It’s so exciting to find a cheap Italian house for sale, that’s well within your budget. But will it only need a lick of paint? Or does the low price indicate there may be other more urgent work needed. The big question is “Why is it so cheap?”.
If you have always bought key-ready properties in the past, a cheap house needing work can be a bit daunting. Yet, when you see pictures of a house for sale for just €50,000, it is very tempting. This could be your opportunity to get the home in Italy you have always dreamt of and furnish it how you like.
When interested in buying a cheap Italian house, you should first investigate why it is so cheap and what it will take to rectify the problems. At first sight you may think a new kitchen, a new bathroom and a lick of paint, job done. But, once you start work, other issues can arise, that will eat into your budget.
Find homes in Italy via our property portal.
Get professional advice
A cheap house in Italy, is inevitably going to come with some problems. However, by getting professional advice early on, they can either be resolved or you can choose to walk away. The first thing to check is that all the paperwork is in order. When dealing with the Estate Agent, Geometra, Lawyer and Notary, it helps to have an idea of what problems could arise and ask the questions before making a purchase. The roles of these professionals can be found in my previous article “Why you shouldn’t worry about buying property in Italy”.
So, you have seen this amazingly cheap house for sale on the internet, but where is it exactly? It might be cheap because it is miles from an airport and the sea, and is it in an abandoned village. Or it could be right on a busy road or in an earthquake zone. A quick look on google earth and street view should give you an honest view of the area. Using the “directions” tool, you can even calculate the drive times to the nearest big town and transport links. The condition of the access roads may also be an issue. Miles of dirt track, will be muddy track in winter, and steep narrow roads will make getting building materials and furniture lorries there more difficult. This is why you need to arrange to view the property in person.
Cheap houses need work
If you buy a cheap Italian house, it is likely to need some work done to it. The cost of renovation will have been considered when the agent valued the property. Hence advertising it for sale at such a cheap price. What you have to weigh up is whether the additional cost of renovation, falls within your budget. More importantly, will the finished house be worth more than you have spent on it? If not, then you may be better of spending a little more on a house that needs less work.
More importantly, will the finished house be worth more than you have spent on it?
We bought a cheap house ourselves, and are very glad we did. It was a lot of work and the renovation cost about the same as the price we paid for it. But we ended up with a home that we love, exactly how we wanted it. We were lucky we didn’t run in to too many expensive problems, but “forewarned is forearmed”, so here are some things we would advice you to look out for.
No electrics or plumbing
When we bought our countryside house it had no electric or plumbing. There were some light switches that were once connected to a generator, but that’s it. As soon as we bought the house we applied for an electricity connection. But, it was a year before it actually arrived.
The lack of the services we used to take for granted, resulted in us having to buy a generator for power tools in the first year, paying for extra poles and cable to bring electricity to the house, the drilling of an artesian well for water, digging a septic tank, buying a solar panel for hot water, and new electrical wiring and plumbing for the whole house. We also had to rent accommodation nearby, until we could get three rooms habitable.
Even if the house you are looking at appears to have these services, they may need totally replacing. The chances are, the property will have old fashion wiring and outdated plug sockets, and might only have a 3.5kw supply. Once you start turning on more than two or three appliances at once, it could trip all the electric off.
When you start plumbing in new appliances, you might also discover that the old pipes have calcium build-up, are too small, or are made of lead. You don’t want to do all the flooring and decorating, only to discover later that a leak makes it necessary to dig the old pipes out. Therefore, you may decide get the whole lot done at the start, before laying that lovely new flooring you have chosen.
Time costs money
There is also the extra time involved in waiting for the work to be completed, which can take longer than you might think. Especially, if you can’t be on site to oversee the work. To be fair to the tradespeople, some jobs can be affected by the weather. A very hot summer, and a damp winter, can lead to a small window of opportunity in spring and autumn, to get certain jobs done.
If you are coming to Italy to live, you may have the expensive of temporary accommodation, during renovation. If it is to be a holiday home that you can also rent to tourists, a missed summer season, due to delays in the work, will affect your budget. Also, there is the cost of flying back and forth to check on progress.
Browse homes under €150,000 in Italy
When renovating an Italian house, you may discover there are constraints on what you can or can’t do to the property. If permission is needed it can add considerably onto the renovation costs. There will also be some differences in the way houses are built, and you may need to employ a specialist for certain jobs. One of the questions you should ask before buying a cheap Italian house is “Does the property, and the geographical area in which it is located, have any kind of constraints on it?”
Read more here: Common pitfalls when buying an old home in Italy
Italian houses situated on a slope or by a river may have a hydrogeological risk. The possibility of landslides, avalanches and flooding, may be a reason for the house being so cheap. Not only, should you investigate how rain water flows around the house, but also on access roads and neighbouring plots. A search on the internet of historical news reports in the area, might give you an indication of any past events.
A Geometra will be able to tell you if the authorities have any hydrogeological constraints in place. These rules are to ensure that work done on properties do not compromise the stability of the territory, or trigger erosion, etc. Therefore, preserving the physical environment.
Many of the very cheapest houses in Italy are in villages that have had an earthquake in the past. Some areas of Italy are more at risk of having seismic activity than others. The Department of Civil Protection gives every area of Italy a zone number, indicating its seismic risk. Zone 1 is high risk, and zone 4 is low risk.
When you see aerial view footage after an earthquake, you will notice that many houses are still standing. Those that have collapsed tend to be very old or not built to standard. Therefore, you may need to get a certificate of static suitability of the building, to certify the safety of the load-bearing structures of the house. You will also want to get an estimate for the cost of the interventions that are required to meet the standards imposed by provincial regulations.
In order to preserve the beautiful Italian landscape, local authorities may have restrictions in place to ensure any work done on your Italian house respects and preserves the landscape. In a protected area authorization will need to be sought through a Geometra. For example, you shouldn’t assume you will automatically get permission to build a pool.
Buildings of historical interest
An Italian house with historical, artistic, architectural or natural value to the state, will need extra checks by the Notary. Although it is unlikely the state will have the funds to buy the property themselves, they must be offered the option to purchase the house. After you have purchased such a property, any work you do to it will need to be approved. Which can entail extra costs.
Cost of renovation
About 85% of costs will be for labour and materials, not forgetting that often you have the expense of clearing out the building before you can even start putting things in. Any structural work will result in barrow loads of dust and rubble. Then you have to ask how easy will it be to dispose of it, from where the house is located. If you find an asbestos roof, this will need to be removed by a specialist at extra expense.
One job creates another
It’s amazing how one seemingly simple job can create another job. For example, if you want extra electrical sockets or to change their location to suit your interior design plans, you might also discover that all the electrics need updating.
When you buy a cheap countryside house, the walls are often built with no cavity. It might be sandstone blocks or even hard limestone. Having no cavity and solid floors means the plumber and electrician will need to cut channels in the walls and floors to put pipes in. When adding air-conditioning they might also drill a hole through the ceiling or wall. As well as the mess that results from drilling out stone or concrete, you will probably need to do some re-plastering and reflooring afterwards.
Check the roof
The main problems that results in expensive repairs are a leaky roof and rotten windows. Even if you feel that other jobs can wait until you’ve saved more money, it is important that the building is protected from the weather. If the roof is tiled on timber frames, you’ll need to check timbers and roof tiles. A flat stone roof may just need pointing. Windows and shutters need to keep the house dry, protected from the sun and secure.
Many countryside buildings were initially built for storage or as a weekend and summer get-away home. They may have no damp course, single thickness walls, and tiny kitchenettes. When trying to modernise these houses for use across the year, you may discover damp problems, that aren’t easy to resolve without major work.
Labour and tradespeople
Labour costs can vary depending on the skills of the worker, and the equipment they bring with them. For example, a man with a cement mixer will cost more than a labourer. Of course, it is always cheaper to do the job yourself, if you are able. Don’t feel obliged to use the person recommended by the estate agent or Geometra.
Sadly, there are some tradespeople who will price a job depending on how much they think you can afford. This isn’t just an “Expat price” situation, I have heard of wealthy Italians being charged more too. Try not to take it personally, it happens in many countries. It is important to make it clear that you have a very tight budget and will be getting several quotes.
There are good trustworthy people out there. They are usually the ones that are really busy doing jobs they got through recommendations. Therefore, ask the locals who they use. So many times, we have been given crazy quotes, then our Italian neighbour has introduced us to the person he uses. They have saved us thousands over the years.
Saving costs on renovation
By doing much of the work yourself, you can save thousands. Even if your talents only go as far as sweeping up dust and rubble or painting the walls, every little bit will save you money. It takes time for a tradesperson to pick up the materials to do a job, and they might price them higher to account for that. Ask for an itemised quote, then go direct to the store and ask them to price the materials. You might be able to buy them cheaper yourself, then just pay the tradesperson for his labour.
Reuse materials when you can. For example, if half your terracotta roof tiles need replacing, use the old ones for the “overs”, and new ones for “unders”. You can always find a use for old wooden beams and stone.
A cheap Italian house, might be so small, you will want to add an extension. This work will require permission, which can take 15% of your renovation budget. The costs will include employing a Geometra (a mix of a inspector, surveyor general contractor and architect rolled into one) to do a survey, draw up plans, present them to the planning office, and check the work is done to standard. Around a third of this cost will go on taxes and fees to obtain the permit. For a small house extension, the lowest Geometra quote I have heard of was €3,500, but another Geometra quoted €10,000 for the same job.
Is it worth buying a cheap house?
Despite the additional costs that can crop up during renovation, if you plan for them and allow enough money in the budget for unexpected expenses, you can still end up with a property worth more than you paid for it. You will also have a property done totally to your own taste and requirements. Just don’t get too excited and start buying all high end stuff, especially if you plan to rent it out, or leave it vacant for any length of time.
You can see many more examples of cheap Italian houses with a Your Overseas Home Property Search.
How to avoid common pitfalls when buying an old home in Italy