It is a very discussed issue and people often ask me for a more professional opinion. I personally lived the whole process for the purchase of my house, so here I am: I will explain to you what I consider important and not, but always keep in mind that in the end it is a decision linked to deeply subjective aspects and you have to listen to your needs.
The issues to be addressed are many. So: make yourself comfortable, save the article, and use the menu below to continue reading.
- priorities: size and location
- an area under revaluation
- renovation, how much do you cost?
- the exposure
- the context
- the architecture
- tools to evaluate a property
The first thing to do is to make a balance between your initial budget and what choices are important for you to find the desired property. It is also likely that you will come back to this scheme to review it, but it is important to be clear from the beginning so as not start a vicious circle. Quickly (also read more elsewhere) I report the general costs that you have to bear IN ADVANCE:
- negotiation costs: purchase from private individuals, agencies or commission to builders?
- advance for the bank: 0, 20, 30% of the total? The lower it is, the higher the interest
- bank appraisal and investigation: in some cases free, in others around € 2,000
- registration of the compromise: 350 € c.ca
- deed: notary cost, taxes on the house that depend on its value
- renovation cost: a budget already available, loan or not to be considered?
- condominium: credits to be repaid or expected costs?
- box, garage… other: to be paid separately?
- amnesty costs: yes, it can happen. If you want to avoid it, read here
Make a first estimate, the first choices and you will understand what amount you can reach; also make an appointment at the bank to get a first estimate of the rate and a clearer picture of the situation, to understand how much you would pay per month. And continue to read up on it, because in this area my knowledge is very partial, having had experience only with the sale of our house.
priorities: size and location
Once the budget has been established, size and location are fundamental cornerstones to always refer to. It is not a personal belief, but it is also one of the cardinal principles of the real estate valuation. The parameters linked to size and location are so winning and binding that, making a simple parallelism, no A ++ super-equipped villa in the countryside can beat a giant tavern in Piazza Duomo.
In fact, in addition to the supply-demand principles that govern the market, it is also necessary to think that it is almost impossible to change these two parameters over time and they will significantly influence your lifestyle. This does not mean getting stuck in a certain area (we too had to find a compromise), but it is definitely the 0 point of the research.
an area under revaluation
Looking for something that will reevaluate over time brings with it a high percentage of risk.
There are the “easier” cases, where the redevelopment / underground metro in progress is already well known, but rest assured that you are not the first to think about it, and it is likely that you will buy at the already revalued price. For a high-yield investment, you need to know that the expansion of a city always brings with it a thousand unknowns.
There are tools to understand some future directions, or to study the urban plans of the province and the city itself, identifying the areas of expansion, redevelopment and future public works of a certain weight. But there is always the risk that governments and future urban plans do not confirm the “visions” and objectives of the previous ones.
And what about the satellite neighborhoods? The famous cathedrals in the desert? There is also a very high risk. It is not mathematical that the presence of nice and combed buildings revalues an area. Would you have ever thought that Milano 2 and the “Satellite” district of Pioltello were born from the same premise after only ten years of separation? Not quite the same fate.
renovation, how much will it cost?
As explained in this article, it is impossible to know exactly how much a renovation will cost with just an inspection. Yes, even if you are accompanied by the architect or a company. For those looking for precise estimates, there is no escape: you need to have a project, a specification and the relative budget of the companies.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I CAN AFFORD A REAL ESTATE?
Starting a study for each apartment is obviously expensive and not very productive. The only method to make the first skimming is to apply a range of expenses per square meter, obtaining an INDICATIVE estimate of the restructuring. These values obviously depend on the market of your city: Milan for example. it is between 400 and 800 € / sqm for an apartment, without structural or external works. There are factors that can shift the balance towards 800 or 400, and we will see this later in the following paragraphs.
There is no trade secret that I do not want to reveal to you: it is the same method I adopted in the search for our home. We crossed the info about square meters to be purchased with the budget for the renovation, and for all the houses examined we took that data into consideration.
Then you have to be good (or be suggested well by the professional) to make the right project choices that lead you to confirm that budget and not exceed it.
We too have entered to define in detail only after thinking about the project. Bonus track: steps for renovating your home
Finally, let’s go to one of the most important parameters for me of all: exposure.
- natural air exchange: the ideal to ensure good ventilation is to have at least a double exposure. With only one, the air movements are slow and the recirculation is less. Skylights are a great help, but keep in mind that most open only 30 degrees.
- natural lighting
- north: the lighting is always indirect, you will never see the sun stripe on the floor: it is ideal for study or TV areas (the light does not dazzle), bedrooms and closets / bathrooms (the coolest areas of the house).
- east: direct lighting is in the morning, and it is not particularly hot. It can be nice for bedrooms; for the kitchens, for the living rooms.
- south: the sun is stronger and hotter, it lasts longer for the whole day, but in summer it is pleasant because it is high and not grazing, and in winter it is low so it guarantees warmth and lots of light. It is usually the best, well-ventilated location in which to place the room where you will spend the most time.
- west: direct lighting is in the afternoon, and the air is much warmer. It can be a good exposure for children’s bedrooms, or living rooms (watch out for where the sun shines in the TV area).
- skylights: they have an even greater contribution of light, and it is important that they are well oriented so as not to return excessive heat.
- TIP!: in smartphones there is the possibility to use the compass. When you visit a property, try it to get an idea of the exposure! Not all agents know how to answer you, and sometimes from google maps it is difficult to understand the exact location and exposition.
- What kind of exposure to choose? For homes I do not recommend single-facing north; even if the light is very beautiful (diffused, uniform) the house is still colder, and a ray of sunshine is always good. Between the north-south or east-west orientation (the most common) there is no winner, there are two schools of thought. The east-west windows guarantee sun all day but it is never the strongest light of the day, and the afternoon is very hot; the opposite orientation, with south-north windows flooding one side of the house with light and heat, while the opposite remains cooler. Personally, I prefer the latter configuration, aiming at the contribution of light from the windows facing south. Think about the places where you have lived and understand what kind of exposure you like best and why.
- Obviously, all the surrounding conditions must also be considered: buildings that obstruct light / air, openings on light wells, quality of view, the possibility of balconies / terraces, etc. It will not be essential and I will not dwell on it, but certainly having a beautiful view and open spaces increases the quality of life.
- noisy exposure: there is still little awareness in my opinion on the subject, but it is really important. Consider the impact of road / rail noise if you are opting for a low floor, in the middle of the city. Obviously it also depends on your tolerance threshold (you get used to everything for heaven’s sake), but it’s better to consider it than to arrive unprepared.
Another almost immovable parameter, and equally important for me: the urban context and characteristics of the building.
I don’t dwell on the urban context: is it quiet, lively, noisy, well served? It is really subjective. On the other hand, regarding the context of the building, I want to say a little more, since it is linked to architecture. To simplify, I will generalize the construction scenario in Italy based on the different decades, given that the construction world is very traditional and has moved fairly uniformly over the years. Let’s have a nice tour together:
buildings built in the war years and before: given the historical period, it could be that these buildings are located in central areas or that they have been designated as prestigious properties (rationalist, fascist, liberty style, farmhouses, old noble palaces etc.). They are beautiful buildings, even if problematic due to the old construction techniques, with a not indifferent cultural and economic value. Whoever will live there must have a certain regard for him and should not be taken lightly, whether it is the law that limits you or not. Always consult a professional, it is very easy to make macroscopic errors that disfigure not only aesthetically but also technically the artifact: eg. poorly restoring once wrapped, using incompatible materials that cause mold, weakening structural parts, etc. If you want the flexibility to put the satellite dish or a schuko socket wherever you like, take your hand away.
buildings of the economic boom of the 50s and 60s: generalizing enough – except for the interior spaces, now obsolete and children of a different culture – these buildings have quite high spatial and aesthetic qualities. Anhallways and façades are well-kept and may present valuable features. They were reasoned projects, the children of precise plans and urban planning will in most cases, designed by architects with a certain care. Even some popular neighborhoods are real gems: the Ina Casa and Iacp neighborhoods are very famous, also followed by very famous architects. On the other hand, on a technological level, some precautions were not yet widespread such as the correction of thermal bridges, double windows and a culture of insulators, so if new solutions have not been adopted over time, it is possible to incur condominium or personal expenses to avoid condensation, mold, infiltration, change windows and so on. The electrical systems of the 60s are now totally disused and not up to standard, made with cables not protected by corrugated and components that are too different in structure and size, so it is almost certain that everything will have to be redone. The heating systems will not be A ++ but they are quite efficient and safe. Still there are houses with perfectly functioning floor or ceiling coils, or cast iron radiators that for some remain the best ever produced.
the construction rush between the 70s and 80s: more has been built, much more, for investment or to meet large demands. The practice is to hurry up and in the best possible way, the bureaucracy is seen as an obstacle and the bulk of illegal activities in Italy is from these years. I generalize: the indoor plants start to be more spacious and snug, but the aesthetic and technical quality is drastically reduced. It is rare to find buildings from the 80s that have boiserie in the hallways, marble and Palladian floors. Not to mention friezes, stuccos, tiles or stones on the facade and everything that has an aesthetic component: it is all an expanse of plaster and painting. Some of the most famous eco-monsters are from these years: the Corviale, the Biscione, the Vele di Scampia – which despite the desire to design, are children of these mentalities. The precautions mentioned above (double glazing, glazing) have become a common practice, but in many cases, where it was necessary to save time/money, they were ignored. The electrical systems have components similar to contemporary ones, so the reconstruction is less painful than in the 60s. Since it is built in a hasty manner, many buildings are often devoid of condominium heating systems, and each unit must provide for itself, with autonomous boilers and radiators per apartment.
90s and 00s: after some scandals, and cases of illegal activities that were reaching unprecedented peaks, also hitting archaeological or protected areas, the impetus for construction was stopped (also because the market is almost saturated). We continue in the same way as before, without great aesthetic or technical qualities in most cases – except for luxury homes, and adding that little bit of extra technical devices that we had gained over the years but which we had not always adopted.
contemporary buildings / NEW BUILDINGS: less is being built, the market is still saturated and the brick fever is over; but there is generally better quality – or at least it is promoted that way. In fact, new buildings want to attract investments (new areas to be redeveloped, sometimes in complicity with the Municipalities themselves) or larger budgets (luxury buildings or almost).
The legislation is more demanding, so all the known technical measures are adopted, sometimes with new entries that wink at sustainability, such as solar panels. You must be careful because in the cheaper buildings or in which the company has sought greater margin, there is a respect for “facade” standards and techniques and after a certain number of years it is necessary to redo completely unexpected parts; there are not a few declared bankruptcies that have also left everything in half. In high-end buildings there are systems of a certain importance, such as home automation systems or mechanical ventilation of all rooms to improve air circulation and the introduction of common services of a certain level. Aesthetics play an important role, especially in attracting people to buy, even if the project is not always of quality. In the case of buildings under construction, it must be considered that the advance, before actually entering the house, is really high in proportion to the total.
In all the cases mentioned above, the framed structure is almost omnipresent, the result of Le Corbusier’s system a pilotis. What am I talking about? Of the well-known construction method with concrete pillars (which is completed-closed with brick walls).
The exceptions are few. For example, in some historical periods there has been experimentation with prefabricated or mixed prefabricated structures. Or, even before the advent of the framed structure, the perimeter walls (and not only) were almost all load-bearing.
Why is it important to know? Because the framed structure allows you to easily understand which internal walls can be demolished (avoiding pillars or condominium conduits, etc.). While prefabricated structures and load-bearing walls are closed systems, in which you cannot easily modify doors, entrances, partitions without involving structural interventions. In short, ask, when you are not sure, to understand what you are buying.
Assessing the quality of the space is a bit more complex, and unfortunately it cannot be summarized in an article, nor can those who are not professional in the sector easily make correct assessments. However, two general criteria can be given: if you want to change the internal layout of the house, avoid interiors with excessive presence of pillars, partitions and beams in the center of the house (too binding); prefer regular-shaped plants with well distributed windows (therefore not all distributed in a single point). Alternatively, be sure that the current arrangement will suit you in the future as well.
The windows characterize the space in an incisive way, not only for the qualities of exposure already explained, but for the aesthetic qualities of the frame itself (size, profile design, typology, etc.); look at them carefully.
I have already answered to “how much it costs” above, but it is always useful to analyze the internal state to understand if you will face a light or “heavy” renovation.
I repeat: the state of the apartment is important but in my opinion it must be considered in the queue, because if not today, tomorrow there will be the possibility to remedy and redo what you do not like. For other characteristics, no, you will have to keep it that way.
You have already seen that the age of the building / apartment affects the internal state. Let’s now analyze case by case its components:
- structure: during the inspection it is not easy to understand if structural failures are hidden (unless it is obvious). Sometimes the ancient floors are a little embarked for example (curved) and are not at all at risk. Real essays or studies with an engineer should be done. Surely the non-presence of cracks can be a little heartening, and we must ignore the more superficial ones (a pin wide) if they are not very common, because they are plaster cracks due to micro-movements; always ask a professional for advice if in doubt.
- insulation: having read the previous paragraph, you will have understood that older buildings that have not been renovated have major weaknesses in insulation. For example, if there are blackening, molds at the corners, 99% of you are in the presence of thermal bridges, so you will have problems with mold / condensation. Infiltration is more difficult to assess, and you always need the opinion of a technician who knows how to trace the cause. These micro-problems could be easily solved or problems of a certain weight: they range from the anti-mold product of a few euros, to the renovation of the condominium roof. Only through careful study and not just at first glance is it possible to determine it.
- windows: let’s starts the easier analysis. If the windows and doors are single-glazed, you will surely have dispersions, chinks, drafts; therefore thermal discomfort and greater expenditure of energy to heat / cool the rooms. Their replacement can have a significant impact, given the high cost per single window (from a minimum of € 400 upwards); moreover you need to follow the existing design of the elevation if you are in a multistore building (you can’t install a white windows if others have wooden ones).
- electrical system: the seller is not obliged to adapt to the current standard, but obviously an electrical system that does not comply with the law could cause inconvenience (damage to equipment, fire risk, etc.), in fact most electricians in front of an old system tend to redo everything possible. In principle, since the 90s, the plants have a type of materials and setting similar to the current one. So if well realized, you can sleep peacefully. If it is from the 70s and 80s, and they appear well preserved, in order and with the grounding, we can venture to do a partial maintenance where needed (replacement of external elements and those visibly battered). Before the 60s we find the most critical situations, because the cables were not even protected by corrugated pipes.
- water system: : compared to the electrical system, the water system is less “technological”, so it can cause less inconvenience even if it is old but still in good condition. It is obvious that wear exists for everyone, and the older it is, the more difficult it is to find spare parts. For example, in a 1960s building, bathroom in perfect condition, it happened to me that having broken a technical element, the only solution was to completely replace the walled toilet.
I’ll make it short, I have already dealt with the topic in this article. Real estate agencies usually provide:
- official plan for taxes (pianta catastale)
- its documentation
- Energy certificate
A few lucky ones will have:
- plant certifications
- latest practices filed in the Municipality (hyper-lucky!)
- construction drawings
The certifications of the plants must be absolutely requested if they sell the property as new or with very good conditions, because they answer for their own declarations; in fact it is not a mandatory document.
To seriously check if there is abuse, the fundamental tool is the Municipal practice. If they do not deliver it to you, you will have to check it for yourself by going to the Municipality or by delegating it to a professional.
tools to evalute a property
A final treat. To understand the real price / sqm in the area – therefore not the prices offered, but how much you can actually sell – I suggest these two tools, totally free:
- sito dell’Osservatorio Immobiliare – Italian website dedicated to burocracy
- sito del Borsino Immobiliare – private company, very trustable and with free tools.
Buying a house is not easy, and sometimes a source of stress; it was for us too. So brace yourselves, the more you are aware of the details, the more obviously you will buy with awareness and tranquility.
If there are aspects that you think have not been dealt with, or further doubts that are not answered, do not hesitate to ask them with a comment!