Expat Essentials

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

(Editor’s note: This post on 1 euro deals on houses in remote villages will be updated as we curate more information.)

Everyone knows the major European cities from Barcelona to Helsinki are booming, and housing is tight and expensive as people move to career opportunities.

What’s not so well known is this trend has caused a counter-trend … houses and even castles at give-away prices in remote villages and towns across Europe.

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 where most of the working-age people have left for career opportunities in those above-mentioned European innovation centers.

Affordable properties bringing creative class to villages

Alice Verberne, a long-time expat from Louisiana in the United States, bought a house in the hilltop village of Bourmont in rural France years ago for a few thousand euros, a large house she’s restored as her weekend getaway and as a vacation rental.

While she wants her investment to appreciate, Alice is also a community advocate who, along with other expats, is working to revive Bourmont as a colony for creative types and craftspeople.

In the years since she bought her house, Alice has become a great resource for other expats looking for that dream house in a bucolic location. She has the trust of locals including the real estate agents, city officials and property owners who can get shoppers into homes that aren’t open to everyone, including properties owned by the municipality.

Just in the past two years, we’ve chatted with her repeatedly, and the overall impression we get is of a burgeoning trend – artists, successful entrepreneurs, expats and a few speculators from The Valley snapping up undervalued homes in her regions.

The majority of those buying in her village of Bourmont are Dutch professionals. They’re acquiring houses and fixing them up mostly as vacation homes in a scenic area two hours from Luxembourg and Basel and three hours from Paris, Geneva and Lyon.

Because there are no hotels for 50 miles, many of the homes are being repurposed into Airbnb properties, Alice said.

While there are no 1 euro deals as in Italy, houses in the Bourmont area range from “spectacular” chateaus for 100,000 euros to 5,000 euro dirt-floor shacks. Alice’s role is as a consultant who can bring in the local craftsmen to do the work. The French-speaking American can also introduce you to her local French friends, who all have the same goal – transforming the town.

“We want to get the houses in the hands of people who want them.”

That runs counter to some of the neighbors, who prefer to see other French people come down from Paris to buy. But Alice sees outsiders and their dreams of owning a piece of paradise as vital to the revival of this authentic corner of France Profonde.

And that’s what’s powering the revival of forgotten villages. So we decided to pull together this list of villages, towns and hamlets where you might find that dream house.

The details

We can say without fear of contradiction that people rarely give anything of value away for free. 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 price, 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 and other countries are only now getting on the bandwagon.

Italy

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ollolai, Sardina

An island in the Med! CNN calls this “the most untouched and authentic patch of Sardinia.” Ah, the catch is, the sea is an hour’s drive from this village that’s up in the mountains dead in the center of Sardinia.

Ollolai has 200 stone houses up for sale for 1 euro, but they’re in poor condition, according to the CNN post. Per most of the deals like this, buyers have three years to restore them, projected to cost about $25,000. Which we know from personal experience could be a heck of a bargain.

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.

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.

Sambuca

This Sicilian town has probably sold more houses in the past year than any other in Italy, receiving 100,000 emails from foreigners interested in buying one of the first batch of 16 homes.

The terms are pretty standard: Newcomers taking 1 euro deals must spend 15,000 to renovate each home, along with 5,000 euros on deposit until those renovations are complete. 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.

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.

Spain

In remote Spain, there are an estimated 3,000 abandoned villages, with an average of one village per week joining their ranks, according the BBC and other media.

British expat Mark Adkinson founded Galacian Country Homes, which lists affordable properties (which is sort of a relative concept) across northern Spain starting at about 30,000 euros and going to well above 1 million euros.

In Spain, the approach is different than in Italy, with the trend toward selling entire villages. A group of friends bought a village, which they’re restoring with plans to resell some of the properties.

The New York Times has the best post – “Looking for a Place in the Sun? How About an Abandoned Spanish Village” – about the Spanish approach. And the options are unlimited.

From the NYTimes post:

The going rate for a ruined hamlet is now close to €100,000. If you’re feeling flush, an entire village of 75 homes, all abandoned during the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939, will set you back €425,000. For a couple of million, you could even purchase a medieval hilltop settlement with its own fortress.

That post includes references to both Galacian Country Homes and Aldeas Abandonadas Real Estate website, which has all sorts of listings ranging from broken-down hovels to fortresses.

Switzerland

Even the Swiss are getting in on this. Monti Sciaga, near the Italian border, is offering nine properties for 1 Swiss franc each. The good news … the buildings are all hooked to the town water supply, which isn’t always the case. And this mountain town has a lake view. The bad news? This is one of the most remote parts of Switzerland, which could also be the good news if you’re seeking peace and quiet.

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