A SENSE OF THE FAMIGLIA

12.09.18

Tamsin Jacques takes an in-depth look at the property market across Italy – from the Eternal City of Rome to the rolling hills of Tuscany

Where does one begin with Italy? The land of other worldly romanticism, heady wines to drink beneath olive trees, pastel villas built into sheer cliff s above the crystal blue Tyrrhenian Sea, and Renaissance paintings and marble sculptures that leave you awestruck and inspired.

At a time when people are increasingly looking for natural beauty in the world – the country is proving something of an investment drawcard for flight-to-quality property buyers and second-homers alike.

“Investors are returning to the Italian market which is picking up after a muted 2017, with the top end recovering the fastest,” confirms property analyst Piers Dakin. “Super-prime sales – over €10 million - have significantly increased and this is expected to filter down to lower price bands in the coming year.”

Unlike Spain and Portugal which are still in 2008 recovery mode – the last recession saw no wholescale collapse of the Italian property market as Hanna Fitsner of luxury agents Best Como explains.

“Home values were maintained by the cautious lending policies of Italian banks, which led to fewer repossessions. Most Italians simply refused to accept the lower market prices and only sold if they were forced to do so. The result has been much smaller property booms in the 2000s – and fewer downward readjustments in the past few years.”

Knight Frank’s Italian Prime Residential Index chimes with this analysis - reporting that the rate of luxury price declines is now bottoming out with Liguria, Chianti and Milan registering positive price growth since 2017. Enquiry numbers for Italian homes are also up 133% this year, flying in the face of suggestions that uncertainty on European political and economic stages – banking crisis and Brexit negotiations – have influenced buyers’ decision-making.

“Buyers are arguably facing the best quality stock for some years and where prices have plateaued, we expect the market to gain traction as inventories diminish,” explains Amy Redfern from Knight Frank Italy.

LAKESIDE LIVING

Romantic poets Byron, Shelley, and Ruskin likened the translucent quality of the Italian lakes to the teardrops of unrequited lovers; potent prose that inspired many 19th century aristocrats to stake their love nest claim by building palatial villas on their pristine shores.

These days, fresh-air lakeside living is more infl uenced by the surrounding culturally vibrant cities including Milan, Bergamo and Brescia (all just a few hours flight time from most European capitals), while the nearby upscale ski resorts provide a winter wonderland alternative to a carefree summer season of water sports.

A location that has historically delivered strong investment and rental returns, over-development has largely been kept in check thanks to the National Park status of much of the surrounding countryside. Top of the investment wish list, with excellent access to Milan in the south, and skiing to the north - Lake Como remains a highly sought-after spot with second-homers.

“The desire to own property here - which can be traced back to the days when prolific author Pliny the Younger constructed his home on the eastern shore a short distance from Como - continues to this day,” says Paul Belcher from Italian property site Ultissmo.

“It remains a destination of choice, for the five-star lifestyle that it offers.” However traditionally, UK buyers have concentrated their investment interest around Lake Como, improved road access to neighbouring Lake Maggiore (now under an hour from Milan), is enticing them to consider alternative resorts such as Stresa, Baveno and Ghiffa.

Lock-up-and-leave apartments which can be easily rented out are increasingly common, with supply of tastefully-furnished contemporary properties within converted period residences a key growth sector of the market.

“Foreign buyers opting for restoration projects are few and far between but remodelled detached villas with lake views remain in steady demand,” adds Dakin. Elsewhere, waterfront property for sale in favoured spot such as Cernobbio, Laglio, Argenio and Bellagio are also commanding highest interest.

Adds Dakin: “Waterfront property will usually have the lake road either directly in front or behind the property, while surrounding land is usually small and often steep or terraced. Investment in property upkeep goes with the territory.”

Property prices are heavily dictated by view and location cachet; the western shores of Lake Como between Como and Laglio commanding a sizeable premium. Entry-level prices for mainstream stock, is nevertheless surprisingly competitive – turnkey two-bedroom apartments selling for upwards of £270,000, three-bedroom semi-detached houses from £500,000.

Scaling the higher echelons of luxury living – detached period properties offer considerable scope for stamping one’s personality from farmhouses with generous outbuildings and vintage townhouses through to sumptuous Belle Epoque residences; a budget of £2m securing you a detached lakeside villa with terraces and boathouse.

THE ETERNAL CITY

The ‘epicentre’ of culture and romance, property in Rome continues to command a price premium. The most expensive area - the Spanish Steps, where buyers can snap up a refurbished property for €13,000 per square metre sets a quality benchmark.

Along with the historic centre, desirable areas include Monti, Gianicolo, Via Veneto and Parioli. More attainable areas include Trastevere, and Borgo Pio, in the €5000 to €7000 per square metre price bracket.

“International investors make up the majority of the large scale property projects market within the city limits, while Italian nationals remain the strongest investors behind single family homes and smaller renovations,” confirms local agent Flavio Angeletti.

“Mortgages are more readily available, and new government incentives are in place to encourage house buying. Rome is Italy’s second most expensive market after Florence. Those who put their money down now will see strong returns in the not too distant future.”

TUSCAN ALLURE

Tuscany’s property prices have altered beyond recognition over the past forty years as overseas buyers have vied for homes in the region.

Now considered the longest-established and best-known area in Italy to enjoy a slice of la dolce vita, the region now has some of the highest-priced country property in the world. One characterful town acquiring a growing fan-base is Lucca on the Serchio River, replete with historic sites and vintage landmarks dating back to the halcyon days of the Roman empire, along with beautifully-preserved churches, cathedrals and manor homes.

Pretty cobblestone streets dotted with bars and cafés make exploring the town an exquisite delight. In rural parts, stonebuilt farmhouses set in a few hectares complete with pool and rural views of vineyards and olive groves have appeal with younger buyers with families seeking the full-bodied Tuscan experience.

Says local agent Michele Baruzzi: “Lucca first came to the attention of foreign buyers about fifteen years ago, and since that time, property prices in the area have generally doubled, but still remain attainable.” Buyers don’t tend to purchase homes as holiday investments, rather as bolt-holes to escape from city life and get back to nature.

However, since 2017, the town has witnessed a rise in rental rates of 12%.” Says Fleur Kinsen from Where To Buy in Italy. “Lucca is a gem, combining solid holiday rental prospects with competitive property prices. It’s also the perfect destination for a day trip from Florence as well as a base for exploring the mountains and seaside.”

For those looking for higher long-term yields – keenly priced gems can be found in the mountainous areas north of Lucca, where buyers can acquire a traditional village home for under €150,000, and a good-sized detached manor house for as little as €250,000.

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