When buying a property for sale in Italy, sooner or later you will need the services of a notaio. They are the only essential figure in a property transaction, the only person who can affirm the legality of the sale and the only person who can sign off the purchase contract.
Typically, in a property transaction in Italy the people involved are the seller, sometimes the estate agent, the buyer and the notaio. You can bypass the estate agent, as private sales are still popular in Italy, but you can’t in any way bypass the notaio.
But who exactly is the notaio and what do they do in a transaction process?
The notaio is one of the most well-regarded professionals in Italy. “The notary is a public officer to whom the Italian State has entrusted the task of producing all deeds between living persons as well as last wills and testaments”. “The notary confers public trust, i.e. the status of legal proof, to the deeds he draws up. So, everyone – including the courts – must accept as true what he has attested, unless the crime of forgery is established.”
“In addition to family relationships, on which they are among the leading experts, and questions of succession, the notaio is involved in many areas, including: real estate conveyancing (purchase and sale of homes, offices, land, warehouses, workshops, donations, subdivisions, mortgages etc.); important changes in company structure, whether it be a one-person firm or a corporate entity (constitution and winding up, amendments to the by- laws of the company, sale and leasing of businesses, etc.).” (Living and doing business in Italy – Consiglio Nazionale del Notariato)
They must have a degree in Law, carried out a two-year apprenticeship in a notary firm, and then have passed a very difficult exam, whose preparation time is on average 3-4 years, and passing rate is only 6-7%.
Let’s keep aside for now all the fields the notaio can be involved in and let’s focus only on real estate transactions.
The notaio selected to do the transactions should be chosen together by the seller and the buyer, but it’s common practice that the buyer chooses the notaio, as it’s the buyer who pays for their services. You can choose a notaio irrespective of their location, i.e. to buy a property in Palermo, you can choose a notaio in Rome. If you don’t know any notaio, you can select one on the notariato.it website
, where all notai of Italy are listed.
So, when you want to buy a property and your verbal offer is accepted, it is highly recommended that you contact a notaio who can guide you through all the stages of the purchase process. It is also highly advisable that you don’t sign anything before contacting a notaio, as any piece of paper signed can be binding and can oblige you to buy the property even if the property’s documents are not completely in order.
The notaio not only will guide you through the whole process; most importantly, they will check that all the documents of the property for sale are in order. They will check that there aren’t any existing mortgages on it, that the property is at it appears on the cadastral register, that there aren’t extension or alterations without the proper permission, that the owner is the person who says it is, etc…
Even if these checks have already been done by the estate agent, in the case you are buying through an estate agent, the notaio is required by the law to double check, and you can rest assured their checks are made thoroughly and deeply. What’s more, even if the estate agent is happy with the property’s documents, the notaio might not be, and can order to start the checks again from scratch.
Usually, the notaio is helped in these checks by a geometra, a sort of surveyor, instructed by the notaio, but paid by the buyer.
It goes without saying that if you bump into a private sale, you don’t have to be afraid to engage in the purchase process, as the notaio will check all the property documents and will never sign off an illegal sale.
In Italy, both parties – seller and buyer – must be present in front of the notaio to hand sign the purchase contract. If you can’t be present at the rogito – conveyance -, you can give power of attorney to whoever you trust: a friend, a family member, a relative, etc. And it’s still the notaio, nobody else, who drafts the power of attorney to be given to the person selected by you.
Hopefully this brief article has helped to shed some light on the importance of having an established and experienced notaio by your side as soon as you want to make an offer to buy a property in Italy.
Good luck and happy hunting!