June 9, 2023

House T.M.

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House Hunting in Italy: A Perch Over Lake Como for $1.5 Million

6 min read

This four-bedroom, six-bathroom villa sits on an embankment in Brunate, a village in northern Italy perched above the city of Como and its famed lake.

Built in 1908 in the Italian “Liberty” style, a variant of Art Nouveau, the property has been owned by the same family for 115 years, and was used as a vacation home until 1960. It was updated in 2013, with the owner noting via email that he opted for a “conservative” renovation, “maintaining the characteristic Liberty style” and preserving the original terrazzo flooring in all but two rooms. The project included adding bathrooms to two bedrooms, creating a five-car parking area and installing irrigation in the garden.

Built on a stone retaining wall with an integrated entry into the unfinished basement, the three-story house has two floors of living space and a third-floor apartment with a separate entrance and roof terrace. The apartment can be rejoined with the rest of the house by reopening an internal staircase.

Ceiling heights of more than 12 feet and large windows invite light into the space. The larger of two living rooms opens onto a ground-floor veranda through double doors with period detailing. The smaller living room opens to a balcony with lake views. The large kitchen features terrazzo floor and wood wainscoting, and has been modestly updated. A separate dining room is through an open-plan corridor.

Three en suite bedrooms occupy the second floor, along with a second half bath. The primary bedroom features a frescoed ceiling and a small balcony with a lake view.

The top-floor two-bedroom apartment includes an eat-in kitchen and a terrace large enough for outdoor dining. The main bedroom’s beadboard ceilings and wood rafters evoke an attic feel, and the window features more period decorative lattice work. A second room, currently used as a bedroom, is suitable for a home office. The top-floor attic, not authorized for occupancy, has a half bath and cedar-paneled walls and ceilings.

Outside, the house features a terrace and a solarium with dining and seating space. A small swimming pool sits above ground in the garden behind cypress trees and near an iron pergola.

The house is a three-minute walk to the historic funicular rail system connecting Brunate with the city of Como, some 2,300 feet below on the lake shore. Brunate, a village of about 1,800 residents 35 miles north of Milan, is known for its density of Art Nouveau-style houses and has a smattering of shops and restaurants.

“Part of the charm of it is that while Como is very buzzy, this has a lovely calming feel to it, with space and tranquillity at the top of the hill,” said Victoria Siddons, a Knight Frank agent who is familiar with the listing.

Milan Malpensa Airport is a 50-minute drive. Como is served by the San Giovanni and Como Nord Lago train stations, with daily service from Milan.

For the fourth quarter of 2021, the Italian national statistics office reported 263,795 residential sales of any type by notary agreement, a year-over-year increase of 14.1 percent. A current economic survey of real estate agents by BancaItalia and Technoborsa, a real estate data firm, reported that 87.6 percent of agents sold at least one property during the first quarter of 2022, the highest share since the survey’s inception in 2009. Eighty percent of those sales were for pre-existing homes.

Engel & Volkers’s 2021 market report noted a 43 percent increase in residential transactions over 2020. Milan, the agency reports, ranks second among Italian cities in prices for new or renovated housing, after Venice.

Lombardy province, home to Brunate and Como, has long been an affluent region of commerce and international trade, thanks to the fashion, automotive and financial industries that anchor Milan, and its proximity to the Swiss and French borders. The commune of Como is on the southern end of the eponymous lake — Italy’s third largest — and is known for its historic villas and resorts.

But while many associate the lake with extravagant homes, housing types and prices around the lake vary, said Marta Brunellini Romolini at Romolini Immobiliare, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate. Homes at the north end, close to ski areas, tend to be new buildings priced between 185 and 230 euros a square foot (currently, the U.S. dollar is nearly on par with the euro). The western side of the lake, with its concentration of high-profile sites and villas, commands the highest prices.

“Here prices can go much higher, averaging 3,500 to 4,800 euros a square meter (325 to 445 euros a square foot), but easily going up to 6,000 if we are talking of lakefront villas,” Ms. Romolini said.

Yasemin Baysal, managing partner of Engel & Völker’s Lake Como offices, said inquiries have risen 30 percent since the onset of the pandemic, with Americans leading the way. Russian buyers, historically the top purchasers in the lakes region, have declined since the war in Ukraine began.

“Since the recent crisis, people have to invest in stable markets and they know in Como, the demand will never crash,” Ms. Baysal said, noting many Americans are putting down deposits after a virtual tour. She said 80 percent of the high-demand homes are villas in locations such as Bellagio, ranging in price from 930 to 1,860 euros a square foot.

Knight Frank reports that the average price of prime properties along the lake increased by 4 percent in 2021, with high demand in the 2 million to 4 million euro range. For ultra-prime properties, prices average 1,115 euros a square foot, according to Knight Frank’s Italy market analysis.

Since a dip in residential sales prices in the early days of the pandemic, healthy demand has kept prices for residential properties in Como on the rise, from an average of 175 euros a square foot in February 2020 — the lowest point since 2014 — to a high of 187 euros a square foot in October 2021, reports Immobiliare.it, Italy’s leading real estate portal. Pricing last month was slightly lower, at 185 euros a square foot, but still an increase of 2.2 percent over June.

In the town of Brunate, Immobiliare reported the average sale price at 188 euros a square foot in May, a 2.4 percent dip from February 2021, and a 31 percent drop from its peak of 247 euros a square foot in July 2017.

Lake Como has become a popular second-home destination for foreigners working in Milan or whose children attend the Como International School in the city. Among all of Knight Frank’s Italian destinations, the area “attracts the most diverse mix of buyers from Europe, the U.S., Middle East and Australasia,” said Kate Everett-Allen, head of residential research for Knight Frank, with queries up 144 percent over last year.

“The key story in 2020 and the first half of 2021 was the race for space,” she said, “with rural, coastal and mountain views high on buyer wish lists.” More than half of respondents in the agency’s Global Buyer Survey said they were more likely to seek a home with views of nature after the Covid-19 crisis than before.

Italy offers a flat-tax shelter aimed at nonresident high-net-worth individuals who pay an annual 100,000 euro fee on non-Italian global income. The benefit can be extended to other family members for an annual 25,000 euro fee. Applicants must have purchased or rented accommodations in Italy.

The Italian statistics institute reported that, as of last year, the larger Lombardy region had the second-highest population of foreign residents, with 11.9 per 100 residents.

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers purchasing from another individual, and a notary, usually chosen by the buyer, can handle the due diligence without an attorney, said Roberta Crivellaro, head of the Italian practice at WithersWorldwide’s Milan law office.

“The notary does not negotiate the contract between the parties,” she said. “Consequently, the involvement of a lawyer is highly recommended although not strictly necessary.”

Buyers are required to obtain an Italian tax code via the local Italian tax office or an online application with the Italian consulate.

Italian; euro (1 euro = $1.01)

The annual property tax on this house is 2,000 euros. The transfer tax (or stamp duty) for a first home is 2 percent of the assessed value (if it’s not a luxury home), and 9 percent for a nonresident/second home, Ms. Crivellaro said.

Broker fees are between 2 and 5 percent, paid by both the buyer and seller. Fees for a notary and property surveyor (if necessary) are paid by the buyer.

Andrew Blandford-Newson, Knight Frank, 011-44-20-3640-7048; www.knightfrank.com

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