Expat Essentials

Expat Essentials: 1 euro deals on homes are attracting people back to Europe’s abandoned villages (updated)

(Editor’s note: Selling houses for a symbolic amount – 1 euro – to counter population decline in rural towns and villages is a trend that started in Italy in 2008. Thirteen years later, the trend of selling abandoned houses for a nominal fee is spreading around the world with villages in Switzerland, Spain, Croatia and even Japan joining in.)

The major news sites such as CNN have endless headlines exclaiming “You can still buy $1 homes all over Italy.” And you can if you have the time and resources to fix up a ruin in a remote, abandoned village in Italy, France or Spain.

In fact, American actor Lorraine Bracco (“Goodfellas,” “The Sopranos”) bought a 200-year-old 1-euro house in Sambuca, Sicily – one of the most popular of the cities pioneering this 21st century Italian renaissance – with HGTV building a whole new series around her project.

“My Big Italian Adventure” premiered 30 October, and the Wrap has the most detailed post about the show.

While some media present buying the 1 euro house as a new opportunity, this trend has been going on since at least 2015, when entire Spanish villages started going on the market for less than the cost of a 1-bedroom apartment in London. And the reason is simple: While a lot of outsiders can afford the luxury of living in an idyllic village in rural Italy, locals can’t.

“A lot of people move to the city from the countryside to work,” said Maurizio Berti with Case A 1 Euro. “It’s a cultural phenomenon, not just a business phenomenon.”

Full disclosure: You can throw a dart at a map of Italy and pretty much anywhere it lands, there’s a 1-euro house “initiative.” Some are ad hoc, with houses coming and going, and mayors and officials making up the rules, then changing them on a whim.

The details

We can say without fear of contradiction that people rarely give anything of value away for free or even for 1 euro. And that’s at the heart of this proposition as working-age people leave small towns and villages in rural Europe, they leave behind houses that don’t appeal to conventional buyers.

Now, getting one of the fabled 1 euro deal for a house might seem like a gimmick, but it’s not. Some houses – typically those in poor shape – really change hands for 1 euro. But they’ll revert right back to municipalities if buyers don’t hold up their end of the bargain – spending serious money to bring the buildings up to code in a fixed amount of time, usually three years.

And it’s worth noting that a lot of people set out to buy one of the 1 euro homes, but end up buying a move-in property at market rate, which is still a huge bargain compared to big cities.

By far, Italy has the most villages and towns using the 1 euro scheme to restore and repopulate, and there are dozens of active campaigns to attract investors from north to south as well as on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.

France, Spain, Croatia, Japan and other countries are only now getting on the bandwagon.

Croatia

A village in northern Croatia on the border with Hungary is now selling abandoned houses for 1 kuna, or about 16 cents American. As of mid-2021, Legrad has put 19 on the market, out of which 17 have sold, according to Reuters. Not a bad batting average. The rules for getting one of these deals includes being under 40 years old and financially solvent. Oh, and you have to commit to staying 15 years. The Reuters post doesn’t say that you have to live in bucolic rural Croatia for 15 years, just that you have to keep the property. Oh, Legrad’s mayor, Ivan Sabolic, says the town will cover 20 percent of renovation up to 35,000 kunas, or about 5,000 euros.

Here’s the contact page (in Croatian) for Legrad.

Italy

In Italy, there are thousands of houses available from north to south and on Sicily, said Maurizio at Case A 1 Euro. Most are in poor condition, and the municipalities sell for a symbolic price of 1 euro, though auction prices tend to be higher.

Buyers have to make a significant investment in rehabbing the houses. There are also fees for real estate agents, taxes and the costs of hooking back up to local utilities. By the time the house is done, it’s not unusual for the new owners to have spent 30,000 euros. In fact, the process of finding the right house for a comparatively small amount of money, then finding the local contractors to do the restoration, is so nuanced that Maurizio says it’s imperative for shoppers to come to Italy.

Before the pandemic, he took people from all over the world on tours to the villages and introduced them to the local mayors and familiarized them with how the process works, because it’s complicated.

First, the south is far different from the north, Maurizio said. A small village in the north might have 300 residents where a “small” village in south might have 20,000 inhabitants.

Second, many of the houses in the south including Campania, the poorest region, were built for migrant workers who traveled from region to region, working on estates. Those houses are quite small, perhaps 60m2 on three floors. “So, if you want a big house, sometimes you have find three close to each other and turn them into one house,” Maurizio said.

You can call Maurizio at: country code 39 – 349-664-0136 or email him at: [email protected]

So, let’s go shopping.

Biccari

A number of media outlets have posts about Biccari in Southern Italy, the latest (January 2021) entrant into the 1 euro home competition. Every village and town has a little different approach and Biccari’s is abandoned 1 euro homes and move-in ready small homes – 70 meters2 on two floors – starting about about 7,000 euros.

The selection is immense, with about 100 available buildings including 20 ready-to-occupy structures, according to CNN. The town requires a 3,000 euro good-faith renovation deposit on the 1 euro homes, and buyers get three years to restore their buildings … more if construction is moving forward.

Biccari is in southern Italy, about 130 kilometers northeast of Naples and the mayor touts the hilly region as the ideal place for slow tourism and adventure tourism, with lots of hiking and outdoor activities. And of course the local food is authentic including sausages made from baby wild boar.

You can see the Biccari municipal website here, but no homes are posted yet. You can contact the mayor Gianfilippo Mignogna at: [email protected].

Bisaccia

Bisaccia, in the Campania region, has 90 – yes, nine-zero – properties listed, each for 1 euro, according to CNN. But that post has an interesting twist … because all those properties are clustered together in the center of the city, Bisaccia’s strategy is to find buyers who’ll also bring their family and friends for a communal approach to reviving the village.

We couldn’t find a website or contact information for the 1 euro properties. But you can see market-priced homes here starting at about 11,000 euros.

Bisaccia is in the mountains about 130 kilometers east of Naples. The region is Puglia.

Borgomezzavallee

Borgomezzavallee is in the mountains of the northwestern Italy on the Swiss border, and about equidistant between Geneva and Milan. So, a prime location.

But not all that many people want to live in this remote valley, so the population has dwindled to about 300, leaving lots of empty homes. Borgomezzavallee has made the news recently both with a 1-euro house initiative and with an offer to pay couples to have children at rate of 1,000 euros per, and 2,000 euros to anyone willing to start a tax-generating business.

Check out the video above in which an Italian-speaking American expat drops in and gets the details. Also, a CNN post has lots of details.

Here’s the regional municipality website.

Calabria

This is regional effort that includes several nearly abandoned towns in impoverished, though scenic, southernmost Italy. Calabrian officials are offering up to 33,000 euros over three years to relocate to, then invest in, one of a dozen villages including Albidona, Bova and Caccuri.

When we say “invest,” that means starting or reviving a business. There are lots of requirements including age restrictions (no one over 40 years old) and requirements that you have skills needed in the region. Again, this is a regional initiative that’s gotten a lot of pub on CNN and other outlets, but we don’t see much on the regional governmental website, which you can see here.

We also didn’t see any information on websites of the participating municipalities. But after an hour of searching, we did turn up the email for Mayor Coppola (yes, like the “Godfather” director) in Altomonte, which you can see here. Mayor Coppola is one of the architects of this effort that villages on the sea, as well as villages with Greek roots and even Slavic outposts. So, one of the most interesting of all the “move to a nearly abandoned village” programs.

Cammarata

No town has ridden the train to international headlines like Cammarata. They did it by upping the ante … well, actually, by lowering the ante to zero. That’s right … the city fathers and mothers of Cammarata in the mountains of Sicily are giving away their houses for free to a good home like a litter of kittens.

Insider has the best of many, many posts about Cammarata. And of course, the standard rules apply … if buyers don’t restore the houses within a certain time, the city repossesses them.

Cantiano

This village toward more affluent Northern Italy is just south of San Marino. Two former farmsteads located in the rural surroundings have already sold, but a couple of historical buildings in the old village center are available, according to media reports.

Check out the municipality’s 1 euro home website here.

Carrega Ligure

This is the rare village in scenic Northern Italy, and its mayor has a different take on what to do with its unloved houses. Instead of shells to be renovated, Carrega Ligure is offering its houses in move-in condition … for a price. You can see what that price is on their website, but most start at about 10,000 euros … which is what you would spent on a 1 euro deal.

You can see all the houses for sale here.

A caveat – this is a mountain village far smaller than other villages/towns on this list. And it is in the middle of nowhere, up in the Apennine Mountains about 50 kilometer north of Genoa. In fact, when we Googled directions, Google responded, “Sorry, we could not calculate transit directions from “Genoa, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy” to “Carrega Ligure, 15060 Province of Alessandria, Italy.” So we don’t know … maybe ride a horse? If you like the quiet life, Carrega Ligure is for you.

You can see more details here on CNN.

Castiglioni di Sicilia

This is the latest town in Sicily to join the “whatever you’re looking for, we got” strategy. Out of 900 (that’s correct – nine hundred) houses for sale, half are ruins for 1 euro and half are ready to be renovated, selling for as much as 5,000 euros, according to multiple media reports.

When we first created this post back in 2019, the municipalities were less than sophisticated about making it easy for interested parties to get the details. But on the Castiglioni website, all the info on the houses is there. There’s also a tourist hotline in case you want to visit before you buy.

Tourist Information Office via Regina Margherita n. 77 tel. 0942980260 Toll- free
number 800010552

Okay, full disclosure. Castiglioni sits on the side of Mt. Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano. We’re not sure if the houses come with lava insurance. But this is – compared to some of the more remote villages – a very inviting destination, with a food & wine culture, a stunning setting, and lots of outdoor adventure options. The beach is close by because, well, Sicily is an island. Check out the vid above.

As usual, CNN has the best overview.

Castropignano

Castropignano Mayor Nicola Scapilati has come up with a different approach for this hilltop town – complete with castle – about 140 miles southeast of Rome and in the center of Italy.

Instead of merely selling dilapidated houses for 1 euro, Scapilati is playing matchmaker, trying to hook up potential owners with the most suitable dwellings. And he has 100 houses from which to choose. Also, unlike other vague efforts in Italy, Scapilati is the front person, with lots of contact info and facts and figures about what it’s going to take to get a house squared away in Castropignano. He calculates each house needs 30,000-to-40,000 euros in investment on top of that 1 euro.

The mayor is handling all this himself and you can email him directly at: [email protected] And here’s the fact sheet Scapilati has sent out with all the stipulations including the 2,000 euro surety deposit and the requirement you renovations no more than two months after taking possession of the property.

Here’s all the contact info:

Mayor Nicola Scapilati’s email is: [email protected]

Municipality:
Via G. Marconi, 1 – 86010
Tel: 0039 0874.503132
Fax: 0039 0874.503522
e-mail: [email protected]

http://www.comune.castropignano.cb.it/hh/index.php

CNN has a detailed post about the mayor and his picturesque town and Scapilati has gotten a lot of publicity for his effort, so we wouldn’t wait too long if you’re interested.

Cinquefrondi

You could see this coming from a mile away ….

Cinquefrondi is the first Italian village to market itself as a “COVID-free” alternative in Calabria. CNN has a post promoting the village as set in the “rugged Aspromonte National Park and overlooking both the Ionian and Tyrrhenian coasts,” but blighted by abandoned homes. Lots of abandoned homes.

In addition to unspoiled vistas, the southern village claims zero coronavirus cases and is in the “toe” of Italy’s boot, a region with one of Italy’s lowest levels of contagion.

Interestingly, Cinquefrondi has its own twist on selling its dozens of 1 euro houses. Most villages in Italy require buyers to put significant skin in the game early on, with deposits running 5,000 euros. CNN reports that Cinquefrondi only requires an annual 250 euro “insurance policy” until work is completed. Though if you buy, then do nothing, you’re looking at a 20,000 euro fine after three years.

This is “middle of nowhere” Itally, but the CNN post has a lot of great cultural and culinary details, along with an interesting look at local history. And they even have an email if you want to know more: [email protected]

Gangi

Gangi near Palermo in Sicily has been selling houses at give-away prices since 2011. And like a lot of the towns on this list, it’s the sort of place people imagine when they dream of a quiet life in Italy. In fact, Gangi was voted the most beautiful village in Italy in 2014, according to its website.

You can check out their offerings here.

Latronico

Latronico is part of an emerging trend of villages taking matters into their own hands as people leave, and townies stop coming back during the summers. Latronico has its own website, “Your House in Latronica,” listing bargain homes acquired by the municipality and now move-in ready. It also lists private homes for sales, as well as rentals so you can try before you buy.

From Deputy Mayor Vincenzo Castellano’s message on the website, which is really well done:

As Tourism Assessor, I have decided to develop this project in two ways: one by offering tourists the possibility to buy/rent a house, giving them all the information they need; the other by giving citizens of Latronico the possibility to use a means of communication, as the Internet, to highlighttheir own properties. This website aims to be a “virtual window” on the territory and to encourage people to invest in it, so that the positive economic impact arising will flow into the medium and small enterprises operating in Latronico.

Latronico has a lot going for it. It’s in the far south of Italy, about 200 kilometers southeast of Naples, and about 50 kilometers from the sea. The village of about 4,000 also has a lot of houses for sale from the low, low price of zero to about 80,000 euros.

Laurenzana

Multiple media outlets including CNN, Travel & Leisure and the New York Post have new items about Laurenzana in the Basilicata region in the arch of the Italian boot south of Naples.

As of mid-March, 2021, every Italian village is looking for a competitive advantage in the 1 euro game, and Laurenzana is – no deposit, no return. Most villages require purchasers of abandoned housed to put up a hefty deposit to make sure they don’t walk away when the going gets tough … and it will get tough.

“We want to help newcomers purchase the house of their dreams without making it hard for them to follow tedious procedures and tight requirements,” Mayor Michele Ungaro told CNN.

That doesn’t mean village officials won’t be monitoring the progress, Ungaro added. They will … very closely. And he advised that the reality of the Laurenzana houses is that buyers should be ready to invest at least 20,000 euros to return them to their former glory. But they can put the money in a home rather than putting it on deposit with the municipality.

Laurenzana is a in a very rugged and remote – though extremely picturesque – area (check out the video), so this isn’t everyone. But CNN notes that Laurenzana has a medieval castle and is close to Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as popular seaside locations such as Maratea, Praia a Mare, Scalea, Capo Palinuro and Marina di Camerota.

You can see more details about the 1 euro program here on the Laurenzana municipal website.

Luserna

The mountain village of Luserna in Italy’s Piedmont near the France/Italy border has a different take on accomplishing the same ends – reviving a small mountain city. Luserna officials are offering four unfurnished homes for four years to couples 18-to-40 years old. In other words, of prime child-producing years as they try to rebuild their population, which has dropped to 300 residents.

They also have a different take on the commitment to get that house, asking applicants if they’re willing to take an active part in the community in the form of collaborative living, helping raise kids and looking in on old folks.

From the website:

(The commune of Lucena) is offering young families the ideal conditions to become autonomous, build a couple life project and contribute to the development and life of a mountain area. Families will find valuable support and will be accompanied on their way by the experience and professionalism of the operators of the Franco Demarchi Foundation.

There are quite a few stipulations and unfortunately, all the documents are in Italian. But here’s the link to the municipality page with all the information. You might try calling or emailing ….

Mussomeli

Mussomeli is another town in Sicily that, like Gangi, has gotten a lot of pub for their effort, sold a lot of homes and started to attract new residents. CNN has a great feature on a French couple who negotiated the process and ended up with a small home in this thriving Sicilian town, apparently without any real complications.

The Independent has a post about a British digital consultant who had a very positive experience in Mussomeli and encourages other to “go for it.” And CNN has a detailed post about the varied stories of Americans who have bought on Sicily.

Sambuca

This Sicilian town has probably sold more houses in the past year than any other in Italy, receiving 110,000 requests from foreigners interested in buying one of the first batch of 16 homes. So in light of that success, Sambuca moved to Phase II of its revitalization in August with 2 euro houses. Here’s the detailed CNN post.

We know … 100 percent more expensive. But Sambuca is just a few miles from the sea and the capital city of Palermo in one of the most spectacular parts of Sicily, with its own cuisine and quality wines. Which is what we’re all after, right?

Deputy Mayor  Giuseppe Cacioppo told local media the first effort attracted precisely the people Sambuca needs to be “interesting” including  journalists, writers, two actresses and a singer.

The terms of the first round were pretty simple: Newcomers had to spend 15,000 to renovate each home, along with 5,000 euros on deposit until those renovations are complete. You can get more details here on the Sambuca de Sicilia city government website. There are 18 properties listed currently.

CTV News in Canada has a great post about Sambuca that illustrates how well these schemes can work, especially when you have a beautiful town in a choice location.

Santa Fiora

In a twist on the 1 euro home concept, a number of Italian villages will subsidize your rent for a few months if you move there as a remote worker. Though ultimately, the goal is to get you to buy and stay. The town of Santa Fiora in Tuscany – population 2,500 – has built a sophisticated website to tout its program, billed “Live in the Country.” The website shows some of the apartments available, which average about 70m2, or 750 square feet, with the rent subsidy of about 200 euros per month, up to six months. The tag line for the effort is, “Live in the village for a short time or forever!” adding that buying a house in Santa Flora is even smarter. So the strategy is to get you to come, then seduce you into staying.

The website features all of the services in the community as well as the fact that Santa Flora has broadband. By the way, you have to prove to Santa Flora officials that you have a job and will actually be working, not vacationing.

Santo Stefano di Sessanio

Is it just us, or is this turning into a bidding war for people to repopulate and rehabilitate Italian mountain villages? Take for example Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a walled medieval village in Abruzzo in east-central Italy about a two-hour drive from Rome. The town just announced a scheme (or a plan, in Euro-speak) to not just pay people to come and start a business, but to sweeten the pot by giving them a place to stay at a nominal fee to get them started. This is geared toward young families, with eligible adults 40 year old or younger willing to start a business relevant to the needs of the village, then stick around for five years.

Santo Stefano’s town council will pay eligible aspiring residents a monthly fee for three years, up to a maximum of 8,000 euros per year along with a seed investment up to 20,000 euros to start a business, according to CNN.

We’ve never quite figured out where the money comes from as these struggling areas and empty villages (Santo Stefano has about 70 permanent residents) compete for people. But this plan seems legit as media outlets from CNN to Vanity Fair have have scrutinized their proposal and about 1,500 people have applied since the scheme launched on 15 October.

This is a time limited offer and you have to apply by 15 November. You can apply here.

Taranto

In early 2020, Taranto got a lot of publicity from the U.S. to Australia as the first real city to jump on the 1-euro bandwagon. This industrial seaside commercial center near Brindisi on the bottom of the Italian boot is trying to reinvent itself. This includes boosting the population of its neglected Old City above the current 3,000 citizens. So city fathers/mothers are selling five properties in the center.

That was just the first round. Now Taranto has a far more ambitious offering – nine buildings with 50 units. Okay, most aren’t in great shape, but some do have sea views. And the city’s rules and requirements are reasonable, letting new owners live there only part-time, renting out their properties or using them as B&Bs.

You can see all the details here on the municipality’s website.

By the way, Taranto is getting a lot of funding that will update the steel plant that’s its main employer as well as rebuild sections of the city. You can see a .pdf of the plans here, which are in Italian. But you can see physically where the improvements will happen. This is quite an attractive city with a fortress and lots to do and see. So if joining the Village People has little appeal for you, the bright lights of the big-ish city are also an option.

Teora

In southern Italy’s Campania region near the Amalfi coast, the mountain village of Teora is offering to pickup most of the rent for families with children in a tax-free gambit to attract new residents. In the program, here are 100 houses available for 200 euros rent per month … but the city picks up 150 euros of you rent if you bring at least one child. If your family likes it, you can buy a house starting for as little as 20,000 euros, according to Forbes.

The recruitment scheme began 24 February and runs thought 31 July. You can see more details here.

Troina

With so much competition for investors, it was inevitable that a mayor would decide to create a fund to help new residents renovate their 1 euro home. That mayor is Sebastiano Fabio Venezia and the town is Troina, ranked as one of the loveliest villages in Italy

You have to check out the Troina website for this, which also lists habitable houses for sales. This is the most complete website we’ve seen and written in flawless English. That’s because Venezia assembled a multi-lingual team for the effort including renovation consultants, according to CNN.

The drill is pretty standard up to a point – buyers put down a 5,000 euro deposit that gets refunded once renovations are complete. But, the city is willing to subsidize buyers with 15,000 euro renovation credits and another 10,000 if you add solar panels and other renewable energy options.

Of all these listings, we have to say Troina seems to have the best chance of attracting a critical mass of professionals and artists and breaking out as a tourist destination.

Zungoli

This village about 100 kilometers east of Naples in Southern Italy has a section of the city’s website dedicated to showcasing 1 euro deals on homes. Village officials have put together a volunteer committee to help out potential buyers.

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