An Italian public notary, or notaio, is a public officer who operates in every area of law and is empowered by the Italian State to draft or authenticate documents, agreements or contracts. Unlike a lawyer representing the interests of a client, a notary places neutrality and fidelity to the law above all. As officers vested with the rights of official authority by the state, Italian public notaries act as a guarantee of legality and authenticity to all functions overseen by them.
In the case of real estate transactions, the main role of the notary is to draw up the deed of sale, or atto di vendita, even if the deed is initially proposed by one of the lawyers representing the buyer or seller. In the course of the conveyance process, the notary also confirms the identities of the buyer and the seller, as well as confirming that the respective parties are entitled to take part in the transaction. In addition, the notary attends the signing of the contract, oversees transfer of funds, and ensures new deeds of ownership are registered with the Italian Land Registry. The notary also calculates taxes to be paid for the transaction, collects said taxes upon completion of the sale, and finally pays them on behalf of the two parties. As previously stated, an Italian public notary is entirely neutral, and therefore cannot add any clause to the agreement which may disadvantage one of the parties without explaining the content and legal effects to the parties in a clear and complete manner.
Due to the differences that exist between Italian public notaries and their common law counterparts, prospective foreign buyers may experience confusion about the nature of a notary in this type of real estate acquisition. In the United States, for example, notaries possess none of the legal powers enjoyed by those in Italy. Instead, American notaries only have the power to administer oaths, take affidavits, declarations or depositions from witnesses, acknowledge and attest signatures, and certify copies. Because of their limited role, American notaries are often employed in different capacities (lawyer, court reporter, etc.). Italian notaries, by contrast, are highly-trained, licensed practitioners who provide a range of regulated services and are generally, despite their public position, in private practice. In fact, becoming a notary in Italy is a difficult endeavor. After receiving a law degree, aspiring notaries spend years in practical training before taking the state exam. Consequently, there are fewer than 5,000 notaries currently working in Italy (compared to the nearly 250,000 lawyers).