Interview by Sandy Brown, photos by Tom England
In expat social media forums one of the most often-discussed topics is real estate. After working with him over the last six months on two lease contracts, I sat down on Tuesday with Roberto Aguggia of Salom Aguggia Immobiliare, an agency that specializes in expats renting and buying in Lucca’s Centro Storico.
How did you get into the real estate business in Lucca?
It began when Margherita and I met. We had both trained as lawyers and were working in Milan, but we decided 10 years ago to return to Margherita’s hometown of Lucca and open a bed and breakfast. It was a big success so then we started managing tourist properties inside the wall for other people. Margherita’s sister, Rugiada, had started renting out her properties also. Our focus was on the tourist market, but we made the shift toward longer term rentals and sales, and we moved out of property management. Our focus now is on rentals and sales for properties in the historic center as well as historic properties outside the walls. About 80-90% of our business is with international residents and most of our clients are American, British, Canadian, Dutch, and Northern European.
Let’s talk about finding a property in Lucca. In the US, when we look online we are looking at a “Multiple Listings Service” where real estate agents pool their properties so other agents can also sell them. That’s different than when someone looks at idealista.it or immobiliare.it, right?
Yes. Real estate companies pay for advertisements in those online sites, and it’s expensive. We buy a certain number of property listings per year. In Italy, real estate is done more by relationships. If someone has a property for rent or for sale that’s with another agent and we have a client who is interested, our job is to work with the other agent to represent our client’s interest. So I work hard to have not only a professional relationship with other agents, but also a personal friendship.
For a newcomer arriving in Lucca, what’s the best way to find the perfect apartment? Should someone talk with multiple real estate agents, or just one?
It’s best to work with a single agent who understands your needs and has an idea of what’s available. Then the agent needs to have good relationships with other agents so that they can cooperate together with them and meet the clients’ needs.
There are several kinds of leases available. What are the various kinds and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
There are four main types of leases, and these types of leases in Lucca each have different rules from the bureaucracy. First is the tourist lease. It runs from 0 to 30 days and the owner can set any lease amount he or she wants. Still, there are rules, like the guest must be registered at the police station and at the province, the tourist tax must be paid, and all utilities are included.
Second is the transitional lease, from 1-18 months. Here the landlord cannot charge anything they want, instead the rent is set at a maximum by trade associations of the municipality of Lucca. In exchange, private owners are entitled to a tax advantage. It’s also required to have a reason why the lease is temporary in order to justify its use to the municipality.
Third is the 3+2 lease contract. The rent is based on what is allowed by the trade associations and there is tax relief for the private owners.
Finally, the 4+4 contract does not have any obligation to observe the maximum rent rules and property owners pay the full, traditional 21% tax rate known as the cedolare secca.
What fees are typically paid at the time of signing a lease?
We observe the fees as they are set by the Chamber of Commerce and they depend on the duration of the lease. For contracts up to six months the agency commission is 10% plus VAT of (Value Added Tax) of the entire rental amount. From 6-18 months it is 5% plus VAT up to a total of one month’s rent, which is the maximum. For leases between private parties there is no charge for registering the contract with the municipality, but if the landlord is a company then there is a registration tax of 2% of the annual rent which must be paid every year by the owner and landlord. You also pay a security deposit of 1-3 months, then you typically also pay the first month’s rent. It’s important to understand that both the landlord and tenant in rentals and the seller and buyer in sales pay a commission to the real estate agents.
If something goes wrong in my new apartment, like the refrigerator stops working, who is responsible to fix it?
The law provides that any ‘normal maintenance’ is the responsibility of the tenant. This means it’s the tenant’s responsibility to change filters on the air-conditioner, for example. If something stops working, like the refrigerator, and it’s not because of lack of normal maintenance, it is the owner’s responsibility to fix it. The typical example is the boiler. The tenant is responsible for regular maintenance of the boiler, but the owner is responsible if it breaks.
A lot of prospective international residents are surprised to learn they must have at least a one year lease in Italy to be allowed to apply for an elective residency visa, even though they’re not allowed to live in Italy for more than 90 out of every 180 days. What’s the best way for prospective expats to approach that Catch-22?
The most important thing is to talk with an immigration expert who will give you the right guidelines to follow. We have learned that each consulate has slightly different requirements. We are told, for instance, that one consulate requires a 3+2 lease for elective residency visas. So it’s important to know just what your consulate requires. We do know that in Lucca once you apply for your permesso di soggiorno you will need to show a registered lease. If you’re married, it needs to be in both your names with both codice fiscale.
Let’s talk about the rental market in Lucca’s centro storico right now. Is there a lot of inventory, or very little?
It’s very hard to find a rental in Lucca right now. Most are on the market for only a week or so before they are gone. If you see something you want you need to act fast before it’s gone.
This has been really helpful. I want to ask a question about purchasing, rather than renting properties. I know there are many difference with other countries, but of the top differences, what would you say international residents are most surprised to learn?
Purchasers are surprised to learn how hard it is to set the price for a property. In the US, for instance, purchasers use comparable properties to help set the sales price. We don’t really have that. The properties, especially in the historic center, are just too different. Even within the same building the apartments can be very different, depending on condition, number of stairs, and such. So there is much more negotiation on price here than I think there is in other countries.
Final question, tell us about your business. What’s new for your company?
There are four of us now, Rugiada, Margherita and myself, and now Rugiada’s son, Eduardo. We’re moving our offices from Via Guinigi to Piazza San Francesco. Most important for us is not the office, but is word of mouth. We want our clients to be satisfied that we’ve done our best for them and that they found the apartment or house they’ve been hoping for.
You speak English very well. Where can people reach you?