping things cool.
Rome…3,000 years of culture, good food, and an appreciation of the finer things in life packed into one city… Today’s Rome still bursts with excitement, romance, and a cosmopolitan atmosphere, making it a great choice for retirees who appreciate convenience along with good food, great wine, and history.
The Lord of the Rings’ soaring mountains… Roman Holiday’s famous monuments and historic sites… and the tropical locales of Pirates of the Caribbean…it’s doubtful these blockbuster films would have had such an impact without those dramatic backdrops to the action. Even as CGI and green screens become more widespread, there is something about a real, physical landscape that can’t be replicated by bits and bytes.
Right now the U.S. dollar buys more in Europe than it has in over a decade. It means that this is a smart time to buy property in certain markets—including Ireland, Portugal, and Italy—according to the live-overseas experts at InternationalLiving.com. A €100,000 property that would have cost $139,000 last March costs just $106,310 right now, a discount rendered by the currency-exchange rate alone. “In good-value markets that made sense at ‘full’ price, this favorable exchange rate is effectively putting properties on sale, and the bargains can be unbelievable. The timing is right for Europe today,” says InternationalLiving.com’s real estate expert Ronan McMahon.
When I imagine the perfect beach, I picture sunny Italy. There are plenty of options to choose from. Besides the multitude of sandy Mediterranean coves and the glorious sweep of Adriatic beaches you’ll see in glossy brochures, there are numerous white and golden beaches along Italy’s Ionian coast.
Property markets in Europe are moving again—and right now you can find some great bargains in stunning settings. At time of writing, the U.S. dollar is strong which means you get more bang for your buck. In fact, your U.S. dollar buys you 24% more euros than it did this time last year. And, right now your dollar goes further in Europe than it has in over a decade. If you’re looking to buy real estate on the continent, now is the time to buy. A €100,000 property that would have cost you $139,000 last March costs $106,310 today, a discount rendered by the currency-exchange rate alone.
What’s the first place you think of when Italy is mentioned? Chances are it’s not Apulia (Puglia, in Italian), the region that forms the heel of the Italian boot. But after visiting the region last year, I want to sing its praises from the rooftops of so many places. Ostuni…Gallipoli…Martina Franca. As for lovely Lecce, with its baroque buildings of creamy golden stone and gloriously flamboyant carvings, I didn’t want to leave. Singing from the rooftops of Apulia’s fairytale trulli homes would be physically difficult—these beehive-shaped rural houses are topped by peculiar conical domes—but you get what I mean.
The original Riviera (from the Italian word for “seashore”) sprang up in southern France and the bordering region of Italy. Upper-crust Brits, northern Europeans, and—later—well-heeled Americans flocked here for the beach resorts, casinos, and parties. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald had a villa here in the Jazz Age, although it’s said he was a horrible party guest. The term riviera has been adopted by regions all over the world, in places where the sun, surf, and vacation vibe live on. And when we hit the new-school rivieras in the developing world, expect to get a real bang for your real estate buck.
A view, good-value real estate, low cost of living, friendly locals…they’re all important as you search for a new community to settle in abroad. But if you have a green thumb, you may have some special requirements for your dream home. You’ll need good soil and the right light. Maybe you want multiple growing seasons, which is possible in some tropical areas.
Last month I visited the historic Gangi in Sicily, a 14th-century hamlet voted ‘Most Beautiful Village in Italy” this year. I was there to scout out undervalued real estate—and you can’t get more affordable than what Gangi offers. I’d heard that Gangi was pretty special—besides being home to an incredible real estate opportunity, it’s a hidden gem whose beauty and historic significance has been overlooked by all but the savviest vacationers.
Imagine sleeping to the gentle bob of the tide or of a river current, then waking up to cast off the moor lines and set out for adventure. Or, more often, to stay at anchor, enjoying the lull of the water while having a fixed address and access to onshore services. That’s the life that houseboat living offers.
The aroma of freshly-brewed cappuccino is an essential ingredient of the Italian morning. While this morning delicacy can be enjoyed anywhere in Italy, a quiet café in a small Umbrian town provides an opportunity to truly savor la dolce vita—the sweet life. Tucked away in the southwest corner of Umbria and exuding the same Italian charm of nearby Tuscan towns, Orvieto is a wonderful alternative to its more famous and sometimes overly pretentious neighbors.
Every day in my travel research I come across the terms “hidden gem,” “off the beaten path,” “unspoiled, authentic, undiscovered…” The Dordogne region of France is the only place I have been to date where it is actually true. Castles sit like crown jewels along the river banks. My family and I often found ourselves beating our own path through the oak forests toward the river bank.
Pundits are divided on whether Spain’s property market will see further price falls. A huge overhang of unsold homes remains, but for the first time in seven years, sales in Málaga province showed an increase in 2013. Spain will always be a popular retirement destination for northern Europeans, and the number of U.S. citizens registered as living in Spain has increased, too.
If you dream of life among rolling hills dotted with stone farmhouses and patchwork views of cultivated fields, sunflowers, olives groves, and grapevines, Le Marche is the place. There are no large cities; the biggest is Ancona, the regional capital, with about 100,000 people. Towns here are on a human scale, often small enough to get around on foot, by bike, or scooter. Most are large enough to have shops, restaurants, cultural attractions, and services, yet remain small enough to be personal and engaging.
As I walk across the sunny piazza I think how easy it is to feel at home in Ascoli Piceno. I’m still blurry-eyed when I arrive at the coffee bar, but without my having to say a word, a frothy cappuccino is placed before me, followed by a cornetto filled with a dab of sweet almond paste. The barista, Giuliano, smiles broadly and then chats about the happenings in the neighborhood.
What’s not to love about cultural riches and cobbled charms? Throughout most of Europe, the property market remains in the doldrums, which means you can find bargains. From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean…from Ireland to Greece, there’s a tempting array of move-into properties that will leave you change from €100,000 ($137,000).
It’s called the “Old World” for a reason, and despite two world wars and decades of development, history is evident in the architecture of Europe. You can stroll cobbled streets where lords and ladies once rushed to galas, climb castle steps in the footsteps of armored knights, and explore villages preserved for 500 years or more.
Whether it’s for a summer or a lifetime, Italy isn’t only for the wealthy. I first got hooked on la dolce vita when I was young and had very little cash to spare. But as I was in love with the vagabond lifestyle, relative impoverishment was no barrier to doing my own version of a Grand Tour.
In the popular imagination, it’s the great capitals of Europe that get the most attention. Tourists flock to Paris, Rome, Madrid, and London for the big-city flair, museums, and monuments. It’s the thing to do. And granted, you should seize any opportunity to stroll the Champs-Élysées on a beautiful spring evening or explore London’s international cuisine and regal parks.
We arrived at our rented villa just in time to see the sun slipping down toward the liquid-blue horizon. Perched on the terrace, we sipped rosé wine bought in a winery down the road and watched as nature splashed a rosy hue across the western sky. Fishermen returning with their catch left a silvery wake in the waning light. One hour in Cilento and we were smitten.
In medieval Europe, keeping an eye out for and guarding against invasion—a frequent occurrence in those days—was no easy feat. But one of a nobleman’s greatest defensive weapons was a castle perched on a rocky hilltop near an important mountain pass. The location itself—surrounded by steep cliff—offered protection.
It was New Year’s Eve 2012 and the view outside my window was perfect. In the darkness, I could just make out the rolling Italian hills, dotted with brick houses with terracotta rooftops. A lone bell tower rose from a small, ancient church into the sky. And as the bell tolled midnight, the sky lit up with fireworks from three different directions.
You’ve made plans, set tentative dates…you’re almost ready to take off on your three- or six-month European tour…the next step is a roof over your head. But the short-term rentals offered online can be sickeningly expensive. Fully furnished and ready to go they may be, but with prices often multiples of those you’ll find on the ground, there are better ways to look.
For thousands of years skiing was just a way to travel in winter, carry mail and goods to snowbound towns, or—believe it or not—charge into battle. Then in the mid-19th century the first races took place and before long enthusiastic amateurs had taken up the sport.
France is nice, I guess. Lavender fields and a vast wine country surely hold a certain appeal. But it’s Italy that captures the heart and feels like home. My cousin bought a house in a lovely little village in southern France, but when she comes to Basilicata, Italy she feels a pang of regret. How could she not, with so much home-spun seduction enveloping anyone who sets foot in the region?
Mi dispiace, France. I’m sorry. It’s no contest. Even in your rainy-day Brittany region, you can’t come up with a two-story house that a buyer could move into for 18,000 euro ($24,000). We can. It’s not a doll’s house either—there’s 1,290 square feet of living space.
Because the area has lost residents in the past half-century, there are lots of properties available, but you have to make an effort to find them. Most towns don’t have real estate agents. We found our little 300-year-old casa in the village of Trivigno thanks to the village’s former mayor. We paid just $32,000 for the habitable house with three separate stone-hewn cantinas, used to store firewood and wine.
I don’t blame them. Basilicata is possibly the least-known region in Italy. Located at the ankle of the boot, it cuddles up to Puglia, Calabria, and Campania and is the most sparsely-populated part of the country.
When I tell people that I bought a house in Italy, the usual response is, “How fantastic!” When I tell them it’s located in Basilicata, they get a blank look and ask, “Where?”
If you’re in love with classic Europe and its history, romance and culture, take heart: Spain, Italy and France aren’t only for the vacationer who saves for months just to visit. Each one of these three countries has numerous small towns and villages that lie under the radar—places with enticingly affordable properties to rent or buy
Each summer, my husband and I perch ourselves on the house’s upper terrace and gaze out at the valley below. Shimmering there in the heat is Florence. It thrills us that beneath the haze lies a trove of Renaissance treasures: Michelangelo’s David… Brunelleschi’s magnificent dome… Botticelli’s Venus, standing tall and tranquil on her scalloped sea shell. In just 20 minutes we can be down there…
Italy Real Estate
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