Masks at the ready! Italy is now in Phase 2 of the Covid-19 pandemic, and has begun reopening. What does this mean for property buyers, and when can you continue your search for that dream home in Italy?
Estate agents reopen in Phase Two
The majority of estate agents in Italy worked from home during the Covid-19 Lockdown, and reopened their offices on May 4th. They have respected social distancing and hygiene measures, so that they can go out and take photos and measurements of properties. Many have transitioned well into Phase 2. They have learnt new skills in video conferencing and creating virtual tours.
With the help of videos and street view on google maps, there is a lot of research you can do yourself. If you are able to travel to Italy, it is currently possible to view an uninhabited property with the estate agent. They are also pushing the government to allow viewings on inhabited properties. I recommend checking the situation with the Estate Agent before booking a viewing trip.
Phase Two – Property Market
This is a good time to start looking for an Italian property. Estate agents are forecasting prices dropping between 1% and 10% over the next year. This will depend on demand in particular areas. After staying at home for ten weeks, even the city loving Italians are considering buying a property with outside space and a home office. Some of the biggest price cuts are expected to be in the small towns. Property owners that were relying on an income from holiday rentals, are going to see that income decrease considerably this year. Reluctantly, they may need to sell. Foreign buyers continue to show great interest in low priced properties, which are considered a good long term investment.
Making an offer
If you find a property you really want, you may decide to make a verbal offer through an Estate Agent. You can then indicate your intention to proceed with the sale once the situation allows. Offers up to 10% lower than the asking price are usual. As an offer is not in writing the seller could find another buyer, but equally you are not obligated to buy. You shouldn’t feel rushed into signing an agreement and paying a deposit. Especially if you haven’t been able to view the property in person or visit the area. You could even skip the deposit stage and go straight to final contract when you are ready to come to Italy.
Checking the paperwork
The first stage following an offer is for the Estate Agent to arrange a survey of the property and a search at the offices of the local Comune. This will cover local planning, land registry, and building regulations. It’s important that the land registry search confirms that the purported vendor actually has the power to sell the property. It will also show if there are any mortgages, debts or other owners named on the deed. Sometimes a property is inherited by a number of family members, who may not all agree with the sale, or don’t even live in the country. If there are any discrepancies to overcome, you may want to employ a lawyer. A qualified Italian surveyor (Geometra), should do the survey, and produce a written, signed report.
If you are happy that everything is in order you may wish to do a pre-contract agreement. In the current situation, It’s advisable to make sure it includes a caveat that allows for delays due to the coronavirus restrictions. Once the vendor signs the contract and takes possession of the deposit, it becomes legally binding for both sides. If the vendor backs out, they have to pay you twice the value of the deposit. If you, the buyer pull out, you lose your deposit.
Completion of property purchase
If you are already in the process of purchasing a property, but are unable to attend the completion due to restrictions relating to Covid-19, you may be able to extend the contractual time limit. Alternatively, if you know a reliable and trustworthy person in the region, you could give them Limited Power of Attorney. It’s important that this person should not have a vested interest in the sale or a conflict of interests. It’s advisable to consult with a Property Lawyer and the Notary. The Notary is also able to hold your money for the purchase in a “Deposito Prezzo” holding account. The Notary will then act as guarantor of that money in the transaction. As Notaries serve a public function they have had to stay open throughout the crisis.
Travel to Italy
From 3rd June Italy is preparing to welcome tourists from the European Union, Schengen area, Great Britain, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican city. Those arriving after this date, will not be asked to self-isolate. However, you should check the travel advise of your home country. While EU countries are beginning to allow tourists to return in Phase Two, the gov.uk website is currently advising against all but essential travel. Boris Johnson has just announced a two-week self-isolation period for anyone arriving in the UK after 8th June. As situations change, countries may restrict travel without notice and likewise the UK may lift the self-isolation rule.
Travel to Italy from countries not listed will only be allowed for reasons of proven work need, urgency, health reasons, or to return to your home of residence. You can’t get around this by travelling via other countries. For example, if you enter Italy from France on the 14th June, but had arrived in France from the USA a week earlier, you will have to go into isolation for 14 days. For more details check the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website . On 14th June, Italy should be in a better position to decide whether to let tourists in from other countries.
Airlines, such as Ryanair and Easyjet are beginning flights at the end of June. However, it wont be the full service we have enjoyed in previous years. Ryanair have just announced they will restore only 40% of their schedule from 1st July. The airlines are trying to gauge the customer demand and predict what restrictions governments will set in the coming months. The date they begin flying particular routes will vary and may be limited in frequency. The whole tourism sector is trying to be optimistic about salvaging some business in July and August. Italy has many airports, so you may want to consider carefully which international airport to fly to. Consider which regions have the lowest number of Covid-19 cases and also which are the most popular routes.
Moving around Italy
Currently, a self-certification form is still necessary if you need to travel from one region to another. However, this is to be lifted on 3rd June. If a particular region has a rise in cases, this restriction may be reintroduced. When you are able to travel to Italy again, it may be preferable to get flights directly to your destination region and hire a car to reach your accommodation. Before travelling always check regional and local town websites to get the latest guidance.
Accommodation for your trip
You will find all types of holiday accommodation ready to welcome you, and you can go to your second home. Holiday accommodation must follow the government guidelines set out for Phase Two. Particular attention should be made to the interpersonal distancing of at least one metre in all common areas, such as reception and by the pool. In areas where its not possible to guarantee social distancing,guests and staff must wear a mask. Each object supplied to the guest must be disinfected before and after use. Ventilation and aircons must be kept clean. Hotels will be used to a regular cleaning regime and providing meals. On the other hand, you may prefer a holiday rental in the countryside, where you will have your own space, fresh air and can easily limit contact with other people.
Phase 2 – Bars and restaurants
From the 18th May we no longer need to carry a self certification form when we go out and we can see friends and relatives, while social distancing. Cafes, bars and restaurants have been allowed to open. However, to enable them to trade in the safest way possible they must follow strict guidelines. They must ensure customers are spaced out, cleaning is done frequently, a hand sanitizer is provided, and staff and customers wear masks when near each other. Gatherings are strictly banned and people must “social distance” themselves. This is something city bars are having difficulty enforcing. Icecream shops made record sales on their first weekend.
Phase 2 – Pools, gyms and beaches
While the government is allowing them to open, local authorities can do their own risk assessment and open at later dates. Pools and gyms in Lombardy and Bologna aren’t expected to open until June. Beaches can open across the country, but some provinces have chosen to keep their free beaches closed for the moment, while they consider how they are going to control social distancing. The government are hoping to recruit 60,000 volunteers to become an ‘assistente civico’, to enforce social distancing in parks and on beaches. They are likely to resort to marking out squares on the beach, to indicate sunbathing pitches and access routes. The fashion-conscious Italian will be wearing a Trikini (a bikini with matching mask). Yes, you can actually buy these.
Phase 2 – Museums, gardens and historic sites
Museums and historic sites are gradually opening with limited entry numbers, and you may need to book in advance. Tourists this year will be encouraged to explore the many outdoor archaeological sites the country has to offer. One such site is the amazing Valley of the Temples of Agrigento in Sicily, which reopened on 25th May. Walking trails, cycle routes and Italian gardens are also set to tempt visitors into the great outdoors. Theatres are expected to reopen after 15th June.
Phase 2 – Shops and markets
Shops are now allowed to be reopen, including shopping centres. However, some small shops have chosen to stay closed as they can only allow one customer in at a time. You must wear a mask inside shops and expect to be given gloves to wear in clothes shops. Weekly markets are also gradually reopening at the discretion of local authorities. Whichever public area you go to, expect to wear a mask. You may also find hand sanitizer or gloves at the entrance and a few places will also take your temperature. Social distancing of over one metre is vitally important everywhere, and shops must enforce this. They are limiting how many people are allowed into the shop at any one time, and operate a one out – one in system. Italians aren’t used to the concept of a queue, so you may find people waiting outside a supermarket, scattered around at a safe distance. You’ll need to ask who was last to arrive, and go in after them.
Worst hit regions
According to the Higher Health Institute the number of coronavirus cases is falling in all Italian regions including the worst-hit one, Lombardy. 54% of deaths have been in Lombardy and although new cases are coming down, this region still has the highest number of cases by far. However, the region has more than double the population (10,060,574) than most other regions. Milan has launched a new app to provide reliable and updated information on the city during the Covid emergency. To use the service just save 020202 among your contacts on WhatsApp, and write the word “Ciao” in a message. To launch the reopening of Lake Como video events have been organised. Firstly, there will be violinists in the gardens of Palazzo Gallio. This will be followed by motorboats on the lake, and a socially distanced human chain running through the municipalities around the lake.
Emilia Romagna, Veneto, and Piedmont have a fairly high number of positive cases. On the 24th May, Tuscany reported 15 new cases, which brought their total number up to 1,700. The provinces of Siena and Grosseto had the least cases. Another popular region with house buyers is Puglia, which has been reporting a low number of new cases in recent weeks. Most of those cases are in the provinces of Bari and Foggia, with the most popular tourist areas around Brindisi, Taranto and Lecce having much lower numbers. To keep up to date on Covid-19 data by region and province during Phase Two, see the map produced by Italian Civil Protection.
One of the safest regions is Umbria which has had several days of zero new infections and a total of only 53 positive cases across the region on 24th May. On this date, Basilicata, Sardinia, Valle d’Aosta, Calabria, Molise, Sicily, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Abruzzo and Bolzano, all had less than five new cases, six of which had zero or one. Many of these regions also have the lowest property prices, superb weather and beautiful scenery. Remember that each of Italy’s regions and towns have the power to modify the local rules during Phase Two, so make sure you check the website of the region or comune before travelling.