In recent years, dozens of depopulating rural towns across Italy – from the Alps to Sicily – have started selling crumbly old properties for just one euro, less than the cost of an espresso.
The goal is to breathe new life into their dying communities and revamp the local economy.
- The Sicilian village of Sambuca had streets full of empty houses. Now people are coming back, giving the village a second life. (Photo: Silvia Marchetti)
As villagers flee in search of a brighter future elsewhere there is a reverse incoming trend of foreign buyers eager to replace them and help revive these sleepy places.
Roughly 60 towns and villages have launched the alluring one-euro-home scheme, and even though there is no official national data on how many houses have been sold, at local level mayors involved in the project say it has been a success.
In the Sicilian towns of Gangi over 300 one-euro properties have been offloaded, while in Mussomeli roughly 150. And the pandemic has not stopped the purchases, nor more towns from adopting the same scheme.
“On the contrary, we were quite amazed that despite global travel restrictions and pandemic anxiety many foreigners this summer rushed to snatch a crumbly home, lured by the plus points of Mussomeli: fewer crowds where social distancing is guaranteed, a simple lifestyle, great food and a pristine scenery”, Toti Nigrelli, Mussomeli’s deputy mayor, told EUobserver.
The village of Sambuca, founded by the Arabs, this year placed a second lot of old houses on the market for €2 following the successful sale of 17 abandoned properties in 2019. Given the many applications, the houses were auctioned and sold to the highest bidder.
In Sambuca the influx of new buyers has revived the tourist sector and the real estate market. New taverns, B&Bs, and boutiques have opened, says deputy mayor Giuseppe Cacioppo.
Since 2019, roughly 150 properties have been sold, also by private sellers, while many old buildings have been given a makeover, with the local economy benefiting from over €1.5 bn in new funds.
“Foreign owners have well integrated into the local community, they’re considered our townsfolk – citizens among citizens. You can spot them at the bar each morning sipping an espresso, chatting with locals, or working remotely. Sambuca is living a Renaissance”, said Cacioppo.
The pandemic has in fact boosted the appeal of Italy’s offbeat idyllic villages among global digital nomads.
At least 10 more towns launched, in 202, the one-euro home scheme, including Pratola Peligna in Abruzzo and Laurenzana in Sicily.
The villages selling homes for one euro, mostly located in the deep poorer south, have a dwindling depopulation either due to past mass emigration or natural calamities such as earthquakes.
In several of these towns hundreds of dilapidated properties are being advertised online by local authorities, who liaise between old and new buyers.
However, even though the thought of snapping up a home for a bargain might seem too good to be true, there are several downsides.
The new owners must commit to refurbish the crumbly home within a deadline of 3 years and pay a deposit guarantee of between €2,000 and €5,000 depending on town rules, which will be returned to them …….