What is a geometra and what do they do?
When buying property in Italy, especially in the countryside, a buyer may encounter a professional figure called a geometra. They are able to perform multiple tasks, which sometimes makes it confusing to understand what they can and cannot do.
A geometra is a cross between a land surveyor and a junior architect. Their primary focus is on buildings and building systems (utilities). Their training allows them to design "modest" buildings as well as to plan and oversee building works. A geometra does not have the full formal university training of an architect. A geometra often performs more "operational" tasks such as conducting a technical review of a property, checking to see if it complies with the building codes which were applicable when the building was constructed and perhaps subsequently modified. The review would normally include verification of the correctness of the data, including floor plan (planimetria catastale) on file with the catasto, the land registry for tax purposes. The review is not required for a home sale although it is a very good idea. Either the seller or the buyer may commission a sworn technical inspection report from a geometra. If it is commissioned by the seller and is not sworn, the buyer would be wise to have it reviewed by their own professional: trust but verify. In some provinces, particularly in most of Tuscany and some of Emilia-Romagna, a notaio may imply this report is required. It is not required by law and the anti-trust authority has ruled on this point.
The technical and tax office conformity report isn't so common as it takes time (it can take 30 days or more to obtain building permit records from a town) and isn't inexpensive. The actual cost will depend in great part on the complexity of the specific case.
A geometra can assist in dividing a home up into separate units (frazionare) or in combining existing apartments into one home (fusione catastale), particularly useful for the primary home tax break. They are also able to survey land, verify borders, combine or divide lots.
A geometra can navigate the a town's building permits bureaucracy, determining what is possible and filing the necessary paperwork.
Many geometra are additionally certified to perform energy efficiency audits, required before a property is rented or sold.
A geometra is also qualified to appraise real estate. Keep in mind a property has multiple values. For example, an owner may want to insure their home in Detroit, Michigan for the cost to demolish and rebuild it after a fire, e.g. the replacement cost for insurance purposes. They would then seek an appraisal for this purpose, perhaps arriving at a value of $100,000. What if they asked for a market value appraisal, e.g. what a normal buyer would be likely to pay in a reasonable amount of time on the market, e.g. a month. In Detroit after the banking industry sub-prime shenanigans the answer would have been $1 as many in the city lost their jobs and had to leave to find work elsewhere.
Appraising a property's value based on its technical merits, e.g. the cost to replace it, is one thing. Having a geometra perform a market value appraisal of a property is quite another. A geometra has less insight into the current market dynamics than a qualified professional who only focuses on the property market: the real estate agent. A real estate is also very motivated to provide a realistic market value appraisal as if the property won't sell, the real estate agent doesn't receive any payment. If a property sells for too low a value, the real estate agent loses commission they otherwise would have achieved. Caveat emptor.
There are cases where a geometra will act as a real estate agent as a way to make some extra income on the side. This is illegal; neither the buyer nor the seller may pay a real estate commission to a geometra. If the geometra is acting illegally, what else are they up to?
A geometra can be a true asset to a buyer. The ideal geometra is well tied into the local community, knows what the town planning office will and won't approve. Do insure though that your geometra is truly independent, that they don't have ties to the seller nor to the real estate agent.
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The above is offered as general guidance without warranty; changes may have occurred since it was written. Do consult with appropriate qualified professionals regarding your specific situation before making any real estate purchase.
About the author
Sean Michael Carlos grew up in Rhode Island, USA. He studied in the US, UK and Germany before settling in Italy where he has lived for over twenty-five years, in three different regions.
Sean is a licensed real estate agent in Italy with over 10 years experience in the sector and would love to hear from you if you are looking to buy or sell property in Italy.