Hi there, buds. I’m Kelsey Kay Love, and welcome back to Travelin’ Fools. Today we’re talking about buying property in Europe as foreigners, and specifically, in Puglia, Italy, as U.S. citizens. 

Over the past few months we’ve been strongly considering buying a house slash apartment in the southern region of Puglia, aka the heel of the boot. And before you think, wow it must be nice to afford a second home in Italy, you spoiled little turds. Umm, hold up.

Fun Fact: We don’t have a first home. Never have. The most expensive thing I’ve ever owned in life is probably the diamond jewelry that was gifted to me by my grandma, and cool story, all of it was stolen over a decade ago.

With the exception of a $3,000 camper van that we called home for a little while when we lived in New Zealand, Peter and I have never owned a home, and as of now, our ‘home’ is a hotel we’re currently living in in Italy until we go to a different one next week. 

Why We’re Considering Buying Property in Italy

So let’s start with the why… why would we want to buy property in Italy?

Well first, it’s Italy. If you don’t understand why you may want to live here, there’s probably a lot more that we don’t understand about each other. Beyond the wine, the food, the coastline, the culture and the occasional Italian dude named Giuseppe genuinely exclaiming ‘Mamma Mia’, some criteria that absolutely ticks our boxes for making Italy a potential home base include:

  1. The affordability of property in the Puglia region. More on that later…
  2. Mild winters
  3. Strategic and convenient proximity to places within the Schengen Area, like Greece, Croatia, France and Spain, as well as out of the Schengen Area, like Albania and Montenegro.
  4. And potentially the most important factor: we’re legally allowed to. 

This ain’t our first rodeo when it comes to looking into buying property out of the United States, and in fact we looked into it when we lived in Bali and far more remote parts of Indonesia. As a foreigner in Indonesia, however, we were never going to outright own a property, or at least not in perpetuity. There, we would have essentially ended up signing a very long-term lease agreement.

So compared to that, Italy is doable. But not without its drawbacks, of course. 

Residency, Citizenship & Visa Limitations

A very important consideration is that buying a property in Italy will not automatically grant us any sort of residency, dual citizenship, specialized visas, or even any extra days on top of our standard 90 days out of every 180-day allowance within the Schengen Area, and in this case, within Italy. 

So while yes, we are legally allowed to own a property in Italy, it is not feasible to make it our permanent home base. 

Now, owning property may make it easier to get a visa that allows you to stay in the country — there are Employment & Self Employment Visas, Elective Residence Visas, Study or Vocational Training Visas, or Family Reunion Visas, most of which last 2 to 5 years — but having briefly looked into these, the chances of us actually qualifying for any of them right now or anytime soon is about the same chance as Lenny Kravitz buying me a dirty martini at a Waffle House… minimal, but it could happen one day. 

So, just know that if you successfully buy property in Italy, you can still only spend 90 days at a time in the country without overstaying your welcome… in your own home.

Standard vs Auction Properties

Much like flying to the moon, delivering human triplets or finally getting that full back tattoo, sometimes you really need professional help. Buying real estate in Italy is no exception.

Now, much like in the U.S., you have regular residential properties where you negotiate through a real estate agent and properties that are sold at lower costs through auctions, often because of foreclosure and/or bankruptcy. Unlike the U.S., real estate agents in Italy represent both the buyer and the seller. 

Because it simply makes the most sense, we’re looking at both kinds of properties, and even went as far as hiring an agent in Italy for 6 months specifically to scout auction properties that fit our criteria and do the bidding on our behalf, as our Italian language skills need just as much work as our knowledge of the Italian real estate world. Baby steps… 

Criteria for Buying a Home in Italy: Why Puglia?

So what’s our criteria when we’re looking at homes in Italy? First, and at least for the time being, we narrowed down the location to just within the region of Puglia. So why Puglia? 

First, Puglia has 2 airports: one in the large town of Bari, and another further south in the town of Brindisi. Secondly, Puglia has 2 seas: the Adriatic on the east and Ionian on the west. Additionally, there are direct ferries and very short, inexpensive flights to both Albania and Greece. And from Bari, you’re 5 hours by train to Rome or 5 hours by bus to Naples. 

You have infinite swimming spots, caves, adorable seaside towns, sprawling farmland, festivals, and a good combo of touristy, glitzier spots and quiet, serene towns full of locals just hanging their laundry and drinking espressos on the sidewalk. 

The public transportation in Puglia isn’t as functional as other areas of Italy, and in fact if we do end up buying property here we’d probably look into buying an adorable and hilariously tiny vehicle called an Ape, or maybe just a scooter, but there are a decent amount of trains and plenty of busses that can and do work for people every damn day. 

And lastly, a little note on cost. I’ve been told by several people that our max budget, which is 80,000€, will get us… something. It will not be gorgeous. It probably will not even be cute. But it will ideally be livable and it will be ours. 

As far as the criteria we’ve given to the auction agent, we split it into mandatory criteria and bonus criteria. Mandatory criteria includes:

  • No major renovations needed – I want to be able to move in and not need to knock down any walls, or add any missing walls, and ideally even flush the toilet and turn on some lights and do a cartwheel in there without hitting a family of raccoons.
  • 2+ bedrooms – Because no one over 27 loves a couch bed
  • 1+ bathroom
  • Air conditioning & heating (any kind is fine)
  • Terrace and/or balcony
  • 80,000€ or less

Bonus criteria includes:

  • Sea view – the closer to the sea, the better
  • Refrigerator, oven & washing machine
  • Garden
  • Fireplace
  • Star vault ceilings
  • Double-glazed windows 

Property Viewings in Italy

Alright, so with all of this in mind, how’s the actual search going? So far we’ve seen 3 standard properties and 3 auction properties.

One thing I’ve noticed across the board for auction properties specifically is that the photos of the properties themselves are just utter and complete garbage. Even if you have 20/20 vision — thank you, LASIK — get ready to squint. 

I’m talking, you should consider yourself lucky if you get 2 photos where you’re pretty sure you’re looking at an actual room. But then again, maybe it’s just a toilet? Is that a ghost or a terrace? A water bed or a portrait of Marco Polo? Apparently this is a common issue in Puglia, so unless you’re comfortable purchasing something that is 96% surprise, you’ll need to make a plan to come here and view these properties in person. 

Another thing you need to prepare yourself for is having and using the full extent of your imagination, especially if your budget is anywhere near ours. Not to rag on Italian decor, but for as much effort as y’all seem to put into your style and fashion sense, the inside of most of your houses — and not just the auction properties, but damn near all of them — looks like if my grandma’s favorite curtain pattern from 1976 was also just… my house. And now it’s taken over the world and for some reason there’s also a yellow wall, and maybe some Annabel knockoffs just for fun.  

All of this to say, we have yet to find something we’re willing to put a bid on, and scheduling viewings comes with a lot of rescheduling, cancellations, and general flakiness across the board. 

Additional Considerations When Buying Property in Italy

If you think you’re serious about buying property in Italy, there are endless other considerations you’ll want to spend some hard-earned thought on, including taxes, lawyers, notaries, deposits, engineers, renovations, certificates you need if you want to rent it out when you’re not in Italy, etc. etc.

For me personally, one major thing I underestimated about not only Italy, but Europe in general, is how much high and low season differ. It’s not just that there are fewer tourists in low season — which, in Puglia seems to be from November all the way to May — but it often means things just plain shut down and/or don’t exist. 

That ferry you want to take to Greece may only leave once a week instead of once a day. That pasta restaurant you’ve been dying to try may take a 7-month sabbatical. That bar within walking distance that plays 60s Italian disco and serves your favorite 6€ carafe of house wine? See ya in June. 

So my advice is to either come to Italy during low season to make sure that wherever you’re considering buying property is actually somewhere you want to live when it’s not pleasantly tainted by 8:30pm sunsets and beach parties full of half-naked Italians. Or just learn to revel in the nothingness and figure out how to make your own damn meatballs. 

How to Get Your Codice Fiscale

One proactive step you can take, and with little to no sweat involved, is getting a codice fiscale. This is Italy’s version of a tax number, or social security number, and is required if you’re buying property or generally doing anything of importance, including even renting a place for 30 days or longer. 

If you’re working with a real estate agency, they’ll usually get one on your behalf, but you can also email your local Italian consulate with the necessary paperwork. Since we knew we were going to be in Puglia for 6 weeks, we made appointments online to get these in person while we were here. It took 15 minutes max and all you need to bring is a scanned copy of your passport and a printed, filled out, and signed form, which you can find linked in the video description. Done.

Buying Property in Puglia

Now, one quick reminder here: I am not an expert in Italian real estate. I am not an expert in real estate at all, as the realest estate I’ve ever owned was a van in which I slept in a foam contraption I called “the taco”, as the foam mattress we bought didn’t fit in the van just right so I slept with it curled up around my body, like a human taco. Luxurious. 

Anyway… take what you will of this information, and leave the rest. Come stay in our spare room slash toilet closet rooftop kitchen in our hopefully-one-day-soon Puglian grandma shack, or be our new neighbor, and maybe re-download DuoLingo and work on your Italiano while you’re at it. Grazie, ciao, arrivederci.