What it’s really like to buy a house through Italy’s one euro homes scheme
“I’m leaving”, Rubia Daniels told her husband before her first-ever flight to Sicily, just three days after reading about €1 houses in Italy on CNN.
She was only half-joking; the bargain home scheme certainly sounded enticing enough to run away for.
Rubia decided she had to make the trip to Mussomeli, a small town 40 minutes from coastal Agrigento in the southwest of Italy’s biggest island, to see for herself if the promised deal – a slice of Sicily for the price of a gelato – was too good to be true.
Read more: Italy’s one euro houses: who can buy one and how does it work?
The California-based Brazilian, 49, contacted an estate agent at the start of 2019 to schedule a tour of the town’s abandoned properties that were on sale for the unbelievable price of just over €1 each. “When I went that first day, I was the only person on the tour. It was something completely new and I had this incredible catalogue of 150 houses to see,” she tells The Independent.
How it works
The Italy-wide “Case 1 Euro” initiative was launched in 2017 in a bid to reclaim derelict properties and attract investment and residents to breathe new life into poorly populated rural areas.
Increasing numbers of young people have been leaving the Italian countryside in favour of city life in recent years, forcing elderly relatives to leave vacant homes to the local authorities. Second-home owners often do this too, in order to avoid the taxes attached to owning a property in Italy.
These abandoned houses and buildings are then put on the market for the negligible sum of €1 – although there are usually strings attached to the purchase, which vary between destinations.
Conditions that buyers must abide by might include planning and completing the refurbishment of the property within a set timeframe, and committing to live there for a minimum length of time.
In Mussomeli, buyers must restore the exterior of the property to its original façade. However, the inside of the house is yours to do with as you choose. But time is of the essence: failure to renovate the shell of the house within three years results in a fine of €5,000.
Although the houses on offer cost almost nothing to purchase, buyers should be realistic about the amount of work and capital needed to renovate these often dilapidated buildings.
For example, Ms Daniels suggests ensuring you have around €20,000.
On the upside, a tax exemption ‘super bonus’ covers buyers for 110 per cent of qualifying building expenditures.
Sicily is the centre of the €1 homes scheme, with numerous towns and villages that have seen continual decline and depopulation opting in, but other destinations on the Italian mainland have also signed up. Emilia-Romagna, Abruzzo, Piedmont, Puglia and Campania are among the regions where the initiative is currently running.
What’s it like in practice?
Rubia ended up investing a total of €3.30 in three Sicilian properties as part of the municipality’s €1 homes scheme.
She urges others to do the same: “We need to investigate developing existing buildings versus continued expansion and devastating new builds. There are so many places in the world that need to be appreciated for what they are.”
As a worker in the renewable energy and roofing industry, Ms Daniels was not deterred by collapsed roofs. Instead, when scouting out potential properties, she prioritised “size, high ceilings, marble and location”, intending to repurpose original features.
The three houses required extensive work when Rubia received the keys and were far larger than renovation projects she had taken on before. “The homes were collapsed when I got them,” she says. But the properties were purchased with big plans in mind: “I’ve always wanted an art gallery of female artists, my son wants to open a restaurant and the third home I want to convert into a wellness centre.”
As it stands, one house is finished bar minor repairs to the roof. Her focus this year is on remodelling their primary home; “I estimate maybe two more months before we are done with it,” she says.
As for the locals, they’ve given the town’s new residents a reassuringly warm welcome.
“I come from a small town, so it felt like I had gone back home,” says Rubia, who currently spends three to four months a year in Mussomeli and intends to retire to Sicily. “The people are so welcoming and I fell in love with the town. With the wine, coffee and people, it was impossible not to.”
She believes Mussomeli’s residents are relieved to see development and cultural life being breathed back into the town of just 11,000 people.
Removing years of plaster in favour of the original limestone walls has been a process Rubia finds “fascinating”, and she’s excited that it’s “going to look like a little castle when you go inside, all stones and art.”
The initial process of buying the houses was “very easy and friendly”, according to Ms Daniels; local estate agents are “very engaged and do the best they can to guide the buyer. Going through the paperwork and the deed created no hiccups along the way.”
But the homes don’t work out so smoothly for everyone, as Australian expat Danny McCubbin found when he ended up selling his €1 home in Mussomeli just two years after purchasing it.
Pandemic delays, material price surges and a shortage of construction workers halted Mr McCubbin’s intention to open a community food project in his Sicilian investment. He instead forked out €8,000 on a more ‘premium’ property with greater structural stability, and advises prospective buyers to “bring a builder” for a structural evaluation to avoid the same fate.
Although prospective purchasers need a cash injection to refurbish their new home, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the amount needed to get on the traditional property ladder.
Property prices in the UK, for example, seem increasingly out of reach for the next generation; the average house deposit in London is £115,759, according to data from Halifax mortgage experts.
“Spending £30,000 in California, you couldn’t even buy a new car,” says Rubia. “It’s a very small investment for a property that can be anything you desire.”
She is now one of the scheme’s biggest advocates.
“People from all over the world are buying these houses and that is creating this diverse community of Koreans, Belgians, Argentinians, Brazilians and Chinese people that is fundamental to the global movement that is happening in that little town,” she says.
“I just wish people, particularly females, would take the opportunity to get a little place and enjoy the process, because it is fantastic.”