Liz Rowlinson

The secret to buying in Italy

The secret to buying in Italy
Image: Buy in Sicily
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The best recent advert for the bella vita is surely actor Stanley Tucci sampling regional cuisines in CNN’s Searching for Italy exclaiming ‘oh my god’ at least four times an episode as he swoons over risotto Milanese or Sicilian pasta alla Norma.

It's these sun-soaked visions of a foodie paradise that persuade scores of Northern Europeans and Americans to buy a home there. Around 30,000 Britons have moved there – mostly to Lombardy, Lazio or Tuscany – but a raft of incentives is helping draw many buyers to southern Italy, where rural properties are more affordable.

Villa Castagnoli, in Gaiole, Chianti (€1,890,000, Savills)

During 2021, the most popular regions in Italy for searches during 2021 were Tuscany, Sicily, Abruzzo and Puglia (Apulia), according to the property website Rightmove, whilst the most searched-for regions for the largest Italian property portal,, were Tuscany, Lombardy and Liguria. Americans, Germans, British and Dutch were the biggest groups of non-Italians requesting properties, with an average cost of €506,000.

It might never have attracted retiring Britons in the volumes that have migrated to the Spanish costas or Dordogneshire, yet Italy has quietly been drawing buyers with its renovation grants and tax incentives, along with the famed lifestyle. Northern Italy – the financial powerhouse of the country – was hit hard when Covid first reached Europe and these incentives were designed to kickstart the country’s economy.

There are a rather baffling array of renovation grants on offer in Italy, including those to counter seismic activity and energy efficiency. The ‘110 Superbonus’ offers tax deductions of up to 110 per cent on upgrades to your property that include adding thermal insulation, solar panels (though not allowed on historic buildings).

Beware that it closes at the end of 2022 for private homes and owners will also have to wait a long time for a builder because there’s such demand for it. 'If there’s something for nothing everyone wants it,' says Nick Ferrand of Abode Italian Property, an agency that sells wrecks and renovated homes in Tuscany and Umbria. 'But for non-Italians it is complicated so take expert advice first.'

Sounds too much hassle? Consider a property where the work has already been done for you and you can move right in. In Gaiole in Chianti this is a stunning recently renovated seven-bedroom stone house with wine cellar and separate guest house - €1,890,000 from Savills. Or, in Umbria, where your euros tend to go a little bit further, this is a five-bedroom country house for €840,000.

A five-bedroom country home in Umbria (Christie's real estate)

Since well before the pandemic, Italy has also been offering incentives to attract buyers to sparsely populated areas of the south with its ‘one euro’ homes scheme – enticing mainly international buyers to renovate an old home and sample the joys of Italian village life. You’ll have to pay the fees associated with purchasing a house – 2 per cent of the book value of a primary home; 9 per cent for a second – and you will need to renovate within a timeframe – easier said than done if your Italian doesn’t stretch beyond ordering an Aperol spritz.

In Sicily’s village of Sambuca, steeped in Arabic history, the scheme has been so popular the homes are now €2; but don’t despair, newly signed up towns are offering the €1 properties – check out Bivona and Mussomeli.

Budget around €1,200-€2,400 per sq metre to renovate in Sicily, says Fabrizio Vitellino of the agency Buy In Sicily Real Estate. This would make the cost of restoring a 70 sq m home around €84,000, on top of the purchase taxes. 'But people typically buy here for the lifestyle, not for the investment. Since the beginning of this pandemic, requests from foreign clients increased – with big gardens, privacy important. With the great climate, they are seeking the perfect way to live better and longer.' You might do worse than pursuing this goal in this 11-bedroom stone farmhouse in the centre of the island for €1.2m.

An 11-bedroom Sicilian farmhouse (Buy in Sicily)

Wealthy buyers have also been taking advantage of the flat tax regime – you pay an annual €100,000 on whatever you earn; whilst a newer regime for retirees moving to low-density areas in the southern half of the country offers a flat tax rate of 7 per cent on non-Italian income (such as pensions). You’ll still need to get a visa if you want to move full time, but costs incurred on this might be covered by your lower tax bill.

A lakeside villa for sale in Tremezzo, Como (Savills)

Flat-tax residents tend to gravitate to the affluent areas of northern Italy – especially those within easy reach of Milan, such as the lakes of Piedmont and Lombardy. Pre-Brexit, British buyers were the biggest group of customers for Lakeside Real Estate on Lake Como, but in 2021 they were Italians and Americans, with most spending €200,000 to €500,000 it’s proof that you don’t have to have the bank account of George Clooney to be his neighbour there. This eight-bedroom villa close to the western shore is a bit more than that if it’s time to push the boat out.