Why do I need a notary AND a lawyer when buying a property in Italy?

Do you need a notary (notaio) or an Italian lawyer (avvocato) when buying property in Italy? That is the question! The answer is you need both!

It’s a common misconception that an Italian lawyer and the notaio perform the same role throughout the buying process in Italy. While technically you can purchase a property in Italy without a lawyer, as tempting as it may be to save money on legal fees it could end up costing you much more in the long run if you don’t make sure your interests are protected. Shelling out a deposit on an Italian property, which you later find out has land registry complications or debt attached to it can end up being a very costly mistake indeed, and it’s not one that can be easily corrected!

Instructing an Italian lawyer in the early stages of the property buying process in Italy is crucial as a notaio does not get involved until the final stage of the buying process, by which point you will be expected to have already signed legally binding contracts and parted with a significant deposit, which may be non-refundable.

What is the difference between a notaio and a lawyer in Italy?

notaio (an Italian notary) is a public official who enables the transfer of ownership between the vendor and buyer during a property purchase in Italy. The notaio will oversee the property purchase, collect the taxes due and register the property with the Italian land registry (Catasto). However, they must remain completely impartial and are not able to offer either party legal advice.

An independent Italian lawyer, on the other hand, represents the interest of their client to ensure that you are protected as a buyer; carries out all the necessary searches in good time and offers legal advice BEFORE any contracts are signed and money is paid.

 Why do you need protection when buying property in Italy?

When buying a property in Italy there are a number of common issues that can arise concerning land registry, ownership and debt attached to a property. For instance, in Italy there are essentially two land registries – the Catasto and a separate deeds registry, the ‘banca dati ipotecaria’. It is not uncommon for there to be discrepancies between the two registries, which can cause complications proving ownership if/when you come to sell the property.

Find out why Mark Jacobs was glad he took Total Buying Abroad’s advice to instruct an independent lawyer!  

In addition, in Italy debts can be attached to properties as opposed to individuals. This is not a problem, so long as you have a lawyer that ensures that all debts linked to the property are paid before the transfer of ownership is complete. Unfortunately, it’s not something that a notaio can assist with.

Before you reach the final stage of the buying process in Italy you are initially expected to pay a deposit of five percent at the first phase, and then a further 10-20 per cent at the second phase. This can equate to a hefty sum, so you want to be sure that there are no issues with the property before paying out any large deposits.

An Italian lawyer will also offer guidance that is specific to your personal circumstances. For instance, you may plan to rent your Italian property out as a holiday let to fund the cost or upkeep of the property. If so you’ll need to know what the legal and tax implications are, which a lawyer can advise on.

What else can an Italian lawyer do that an Italian notary won’t

Your Italian lawyer can help arrange a Power of Attorney, if necessary. This can be useful if you are not able to be present when paperwork must be signed, as your Power of Attorney can act on your behalf. It may also be more cost-effective to appoint a Power of Attorney than making additional trips to Italy, which will inevitably involve the cost of flights and accommodation.

An Italian lawyer can also help you obtain a fiscal number (Codice Fiscale) – a tax code (similar to a National Insurance Number in the UK but used much more frequently in Italy) – which is an essential part of the process when buying a property in Italy, as you are unable to purchase a property without one. Unless you’re fluent in Italian it can be difficult to obtain your Codice Fiscale, but an Italian lawyer can help with this.

In addition, once you’ve purchased your Italian property you’ll need to make sure the utilities are transferred into your name. Again, if you’re not able to speak Italian this can prove challenging, so your Italian lawyer may be able to assist.

What do you need from an Italian lawyer?

Your Italian lawyer should be ‘independent’ – meaning they are not linked in any way to the vendor, developer or estate agent. The reason for this is to make sure that there’s no conflict of interest and that your lawyer is acting in your best interests only. Legal representatives who are connected to the estate agent or developer, for instance, may prioritise a swift and smooth sale rather than ensuring you are fully informed and advised about any potential issues with the property.

Your Italian lawyer should be fluent in both Italian and your own language. Poor communication can lead to costly mistakes, so it’s important that your lawyer is able to communicate clearly in your own language and is also fluent in Italian to handle all the necessary legal paperwork.

All the costs of buying a property in Italy, such as lawyers’ fees, land registry, notary fees and purchase taxes, should be communicated clearly and comprehensively by your Italian lawyer at the beginning of the buying process. Make sure you know what the total cost will be at the start to ensure you don’t end up with an unexpectedly high bill at the end!

If you need an independent Italian English-speaking lawyer contact the team at Total Buying Abroad for a recommendation on 01244 478911 or email info@totalbuyingabroad.com

For more information about buying property in Italy you can download our FREE buying guide or check out our Italian blog for the latest information and new about buying a property in Italy!  


Article published: July 12, 2018