This was 2019
2019 has been another great year for our clients. Lake Como property prices have increased by very little and the overhang from the global financial crisis is thankfully a distant memory. Attractive properties have usually sold quickly to buyers from around the globe. Many of our clients have found really good value in renovation projects, which we manage effectively with great results. Client satisfaction is always our driver.
The challenge of finding the right options for each client has got harder. New builds are restricted in number by the authorities, while there are fewer properties on the market than in recent years.
One result has been an increase in the number of clients buying with renovation required – structural alterations to change the division and flow of a home, modernising wiring and plumbing, new bathrooms and kitchens. Provided the location is right this moves a tired and unlovely property squarely into the international market and locks in a great gain on completing the project. Many clients have entrusted their project to us and been delighted with the outcome – timescale, budget and finished quality.
When it comes to new build properties we have for the first time in a decade had clients deciding to purchase off-plan. This has the considerable advantage that the builder’s plans can be adjusted to provide a layout that is most suitable for our client, an electrical plan that works for international requirements (Italian designs usually have few plug sockets, no ceiling lights and no ability to cut into the slab to add them later, small bedrooms and so often fail to make the most of the lake views). An off-plan purchase delivers a bespoke home, and with a restricted supply of new developments is the smartest way of securing a newly built property.
October 2019 saw us win yet another international property award, this time for the best renovation project in Italy. We devised and managed the project for a client who wanted a profitable investment, with a healthy return which required the project to be sold quickly once completed.
A pair of dark, greatly outdated lakefront apartments in San Siro were converted into a light, airy villa with wonderful lake views and a totally modern interior. The key to the project was the counter-intuitive step of reducing the volume by lowering the roof profile in order to provide excellent lake views from a dining and relaxation terrace to the rear. We also managed to identify a property where windows and balconies could be added to the front – far from the norm, emphasising the need for expert advice on what may be possible. If you would like to know more about this and our other renovation projects for clients then request a copy of our Ultissimo Renovations guide.
We have welcomed clients from more than a dozen different countries in 2019 who now have their own slice of paradise on Lake Como. British and North American clients have been the most active buyers again, but half of our buyers have been from the rest of the world – Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Australia/New Zealand.
The vast majority of our clients who have bought in 2019 have sought our ongoing support – whether it is running a renovation project (always with sound budget, time and quality management) or overseeing the fit out of a newly constructed property. This underscores our business differential: we began in 2006 by renovating historic properties in Umbria and bring to our clients a completely different ethos from ‘estate agency’. We recognise that buying a home in a foreign country can be daunting, we know how horrible it feels to be pressed by an agent to buy this or that, we understand that second home purchase is a discretionary decision, not a necessity. This is why we work with most of our clients to build their understanding long before they come to view properties, ensuring the legal process will hold no surprises and attuning each client to a realistic expectation of what it is they will find. Having access to every property advertised for sale, having access to all of the new builds, having access to opportunities that are never advertised – this and a transparent, approach is our hallmark. There is no question that we will seek to duck! And our clients love having a real Lake Como property expert who will act for them as the buyer.
a very strange event
And here was a really strange development. Villa Passalacqua in Moltrasio, one of the largest and finest villas on Lake Como, was sold at auction by a US property auction company at an undisclosed price rumoured to be not so far above the reserve price of $20 million. This would be around one-half of the price at which you might have engaged the previous owner in serious dialogue. Whilst it may require a fresh round of costly works (air conditioning now being more widely an absolute requirement, for example) the price has exerted some form of ‘ceiling’ in the minds of buyers with multi-million property appetites, and there is inevitably an element of this trickling down to less rarefied properties. Both the method of selling and the apparent price achieved appear maverick to us; we think this is an outlier and not an indicator of a price correction being due.
How about 2020?
There is lots that is more of the same – the eternal global desire to own a slice of Lake Como; a shortage of newly constructed homes leading to growth in the focus on renovation projects (great value to be had here); and buyer challenges in reading between the lines on property adverts (“a few steps from the lake” should not mean several minutes’ walk, and “lake views” should mean you can see the lake without standing on tiptoes at a far corner of the garden!).
The differences in 2020 are predicted to be twofold.
First, a continued reduction in the choice of available properties whilst the number looking for a home continues to increase.
Secondly, the growing shortage of properties is certainly going to shorten the ‘dwell time’ until a property is sold and may push prices upwards. After all, sensible asking prices have only trickled gently upwards since the global financial crisis a decade ago. Many foreign buyers find prices on Lake Como very good value compared with both their home market and their widely-held view that Lake Como is a hugely sought-after destination.
One more thought that indicates the confidence both buyers and sellers will have. The past few years have seen a major influx of top grade hotel investment – Sheraton and Mandarin Oriental (their first resort in Europe) took over existing hotels, Hilton built a new hotel, Il Sereno was created with a top international designer, The Rocchi Group (owners of the Palace Hotel in Como) have acquired hotels which they are upgrading to high international standards, and a new lakefront luxury hotel is planned for Mezzegra. The effect trickles down with other hotels refurbishing and raising their game. All this says that the top hotel groups have an exceptionally high degree of confidence in the Como market. This inevitably has a positive effect on the demand from international buyers for homes at all price points and in all styles.
It remains anomalous that property prices have increased so gently over the past 10 years. The growing international demand, combined with reduced supply, are classic conditions for prices to rise. International buyers have certainly become more discerning on prices, and distressed sales remain rare. But it seems that with no relevant published data and anecdotes being the primary source of information, Italian sellers are quite happy with the prices that international buyers pay. So maybe our clients will continue to find pricing highly attractive through 2020.
We are undoubtedly going to have to work hard to find a good selection of options which meet the brief of each of our clients. And in turn our clients will need to act decisively if they are to secure the property of their choice. Returning some months later to review their decision is increasingly likely to result in the preferred choice being someone else’s home!