Overview of the market
The Italian market offers a number of different investment schemes that may adapt to the needs of qualified investors. Large-ticket real estate transactions are typically carried out through real estate alternative investment funds and SICAFs, whereas the use of Italian listed real estate joint-stock companies (SIIQs) is still limited compared to that of similar vehicles in other European markets. Recently, the 2022 Budget Law introduced certain amendments to the current legal framework in order to support joint ventures between SIIQs and real estate investment funds in Italian non-listed subsidiaries (SIINQs), which could give new momentum to this corporate vehicle.
Special purpose vehicles for the securitisation of proceeds arising from real estate properties (SPVs) are also used to conduct real estate transactions.
During 2021, investment activities in the real estate sector recorded a significant recovery compared to 2020, even though the pandemic has affected the business strategies of investors in the market. Despite the covid-19 emergency, in 2021 the investment volume in commercial real estate in Italy was €10.4 billion, with a growth of 14 per cent higher than 2020.2
Investors' strategies have been focused on sectors characterised by long-term trends and anti-cyclical characteristics: the top-performing sectors were logistics, residential and alternatives. The logistic sector alone experienced its highest amount of volume ever, for an overall volume of €2.7 billion, gaining 89 per cent on 2020's volume.3
Milan and Rome are still the most dynamic cities, even if investors have started looking at acquisitions in secondary markets to follow different development strategies. In particular, Rome – having a barycentric position in Italy and the Mediterranean – is expected to seize important opportunities in the future, also thanks to events such as the Jubilee, the Ryder Cup, the European Aquatics Championships and the candidacy for Expo 2030. Milan, which has been running an urban regeneration programme since 2000, is expected to continue seeing major regeneration projects and developments, which are also connected to the 2026 Winter Olympic Games, drawing the attention of major real estate players around the world.
Recent market activityi M&A transactions
During past years, the Italian real estate market has been particularly active in terms of M&A transactions with large-ticket deals involving leading domestic and international players. Certain notable transactions have been:
- the acquisition of the company Milanosesto SpA by Prelios SpA and the management of the project for the development and requalification of Milanosesto. The deal involved a multi-level contractual structure, including, among others, the exit of the previous majority shareholders of Milanosesto SpA and the future development of areas in the context of a massive urban regeneration project involving an overall surface of approximately 1.5 million square metres and inspired by social inclusion and environmental sustainability;
- the completion of Progetto Italia, a multilevel transaction aimed at the consolidation of the construction sector in Italy and implemented through the entry into Webuild's share capital of CDP Equity SpA (indirectly controlled by the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance) and some of the main Italian financial institutions. A key milestone of Progetto Italia has been the partial and proportional demerger transaction involving Webuild SpA and Astaldi SpA, two of the biggest multinational construction companies based in Italy, which resulted in the separation between Astaldi's continuity business and its integration into Webuild, and the assets and debts destinated to Astaldi's creditors, retained by the demerging company; and
- the development by Logistics Capital Partners, a leading pan-European logistics development and asset management platform, of the then first carbon neutral accredited logistics development in mainland Europe (1.75 million square feet/163,000 square metres) and its sale to Midas International Asset Management, a leading Korean investor in recent European logistics transactions, and Hana Financial Investors, one of the largest financial institutions from Korea.
In the past few years, some of the most prominent domestic and international PE firms have deployed considerable resources in the Italian real estate market. Certain notable transactions have been:
- the setup of the joint venture between Coima Sgr, Covivio and Prada for the acquisition and requalification of the ex-railway station of Porta Romana in Milan, on which the Olympic Village will be built to host the 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympic Games, with the overall value of the project equal to approximately €1 billion;
- the acquisition by Blackstone, for an overall value of more than €1 billion, of a 70 per cent stake in the Italian real estate company Reale Compagnia Italiana SpA, owner of 13 trophy assets in Milan and one in Turin, and in the subsequent launch of a public offering for the acquisition of the remaining shares (completed in 2022);
- the various equity rounds of the Italian proptech company Casavo, leader in instant buying of real estate, the last of which was led by Exor, a diversified holding company controlled by the distinguished Italian Agnelli family and owner–operators of companies such as Ferrari, Stellantis, Juventus FC and The Economist Group.
- the acquisition by a real estate investment fund managed by Apollo Global Management, for an overall value of about €842 million, of a portfolio of 68 real estate assets previously owned by Enpam (the Italian social security fund for physicians) and the subsequent acquisition, for an overall value of about €300 million, of 11 of said assets by Coima Sgr; and
- the voluntary public tender and exchange offer launched by Evergreen SpA on all of the ordinary shares of Coima RES SpA SIIQ, with the strategic objective of accelerating the growth of Coima's real estate portfolio in the office and commercial real estate segment, on the back of the growing demand for prime sustainable properties.
Real estate companies and firmsi Publicly traded REITs and REOCs – structure and role in the market
Although under Italian law there is no investment vehicle that may be specifically qualified as REITs or REOCs, the Italian real estate market provides for similar structures that can be considered when planning an investment through a publicly traded entity. Such structures may be divided between real estate companies and collective investment undertakings.
As regards the first group, the most significant investment vehicle is the SIIQ. On the other side, investments through Italian collective investment undertakings typically involve real estate investment companies with fixed corporate capital (known as SICAFs) and real estate alternative investment funds (known as REIFs).
An additional investment scheme recently offered to sophisticated investors in the Italian real estate market is represented by real estate securitisations.SIIQs
The Italian SIIQ regime was introduced by Law No. 296/2006. In 2014, the SIIQ legal framework was substantially reformed in the context of the adoption of new measures aimed at stimulating the Italian real estate industry. Finally, with reference to Italian non-listed subsidiaries, known as SIINQs, recent amendments have been introduced by the 2022 Budget Law.
The main features of the Italian SIIQs may be summarised as follows.
SIIQs are incorporated as joint-stock companies resident in Italy whose stocks are listed on the Italian Stock Exchange, or on regulated markets of EU or EEA States, and are subject to the supervision of Consob (the body monitoring the Italian Stock Exchange). SIIQs benefit from a special tax regime, provided that certain requirements, in particular, are met:
- shareholding structure: no single shareholder must hold, directly or indirectly, more than 60 per cent of the voting rights; and at least 25 per cent of the stocks must be held by shareholders that, individually, do not represent more than 2 per cent of the voting rights and the participation in profits;
- business activity: the main business carried out by an SIIQ is represented by the leasing of real estate assets;
- residence: SIIQs must be resident for income tax purposes in Italy;
- assets: at least 80 per cent of the total assets must consist of real estate assets to be leased and participations accounted as fixed assets in other SIIQs, SIINQs and Italian REIFs or SICAFs, which in turn hold real estate for lease or participations in other real estate investment companies, REIFs or SICAFs representing at least 80 per cent of the respective total assets (qualifying REIFs and SICAFs) (asset test); and
- revenues: in each financial year, at least 80 per cent of the positive components of income must be represented by proceeds from lease activity, dividends from leasing activity raised from participations in SIIQ, SIINQ and qualifying REIFs and SICAFs, and capital gains realised on real estate held for lease or in participations in SIIQs, SIINQs and qualifying REIFs and SICAFs (profit test).
In addition, SIIQs are subject to certain requirements with respect to the distribution of profits. Indeed, SIIQs shall distribute each year at least 70 per cent of the lower of net profits generated from leasing activities or from participations in other SIIQs, SIINQs and qualifying REIFs and SICAFs; and total profits available for distribution. Furthermore, SIIQs shall distribute to their shareholders at least 50 per cent of the capital gains deriving from the disposal of real estate properties held for lease or from participations in SIIQs, SIINQs and qualifying REIFs and SICAFs in the two years following on from the relevant disposal.
SIIQ's income deriving from a leasing activity is exempt from corporate income tax (IRES, applied at a rate of 24 per cent) and a regional tax on business activities (IRAP, applied at a rate of 3.9 per cent). Income deriving from other activities is subject to the ordinary IRES and IRAP regime.
Dividends deriving from SIIQ's exempt leasing activity are subject to a 26 per cent withholding tax on distribution. Non-resident shareholders may benefit from double tax treaties, if applicable. A specific exemption is provided for Italian pension funds and Italian undertakings for collective investments. Dividends deriving from different activities are subject to the ordinary tax regime depending on the recipient.
Despite a favourable tax regime, as of today there are only a few SIIQs listed on the Italian Stock Exchange.4
The same tax regime applies also to SIINQs, which, according to the amendments introduced by 2022 Budget Law, are companies:
- established as joint-stock companies, Sapa or Srl (limited liability companies), with a minimum share capital of €50,000, whose shares are not listed;
- resident for tax purposes in Italy;
- whose main activity is the rental of real estate properties (the asset test and profit test mentioned above); and
- owned by a SIIQ (or SIINQ) that individually owns more than 50 per cent of the voting rights and of participation in profits or, alternatively, by a SIIQ (or SIINQ) that owns with other SIIQs (or SIINQs) or qualified real estate funds, 100 per cent of participation in the share capital, as well as voting rights and participation in profits (provided that at least 50 per cent is owned by the SIIQs or SIINQs).
Undertakings for collective investment in the real estate sector can either be corporate vehicles as joint-stock companies with fixed capital (known as SICAFs) or contractual vehicles as alternative REIFs. Both of these vehicles are subject to the EU legal framework set out in the Directive on Alternative Investment Fund Managers.5
The main features of these investment structures may be briefly summarised as follows:
- funds of the relevant vehicle shall be collected from a variety of investors through issuance, or the offer of shares or units;
- these vehicles have a limited scope provided by applicable laws and regulations (for example, these vehicles are not entitled to directly carry out building activity), and the relevant assets shall be invested on the basis of an investment policy defined ex ante;
- investors act as passive investors and can be involved only with respect to certain main investment decisions, as the management powers must be exercised independently by an external regulated alternative investment manager. An exception is made for internally managed SICAFs directly managed by a board of directors whose members are appointed by the relevant shareholders. The investors' involvement in the decision-making process and the functioning of the vehicle is regulated under the fund regulation (in the case of REIFs) or the by-laws (in the case of SICAFs) of the vehicle; and
- the incorporation and set-up of these vehicles is subject to prior approval by the Bank of Italy (except for REIFs that are exclusively offered to professional and qualified investors), and their operations are supervised by the Bank of Italy and Consob.
With particular reference to the real estate SICAF:
- shareholder requirements: real estate SICAFs may be qualified as non-reserved or retail when their shares may be subscribed by retail investors, or as reserved, in cases where the investment in such vehicle is limited to Markets in Financial Instruments Directive professional clients and non-professional clients investing at least €500,000 or, provided that certain conditions are met, at least €100,000;
- business activity and assets: the main business carried out by real estate SICAFs is to provide collective asset management through investment in the acquisition of real estate and property rights, as well as in real estate funds, real estate SICAFs or SIIQs, which shall represent, in aggregate, at least two-thirds of the overall assets of the vehicle;
- management structure: real estate SICAFs can be either externally managed (likewise for REIFs) by an alternative investment manager, or internally managed. In this latter case, the SICAF generally has a governance structure that reflects the presence of business shareholders (which participate, for management purposes, providing the SICAF with its management and organisational structure and with the financial resources needed to carry out its business and meet the regulatory capital requirement) and investor shareholders (who are granted the voice rights generally recognised for the investors in the funds). Alongside the described management structure, the business operations of the SICAFs also involve banks acting as depositary agents, external auditors to certify the SICAF's financial statement as well as independent experts appointed to provide evaluations of the real estate assets owned by the company;
- listing: unlike SIIQs, no listing requirement is provided with respect to real estate SICAFs; and
- leverage: specific restrictions to leverage recourse apply with respect to retail real estate SICAFs (i.e., a maximum permitted ratio between exposure and the net asset value equal to two), while no specific limitations apply to reserved SICAFs, with an exception being made for those provided under a company's by-laws.
REIFs have several elements in common with SICAFs since, as mentioned above, they are both collective investment undertakings subject to the regulatory framework (e.g., the Alternative Investment Funds Managers Directive), although SICAFs must also comply with ordinary corporate law provisions set forth under the Italian civil code.
REIFs' most distinctive characteristics, compared to real estate SICAFs, can be summarised as follows:
- contractual form and management structure: investment funds under Italian law lack legal personality and are able to operate only through a separate and independent management company; therefore, real estate funds can only be externally managed; and
- authorisation process: unlike the incorporation of a SICAF, the set-up of investment funds reserved for professional investors is a very smooth process, as it does not require any prior authorisation from the regulatory authorities.
Both REIFs and SICAFs, as collective investment undertakings, are subject to the EU legal framework set out in the Regulation on sustainability‐related disclosures in the financial services sector, or the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation.6 Therefore, as part of the governing documents of these products as well as in the pre-contractual information and periodic reports to be made available to investors, relevant information regarding the degree of sustainability of the product should be provided, depending on the level of classification assigned to the REIF or the SICAF, or both, by the alternative investment manager.7
From a tax perspective, REIFs are exempt from IRES and IRAP if they satisfy the regulatory requirements to be considered as investment funds under Italian law and, in any case, if they are participated in exclusively by institutional investors (e.g., undertakings for collective investments and pension funds established in White List countries, and vehicles more than 50 per cent-owned by any of the aforementioned entities). The same tax treatment applies to SICAFs, with some differences for IRAP purposes.
Proceeds distributed by REIFs and SICAFs to non-resident investors are subject to a 26 per cent withholding tax, which may be reduced under double tax treaties, if applicable (generally 10 per cent). A domestic exemption from withholding tax is provided for certain non-resident investors (including undertakings for collective investment established in White List countries).Real estate securitisation
In 2019, Italy extended securitisations to real estate: SPVs meeting certain requirements can carry out securitisation of proceeds arising from real estate and related rights.
Real estate and related rights underlying a securitisation constitute a pool of assets segregated from the other SPV's assets. The securitised assets are segregated in favour of the SPV's investors, counterparties of the derivative contracts signed by the SPV for hedging purposes and grantors of the funds raised by the SPV.
Said SPVs will not need to be regulated and shall have as their corporate purpose the acquisition, management and valorisation of real estate and registered movable assets in the exclusive interest of the securitisation transaction. The management of the pool of assets in the interest of the noteholders shall be carried out by entities that shall not necessarily be regulated asset managers (pursuant to the AIFM Directive and its implementing provisions).
From a tax perspective, the Italian Revenue Agency clarified that real estate securitisation SPVs are exempt from IRES and IRAP, given that the profits deriving from the real estate activity are a separate pool of assets, not constituting income attributable to SPVs.8
Upon the conclusion of the securitisation, any outstanding income arising after all the creditors of the segregated assets and noteholders have been satisfied would be subject to income taxes (IRES and IRAP) in the hands of the SPV.
Interest and other profits paid by a real estate SPV to non-resident noteholders, in principle, are subject to a 26 per cent withholding tax in Italy. However, a domestic exemption from withholding tax applies to entities resident for tax purposes in White List countries and to institutional investors established in White List countries.ii Real estate PE firms – footprint and structure
A number of PE firms invest actively in the Italian real estate market through structured investment schemes including REIFs and externally managed SICAFs established under Italian law. Most frequently, such investors are leading PE operators with a worldwide presence that focus on large portfolios with a value-added strategy.
Transactionsi Legal frameworks and deal structures
In the Italian market, real estate deals are typically structured either as share deals, where the investor acquires an interest in an entity owning real estate, or as asset deals, which entail the direct acquisition of real estate. The reason to prefer one investment scheme over the other may lie in a number of elements. This choice may carry major consequences in terms of process, timing, tax regime and potential liabilities of the investor.Asset deal
Asset deals are usually simpler than share deals as, in such a case, the purchaser does not take over the liabilities and contracts of the seller, except for certain specific tax liabilities and certain contracts that are transferred by operation of law together with the property (e.g., lease agreements). Therefore, the relevant legal due diligence may be limited only to certain matters, including:
- title of ownership;
- existing encumbrances;
- compliance of the property with applicable laws;
- main terms and conditions of the relevant lease agreements (if any); and
- assessment of the regular fulfilment of obligations concerning the payment of certain indirect taxes related to the real estate, which may give rise to a real estate lien provided by law.
On the other hand, asset deals entail certain complexities, as they need to comply with certain acquisition formalities provided by law. For example, a transfer deed shall include certain mandatory provisions (e.g., declaration on the cadastral and building compliance of the asset transferred) and, for the for the purposes of its enforceability in relation to third parties, shall be notarised and recorded in real estate registries.Share deals
With respect to share deals, as the investor acquires an interest in the entity that owns the real estate, it assumes, indirectly, all the risks relating to the previous operation of the business exercised by the target. Therefore, this investment structure usually requires a broad due diligence activity to investigate, in addition to the technical real estate matters mentioned above with respect to asset deals, a number of aspects relating to the target entity, including an analysis of the corporate documentation and agreements, which may provide for restrictions to the transfer of shares or units jeopardising the transaction, employment relationships and IP rights held by the target (especially when investing in the hotel industry).
Share deals also require broader tax due diligence on the whole target entity (e.g., formalities related to tax returns, payment of direct taxes and other specific issues for real estate companies).
Additional specific aspects to be addressed by the investor may be the following:
- governance: following the execution of a transaction, the investor may need to restructure the governance, including through the replacement of the members of the management body and the release of responsibilities in relation to the resigning directors;
- change of control: clauses pursuant to which a change in the shareholding resulting from the transaction may trigger the termination of agreements potentially crucial for the entity's operations; and
- group reorganisation: the investor might need to carry out certain post-closing activities to achieve a functional group structure or to pursue certain tax efficiencies, or both.
Apart from specific considerations on the applicable tax regime, the structure of a share deal may offer certain benefits that may lead an investor to prefer such investment scheme over an asset deal, for example, dividends and capital gains derived from shareholding in Italian companies are not subject to taxation in Italy when received or realised by foreign UCIs compliant with Directive 2009/65/EC (UCITS), and foreign UCIs established in EU Member States whose manager is subject to regulatory supervision pursuant to Directive 2011/61/EU (AIFMD).
Indeed, the acquisition of an interest in the target may allow the investor to avoid the application of certain requirements relating to the transferability of the real estate connected to compliance with the law and to cultural or historical interests over the property (possibly entailing a pre-emption right in favour of the competent authorities).
Compared to those required for an asset deal, acquisition formalities to be met in a share deal are less burdensome. Whereas in the case of an acquisition of interests in a limited liability company the transfer shall be notarised and filed with the competent company register for the purposes of its enforceability, if the target is a joint-stock company, the transfers are made by means of endorsement. Moreover, when a joint-stock company is listed in a stock exchange, the trading does not require specific acquisition formalities and may be completed through licensed intermediaries.
When the transaction consists of the acquisition of a qualified interest in a public entity listed in a regulated market (such SIIQs and listed REIFs), additional formalities and incisive restrictions relating to tender offer regulations will apply. However, tender offers are not seen particularly frequently in the Italian real estate market.ii Acquisition agreement terms
The typical structure of the acquisition agreements entered into in real estate transactions are quite similar both in the case of asset deals and share deals, regardless of the type of investor involved.Scope
In asset deals, the definition of the exact scope of a transaction requires a precise cadastral identification of the real estate. As the performance of such activity entails the analysis of cadastral registries, an investor may benefit from the support of a public notary and of technical advisers. Such consideration applies also to share deals relating to M&A and real estate transactions as the ultimate assets acquired are real estate.Price
When directly purchasing real estate, the purchase price is usually determined ex ante as a fixed amount based on a number of factors such as the expected profitability of the property. The mechanics to determine the purchase price of a target entity are usually less straightforward. They are frequently subject to various forms of adjustments to be carried out post-closing, mainly to reflect the business performance of the target between the time the purchase price is agreed upon and the date of closing.Representations and warranties
The set of representations and warranties typically requested in M&A and real estate transactions covers:
- full title of ownership;
- absence of encumbrances and liens, such as mortgages, easements and pre-emption rights;
- the validity and effectiveness of lease agreements;
- compliance of the property with applicable laws;
- the fulfilment of tax obligations; and
- an absence of litigation.
In the context of a share deal, a customary set of representations and warranties may include also the following:
- the power and capacity of the seller;
- employment matters and social security compliance;
- the validity and effectiveness of main agreements;
- the accuracy, correctness and completeness of financial statements; and
- commercial licences and IP.
With respect to indemnity obligations, there are no significant differences between asset and share deals. Save for those relating to breach of representations and warranties covering title of ownership and tax liabilities, the duration term of the indemnity obligations usually ranges between 12 to 24 months.
It is worth mentioning that during the past few years, warranty and indemnity insurances have experienced remarkable growth in the Italian real estate market as they allow a clean exit for the seller.iii Hostile transactions
Due to a number of factors relating to both structural and subjective characteristics, in recent years the Italian market has not experienced hostile transactions concerning the real estate industry.iv Financing considerations
Although the structure of real estate financing transactions is usually standard, certain peculiarities may be observed depending on the structure of the transaction.
In asset deals, the loan is granted directly to the purchaser, as borrower, through a mortgaged medium-term loan facility agreement. Subject to certain legal requirements, this allows lenders to benefit from a significant reduction of the consolidation period of the mortgage for the purposes of the clawback period under Italian insolvency law. Additional security interests, such as the assignment by way of security of receivables arising out of the transaction documents or a pledge over the bank accounts of the borrower, usually assist the financing.
In share deals, a transaction is normally structured as a merger leveraged buyout pursuant to Article 2501-bis of the Italian Civil Code. Accordingly, a loan is granted to an SPV incorporated for the purposes of the acquisition of the target and, indirectly, the real estate. Pursuant to Italian law provisions on financial assistance preventing a company from (directly or indirectly) granting loans or guarantees for the purchase or subscription of its shares, at closing, lenders cannot benefit from any security interests over the target's real estate and its cashflows. The financing transaction is thus structured in two stages:
- a first stage during which the acquisition loan is granted to the SPV and is only secured by an assignment by way of security of the receivables arising out of the transaction documents, including any shareholder loan granted by the investors in the SPV to finance the equity portion of the purchase price, and a pledge over the shares of the SPV and upon completion of the acquisition over the shares of the target; and
- a second stage, starting upon completion of the merger leveraged buyout between the SPV and target to be performed within a limited period after closing, during which the security package includes also a first ranking mortgage over the real estate, a pledge over the bank accounts on which cashflows are credited and an assignment of the receivables arising out of any lease agreement relating to the property and insurance policy covering the same.
Should the real estate owned by the target be already mortgaged to secure any existing loan previously granted to the vendor, the financing structure usually provides also for the repayment in full of the existing loan and cancellation of the relevant existing mortgage at closing.v Tax considerations
The indirect taxes regime applicable to the purchase of real estate located in Italy depends on the characteristics of the seller, on whether the property qualifies as commercial or residential and on the renovation works executed by the seller.
For VAT purposes, assuming that the seller is registered for VAT in Italy and a transaction involves a commercial property, the purchase would be:
- compulsorily subject to VAT (at 10 or 22 per cent without the reverse charge procedure) if the seller has executed certain renovation works (specifically listed by the Italian building code) in the five years prior to the purchase; or
- otherwise exempt from VAT or subject to VAT (at 10 or 22 per cent with the reverse charge procedure) by option of the seller. The application of the exemption may give rise to certain limitations with respect to the deduction of input VAT.
For transfer tax purposes, the purchase of commercial properties is subject to a fixed registration tax (€200) and to proportional mortgage and cadastral taxes (respectively 3 and 1 per cent).
The above-mentioned regime for VAT and transfer taxes purposes applies also to real estate securitisation SPVs.
Conversely, transfer taxes are reduced to one-half (respectively 1.5 and 0.5 per cent) if part of the transaction is an Italian REIF or a SICAF, or if the purchase is made by a SIIQ.
Based on EU case law9, such reduction should not apply in the case of an investment fund established under the laws of a foreign jurisdiction. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has stated that such restriction is not compliant with the EU principle of free movement of capital (Article 63 of TFEU). In light of such decision, the reduced transfer taxes should apply also to transactions carried out by non-resident real estate funds.
On the other side, share deals involving Italian real estate companies are not subject to VAT, and the related deed of purchase, if executed in Italy, is subject to fixed registration tax (€200). Moreover, if a purchase involves the shares of an Italian joint-stock company, the financial transaction tax (Tobin tax) would apply at 0.2 per cent of the price of the shares.
In the case of share deals, specific aspects relating to the taxation of the Italian company acquired and the repatriation of profits to foreign shareholders should be analysed, both in light of domestic and EU provisions. Moreover, following on from an acquisition, reorganising an Italian company into a REIF may be considered, which, depending on the type of investor, may allow a more efficient structure from a tax perspective.vi Cross-border complications and solutions
Investments in sectors qualified as being strategic for the purposes of national security and defence are subject to clearances and constraints (including a veto right, commonly known as 'golden powers') to be released or imposed, as the case may be, by the government to protect such sectors from foreign speculative acquisitions. Since the enactment of the golden powers framework in 2012, the government has subsequently10 broadened the scope of such golden powers also in terms of assets qualified as being of strategic importance in an effort to preserve and strengthen the financial system and the productive chains of the country. More specifically, as of today the perimeter of the above-mentioned strategic areas covers a large portion of the national economy, including, among others, the energy, transport and communications sectors as well as the financial and healthcare sectors. As a result, inter alia, any transaction regarding key real estate assets that are instrumental to the functioning of strategic infrastructures (e.g., ports, highways, infrastructures for storage or transportation of fuel, electricity, radioactive materials or waste) is subject to the above-mentioned golden powers of the government.
Furthermore, effective from May 2022, the golden powers framework applies also to transactions that involve companies operating strategic real estate assets under a concession regime – including hydroelectric concessions – thus further widening the number of events potentially triggering the exercise of the government's prerogatives.
Currently, no exercise of the golden powers by the government has been recorded with respect to the real estate sector. However, it is still debated whether such 'enhanced golden powers' are likely to produce an actual impact in the Italian real estate market in the future in relation to the strategic destination of assets.
On 30 July 2020 Italy enacted Legislative Decree No. 100 implementing Council Directive (EU) 2018/822 of 25 May 2018, according to which intermediaries and taxpayers may be subject to mandatory disclosure obligations to tax authorities of EU Member States in the case of cross-border arrangements that meet certain 'hallmarks'. In 2021, the Italian Revenue Agency issued public guidelines11 to individuate the applicable hallmarks and regarding how to comply with the described duties.
Moreover, on 22 December 2021, the European Commission approved the proposal for a Council Directive to prevent the misuse of shell entities for tax purposes (Shell Entities Directive). In cases where the Shell Entities Directive is adopted, it will be necessary to verify whether, and to what extent, EU interposing entities of non-EU investors with no or minimal economic activity (shell entities) should be excluded from the application of, inter alia, favourable regimes concerning intra-EU dividends and interest.
Corporate real estate
In the past few years, it has been possible to observe a marked trend in the Italian market to separate corporate real estate from operating companies (opco/propco separations), especially in transactions involving supermarket chains, shopping centres and hotels. In a number of cases, such separations are functional to sale and leaseback transactions, where the company originally owning the real estate transfers the same to another company (a propco) and continues operating the business within the property by means of a lease agreement executed with the propco following the transfer.
In the case of acquisitions carried out though Italian REIFs, such separation is made due to regulatory constraints. Indeed, Italian REIFs may hold directly real estate assets and participations (but not going concerns).
The covid-19 health emergency and the commencement of the Russian–Ukrainian conflict in February 2022 have deeply impacted the world economy and global economic growth, accelerating changes and transformations for all industry sectors, including real estate, which are expected to last beyond the health emergency and the Russian–Ukrainian conflict. Supply difficulties, higher-than-expected inflation and rising interest rates are affecting investment strategies in the real estate market, delaying certain real estate developments and M&A transactions.
Despite the above, investors continue to be very active in the real estate market.
The real estate sector also benefits from investments expected to be carried out by operators thanks to the EU Recovery Plan and its domestic implementation (i.e., PNRR), which aims at improving the energy efficiency of public and private buildings, with the simultaneous implementation of safety and digitisation measures. Moreover, through the issuance of such measures, the government intends to improve the environmental sustainability and anti-seismic performance of constructions, with an issuance of measures and resources for an overall amount of about €15 billion.12 The PNRR may represent an opportunity to attract foreign real estate operators, and encourage real estate operators to adopt long-term strategies in the Italian real estate market focused on tourist and student infrastructure, logistics and green sustainability.
Finally, several tax measures were introduced by the government during 2020 and 2021, especially to support shopping centres and hotels, such as the tax credit for commercial leases (equal to 60 per cent of monthly rents) under certain conditions, a 'tax-free' revaluation for legal and tax purposes of real estate assets owned by entities carrying out hotel activities, and the exemption from payment of Italian property tax (IMU), due for 2020 and the first instalment for 2021, for real estate assets used in connection with tourism business activities.
Outlook and conclusions