Buying property in Italy, 2

Part 2  Official documents

Perhaps you weren’t convinced by the sage advice offered in Part 1 of this series (“better to rent than buy”) and are looking seriously for a property in Italy. If so, you’ll need to begin learning about some of the key documents and terms involved in real estate transaction here in Italy. The aim of this post is to introduce some of these to you.

The catasto is the official registry of real estate (beni immobiliari). Any property that can be bought and sold in Italy (including land, farmhouses, apartments, houses, stores, garages) will have associated with it a visura catastale containing all legally relevant information such as where the property is located and who owns it.  The other key document associated with each property is the planimetria catastale. I will refer to this document here as the official “floor plan” given that focus of this post is urban real estate.

If you plan to buy a property you should examine every detail of a visura catastale with the help of a knowledgeable person you trust. You might find that the property you have in mind has multiple owners, each listed as having a specific percentage ownership. This is not rare. If someone dies without a will, the property will be divided according to a formula among surviving relatives. Be aware, however, that the larger the number of owners of a property, the more difficult it may be to work through all steps in a real estate transaction. For example, negotiations over price may break down if just one owner – even someone who owns just a small portion — wants to hold out for a higher price. If there are four or more owners,  ask someone (the primary owner or the real estate agent) to arrange for one person to have power of attorney for all of the other owners. Otherwise, it will be necessary for all owners be physically present to sign documents in the office of a Notaio on the day of the official sale.

Signing a real estate contract in the office of a Notaio in Italy

Real estate contracts in Italy are signed by all parties involved in the office of a Notaio

The visura catastale also contains several pieces of information that uniquely identify the property and link it to its official floor plan. Listed are the city (comune) in which the property is located as well as the sezione (section of the registry), foglio (literally “page”) and particella (“parcel”, but in the context of urban real estate, usually a building). A particella, in turn, may be divided into smaller portions, each called a subalterno. For example, you might buy an apartment consisting of the apartment itself along with a ground level storage area (magasino) and a box (garage).

The term rendita catastale refers, hypothetically, to how much could be obtained by renting or selling a property. This assigned value is based on number of rooms, square footage and volume (which reflects the height of ceilings). The values are seldom updated but are important inasmuch as they form the basis of property taxes.


A small portion of a land registry map (mappa catastale). Buliding are cross-hatched whereas inner coutryards and gardens are in white. A cross indicates a church.

Another factor that influences property taxes is a property’s real estate classification (categoria catastale). There are about 50 of these, but the categories you are likely to be interested in are those for buildings in which people live. Category A/1 refers to abitazioni di tipo signorile, a loose translation of which is “luxury homes”. Category A/2 indicates abitazioni civili (normal or typical houses). The category A/3 (abitazioni di tipo economico) is being phrased out as certain housing requirements, such as the presence of a working bathroom, are being imposed. Houses belonging to category A/8, ville (villas) are all free-standing buildings surrounded by a garden or yard.

If you are looking for a vacation or second home, it is better not to buy a property whose classification begins with any letter other than “A” (for example, C/1, stores and workshops). If a property owner or real estate agent tells you that the classification of the property (destinazione d’uso) can be readily changed to residential (“A”) category, ask that this be done before you buy the property. A change in the category, which defines how a property can be can be used (called a cambio di destination d’uso) might be easy for a local person with long-standing relationships with city officials, but it might be more difficult for someone not familiar with the bureaucratic ways of Italy.

A law passed in 2010 (D.L. 122 30/7/2010) made it obligatory for a copy of the official floor plan (planimetria catastale) to form part of the documents prepared when real estate is bought and sold. It is not the responsibility of the official who officiates real estate transactions (the Notaio) to verify the accuracy of floor plans.  Italian law requires the seller to declare that the attached floor plan accurately represents the property. Should problems eventuate, the seller may be held accountable should his declaration prove false. However, given that civil litigation in Italy can drag on for years, it makes sense for the buyer to independently verify a floor plan’s accuracy.

The official floor plan is important because, ultimately, it is not necessarily what you see when you inspect a property that you get. You get what is visible on paper, in the offcial floor plan. There is no obligation for a property owner to update the floor plan on file for his/her property if changes have been made. Floor plans remain legally valid until they are updated and officially registered in the archives maintained in the provincial Property Office (Agenzia del Territorio).

The official (i.e., latest) floor plans for many properties date to 1939 when Vittorio Emanuele III, by grace of God King of Italy and Emperor of Ethiopia, promulgated a decree requiring all properties to have a floor plan. The 1939 floor plans were not drawn to scale because what mattered was representing the number and configuration of rooms. Back then, taxes were based on the number of rooms. Only later, when square footage became the primary basis for certain taxes did the professionals who normally prepare official floor plans (geometra) begin drawing accurately to scale.

You can obtain measurements that are accurate to within a few inches from an accurate floor plan using a millimeter ruler. You should see all doors and windows on the floor plan when you inspect a property, as well as all entry hallways, steps, stairways, terraces and courtyards declared to be “part of” the property. If the property consists of more than one subalterno, make sure you see all of them. If there is not a perfect correspondence between the floor plan and what you actually see, ask that a new planimetria catatastale be prepared and registered at the Agenzia del Territorio before you buy the property.

On this land registry map,building of historic interest are marked in red. Such building may have special restrictions placed upon them

On this land registry map,building of historic interest are marked in red. Such building may have special restrictions placed upon them

Be especially attentive to terraces and courtyards. Are you planning to buy a house or apartment because it boasts a breathtaking view? Be sure that you will be buying 100% of that terrace. Does the presence of an inner courtyard appeal to you? Find out if it will be yours alone or if you will need to share it with others. (If so, who?)

This last question brings us to the final document to be mentioned in the post, the mappa catastale (“land registry map”). This map is a graphic representation of a great many buildings. It is generally drawn on a scale of 2000: 1, but finer scales are used in densely populated areas. Consulting a mappa catastale will allow you to identify all properties sharing a boundary with the property of interest to you. Buildings are cross-hatched whereas streets and inner gardens and courtyards presented  in white.

Each number on a mappa catastale refers to a particella, either a building or portion of a building (if cross-hatched) or a courtyard or garden (if placed over a white area). If a garden or courtyard “belongs to” to a building (or portion of a building), this will be represented graphically by a graffetta (a kind of elongated “s” laying on its side). This little symbol is easily overlooked, but can be of great importance.



About Jim Flege

Jim Flege carried out research on phonetic aspects of second-language acquisition and bilingualism at an American university. He moved to Italy after retiring and lives with his Italian wife and their Jack Russell terrier in a small town in central Italy. Jim currently serves as the European Director of the Travel Learning Network, an organization provides educational and cultural immersion programs in Europe. You can reach Jim directly by writing to: director (at) www.travlearning (dot) net
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