Italian Property Buying Guide
This Property Buying Guide aims to cover key elements of the Italian purchasing process.
For a more in-depth explanation, you may wish to read our comprehensive Italian Property Buying Guide.
The purchase of a property in Italy proceeds through 3 key stages:
- Proposta irrevocabile d’acquisto (Reservation offer)
- Contratto preliminare di vendita (Preliminary contract)
- Atto di vendita (Deed of sale)
Once you have chosen your property you should engage the services of a solicitor, whether you buy through a real estate agent or directly from the vendor. The knowledge that an Italian solicitor has about Italian real estate law is invaluable – plus, your own solicitor is there exclusively to look after your interests.
When buying a property in Italy, the first document you will be called upon to sign is called, “proposta irrevocabile d’acquisto” (reservation offer), which is normal practice when purchasing through an estate agent. In contrast, when purchasing directly from the seller (private sale) this document is not normally used. The implications of there either being a reservation offer, or dispensing with it, is one of the many reasons why a solicitor should always be engaged.
By signing the proposta irrevocabile d’acquisto you will be securing the removal of the property from the market for a limited period of time, normally 15 days. During this interval your solicitor, where necessary assisted by a surveyor, will make all the necessary searches to ascertain that the property is without any debts, mortgages, claims etc., thereby assuring that there will be no unpleasant and possibly costly surprises during the final phase of the purchase. At this stage you will be required to pay a small deposit, which is normally held by the estate agent or solicitor until the offer is formally accepted (signed) by the seller.
Should you finalise the purchase, this deposit will be considered as partial payment of the purchase price. If the seller does not formally accept the offer your deposit will be returned to you. It is important to highlight the fact that the reservation offer is only binding upon the buyer until formal written acceptance by the vendor is received, at which point, (being signed by both parties), it becomes a legally binding contract.
Normally at this stage, buyer and seller having agreed to go ahead with the conveyance, will formalise their agreement with the “contratto preliminare di vendita” (preliminary contract).
Some estate agents (and especially in the case of private sales) choose or recommend leaving out this part of the purchase process. However, this legal document really is essential because it sets out the detailed terms and conditions of the sale.
This is why it is highly advisable to engage the services of a solicitor, as one of their functions is to draft this contract where possible and, when not, at least to examine it and advise very carefully and in detail on its implications before you are either cajoled or pressured into signing it.
One of the essential legal elements of the preliminary contract is the payment of a deposit (caparra confirmatoria), normally equivalent to a minimum of 10% of the purchase price.
This deposit will not be returned if you back out of the contract without a valid legal reason. On the other hand, if the seller changes their mind about the sale he/she will have to refund your deposit in full. You also have the right, if you wish, to claim an amount equal to the deposit through the Italian courts.
In the preliminary contract, the parties also set the date to finalise the conveyance in front of the public notary.
The notary is a public official who has the authority according to Italian law to validate contracts transferring the ownership of a property. He is also charged with paying all registry fees and cadastral taxes and carrying out the relevant searches on the property.
The notary, by law, must remain absolutely impartial in the transaction.
A notary may not therefore offer legal advice to any party involved in the transaction so the notary cannot be a substitute for a solicitor in terms of representing the interests of the buyer and the only way to be assured of proper legal safeguards is to engage the services of an independent solicitor. Only by having engaged your own solicitor beforehand, can you be confident that no unpleasant surprises will be revealed at this late stage of the purchase process.
The final step of the conveyance is the so called “atto di vendita” (deed of sale). The deed is drafted by the notary in his office, and has to be fully compliant with the preliminary contract. It is the preliminary contract which dictates all the essential elements of the transaction. Once the Deed has been signed by all those present in front of the notary, the balance of the purchase price is paid to the seller and the keys are handed over to the new owners.
A copy of the deeds will then be given to the new owners approximately one month after the signing. This is because it takes approximately one month for the new deeds to be registered at the relevant land registry office. Italian law requires that the deed of sale must be drafted in both Italian and English should one of the parties not understand the Italian language. Unless you have an English-speaking solicitor, the notary may also require that a qualified translator be present at the signing. Unlike a translator, the advantage of having a solicitor with you is that should any last minute legal issues arise at the signing, your solicitor will be able to immediately resolve these. You should be aware that the Italian version of the deed will prevail in a court of law if any issues arise at a later stage.
If the buyer(s) cannot be present to sign the deed of sale in front of the notary, the buyer(s) can give power of attorney to their solicitor who will sign the deed of sale on their behalf.
- Proposta irrevocabile di vendita: This is where an initial formal offer is made and a small deposit is left. The price you are willing to offer has been determined and also any conditions you may wish to make.
- Contratto preliminare di vendita: This is the contract that sets out in detail the terms and conditions of the sale and also all the relevant cadastral and registry information. It is also known as a Compromesso.
- Atto di Vendita: The moment when, in front of a public notary, the exchange of contracts is made, the outstanding amount of the purchase price will be paid and the keys to the property will be handed over to the new owners.
- Caparra confirmatoria: This is a deposit that is regulated under art.1385 of the Italian Civil Code. If a deposit is defined as a “caparra confirmatoria” its payment gives rise to legal rights and obligations for both parties.