Generally, there are no restrictions on foreigners owning property in Italy. However, while the buying process is relatively straight forward it does different to many other countries. Be prepared by obtaining an Italian tax code number, codice fiscale , from local authorities and then opening an Italian bank account.
A PROPERTY IN ITALY
Reliable and experienced advice is crucial. Conveyancing will be overseen by a notary, notaio. The notary is a public official who is independent and impartial; they will register the sale, make sure that conveyancing is taken care of according to law and will also collect the relevant taxes on behalf of the Government. The buyer is able to choose a notary they wish to work with. Although all the paperwork required for a property transaction is undertaken by the estate agent and the notary, many buyers will choose to appoint their own lawyer as well to ensure the paperwork is in order and all the correct searches have been done.
A surveyor, geometra, will conduct a survey and all searches on the property. A survey is not a legal necessity in Italy but highly recommended, and choosing a surveyor with good knowledge of the local planning area and Council is advisable.
THE BUYING PROCESS HAS THREE MAIN STEPS:
- Once you have found a property and verbally agreed the price, you should submit a written proposal of purchase, the proposta d’acquisto . Often at this stage a small deposit is paid by the buyer as a sign of their intent, and it is held in escrow until the preliminary contract is signed. This deposit is deductible from the overall price.
- When the offer is accepted, the notary or the parties’ counsels draw up the preliminary sale contract, compromesso or contratto preliminare di vendita . This is a legally binding contract signed by both parties. It gives a full description of the property for sale, details of both parties involved, outlines the sale price, any extra conditions particular to the sale, the completion date and the deposit paid which, subject to the parties’ agreement, ranges between 10 and 30 percent of the agreed purchase price. As surveys and searches are frequently carried out prior to signing, the preliminary agreement can be made conditional on their outcome. In broad terms, this is equivalent to the English exchange of contracts. Careful drafting of the deposit clause is important. Under a deposit clause, caparra confirmatoria , a buyer who pulls out of the purchase forfeits their deposit, while a vendor who pulls out must pay twice the amount of the deposit. Until the purchase is completed, the seller remains the owner of the property and could technically sell the property to a third party. Under Italian law, there are ways for the buyer to get higher protection (which your agent or lawyer will be able to discuss with you further).
- The last step in the process is the final contract, the rogito . This is signed in front of the notary by both the buyer and seller, or someone with the power of attorney to sign on their behalf. The outstanding balance, plus all fees and taxes, are paid at this point. The notary will then issue the deeds and register them at the Land Registry
WAYS TO OWN PROPERTY
There are four main ways to own Italian property, each with their own features, advantages and tax implications: direct ownership; ownership through an Italian special purpose vehicle (SPV; ownership through a foreign SPV; and ownership through a non-resident or a resident trust.
- Direct Ownership
The buyer is named as the owner of the property on the final deeds and with the Land Registry. They will be responsible for all related property taxes (see box below), including income tax on any rental proceeds, and will be required to file an Italian tax return each year. Direct individual purchases will incur stamp duty of either 2% or 9% of the cadastral value of the property (rather than the transaction price paid). This variance is dependent upon whether the buyer is purchasing the property as a primary residence which is only allowed if the buyer is an Italian resident or commits to become a resident within 18 months of the purchase) or a second home. The cadastral value is a predetermined tax value given to each property, which can be considerably lower than the transaction price. For agricultural land, the stamp duty payable on purchase is generally equal to 15% of the value of the land as declared in the notarial deed.
If the property is a unit in a new development (or a redevelopment), the acquisition would, in principle, be relevant for VAT purposes (the general VAT rate can vary between 4 percent and 10 percent, depending on whether the buyer is purchasing the property as a primary residence or a second home, or 22 percent for luxury homes, and it is calculated on the purchase price). An individual buying this way should consider inheritance planning. Italy has its own inheritance laws and it is advisable to draw up a separate Italian will for the property. Under the country’s ‘forced heir ship’ rules, a set percentage of any estate must be left to a surviving spouse, any children and other close relatives. A carefully drafted will is crucial for proper, individual inheritance planning. Potential conflict may still arise between a buyer’s domestic law and Italian law, which makes seeking specialist legal advice all the more advisable to any direct purchase. Last but not least, in a direct purchase the buyer’s name will appear on all public documents relating to the property, which for some may raise privacy concerns.
- Purchase through a SPV (Italian or foreign)
The named owner of a property bought this way is a company and not an individual, and all legal and tax obligations will fall on that company. The SPV, rather than the individual buyers, will appear on documents relating to the property, thus providing an additional layer of confidentiality. The SPV company can be incorporated in Italy or abroad. The advantages of buying this way include a greater flexibility to transfer shares in the company (rather than the property itself) during the lifetime of the shareholder. The property will not form part of the buyer’s estate for inheritance purposes which means, with careful planning and legal advice in advance, it could be easier to transfer ownership on death and bypass the immediate issues relating to forced heirship. A buyer does not necessarily have to purchase the company, and could instead buy the property from the company, however this means they will have to pay stamp duty on the total price being paid, rather than a percentage of the cadastral value if they were buying from a private individual.
Additionally, there will be extra administrative fees associated with owning a company. The property must be registered on the balance sheet of the company and any changes to the company must be registered with the Italian Land Registry and the Companies House. The Italian authorities will expect to see some revenue generated through a property owned in this manner. If it does not, tax authorities may conclude that the SPV is a società di comodo or ‘dummy company’ and subject it to forced taxation. In a nutshell, this means that the SPV will be liable for income tax on revenue presumably originated from the property. As with all property purchases, good legal and financial advice is imperative.
- Purchase through a trust
Arranging ownership through a trust offers several unique benefits, even though this is very much an open question under current Italian legislation. As with SPVs, a trust-held property will be subject on purchase to stamp duty at 9%, calculated on its market value. However, a trust offers more confidentiality to the ultimate beneficial owner, as only the trustee’s name will appear in public. Similarly, all tax and legal obligations will fall on to the trustee. If the property generates income, then it will be subject to corporation tax and VAT registration will be necessary, but there is no risk of the trust being considered a società di comodo . Moreover, beneficiaries will be free to use the property without concerns about benefit-in-kind tax issues. With regard to succession issues, Italian law has not yet conclusively addressed all open questions: much will depend on the nationality of the beneficiaries and the actual drafting of the trust structure, especially with regards to the governing law applicable to it. Finally, it should be noted that the Italian government is taking an increasingly sceptical view of trusts, and frequently considers them a tool for tax avoidance. Reporting obligations for trusts are being tightened up, and further legislation is likely to follow.
These include: IMU (Imposta Municipale Unica – unified municipal tax), the main property tax set by the local authority. Generally speaking, it is payable by the owner of the property and levied at varying rates between 0.46 and 1.06% of the tax base, depending on location and property type. For buildings, the tax base for IMU is the cadastral value of the property, increased by 5% and multiplied according to the cadastral specification of the property (e.g. luxury, standard or economic dwellings: the standard multiplier for residential estates is 160). For agricultural land, the tax base is calculated by taking its official rental income (reddito domenicale), increasing it by 25% and multiplying it by either 75 or 135, depending on whether the land is cultivated or not. For each specific situation, tax exemptions or deductions may apply. TASI is a council tax on local services. If the property is let, it is partly payable by the tenant (a share between 10 and 30% of the total charge). The tax base for TASI is determined in the same way as IMU and the rate of the two charges combined cannot exceed 1.14%. TARI, council tax on waste collection, is payable by the occupant of the property. It is determined by each municipality according to the cost of refuse and recycling management. IMU, TASI and TARI are often jointly referred to as IUC – Imposta Unica Comunale.
As with much of mainland Europe, buying costs in Italy are higher than the UK and differ depending on whether the purchase is a holiday/investment home or a primary residence. As a very general rule, budget for up to 15% of the purchase price, though the costs could be considerably lower. Some fees are fixed while others are a percentage of the purchase price or cadastral value. As mentioned earlier, the stamp duty is either 2% or 9% of the cadastral value, and if the property is in a new development the VAT would be payable in the amount of either 4% or 10% of the purchase price. Notary fees are variable and depend on the location of the property, its value and the complexity of the transaction. It is therefore advisable to agree the notary’s fees in advance; if you are using an independent solicitor the fees can be between 1% and 2%. In Italy both the vendor and the buyer pay estate agency fees, which are usually 3% + VAT of the purchase price for each side. There are also some small administrative fees to add, and if you are getting financing, a mortgage arrangement fee will be payable. The purchase of land is taxed differently depending on whether it is for building or agricultural use, and whether or not the buyer is a farmer.
Please note that the content of this document is meant to provide a general guideline only and does not constitute legal advice.