Venetian palace, Roman villa, Tuscan farm …Whether it’s in the city, on the coast or in the countryside, this cultural cradle of Europe offers great opportunities.
Italy harbours many treasures. It’s certainly true that you can fall head over heels with a heart-stopping property. But the perfect property - the ultimate, the perfect picture postcard cliché – is less common than you think. It remains a rare jewel that is fought over mercilessly, as was the case with this Portofino property over which a Russian and Ukrainian recently waged battle at auction. The starting price was nearly 3 million Euros, but the deal closed at around 7 million Euros, much to the delight of the owner. However, this is not a common scenario. In general, the number of properties on the market exceeds the number of buyers. Purchasers, in a position of strength, can negotiate the price at their leisure. Properties on the market for 8, 10 or 15 million, are sold for 50% or even 60% of their asking price. These are historic times. And some individuals intend to take full advantage of it.
Foreigners on the hunt
Although fans of real estate, the Italians have abandoned the property market. The reason is simple: the national economy, as other European countries have experienced a slight growth. But it’s not just down to a lack of money, far from it, as Italy beats all records when it comes to savings. It’s quite simply a lack of confidence in the future. Fortunately for the GDP, which has increased slightly thanks to the property market, the market is still buoyed by international demand. The Germans are particularly fond of the Northern lakes, a region which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and which, at heart, is still Germanic. The French have a love affair with Venice. The North Americans are besotted with Como, since their famous compatriot, George Clooney, purchased a fabulous property by the lake. The British are dotted here and there but often choose to stay in Rome. As for the Russians, they love the Italian Riviera which reminds them of its French cousin, the Côte d’Azur. However, you hardly come across – or extremely rarely – Chinese or Brazilians who, instead, frequent the agencies of London and Paris. And there are still some shortcomings. “There is no legal definition of surface area, such as that defined by the loi Carrez in France,” laments Lorenzo Mercolini, director of Sotheby’s International Realty Milan. “The market remains quite confused with no official statistics published,” he continues. Chambers of commerce and institutes of research, such as ScenariImmobiliari, produce studies on the property market but they remain confidential and are only available to those in the real estate business. The general public do not have regular access to such information.
The Milanese exception
Italy has few attractive, high-rise districts. The Porta Nuova, in Milan, is the exception. Here, a few residential towers brush against the clouds, including Solaria, the city’s highest building which stands at nearly 150 metres. With its circular plaza, major cultural facilities and a shopping centre, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were in New York. On the top three floors of Solaria, a beautiful 800 m² triplex apartment is for sale for 20 million Euros. “It’s amazing that the Italian authorities allowed the construction of this type of building, right in the middle of Milan,” observes Lorenzo Mercolini, responsible for marketing the triplex.“This apartment is completely unique and will remain so for years. In my opinion, this is what makes it such a high-quality investment,” he argues. There are some “ modern” blocks in Milan but these date back to the 1960s and 1970s, a time when architectural creativity was rarely seen. The price of properties in the Lombardy capital ranges from 7,500 to 10,000 Euros/m² in the fashion district. Prices can rise to 12,000 or 14,000 Euros/m² and peak at 20,000 Euros/m² for properties at the very top of the range.
Rome, eternally chic
In the Italian capital, properties change hands for between 9,000 and 12,000 Euros per square metre. A roof-top apartment, with panoramic terrace, fetches around 15,000 Euros/m². You can find old palaces, divided up to make luxury apartments, in the historic centre and, in the south, villas with fabulous gardens, overlooking the Aventine Hill. The 300 m² apartment in the Palazzo Albertoni Spinola, one of the buildings that best represents historic Rome, will sell for 5.3 million Euros. However, there are two elegant districts that are somewhat less expensive: Parioli and Trastevere, where properties cost between 7,000 and 10,000 Euros a square metre. “Some properties need to be completely overhauled,” says Cristina Casacci, from the Immobili di prestigio agency, a partner of the Knight Frank network. “Others have already been restored. A lot of owners have realized that if their property is restored it’s more likely to attract an international clientele.” In Latium, a few kilometres from Rome, a visit to the sea is a must, and San Felice Circeo - with its dunes, once frequented by the likes of Anita Ekberg and Alberto Moravia – in particular. Villa Agave, an eccentric, architect-designed house, with curved walls, is ideal for those in search of the unusual or spectacular. It is considered to be Michele Busiri-Vici’s – a visionary architect – finest piece of work and may have been inspired by the Spaniard, Gaudi.
The birthplace of Chianti
The most desirable Italian sites are often linked with tourism potential. A celebrity stays there and the price goes up a notch. For example, the actor Alberto Sordi has stayed every summer, for the last thirty years, in a villa in Castiglioncello on the Tuscan Coast. As a result, the local market stabilised, even improved. The transfer of ownership of the property, valued at 15 million Euros (Lionard Luxury Real Estate) is currently underway. The hills of Chianti, also in Tuscany, covered in vineyards, boast some of the region’s most beautiful landscapes. Chianti wines are now as famous around the world as the Medicis, Dukes of Florence and patrons of the arts, once were. The old farm, with outbuildings, which dates back to the 11th century, complete with pool and tennis court, costs between 3-5 million Euros.
The charm of La Serenissima
Many Frenchmen, from Pierre Cardin to Philippe Starck, have chosen to make their home in Venice. “They’re our main foreign clients,” states Paola Poria, sales manager for the agency Views on Venice, partner of the international Saville’s network. “The most beautiful properties have not dropped in price,” she notes, “but can lose 10-30% of their value if they are over-priced by their owners.” In the end, luxury real estate in Venice sells for between 8,000 and 12,000 Euros/m² and for 15,000 Euros/m² for a really “top” property. For a pied-à-terre, expect to pay around one million Euros… The “piano nobile” is still the most desirable floor, not too high, and not dissimilar to the Etage noble of the Haussmann buildings in Paris, built at a time when lifts didn’t exist. The proportions are generous and the decor sensual, for example murals and Venetian, gothic-inspired panelling, a style which epitomizes the height of La Serenissima. The place to be is, of course, the Grand Canal, lined with palaces, but also Dorsoduro, overlooking St Mark’s Square and Cannaregio, a quiet location that is very fashionable at the moment. In Dorsoduro, you can lay your hands on an 80 m² real jewel of a property that belonged to Rosalba Carriera, an 18th century painter. And in Cannaregio, you can set your sights on an apartment in the opulent Vendramin Palace, currently being restored and near completion. Venice is still unique in the world. You can understand why Mr and Mrs Clooney decided to get married there.