How to buy real estate

Did you find your dream house and do you want to buy it soon? Well, there's something you should know: under Italian law property transfer contracts must be written and certified in front of a notary.

Preliminary checks

Once you have chosen the property to purchase, the first step you should make is to choose a notary too: common practice holds that the notary is both chosen and paid by the buyer, nevertheless the notary is always neutral in the property transaction. (Beyond a signature).

“Notaio” is the main actor in the process because he oversees the sale. He performs formal document checks, he verifies each party’s rights to buy or sell the property and the parties’ respective powers and entitlement to be part of the transaction (e.g., ownership, financial constraints, bankruptcy).

Also keep in mind that under Italian law the purchase of real estate by foreigners (Extra E.U. citizens, corporate investors, trusts etc.) is allowed only according to these principles:

  • for “non-resident” people the purchase is allowed only if approved by an international treaty. Who comes from those countries where Italian citizens can enjoy the same purchase rights (reciprocity) is allowed to purchase Italian real estate too: for example U.S.A. or U.K. citizens;
  • for “resident” people, real estate purchasing is allowed if you get a temporary residence permit for specific reasons or a long-term residence permit.

So You will be required to provide your passport, Italian tax code, mortgage documents and marriage certificate if applicable.

Moreover the Notary will search in the Land Registry to see whether there are mortgages or any third parties with a claim on the property, rights of way and other liens.

He will ensure that all the proceedings comply with Italian property real estate law in order to make the transaction effective (e.g., property record, energy efficiency certificate, habitability requirements, condominium cost disclosure, systems status, mortgage cancellation and, if requested, compliance of the property with planning permission).

Atto di Vendita - sale

Once Notary has checked that the purchase is safe for the buyer, he draws up the final deed of sale and calculates the taxes applicable to the transaction that the buyer must pay, providing advice on tax reduction options, annual local taxes or capital gains tax in case of property resale.

Then, a date will be set for the deed of sale to be signed. Before signing the final deed, the Notary will verify the identity of the parties involved in the transaction, and he will read through the entire deed of sale explaining the terms of the contract to all parties. 

Last formalities

After the closing, the Notary collects the taxes from parties (often from the buyer): the notary fees and taxes must be paid with two different checks or bank transfers (one for the notary fee and one for the taxes). Timely the notary pays taxes on behalf of the parties and he cares for the registration of the deed of sale. He also files the ownership title with the local Land Registry: only after that fulfillment your transaction is officially “public” and so indisputable under Italian law.

After that, the original agreement is kept by Notary and a certified copy of the deed will be available for the parties.

If the property is purchased through a real estate agent (broker) you should consider some other issues too.

When a real estate agent is involved you must require the highest quality of the service. A honest and earnest agent will make any effort to give you all the important preliminary information you need about the property (prior title of purchase, cadastral status) and if he is scrupulous in his duties he will also get for you planning permits or cadastral documents. In short, a good agent will not just bring the parties together but will provide full and accurate information useful for the Notary's controls, by this way making the purchase process faster.

Moreover, keep in mind that when You sign the so called “purchase offer” you will be legally bound for a certain period, toward the agent and toward the seller (this one instead will be free to accept other offers).

When the seller accepts your offer both the parties will be bound by the contract so You must comply to its content.

This means that you should pay attention to the clauses in the offer, because the contact can be changed only with the consent of both the parties and if Your behavior is conflicting with the contract it could be considered as a breach of it.

Therefore, You should rely on the Notary for a previous check of the template submitted by the real estate agent.

Preliminary contract/promise of sale and purchase agreement

The “preliminary contract” could be a useful tool every time you would like to buy the property that you chose but You are not really sure: maybe You want to resolve some important issues before signing the deed of sale, maybe You want to know the result of a technical survey, or maybe You have not yet all the money needed to purchase the property (for example you're trying to get a mortgage).

So, if you want to bound the seller avoiding that he accepts offers by third parties, a preliminary contract is the solution: by this way the seller is obligated to sell and you are obligated to buy. Anyway, please remember: only a Preliminary contract signed before a Notary allows you to be preferred to third parties in purchasing the property, among many other benefits.

Moreover, if one of the parties fails to carry out its obligation, the other party can ask a judge for a court order mandating that the party in breach performs its obligations under the contract. However, as alternative caution, on signing the preliminary contract, the intended buyer usually gives the intended seller a confirmatory deposit in order to show that his intentions are serious.

If the intended buyer doesn't carry out his obligations, the intended seller is allowed to keep the deposit; instead, if the sellers that received the deposit is in breach of the contract, he must return twice the amount of the deposit.


  • any check or bank transfer for the confirmatory deposit must be made payble only to the seller and not to the real estate agent;
  • the commission rate for the real estate agent is usually paid by each party on the signature of the preliminary contract and is between 2 and 5% of the property price;
  • a licensed agent must be registered with the local chamber of commerce (camera di commercio) so check that (also through notary);
  • the confirmatory deposit is agreed upon between the parties, and is usually 10-30% of the total price;
  • the purchase offer must have an end date beyond which it is no longer valid;
  • regarding transfer of funds: you don't need to open an Italian bank account, just read this please (escrow agent);
  • before signing and completion of the contract, you'd better get a report from a ‘geometra’ (a surveyor) who will check if the technical aspects of the property (town planning, structure, utilities, planning restrictions) are correct and comply with mandatory provisions of law;
  • it's also advisable to contact an accountant when you would use a company scheme for your purchase.

Reading moreBuying property in Europe