where to buy in italy

This wealthy and sophisticated region is blessed with lovely countryside and perfect little cities. With farmhouses priced at less than half the cost of those in neighbouring Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna deserves far more attention. Fleur Kinson gives you the lowdown.

If you’ve never heard of it before, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Like other Italian regions with hyphens, Emilia-Romagna is a name unfamiliar to most non-Italians. But you’ll know this region’s wonderful little cities – Bologna, Parma, Rimini, Ravenna. You’ll be familiar with its native products, too – parmesan and balsamic vinegar, Ferrari and Maserati and Lamborghini. If you have an idea of Italians as great engineers, super-sophisticated chefs, keen opera-goers and all-round livers of the good life, then Emilia-Romagna has played a big part in shaping your impressions, whether you’ve heard of the region or not.

asd           It’s a large place, sprawling across the upper part of the Italian peninsula. Think of it as where prosperous, smooth-running northern Italy begins to melt into lyrical, artistic central Italy. It has appealing neighbours, namely Tuscany, Liguria, Le Marche, Lombardy, Piedmont and the Veneto. So there’s never any lack of nearby attractions, and a truly excellent travel infrastructure makes getting around easy.
        Emilia-Romagna is the wealthiest region in Italy, with the country’s highest standard of living. It enjoys a low population, a rock-bottom unemployment rate, and one of Italy’s lowest crime rates. Plus, it’s widely agreed to have Italy’s best food and best restaurants. Not bad for a place with a ponderous, unfamiliar name!       
        All well and good, but what does it look like? That depends on where you are. Emilia-Romagna enjoys fantastically diverse geography. In the east, seventy miles of Adriatic coastline ranges from golden beaches with friendly resorts to sleepy lagoons with nature reserves. Across the northern length of the region, the mighty Po Valley stretches for a hundred miles – full of wide agricultural fields shining emerald-green with rice plantations or lying burnished gold in the summer sun. Along the southern edge, there’s an equally-sized chunk of lovely hill-country, where woods and fields undulate higher and higher into the Apennine mountains – finally reaching altitudes that support several ski resorts. Between the hills and farmland lie scattered a handful of Italy’s most appealing and liveable little cities – gourmet centres like Parma, Modena, and Bologna, and serene, supercivilized spots such as Piacenza, Ferrara and Ravenna.

Simply put, Emilia-Romagna is a very good place to buy a property in Italy. Why? Because the market here is very stable, plus there are many locales where investment prospects and rental returns are strong. Essentially, four main markets operate across the region, each appealing to a different type of buyer. There’s the rural market, with farmhouses in lovely landscapes asking less than half the price they would in neighbouring Tuscany. There’s the urban-apartment market, a fairly pricy domain but one which offers a good return for your investment. There’s the small-town and lesser-known-city market, which offers a high quality of life for exceptionally good value-for-money. And there’s coastal property too – surprisingly affordable as well as providing good summer rental returns.

        Farmhouses and rural retreats are the classic desire of the British buyer-in-Italy, so let’s look at these first. Unlike in certain other parts of Italy, there are still abundant country homes for sale in Emilia-Romagna, ranging from tumbledown to fully habitable. [Time of writing is 2011.] Old country homes needing restoration start at just €40,000. Properties needing less repair or building work are progressively higher-priced, and you could get a very large home with land needing only a little work for about €150,000. Ultimately, for considerably less than €200,000, you could end up with a sizeable, very nicely renovated country home in Emilia-Romagna – an amazing bargain compared to rural Tuscany!

        As we live in extremely money-conscious times, let’s take a look at how the figures might break down. John Dillon of the estate agency RealPoint Italy notes that the average cost per square metre of floor-space for a rural property in need of renovation in Emilia-Romagna is about €500. So, you could buy a farmhouse of 120m² for roughly €60,000. Renovation costs, John says, range from about €550 to €850 per m², depending on how lavishly you want to restore. So with 120m² of floor-space, you’d be paying approximately the same as your purchase price on your restoration work, i.e., roughly €60,000, making a combined total of about €120,000. On top of this, you could expect to pay perhaps €8,300 in geometra fees and €3,500 in building tax. So, a total overall spend of around €132,000. Once fully renovated, a country house in Emilia-Romagna would have a value of approximately €2,300 per m², John Dillon says. So your €132,000 outlay could result in a home worth about €276,000. And that’s before considering rental potential and capital growth. In our current times of low interest rates and poor returns from conventional investments, a home like this in Italy represents a pretty good place to put your money!

As we noted earlier, Emilia-Romagna is a big place, so where might be the best area to find your country home? The northern half of the region sits in the pancake-flat Po Valley, where the fantastically-fertile land is eagerly sought by agriculturalists and thus none too cheap. What’s more, the climate can be uncomfortably damp in this northern stretch, with humid summers, foggy autumns and rainy winters. So you’re probably better off looking for properties in the drier, fresher, less expensive and attractively hilly southern half, where the landscape climbs prettily into the Apennine foothills. This rural southern stretch is where most foreign buyers seeking a country retreat in Emilia-Romagna have tended to buy. As Emilia-Romagna’s wonderful little cities are generally strung along its middle, exactly between the northern farmland and the southern hills, it’s a good idea to choose which city you would most like to be near, and then explore the area south of it. Note that property south of Parma, Modena and Reggio Emilia is especially recommended for good value. Anything too near Bologna can be pricy.
asd           Which brings us neatly to the subject of Emilia-Romagna’s cities, and their property market – very different to that of the countryside.  If you’re looking to invest, buying an apartment in one of Emilia-Romagna’s better-known cities can be a canny move. City property tends to appreciate better than rural property, and rental returns are usually much higher. With its sky-high quality of life, abundant jobs and superb restaurants, regional capital Bologna is the priciest place in Emilia-Romagna. Two-bed apartments here range from about €150,000 to €280,000 on average, and three-beds get going at about €200,000. For holiday lets, a two-bed city centre flat should yield about €700 or more a week. But Bologna is especially good for longer-term rental – either to students or to the numerous international businesspeople sent here on medium-to-long-term contracts.
        After Bologna, Emilia-Romagna’s other main players are Parma and Modena – each a lovely, contented city of small size and sophisticated lifestyle. Parma’s 160,000 inhabitants are often said to enjoy the highest standard of living in all of Italy. Yet the city sees very few foreign buyers. One-bedroom apartments in the centre of Parma can be had for about €125,000. Two-bed apartments in and around the city generally ask between €130,000 and €250,000; three-beds between €150,000 and €350,000. Holiday rentals on a two-bedroom property could be about €800 a week. Sleek, classy Modena offers one-bedroom apartments for around €100,000, and two-beds from €140,000 to €200,000.


As we noted earlier, Emilia-Romagna is blessed with a particular abundance of charming, supremely liveable little cities and towns. You’ll be spoilt for choice here. Attractive and inexpensive cities to consider include Ferrara (perhaps Emilia-Romagna’s least expensive city and an enchanting place, set in a misty, low-lying landscape), Ravenna (also inexpensive, situated near the coast and famed for its Byzantine mosaics), Piacenza and Reggio Emilia (both peaceful and lovely with a very welcoming local population). Two-bedroom homes in Piacenza or Reggio Emilia range from €90,000 to €220,000, and three-beds from €115,000 to €250,000.

        Or you might set your sights on the seaside. The quiet, reedy northern part of Emilia-Romagna’s coastline, where the Po River empties into the Adriatic, has very inexpensive property, although holiday rental prospects aren’t great up here. Far better is the southern stretch, where the seaside is almost continuously developed – but very pleasantly so. Family-friendly resort-towns on long sandy beaches are the norm, offering a wealth of summer fun and a genuinely happy atmosphere. Rimini is the chief resort, and a bouncing, joyous place it is. Apart from its wonderful beach, Rimini also has a charming centro storico with quiet piazzas and cobbled streets, plus some impressive Roman ruins. Rimini and its neighbouring resorts make an excellent investment, with surprisingly reasonable prices and great summer holiday rental prospects. One-bedroom properties ask about €150,000, two-beds about €180,000 and three-beds about €220,000. You could let a two-bed for about €750 a week in the summer.        
asd           Wherever you buy in Emilia-Romagna, be it for investment or personal pleasure or both, you’re likely to fall in love with this region. Because it’s a place which seems to have got so many things right. It strikes exactly the right balance between rural values and urban sophistication. All the cities are small and contented, with a very high quality of life. The rural areas are tidy and prosperous, with no sense of being a neglected backwater. In the cities as well as in the small towns and villages, a very strong sense of community holds sway. Emilia-Romagna is a supremely liveable place, where you can get things done, travel round easily, delight in city life, relish the countryside, feel safe, and rely on your neighbours. This big, prosperous region allows you to enjoy much of the very best that life in Italy has to offer.






The regional capital of Emilia-Romagna, beautiful Bologna is also the culinary capital of Italy – with many of the country’s very best restaurants. It has an attractive medieval centre built in striking red-brick, lots of pretty piazze and a couple of leaning towers. It’s also home to Europe’s oldest university, founded in 1088. Not overly large with fewer than 400,000 inhabitants, Bologna remains a lively, convivial city offering a very high quality of life. For property, it’s not as expensive as some reports suggest. One-bedroom apartments here start at just €60,000 – although you’d probably be better off going for something higher-priced and more centrally-located. Two-bed apartments range from about €145,000 to €270,000, and three-beds get going at about €200,000. Two-bed luxury apartments on Bologna’s most prestigious streets, meanwhile, can ask around €800,000. There’s plenty of employment in Bologna if you’re thinking of relocating. For holiday lets, a one-bed city centre flat should yield about €650 a week. But Bologna is especially good for longer-term rental – either to students or to the numerous international businesspeople sent here on medium-to-long-term contracts.

Other cities
For all its rural delights, Emilia-Romagna is home to particularly appealing cities. Small, orderly and affluent, they each offer great food, cultural sophistication and a very high quality of life. Parma’s 160,000 inhabitants are often said to enjoy the highest standard of living in all of Italy. Friendly and contented, they typically spend their leisure time on restaurants, shopping and opera – as do most of Emilia-Romagna’s other city-dwellers. Parma sees very few foreign buyers. One-bedroom centro storico apartments here can be had for less than €130,000. Most two-bedroom apartments in and around Parma ask between €125,000 and €250,000; most three-beds from €150,000 to €350,000. Holiday rentals on a two-bedroom property would be about €950 a week. Modena is another sleek, classy city to consider, with one-bedroom apartments available for around €100,000, and two-beds from €140,000 to €200,000. Elegant Ravenna, situated near the coast and famed for its Byzantine mosaics, is another strangely inexpensive place. Far inland, you should investigate Piacenza and Reggio Emilia, both peaceful and attractive places with a very welcoming local population. Two-beds in Piacenza range from €90,000 to €230,000, and three-beds from €115,000 to €250,000. Similar prices hold sway in Reggio Emilia.

The Apennine area
The long southern edge of Emilia-Romagna sees the rise of the Apennine mountains – their gentle wooded foothills slowly climbing to snow-clad, ski-able heights. Tiny towns and villages are scattered among the open fields and wide vistas, and the roads are good, so you never feel isolated up here. Crime levels in this hilly-to-mountainous swathe of Emilia-Romagna are officially Italy’s lowest, and the food on offer in the small local restaurants is rated extremely highly. Small but growing numbers of discerning British buyers have found their way to the area recently. It’s an excellent place to buy a farmhouse or country home. Prices are remarkably low, especially as Tuscany lies just across the border. You can snap up a tumbledown cottage for as little as €45,000, or a liveable three-bedroom house with land for €170,000. Prices are lowest at the highest altitudes – even when there’s a ski resort nearby. Many old agricultural properties come with stables, barns or other outbuildings which can be converted into rental accommodation for holidaymakers. Quite a few British buyers are choosing to relocate permanently to Emilia-Romagna’s Apennine area, for its high quality of life and significantly lower living costs.

The lowlands
The vast river valley of the mighty Po River carves a giant triangle across the landscape of northern Italy. Part of it encompasses the long northern edge of Emilia-Romagna. Spectacularly flat and fertile, the Po Valley is an intensively farmed area, with a damp sort of climate – humid summers, foggy autumns, rainy winters. Foreign buyers show very little interest in the wide rural spaces here. The agricultural businesses are all thriving, and there are few abandoned farmhouses for sale. The gem-like little city of Ferrara sits in this misty, low-lying landscape, and is an intensely atmospheric spot. It’s also one of the cheapest cities in Emilia-Romagna, with some astonishingly low property prices. More than one detached four-bedroom villa on the edge of town can be found asking less than €190,000. Between Ferrara and the coast, the land melts into peaceful marshes and lagoons, as the Po River splinters into meandering, reedy channels before meeting the sea. The area is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Properties here are not high-priced, and would make a very peaceful retreat.

The coast and Rimini
Apart from the more fragmented bits of coastline where the Po River empties into the Adriatic, Emilia-Romagna’s seaside is almost continuously developed – but very pleasantly so. Contented, family-friendly resort-towns on long sandy beaches are the norm, offering a wealth of summer fun and a genuinely happy atmosphere. Rimini is the queen of the beach-towns; in fact it’s the biggest resort in Europe – with more than 1,000 hotels, and 100,000 holidaymakers in the height of summer. Young nightclubbers, families with children, and elderly sun-seekers all flock here. But Rimini has more than a beach. There’s a charming centro storico with quiet piazzas and cobbled streets, plus some impressive Roman ruins including an amphitheatre and a mighty triumphal arch. Rimini is an excellent investment, with a more reliable holiday rental season than almost anywhere else in Emilia-Romagna. One-bedroom properties ask on average about €140,000, two-beds about €180,000 and three-beds about €210,000. You could rent out a two-bed for €700 a week. Out of town, the area round Rimini boasts some gorgeous villas – many in ultra-modern building styles and commanding luxury prices. Note that while Rimini is absolutely teeming in July and August, it shuts up shop and becomes a veritable ghost town in the winter.


buyer case study

Our Home in Emilia-Romagna
Jane Martin and her husband Martin Cross own a 17th-century farmhouse in Gazzano, a village high in the Apennine mountains with wonderful views in all directions. They are twenty minutes’ drive from a ski resort, twenty minutes’ drive from the border with Tuscany, and just over an hour’s drive from Parma and Bologna.
        “I’ve always loved Italy,” Jane says. “We started looking for a holiday home here in 2004, and discovered that the prices in Emilia-Romagna were much lower than they were in Tuscany, which was the region I knew. We didn’t really do much research, we just sort of went for it. It was a bit of a whim! We met up with John Dillon of RealPoint Italy, and we soon found our house. The actual buying process was a lot more straightforward than it would be in the UK, and we didn’t have any problems.
        “It was in good condition, it just needed a bit of updating. We had central heating put in and fitted a new bathroom. It’s quite a large house and it still has plenty of scope to be further developed. The ground floor has three cellar-type rooms which could be converted into further living space, and there’s a very large loft area that could make other rooms. It’s not remote, but in the middle of a small village. We wanted somewhere where we could just walk to restaurants and shops. The wider area, however, is quite wild and remote – that’s part of its appeal. It’s beautiful and completely unspoilt. It’s all national parkland. But you’ve also got extremely good restaurants and fine cuisine up here. The people are lovely – very friendly and helpful. There’s just a really nice atmosphere. We don’t speak Italian, but we haven’t found it a problem. Some people speak a little English. But you would get a lot more out of the place if you did speak Italian.
        “We’re quite high up. We’re not far from Febbio, a ski resort. It’s the kind of house you could use all year round. It’s very beautiful here in the winter, but obviously the conditions can get a bit extreme. One of the nice things about the house is that the walls are about three feet thick, so once it gets warm it tends to stay warm! Especially since we had central heating put in. Because the area is mountainous, the drives do tend to take a bit longer than if you were bombing down the motorway, but they are spectacular. It’s extremely beautiful and quiet, and it’s very Italian. It’s the real Italy, not a place for tourists. It’s a lovely area.”
        Reluctantly, Jane and Martin have recently put their house in Emilia-Romagna up for sale, due to a change in personal circumstances. Enquiries through RealPoint Italy.

Our Home in Emilia-Romagna
Bryan Emery and his wife Judith swapped their life in the West Midlands for a new life in the hills of Emilia-Romagna. They bought a large country B&B with land and a tumbledown barn, and moved there permanently in 2008. They offer courses in Italian cookery as well as holiday accommodation.
        “We had been on lots of foreign holidays across Europe,” Bryan explains, “but never Italy – even though I’ve always loved history and wanted to see Rome one day.” Bryan’s son persuaded the couple to finally visit the country which would eventually become their new home. “Rather begrudgingly,” Bryan says, “we let him take us there on holiday. And we immediately fell in love with it. The people are beautiful. So welcoming and family-oriented. The scenery is out of this world – the vineyards and the olive groves. And the architecture is absolutely wonderful. After that first holiday we made many trips to different parts of the country – Tuscany, the Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Le Marche, Lazio. And every experience we had of Italy was 100% positive. We started to get in touch with estate agents whenever we visited, just to test the water on things like availability and prices…”
        Why did Bryan and Judith end up buying a home in Emilia-Romagna? “A number of reasons,” Bryan says. “The area is absolutely outstanding, with dramatic scenery. We were there in mid-February and wearing t-shirts in the daytime, yet we could see the snow-capped mountains in the distance. We think Tuscany is becoming a bit too touristy. We didn’t want to be part of an English ex-pat community. We wanted to move to Italy to become Italians, not to become English people in Italy. We love the locals; they make such an effort, even if you don’t speak much Italian. They’re always coming over to talk to you.
        “We bought from RealPoint Property, who were very helpful. The house is a three-storey building with three apartments. And there’s also an old barn – allegedly the oldest barn in the village, at 400 years old. We’ll renovate it, keeping the old pillars, the vaulted arches and the high wooden beams. The downstairs we’ll turn into en suite bedrooms, while the upstairs will be a large kitchen and dining area where we plan to teach Italian cooking. We’ll also take guests to local markets, cheese factories and winemakers.”
        And what do the couple most enjoy about living in their new home? “Living an Italian way of life,” Bryan says immediately. “We love how the Italians live, their relaxed attitude to life, the fact that nothing is so essential that you haven’t got time to stop and talk to your neighbours.”





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