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How to pick up an affordable fixer-upper in Italy

Todays Date: January 20, 2019

Real estate purchasers’ spending power may have been restricted by the increased difficulty in obtaining home loans, however the draw of buying a home in a country such as Italy is still vibrant.

It explains why growing numbers of foreign buyers in Italy are choosing to renovate   or even start from new instead of buying resale property.

The primary reason is obvious – cost. Ignore any hopes of being offered fixer-uppers for Euro 1, a PR ploy rolled out a few years ago by the Mayor of Salemi, Sicily. Nonetheless in sections of southern Italy such as Molise, Abruzzo and Sicily a countryside ruin can be picked up for a trifling Euro Euro 9,500. Throw in a bill for restoration that can begin from roundabout Euro 750 per sq m and is it possible to convert a an old wreck into a 90sq m idyllic holiday retreat for around Euro 95,000 – a small fraction of the cost otherwise. In addition, beyond the initial purchase price, restoration expenses may then be divided over the length of the building project, which can be as long as the you find convenient.

Stef Russo, founder of Italian property search experts The Property Organiser, reveals: “The credit crunch has seen greater numbers of investors following the renovation path. Restoration costs in places such as Abruzzo are about Euro 900 per sq metre – around half what it would be in the north of Italy. And instead of   having to produce funds at the start, it permits them to spread costs over months or even years.

“In addition, buyers get the opportunity to stamp their personalised imprint on their homes, which is easier to do if they renovate than if they buy a resale and then attempt to overhaul it.”

The country’s history means it is awash with buildings from as far back as the 18th century, needing only a bit of TLC to turn them into fantastic modern dwellings. There is also a plentiful supply of farmhouses – always popular with foreign buyers – in the main because of the mass migration of millions of people who, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, deserted villages for towns and cities or even a new life outside Italy. By the way, if you fancy trying something a little less orthodox, the answer may lie in the approxmiately 5,500 religious buildings available to be turned into homes.

Having picked a property, the next stage is to hire the right professionals to bring your dreams into reality. Some buyers are happy to do most of this themselves, the most advisable route is to pay a reputable geometra/surveyor (your realtor ought to be able to put you in touch with one). They will be able to find reliable builders for you as well as deal with local government departments for the necessary building permission. Remember that many ancient rustic homes are built in stone and therefore fixing up such homes calls for constructors experienced working with stone.

One constant danger with projects like this is that your outlay can rise out of control, often by up to 30%. Common pitfalls include pools (allow up to 20,000); improving access roads (up to Euro 2,000 for a 50-metre section); and upgrading lawns. But your surveyor can insist on a contract with your construction workers outlining a budget as well as a deadline, with penalties applicable if they are not stuck to. Although surveyors|geometre|geometras} design homes to a certain level, their knowhow only goes so far and it is a good idea also take on an architect to take charge of design. It is essential before a brick is laid that you are crystal clear what you hope to achieve and that you convey this to the architect. Going back to Square One during the course of work wastes time and a pain in the rear for the rest of your team.

Be realistic about the probable timescales involved. The purchasing process can take between one and three months and obtaining building permission a further 12-36 weeks depending on the Commune overseeing affairs.

One last thing, unless you intend being on-site most of the time, your team should also include an independent project manager to oversee everything and help keep things ticking over. Your architect or geometra can also step into this role. One project manager explains: “By visiting as often as is needed, more often than not with no prior warning, we keep the client clued in on the speed of work through fulsome notes and digital photos. Therefore any problems can be sorted out quickly. We keep everything on track and, even more importantly, ensure the client isn’t ambushed by ugly shocks.”

The author is an expert in Calabria property for sale at Homes and Villas Abroad. She also writes on Tuscany farmhouses for sale and real estate on the Amalfi coast.

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