Maybe you have been living in Italy for a while now and, maybe, you are tired of paying money monthly without getting anything in return in terms of investment or property. What you can do, is to restore an old home or to build it from scratch. To build one will take you around one or two years, unless delays. Refurbishment can be completed in less time (one year or so). No matter how long it takes, in both cases you will be able to get your dream home.
Figure 1 A restored Medieval village in Italy
Building and Renovating a House
Regulations and Permissions
Costs for anti-seismic improvements
Building and Renovating Taxes
Sourcing building materials
Buying a House to Renovate (Casa da Restaurare or Ristrutturare)
Choosing the House to buy for renovating
Restoring Historic Buildings
Pros and Cons of buying a House to Renovate
Waste and Recycling
Links and References
Italians really love to build their houses, more than buying them and definitely, more than renting them. The house is seen as an achievement and building it as you like will be a representation of who you are. Renovating houses has also been a trend of the recent years as the government gives good incentives for it and it can bring the best return on investment if you correctly balance the original features with the modernization works.
Figure 2 Construction works on a house
To build a house, it is essential to get the permission from your Comune (municipality) , which it usually takes around 3 months. Until you receive the Concessione Edilizia (the permit to build) you cannot start the construction works. To build your own house you will first have to buy a piece of land, that usually is not excessively expensive. There is a lot of ‘unused’ land in certain areas of Italy but not all of them are suitable for construction, so be sure to have all the information and documentation on the topic, before doing anything.
The regulations for refurbishment are similar to the ones needed to build a house. Once you have the property, you will hire a geometra that drafts the remodelling works, both external and internal, and then you will get your permission to proceed with the works. To be sure to have all your documents sorted out, check on the regulations of the Regione because they will substantially change, especially in areas where there is a strong attention to agricultural, historic or landscaping matters. Depending on the type of impact that the works will have on the original structure, you will need different permits. If you are planning major renovations you will need the same permissions as for building the house, the plan will have to be drafted at least 2 months prior the commence of work and taxes of about 5% of the cost of the work will be levied.
If you want to build a house you will need to make sure that the land where you want to build it is a terreno edificabile (development land). There are many types of development lands in Italy, meaning that you can erect buildings on all of these lands, but that every type will have some specific restrictions:
- Residenziali (residential): on this type of land, you will be able to build only private homes, schools or shops.
- Artigianali (for tradesman use): you can only build warehouses of maximum 3000 sq.mt
- Artigianali misti (for mixed tradesman use): you can build warehouses of maximum 3000 sq.mt plus an adjacent house.
- Industriali (industrial): lands for commercial use of big dimension
- Lotti di terreno edificabili (development land lots): it is a land already fractionated and divided for building on them.
- Lotti urbanizzati (urbanized lots): these are lands where utility supplies are already connected, as well as phone connection and drainage system.
- Lotti urbanizzati e lottizzati (urbanized and landed lots): it is like the one above plus it has streets, footpaths, parking slots etc.
Each Regione and Comune will provide different regulations about development permits and rights, so check at your closest Ufficio Comunale to have the answers to your questions.
Italy is a seismic country, meaning that, if you have been living in Italy for some time, you have probably experienced some kind of earthquakes, the best-case scenario you heard of some nearby ones without having actually felt them. This does not mean that you have to be scared of living in such areas; in fact, you only need to respect some requirements in order to be safe within your house.
Each territory is classified on a scale from one to four depending on the seismic risk, where 1 is the highest risk and it is evaluated based on the geological characteristics of the land. Based on how it scored, your house will have to be built according to certain norms.
When building a new house and depending on how the territory was classified, you will have to respect the norms of the 2008 “Nuove Norme Tecniche per le Costruzioni” (new technical regulations for construction), however, you won’t have to worry too much about it, as your architect and/or geometra will make sure you comply with these measures. Amongst the requirements that will avoid collapses or instabilities, you will have to use excellent quality materials such as reinforced concrete, wood or certain high-quality types of traditional bricks.
In addition to the choice of the right materials, it will be fundamental to respect the construction requirements regarding dimensional proportions between pillars and beams or the thickness of the load-bearing walls. Another important aspect is the shape of the building, the more regular and compact, the safer under a seismic perspective.
Even if there is no obligation to adapt existing buildings to the present laws, when renovating a house or when making structural changes to an old one, you will have to respect the norms defined by the law of 2008. This does not mean that you can’t make an existing house secure, on the contrary, at any time you can request a seismic vulnerability analysis by a technical expert that will evaluate the level of security of your building and suggest possible improvements that will depend on factors like:
- Year of construction
- Works that modified the original structure of the house
- Materials used for walls, roof, floor
- Presence of degradations
After the evaluation, you can create a floor plan with the help of the expert you hired to make your existing house earthquake-proof. Some of the measures you might have to take are:
- Repair of damage
- Elimination of vulnerable elements that cannot be fixed
- Improvement of structural element connection
To implement these measures it will be necessary, for example, to change materials and include metal structures, adding a further wooden planks layer to the roof, inject reinforcements in the walls or improving the foundation system by enlargements or further support insertion.
- Existing Property: the cost is established by evaluating the entire items that will be included in the intervention, meaning that it is not possible to generalize. However, on average the cost is between 30-100€ sq.mt for small repairs and 100-200€ for other seismic improvements.
- New Property: the cost of a new building constructed according to the anti-seismic criteria can be of over 30% higher than a traditional one, but the investment will be important for your safety and it will avoid the potential future reparations or reconstructions works.
The taxes you will have to pay when building a house include:
- Oneri di Urbanizzazione (planning fees) and Contributo Costruzione (contribution for building): they vary depending on the municipality, but the average cost is around 140€/sq.mt
- Passive Interests: you will incur in them only if you decided to start a mortgage of over 10 years. These will be between 2 and 4% of the finished house value.
As already mentioned, you will find out that renovating has some government tax incentives, that is, the tax for refurbishment is only 10%, whereas building a house from scratch will imply a VAT of 20%. In addition, when renovating, up to 36% of the costs of renovation works can be set against income tax (if you reside in Italy).
Once you have selected the land where to build your house on, you need to hire a geometra (or an architect). The geometra’s job combines tasks of an engineer, architect and surveyor. You are legally required to hire one in order to draw your plan, deal with all the paperwork and keep track of the working stages. The cost of a geometra can be over 3,000€. If you are not fluent in Italian, it is better to hire a geometra that speaks English, he/she will help you communicate with the builders, too. The geometra will draft the DIA (Dichiarazione di Inizio Attivita), a declaration stating that the construction works have been started), that includes structure and layout of the building, construction materials and other details. After having signed it, you will have to submit the project to the Comune.
Figure 3 Planning works
Make sure the builders or contractors that you hire are licensed and experienced and that have full insurance for their job. Ask them for quotes before starting the work so that you can keep track of development and costs you are facing. If you can, hire someone that you know or that it was recommended to you, otherwise, do your homework and select between 4 or 5. In this case, it is good to ask them to show you some of their finished works, which they will be happy to show you if they are reputable builders.
After you found the right builder, sign the contract for the intended work indicating the costs, the starting date, duration and payment schedule. Agree how you will pay and if there is any need for advanced pay in cash.
If you need a carpenter, a plumber or other tradesman for smaller jobs have a look at local directories and use the word of mouth. These kinds of jobs are very frequent in Italy and, although their prices will be very much the same, you can easily find better-qualified people if you look a bit more in-depth. Bear in mind that, for some reason, tradesmen are always very busy and sometimes they will not perfectly respect the deadlines you agreed upon.
If you are thinking of self-building a house on a property you bought, be prepared because it won’t be an easy task. No matter how independently you want to do it, you will need legal advice before starting the works. As for any other option we mentioned in the guide, it is a legal requirement to hire a geometra; besides, planning would be extremely complex in terms of environmental laws, building permits and regulations and so on. Self-build projects will require the help of a specialist team that will help you make your dream come true without incurring high fees or any other trouble.
Sourcing building materials in Italy will not be difficult, however, if you are buying large quantities, you may need the Partita Iva (commercial tax code) which is only given to professionals, meaning that you may need to hire builders or opt for smaller quantities at higher prices. If you are looking for sporadic materials there are many local ferramenta (hardware stores) and other bigger chains that will offer lower prices. For larger quantities of products you can either hire a truck or pay the shipment from the shop where you are buying the equipment, but only bigger stores will offer that possibility.
Figure 4 Small building materials
If you are planning to buy a property, the last few years have been a great moment for buying as the prices of real estates have fallen. In Italy, there are many properties that need to be renovated, especially in the countryside, where farmers abandoned houses from the 18th and 19th century to move to the city centres. You will also find a lot of buildings for refurbishment in the historical city centres.
The cost of buying a house to renovate will varies considerably depending on the region you will choose. Tuscany is one of the most expensive regions, whereas in the south the prices are lower. Also, builders in the places where there are a lot of second homes (the mountain and the seaside) will usually charge you more than in residential areas. You can find small buildings for only 40.000€ which is a very convenient price, but keep in mind that you might want to extend it, so the cost will increase; plus, you are not allowed to extend the house by more than the 20% of the original dimension.
If you are planning to renovate a house and re-sell it, you should know that well-renovated houses are highly demanded in Italy and they could be a really good investment.
Figure 5 Renovating a house
If you are buying a house that needs renovation, it will imply a lot of work. Italian country houses (that are the most commonly renovated because they are very spacious, usually in beautiful areas and have the charm of the ancient farm-lifestyle) often do not have electricity or water connection and from when you apply for the supply to when you get it, it can last up to 1 year. I that case you will need to consider a temporary place to rent for living and the costs of working with a generator until the house becomes habitable.
Although you want to renovate the building you are buying, you will not demolish and build the house from scratch, meaning that you will want to make sure the house meets some basic criteria:
- Verify that the walls are stable and with no cracks;
- Verify that the roof is waterproof (if you see any leaks get a professional to write a quote to fix the problem);
- Verify that the building has foundations;
- Verify how much work you will have to do on timber: doors, window, plumbing, floor and so on.
Once you have chosen the area to renovate, you will need to hire a geometra.
Houses for sales that need to be renovated are often located in the countryside or on the hills and mountains. Even if it can be very fascinating, consider if it may cause practical problems to live far from the town, schools and workplace, especially during winter, when Italy can be hit by snow. Moreover, the house might not be accessible by lorries that deliver materials or by the construction worker’s trucks. Also, you may have to check on how is the Internet connection as not all the most isolated locations are well served.
You will get to the point where you will only have a very short-list of properties you are interested in. Before deciding and making your offer, make sure you get your written quote so that the seller will not change his/her mind. It will also be a good idea to get the quotes by all the professionals you will need to hire for the most costly costliest jobs so that you will have a good estimate of the budget involved. By doing so, being a bit organized, you will be able to save quite a lot of money. The cost of refurbishing a building in Italy is calculated in terms of euros per square metre.
We would understand if, by coming to Italy, you wished to buy a historic building and restore it. Each of them is characterized by really beautiful and unique details: depending on the city you decide to purchase, the facades will be decorated with gypsum or marble, painted with colourful frescos or finely enriched with balustrades in wrought iron. To refurbish a historic building (which is usually in the historic centres of the Italian cities and towns), it is necessary to ask for the permits from the Comune after having presented the draft of the project created by the geometra. The restrictions for historic buildings has to do with maintaining the aspect of the building as it was in its origin. You will have to respect certain colour requirements but also have limitations on the materials, windows, doors of the house and possibly also some internal requirements.
Figure 5 Refurbished historic building in Turin
We suggest you consult with a specialist architect that had dealt with these buildings before, in order not to incur in high fines.
Buying an old house in order to renovate it can be both fun and stressful at the same time. Here is a list of some of the advantages and disadvantages of choosing this option.
- The building is cheaper than buying a new house
- You will have fun and freedom to decide how to organize and manage the spaces
- You will have certain restrictions
- It is going to take longer than you plan
Whether you renovate or build your house, the cost of the works is Italy is going to be higher than what you expected at the beginning. There will always be some glitches and some change of plans. When you renovate the house, you will spend unexpected money to demolish part of it and rebuild them and, even if you want to DIY, you might not be a handyman and it is likely that you need to hire some professionals.
Submitting your construction plan will cost you a few hundred euros. Building a house in Italy will cost you an average of 800/1000€ per sq.mt, whereas restoring the property is around 1000/1200€. When counting your budget, you shall also consider the interests of your potential mortgage, taxes required by the governments, cost of professionals, constructions works and land price.
In addition to the overall costs and taxes for building or renovating a house, you will also have to set up your utilities.
Once you have got all your works sorted out, in order to connect your utilities, you will need a valid tax number (codice fiscale). Keep in mind that connecting to the utilities requires some time, meaning that it should be done quite in advance in order not to have to move without the essentials. Each region will have slightly different regulations and norms, so check them out when registering for your utilities. There are three main bills in Italy:
- Electricity: to activate this utility you will have to contact the local company that manages the electric network (ENEL is probably the most frequent in Italy). The cost for the connection consist of a fixed amount of 27.59€, an amount of 69.22€ each kW and an amount that depends on the distance between your house and the first supply cabin. The time required to activate the utility will be between 15 and 60 days.
- Water: water policies are different according to the Region, which will have a different amount of resource supply; they will depend on the water reserves and rainfalls. Usually, the water bill will be of a yearly fixed amount (payable twice a year) which is measured per meter. If you exceed the limit for any reason, you will have to pay separate bills. To register for it, you will have to provide the tax code and address. The cost to connect to water supplies varies, once again, on the region.
- Gas: To request gas connection you will have to provide the company of your choice with a proof of ID, address, tax code and purpose of the use of the gas (cooking, heating, hot water). Once they received your request they will do an inspection and tell you what kind of works are necessary and provide you with a quote for the costs within 15 to 30 days. The time to get your connection varies from 10 to 60 days. The price will change depending on the company’s policies.
Waste management in Italy is managed at a municipal level in accordance with national legislation and differs widely from area to area.
Typically, rubbish is collected by a waste disposal company contracted to the comune (municipal authority). Following garbage crises in the south of the country, municipalities are increasing access to recycling services and domestic collection. While kerbside collection schemes with mandatory separation are more established in the North, much of Southern Italy continues to rely on bottle banks and communal landfill containers.
Funding for the system comes from a refuse disposal/garbage tax. The TARSU tax is due to be been replaced by the TARES system, but the implementation is not yet universal. The TARES bill is issued annually by the Comune under the title 'Avviso di pagamento tribute sui refiuti e sui servizi – tares anno 20XX – rate unica a Conguaglio.'
Most Comune’s have their own websites with notices to residents regarding local rates, the TARES system and how to pay the tax.
Figure 7 recyclable waste bins
TARSU/TARES is paid by the occupants or owners of a property. In rental properties, the tenant is responsible unless the contract specifically states otherwise. In larger properties, the garbage tax may be collected by the building administrator as part of the spese condominiali (monthly maintenance fees).
In municipalities that do not offer kerbside collection, household rubbish is placed in large black roadside bins that can be found on residential streets. The times at which these can be used is usually restricted to late evenings and early mornings, particularly in the summer months. These bins are emptied by the municipality’s garbage contractors on a weekly basis.
For disposal purposes, the most common categories of rubbish are:
- Rifiuti indifferenziati - non-recyclable waste, landfill
- Raccolta differenziati - recyclable waste
- Rifiuti organici - organic waste
Guidelines for recycling can be found on the website of the municipality’s garbage contractor. Organic waste is only treated as a separate category in municipalities that offer kerbside collection. In other municipalities, recycling bins can be found either next to roadside landfill containers or in larger recycling banks.
Bulky waste items can be collected by the local garbage contractor upon arrangement with the municipality. This may be provided free of charge.
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