Spring has arrived so it would be timely to discuss a common issue I encounter every year;
foreign buyers being seduced by an inexpensive house and an idyllic location. Buying a
property to renovate is an all-‐too-‐common scenario in Italy. It is also an all-‐too-‐common
scenario for these projects to end in heartache. Unfortunately, I usually don’t get to meet
these buyers until they have spent far more than they expected and need to fix the problems
they are experiencing. If you are thinking of taking on a house renovation project in Italy this
year, taking on an Italian lawyer at the outset will save you time, money and anguish.
What are some of the common mistakes buyers make and how can they be avoided?
The Right Project for You?
No matter how experienced you are, renovating is a stressful and time-‐consuming process.
Even more so if you are abroad, can only visit Italy periodically and you may not be a fluent
Italian speaker. Unless a project is guaranteed to give you your dream home, or make you
money, you may be taking on the wrong property. It is vital you assess the property’s potential
and have a clear idea of your goals.
Make Sure You Know What You Are Buying
Don’t wait to discover major structural defects or additions built without planning permission
until it is too late. Engage an Italian lawyer who speaks your language. Your lawyer will work
on your behalf to conduct thorough due diligence during the purchasing process – any non-‐
compliant additions, features or legal issues will be discovered before you buy the property.
A lawyer can also assist you with obtaining a building survey. Undertaken by a geometra, a
survey will provide information on the construction and materials used, and will give details
of any defects found, their remedy and an indication of the likely cost. It is also worth
commissioning a measured survey of the building, providing you with a detailed set of
floorplans and elevations upon which to base your proposed alterations.
Even minor renovation can turn into a nightmare if your builders or subcontractors fail to do
a good job. Always ask for references, and speak to previous clients. Your lawyer can help you
make sure that you hire reputable builders and can also act as project manager on your behalf
throughout the project.
Work always costs more than you expect. This is because some problems are not revealed
until work is started. Often items are forgotten from the budget, or you change your mind
and alter the design or specification. Always have a contingency of 10-‐20% to cover
unforeseen costs and fully expect to spend it. Make sure your plans are as detailed as possible;
prepare your budget by listing all tasks, materials required, and who is going to do the work.
Don’t forget to allow for skips, scaffold hire, plant hire, and tools. Estimate costs by look at
similar projects in the area. Make sure you, and or your lawyer, get builders’ quotes. I would
recommend that you instruct your lawyer to draft a building contract with your chosen
builder. A building contract makes the builder’s quote legally binding.
Rules & Regulations
Under no circumstances, should you ignore requirements of the Italian law, as it will
eventually catch up with you, so do not undertake any work without first checking whether
the following are required:
• Planning permission
• Building Regulations approval
• Notification of neighbours
• Notification or permission from others. Your lawyer will be able to advise you if the deeds
contain restrictive covenants, leases or other overriding interests in the property and land
If you do not obtain advance planning permission where required, you may be able to apply
retrospectively, but this is not always possible and if your retrospective application is rejected,
your illegal works can be deemed to constitute a criminal offence and your property may be
seized by the Italian State. It is likely to be a very lengthy and costly process to get your
If you fail to get Building Regulations approval, you will have to prove compliance. This may
mean undoing completed work.
Breaching a restrictive covenant or the terms of a lease can lead to an injunction, and you
may have to make a financial settlement or remove your alterations or extensions.
Mainly because of building materials need to be disposed of carefully, demolition work is a
procedure which requires authorisation. This applies both to existing building features you
wish to alter and works carried out without relevant permission. Therefore, unauthorised
work can turn out to be both complex and costly. Ask your lawyer to assist you with permits
Please note, any statement made in this article is intended to be a general practical
introductory explanation only and not formal legal advice. This firm accepts no liability or any
responsibility for any statement made.