There is often confusion about whether you need a lawyer or just a notary (notaio) when buying a property in Italy. It can be tempting to cut corners and save a money on hiring an Italian lawyer (avvocato) when buying a property in Italy, as people often mistakenly believe that the notaio performs the same function as a lawyer.
The truth is you need both!
The property buying process in Italy
In Italy there are three stages to the property buying process:
- Proposa d’aquisto – this is the initial formal offer at which point you will be expected to sign a contract and pay a small deposit of up to five per cent, which is held by either the estate agent or your lawyer. Typically, this ensures that the property is removed from the market for up to four weeks, giving your lawyer time to carry out basic checks on the property. If the sale falls through for legal reasons this deposit is usually refundable.
- Contratto Preliminare de Vendita – Once the buyer and seller have agreed to go ahead with the transaction, the next stage is a binding, preliminary contract called the Contratto Preliminare di Vendita. This contract details the selling conditions including a description of the property, rights of way, ownership rights and stipulates the essential elements of the transaction. At this stage a deposit of 10-20 per cent of the property purchase price is usually payable by the buyer.
- Atto di Vendita (also known as Rogito) – Once the Contratto Preliminare di Vendita has been signed the notaio is appointed to draft the deed of sale known as the Atto di Vendita. This is a conveyance document that transfers the legal ownership of the Italian property, which is signed by both the buyer and vendor in their presence at the notaio’s office, completing the final stage of the buying process in Italy.
A reputable Italian property lawyer will assist if the buyer has any concerns and there are issues that need to be resolved before entering into a legally binding contract and parting with any money! Instructing a good independent Italian lawyer will help you avoid any potentially costly mistakes.
What does an Italian lawyer do that a notaio doesn’t?
A notaio is a public official who must remain completely impartial, as typically in Italy vendors and buyers use a single notaio for the property purchase transaction and therefore must not favour either side. Their main role in terms of Italian property purchases is to help facilitate the transfer of ownership between the buyer and seller. They oversee the property purchase, collect the taxes due and register the property with the Italian land registry (Catasto). However, crucially they cannot offer advice, unlike an independent Italian lawyer who represents the interest of the purchaser so it’s advisable to instruct and English-speaking independent Italian lawyer at the beginning of the buying process to ensure the following:
That you are protected as a buyer
By providing you with specialist advice, an independent English-speaking Italian lawyer will help you to make an informed decision about the property purchase in Italy. They are also in a position to negotiate the best contractual terms and conditions in the best interests of the buyer and advise you regarding any issues that (will inevitably) arise and negotiate a solution to this on your behalf.
All searches are carried out in good time
While an Italian notaio will carry out searches with regards to land registry, ownership and the presence of mortgages, for example, they cannot offer any legal advice if any issues arise.
In addition, typically the notaio does not get involved with the property purchase until the third stage of the property buying process in Italy, by which point you will have already signed a legally binding contract and parted with a substantial amount of money. Your Italian lawyer will ensure that all the searches are carried out in plenty of time, meaning there won’t be any nasty surprises along the way, long before you sign any contracts and, crucially, before you hand over any funds!
Arrange a Power of Attorney (if needed)
If necessary your Italian lawyer can arrange a Power of Attorney so that all essential documentation can be signed on your behalf if you are unable to be present in Italy when the paperwork needs to be signed. This could save you additional money on potential unplanned trips to Italy.
You might find that an Italian lawyer can also assist with the transfer of utilities for a property purchase and obtaining a fiscal number (Codice Fiscale), a tax code similar to a National Insurance Number in the UK, which you will need in order to be able to buy property in Italy. If you’re not fluent in Italian it can prove challenging to organise such things, so an Italian lawyer may be able to help with this.
What do you need in an Italian lawyer?
If you’re buying a property in Italy it’s crucial that you instruct an independent Italian lawyer early in the buying process to ensure that your interests are protected. When choosing an Italian lawyer, you should consider the following:
Is your lawyer independent?
By ‘independent’ we mean that your lawyer should not be linked in any way to the seller, developer or estate agent, to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.
Your Italian lawyer should be independent from the estate agent so that you can be sure that they are acting solely in your best interests. If the lawyer is connected to or regularly works with the estate agent they may have an interest in ensuring that you buy the property so the estate agent receives their sales commission. An independent lawyer however will only be concerned about ensuring you know everything you may need to know and any issues are resolved before you proceed with your property purchase in Italy.
Your lawyer should be able to speak both Italian and your own language.
Things can easily get lost in translation, so it’s crucial that your lawyer can communicate easily in your own language to explain everything clearly, as well as being fluent in Italian.
Is your lawyer clear about the costs involved?
A good lawyer should outline all the associated costs with buying a property in Italy (including lawyers’ fees, land registry, notary fees and purchase taxes) so that it’s clear from the beginning what the full cost will be and there are no nasty surprise bills at the end!
You can also download our FREE Buying Property in Italy guide.