We get a lot of questions about how the actual process of buying a house here works. People also ask how they, as potential buyers, can prepare themselves in order to simplify the purchasing process. In order to help answer these questions, we put together this guide for what the process typically looks like, the different steps that you will have to take, and how to better prepare yourself beforehand.
The first step should always be to read a little about the islands and the different regions and towns here. Although Sicily may look small on the map, it does take a while to move around the island. This means that it is a big time-saver if you have already decided on one or two areas of Sicily that you want to look at before coming here. Similarly, try to create a priority list of what features are most important to you in your future house. It also helps if you browse the different listings on the site in order to get an idea of a realistic budget for your house, as well as knowing what features you could live without if the budget doesn’t allow for all your wishes. We have connections all over Sicily, so if you find particular houses on the site that you like, we could easily show you additional similar listings throughout the island.
You might already have heard that it is difficult to get a mortgage in an Italian bank. Even though that is accurate, it is not impossible to get one. The credit rules here are quite strict, and you will need to present a reliable and high enough income to procure a mortgage. Since this is an important part of the process for most buyers, we work with mortgage brokers that can have a look at your papers and give you an estimate of what to expect. This process usually only takes a few days.
Property with a payment plan
In Sicily, it is not uncommon that the seller and buyer agree on a payment plan between the two of them. In these cases, the formula we use is that the buyer pays 40% of the total cost of the property at the time of the sale. The remainder is then distributed over three year period (this period can be shortened). Note that not all sellers accept this model.
Survey or no survey?
The general rule of real estate in Italy is “What you see is what you get.” What that means is that it is the buyer’s responsibility to inform themselves about the property’s state and condition. It is therefore the buyer who orders and pays for, a technical survey. This is not mandatory though, and we make a thorough evaluation of each property and give you details about our findings. If you would like to have a technical survey done, we can help you find a professional to carry it out, and also help translate the report for you.
Solicitor or no solicitor?
If you prefer to assign a solicitor in the acquisition process, it is important to find one with expertise in Italian property law. It is also important to understand that Sicily is an autonomous part of Italy, so the rules can vary a bit from mainland Italy. For this reason, it might be a good idea to find a solicitor specialized in Sicily. If you would like, we can give you a few recommendations of solicitors who speak English.
Signing up for the property
The process might vary a bit, depending on the circumstances, but in most cases, you sign a preliminary purchase contract once you have found a property you like, the price is agreed upon, etc. You also pay a part of the purchase price (a “caparra”) to seal the deal at this point, normally the size of the deposit is somewhere between 10-30% of the purchase price. If you decide to pull out after this step, you will lose that installment. Should the seller decide to pull out, he or she would have to repay double the payment you have done. This step is taken to make sure that everyone involved is on board before taking the steps required to finish up the process.
Even if not required by law, we always insist on having a notary involved in drawing up the preliminary contract. The reason for this is to guarantee to our clients that all property documentation is checked (by us) and double-checked (by the notary) already at an early stage. When we deem it necessary, we also have an architect look over the documents, to make sure that everything is in order with the blueprints in relation to the actual house.
All payments throughout the process can be made with bank transfers from your non-Italian bank account. Should you prefer, you can also open an Italian bank account and pay with Italian bank checks. To open an Italian bank account, you will have to be present at an Italian bank office, meaning it can’t be done online.
The advantage of paying with bank checks is that you hand them over when the deed is signed. If you use bank transfers, they must be done in advance, since the transaction number must be written in the deed.
The notary’s role
In Italy, it is required by law that a notary oversee and approve a house purchase. The notary has the task of verifying that there is nothing legally wrong with the property or the purchase. The notary will examine the property documentation from a legal standpoint, and make sure there are no unpaid mortgages, that the ownership status is up-to-date, that there are no successions that need to be done before completion, etc.
The deed is then written at the notary’s office, with all sellers and buyers represented - either in person or through a power of attorney.
The costs surrounding a property purchase are divided between the notary and brokerage fees, as well as the stamp duty. As a benchmark, the peripheral costs usually amount to about 10% of the property price if you buy a property for around €100,000. If you buy a property that is cheaper, the percentage of these peripheral costs will be higher, and vice versa. Note that the purchase costs are lower if you plan to change your legal residency to the property within 18 months after purchase.
Italian fiscal code - Codice fiscale
In order to buy a house, you will need a so-called "codice fiscale" - something like an Italian social security number. You can get one at your nearest Italian Embassy, alternatively at a local tax office here in Sicily when you are here to look at real estate.
This step is a lot easier than most people tend to believe at first. You do not need to provide any reason for wanting one other than that you are currently looking to buy a property here (if even that). It is just enough to send the embassy an email with your details and a copy of your passport, and they will deliver it by mail. There is a small administration fee to pay, that’s all.
Should you prefer to get it while you’re here in Sicily, we could go together to a local tax office. It usually takes a couple of minutes (minus the time standing in line).
For non-EU citizens: it is perfectly possible to buy a property in Italy without having an EU passport. You just need a valid passport from your home country and an Italian fiscal code.
By law, the deed needs to be signed by, and in front of, a notary. All parties must be represented, either in person or through a power of attorney. If you do not speak Italian, you have two alternatives:
- Power of attorney - you are represented by a person who understands Italian and takes responsibility for you understanding the content of the deed and the conditions & consequences of the deal you are about to enter.
- A court-authorized translator is present and translates the contract for you.
Either way you prefer, we will assist you.
All additional documents are also examined by the notary, as well as approved and signed by both parties. Payments are registered in the deed with a trace number.
After the purchase, the deed is sent to the cadastral register for the change of ownership to be registered. After approximately two weeks, it is ready for pick up at the notary’s office (which we will do for you if you are not around).
Electricity, water and property taxes
After everything is signed and the purchase has gone through, contracts for electricity and water need to be written up. You will also need to register with the municipality for garbage collection and annual property tax. Assistance regarding all of this is included in our standard service.
The house should then be insured (home insurance is however optional in Italy). We will help you get quotes on insurance.
Cost of ownership
Many people ask us what the annual cost of owning a property tends to be. Obviously, it depends on the property and how you use it. Here follows a couple of real examples, just to give you an idea.
Seafront villa, 100 sqm (1075 sq ft.), high standard
All costs are annual.
Property tax: €972
Garbage fee: €250
Total cost: €3,695 annually or €308 monthly
This villa is used approximately 25 weeks per year. It has floor heating and AC in every room. The owners are planning to install solar panels to reduce electricity costs. The insurance cost is a little higher than usual since they have added on tsunami coverage. They have chosen security since the property is esclusive and have a secluded location. The property also provides a good rental income, which is not included in this calculation.
Apartment in a town center, 110 sqm (1200 sq ft.), normal standard
All costs are annual.
Property tax: 500 euros
Garbage fee:250 euros
Water: 150 euros
Insurance: 250 euros
Total annual cost: €1,460 or €122 per month
The apartment is used approximately 25 weeks per year. It has a couple of heat pumps for heating and cooling. The owners only rent the property to friends for a cost-based rent, no rental income.
Please note that the annual property tax is only for properties where you do not have your fiscal residency. Would you become resident in the property, you can count this cost out of the calculation.