Whether you should rent or buy in Italy depends, naturally, on your future plans, and especially on the housing market. Trends in Italian real estate prices have more or less mirrored those in the United States: skyrocketing in Italy in the 1990s, but crashing closer to Earth in recent years with the global crisis. It is a good time to buy. As a rule, Italians will always buy before they rent, no matter what. The nation has one of the highest homeownership rates in Europe. Italians are relatively new to investing in securities, anyway, and the near collapse of financial markets provided them with a frightful reminder of the inherent risks there.
Add in a national obsession with conservative investing and scraping savings, and you will understand why young Italians live with their families until they are well into their 30s, even 40s. At that point they are either married or simply tired of mom and dad’s nagging and have enough money to buy some privacy. It may sound funny to an North American who moved out at age 18, but skipping the rental stage is a wise financial move for those with enough patience and humility to live at home as a grown adult.
Obviously, buying is almost always the smarter choice for foreigners as well, but there are a number of risks in Italy that can really burn you: buying in the wrong area, ignoring serious structural damage or shortcomings, or, worst of all, overlooking a legal morass. The advice that most property experts give is to rent first in an area where you think you might like to buy. If you feel the pressure to buy right off the bat, you should first get to know the neighborhood and the houses themselves by talking to the locals.
Renting Families often own several floors of an apartment building”if not the entire palazzo”and rent out the parts that they don’t live in. Foreigners are ideal tenants, since housing laws are so restrictive that it is very difficult to evict an Italian tenant. If Italian residents can prove that there’s no other place to live in the vicinity, they can stay in that house until it is proven otherwise. Nonresidents are not protected by these laws, besides which they are sometimes willing to pay more than market price to settle disputes quickly.
Most short-term rental possibilities are well-furnished apartments in the city and private villas in tourist destinations, costing anywhere from 25 to 100 percent more than similar long-term rentals. Often located in nicer neighborhoods or resorts, short-term rentals are a comfortable solution for people fresh off the plane. It shouldn’t take more than a month to find a cheaper apartment, and a month in a hotel would cost appreciably more. These sorts of limited contracts are an obvious choice for vacationers in, say, Tuscany or Venice. For urban professionals, yet another such alternative is a residence. These are much like hotels, with a reception desk and laundry service, except that people stay in them longer”maybe a year or two. They are charmless and short on floor space, but they are inexpensive.
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