Expat Essentials

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

Sardinia

Like the rest of Italy, the island of Sardinia as lost population to more developed urban areas. Now Sardinia’s officials have set aside 45 million euros to help families purchase, or renovate, homes. That includes 15,000 euros in a forgivable grant if you stay. The catch is, the deal is only good for people in villages with 3,000 or fewer inhabitants.

A number of villages in northern Sardinia very near the coast already have 1 euro home projects. Projects that have gone very well.

Nulvi had a 1 euro deal, but the village is already out of houses, according to the municipal website. Same thing in Ollolai.

BOURMONT

In France, affordable properties bring 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.

Alice just posted about a phenomenon unique to the less popular parts of France – heirs who prefer new homes surrendering unwanted old inherited properties to the local municipalities. Of course, the municipalities don’t have resources to maintain, much less restore, these old houses, and are more than willing to offload them onto bargain property hunters. Because newcomers can help revive foundering villages. Alice 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.

See more posts here about Bourmont from Dispatches’ archives.

Japan

Vice and other news outlets have posts about Japan, which has a rapidly shrinking population, trying to reverse the rural-to-urban exodus. There are an estimated 10 million akiya, or abandoned houses, across Japan. Outside mega-cities such as Tokyo and Yokohama, much of Japan is empty. So since 2018, Japanese policymakers have been offering properties for next to nothing in an attempt to revive villages. They’re making available millions in renovation grants, as well as relaxing zoning restrictions and sometimes even giving away old buildings for free.

Otherwise, homes are going for the yen equivalent of about 500 euros. Here’s the weird thing about Japan – the country has more architects than any other. Why? Because the Japanese don’t really value old houses. They tend to tear them down and build something new.

Okay … here’s where ugly reality rears its head. Hardly anyone in Japan speaks anything other than Japanese. We know. We’ve been there. Outside of Tokyo and the big cities, the street signs – all like five of them – are in Kanji. Each prefecture has its own rules and requirements to get in on this deal, with many favoring young families who’ll stick around. But, getting a long-stay visa is not impossible, depending on your country of origin. If you love Japanese culture like my daughter, this could be your shot at immersion.

You can see a list of free homes here.

Also, check out the vid above for a super-detailed account of acquiring an abandoned house.

Finally, CNN has a new post, “How easy is it to buy and restore an aging countryside home in Japan?” that details the efforts of some Japanese partners to locate and restore an affordable home in rural an hour outside Tokyo. (Spoiler: It wasn’t all that easy.)

– Terry Boyd

Portugal

Unlike Italy or Spain, Portugal doesn’t have formal programs to sell abandoned houses and rejuvenate its empty villages, which are mostly in the center of the country. That said, you can buy a house and property in rural Portugal for pennies on the euro for what you’d pay anywhere in the Netherlands or other countries where population pressures are pushing up housing costs.

The least expensive houses in Portugal are in the municipality of Fornos de Algodres, in Guarda, where the median prices in 2021 did not exceed 169 euros per meter square. Compare that to Lisbon at about 3,500 euros per meter square, the Netherlands’ average per square meter rate of 7,000 euros, or even the United Kingdom, at 21,000 euros per meter square.

The least expensive villages and towns in Portugal include:

Fornos de Algodres – 169 euros per meter2

• Sernancelhe – 190 euros per meter2

Vila Flor – 201 euros per meter2

Vila Flor actually has a programs to attract new residents, entrepreneurs and investments, so check out their website.

Sardinia

Yes, Sardinia is part of Italy. But this island in the Mediterranean has its own language (Sardinian), culture and economy. It has some of the best beaches in Europe, and is the least populous regions of Italy.the Un

Montresta

Montresta, population 400, is a mountain village within a 30-minute drive of the beach at Bosa Marina. Some houses in the historical center of the village are up for sale, with the obligation to restore and revitalize them. 

You can see the available houses here on the municipality website.

You can see more details here along with snail-mail addresses and email address.

Montresta officials are happy to sell to families, people looking for second homes, arts organizations or investors looking for tourism opportunities.

Ollolai, Sardinia

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.

Spain

The big news is Spain is the National Network of Welcoming Villages, a network of about 30 villages trying to lure digital nomads with work spaces and high-speed Internet. And each village has a formal host for newbies. This is the first step in luring people to relocate permanently. This is a major non-profit initiative, so check out the details on the website. El Pais also has a good post about this.

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 outlets. 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.

Salto de Castro, in north-western Spain just came on the market in 2022. For 260,000 euros, the price of a small apartment in our HQ city of Eindhoven, you can buy the entire village. That includes 44 homes, a hotel, a church, a school, a municipal swimming pool and an abandoned civil guard barracks, according to the BBC.

The catch? This – like so many give-away deals – is in the middle of nowhere. On the border with Portugal in the province of Zamora, Salto de Castro is a three-hour drive west of Madrid.

You can see the details here on Idealista.

MORE SPANISH VILLAGES OFFERING CASH TO MOVE THERE

In 2021, Spanish officials started buying into what their Italian counterparts’ approach of luring people to empty villages by, well, waving the possibility of euros in front of them.

• Ponga in remote and mountainous northwest Spain (not too far from the ocean and at least one stunning national park) offers families 3,000 euros to help with the transition. Those families could get another 3,000 euros for each baby born in the town. You can email here for more info: [email protected]

Idealista has a fairly comprehensive list of the Spanish villages with some sort of initiative to attract people, specifically young families with children.

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.

The remote village of Albinen is offering the equivalent of $25,200 to move there, but you must be a Swiss citizen or married to one. And there are lots more caveats, which you can see here.

Website | + posts

Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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