After committing to move to a new country, the most difficult decision is where to live, and the process of securing accommodation isn't much easier.
Most expats rent accommodation in Italy rather than buy. In the bigger cities, prices are prohibitive, and homeowners are reluctant to sell.
Types of accommodation in Italy
Italy is a country of apartment blocks. The post-war population boom is immortalised in the thousands of pastel-coloured buildings that crowd every city and town. Simply put, an expat would not easily find an Italian family living in their own detached home, let alone find one for themselves.
While townhouses exist in small towns, detached homes in Italy are reserved for villas and farms. Most are hundreds of years old and come with a large piece of land and an equally large price tag. Often these are heritage-listed or bound by strict laws about what can and can’t be done with them. They are also usually in need of some serious renovation.
Finding accommodation in Italy
It is important to know the local market when looking for a rental property in Italy. An expat could secure reasonable rent prices in cities such as Perugia or Bologna, but the chances of this in Rome, Milan or Florence are low.
Expats can find accommodation through online property portals or listings in local newspapers. Otherwise, new arrivals should contact local real-estate agents, although agency fees can be pricey.
Expats should make sure that they meet the landlord and see their potential new home in person before committing to anything. Most legitimate landlords will, in any case, want to meet the tenant before finalising any arrangement. This makes it difficult to search for accommodation from overseas. Expats are likely to get the best results by conducting their search after arriving, while staying in short-term accommodation.
Renting accommodation in Italy
Most standard rental contracts are signed for a year or longer – expats on shorter stays should investigate fully-furnished properties that are rented on short-term leases with utilities included in the rental price.
Renting conditions are generally good. Renters have the right to demand that anything broken or run-down be fixed and often the landlord will pay for fixes themselves.
The free-market contract (contratto di libero mercato) is a direct agreement between the owner (locatore) and tenant (locatorio or conduttore). These are called ‘four plus four’ contracts (quattro più quattro) because they usually last for four years, after which they are renewed for another four years.
A landlord must give six months’ notice if they wish to reclaim the property. This must be in writing and is only possible under certain conditions to protect the rights of the tenant.
The more flexible convention contract (contratto di convenzione) comes in a few different forms. Among these is the residential-use contract (uso abitativo) with a minimum duration of three years and a renewable period of two years, which can be extended.
If staying for a shorter period, expats should aim for a transitional use contract (uso transitoria), which is for a fixed period of one to 18 months. For this contract, tenants must prove they legitimately need temporary housing. Expats working in Rome for a limited period can prove this with a copy of their employment contract.
The convention contract is a result of the Italian government’s efforts to make more low-cost housing available and the contract follows guidelines set up by tenant associations and landlords. Owners get tax breaks in exchange for limiting how much they charge for rent – as opposed to a free-market contract, where the owner can set the rent at any price.
Leases and deposits
Leases must be in writing and must be signed by the tenant and owner. Paying a three-month deposit is standard. When signing an agreement, expats will have to provide copies of their passport, stay permit and banking details. Expats are advised to pay the deposit and rent by a bank transaction. Where cash is exchanged, expats must be sure to ask for a receipt to keep track of the payment.
Some regulations apply across the board regardless of the type of contract. Most expats are required to pay their own utilities, which is therefore an additional cost to budget for. These utilities include gas, electricity, internet, cable and garbage collection.
Buying property in Italy
Although renting is more common, especially in cities, buying remains an option. Buying property in Italy has advantages that renting does not, although it has its downsides too. Buyers aren't as protected as renters. Most Italian apartment blocks were built in the 1960s and 1970s, so potential buyers need to ensure they get a good and thorough building inspection before they finalise any deals. Buying in Italy is a complicated process, but below are the basic steps:
Step 1. Expats must decide upon a price. They can negotiate this by being aware of the fine details of not only the property but the area too. Expats should be aware of information including how long the property has been on the market, when it was built, and the state of the property, among other things. Knowing this and then consulting with one’s lawyer and estate agent is highly beneficial. Once a reasonable price has been decided, expats can submit a written offer (proposta d'acquisto irrevocabile). This document is supplied by the estate agent. Once signed by both parties, it locks in the price of the property. Expats typically pay a 10-percent deposit at this stage as a sign of good faith, but it’s not compulsory.
Step 2. Engage the services of a geometra. A geometra is a surveyor and architect rolled into one. They ensure that the property meets housing codes. Expats can hire one themselves or ask their estate agent to do so on their behalf.
Step 3. Commission a legal check of the property and a credit check of the seller to ensure that there are no title disputes or mortgages. This can be done by an estate agent, a lawyer or the geometra.
Step 4. Sign the preliminary contract (compromesso). This legally binding contract is drawn up by the estate agent and commits both parties to the transfer of ownership on the terms and conditions agreed to. At this stage, a deposit of at least 10 percent of the purchasing price must be made.
Step 5. Commission a final conveyance and legal check. This must be done by a licensed Italian notary (notaio). The estate agent can recommend one.
Step 6. Sign the deeds of sale (rogito). This is done before a notary with a translator present if one doesn’t speak Italian. At this point, the remaining amount due for the sale must be paid to the seller.
Step 7. Ensure the notary registers the sale at the local land registry (ufficio dell' agenzia del territorio).
►For more on Italian work culture, read Doing Business in Italy
►See Teaching English in Italy for more on this possible career path
"The housing is generally good. The prices match England and most rentable accommodation is already furnished which is great for an expat." Read what Linda has to say about accommodation in Sardegna in her expat interview.
"Expensive and very small compared to SA but you can get a reasonable deal if you shop around and you are more flexible." Brian compares accommodation in Italy to South Africa in his interview.
Are you an expat living in Italy?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Italy. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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