I recently received a phone call from someone asking for my opinion about a property they were considering purchasing. I spent a long time talking to them, although they are not an existing client, or likely to become one, because, potentially they were about to make a big mistake. Almost half the property they were considering purchasing appeared as deposito or agricultural storage on the land registry. Their agent had told them this was for tax purposes and wasn’t a problem.They were also told they should be able to extend the property by 20%. It is not that simple.
There is a lack of information, generally, about how the land registry and planning permissions work in Italy, or in Puglia. There is also misinformation, and often agents, such as in this case, do not help matters by assuring people that they can extend properties, add pools and other things which may not be the case. So I thought it would be helpful to include some basic information here.
Problems with land registry, ownership or other issues will certainly be picked up by the notaio, who will not let a sale go through until things are resolved. The problem is that, by the time you reach the notaio you may have spent a lot of time and possibly money, and be emotionally invested in the property you are hoping to buy.
Often, at the time you view a house, and perhaps even make an offer, there are resolvable problems with the land registry. Given that correcting the paperwork, or redrawing plans, costs money, owners sometimes wait until they have a firm offer before taking the necessary steps to put everything right. This need not be a concern – you simply make an offer conditional on these things being sorted out, within an agreed time scale, and you make sure that the estate agents will hold your deposit cheque, uncashed, until the moment of the compromesso, or final sale.
You do need to know that the problems are there though, before you make an offer. A good estate agent will tell you, but not all do, sadly. Here are the questions you need to ask, and what you need to look for.
Ask your agent for a copy of the land registry (catasto), which should include a description and floor plans (planimetria catastale) which exactly match what you have seen. This may be straightforward and such plans may exist. So far so good, but you still need to be careful. If you are buying something which looks like it may have been built after 1961 (1942 in some historic centres) then you need to see the planning permission for construction, or possibly the condono (pardon for having built without planning permission – you used to be able to pay retrospectively for this). If the date is not clear, you may be able to get an opinion from a geometra, engineer or architect, or your agent may be able to look at old deeds from previous occasions the property changed hands. Either way you should make it a clause of your offer that the owners vouch that the property is before those dates.
If there are no floor plans, but simply a description in the land registry, or if the plans seem incomplete, and you are looking at an old property, this is not necessarily a problem. The property may have remained in the same family or i last changed hands when there wasn’t the requirement for floor plans. You obviously need to stipulate though, in your offer, that the owner needs to have these plans drawn up within a time frame which suits you.
The other issue, as in the case of the person who rang me up, is how the individual rooms, or spaces, are labelled on the registry. Anything which appears as a deposito or stalla (stable) or anything that is clearly not named as a room (ie kitchen, bathroom, bedroom etc) cannot be counted as part of the living space without a ‘cambio di destinazione d’uso’ or change of use, which needs to be granted by the local council. This is probably not something that can be done prior to sale, as it has to be demonstrated that the areas are habitable which, prior to restoration they may not be. You need to know that this change of use will be granted though.
,It is also not true that any property can be extended by 20%. There is something called the piano casa which allows you to extend by 20% but it is not automatic. It depends on where your property is and it varies from council to council and depends on how your land is classified. It may also depend on how much land you have and the 20% may include any outbuildings or depositi that you want to include in your living space.
So how do you find these things out? Your agent may know, and you might trust them, or they may agree to find out for you. To be sure, though, you need to talk to a ‘tecnico’ – geometra, engineer or architect, who has good contacts in the council within which your property falls. They can then talk to their contacts and find out the answers. It is vital that they work within the council where your property is located- the rules vary immensely from place to place.
These are checks I regularly do for clients; although I prefer to work with agents whom I can trust to know the answers, my brief is always to find the right property for the client, which may mean dealing with agents I am unfamiliar with. Part of the problem is that there are lot of agencies who have set up relatively recently specifically to sell to foreigners, and often the really good agencies who know their area inside and out don’t speak English very well.
If you are looking for property in Puglia and would like an informal, no obligation, chat then do get in touch. You can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and we can then arrange a time to talk. This is the first in a series of property advice articles – follow the blog by clicking on the button to recive an email notification when an article is published. Alternatively send us an email to recive our monthly property newsletter.