How does it feel to buy one of the “one euro” Italian houses? Three buyers share their experience
Italy‘s super cheap homes have become legendary in recent years. The “Case 1 Euro” €1 house initiative launched in 2017, designed by public authorities to reverse the effects of depopulation in rural areas and repair abandoned buildings. As abandoned homes and apartments sold in tiny rural towns across the country, the idea of grabbing a little piece of Italy for the price of an espresso drew buyers from all over the world.
But while the allure of a house for one euro may seem tempting, the reality is much more expensive. Most properties for sale at this price need major renovations to make them habitable. Some are little more than four walls and a crumbling roof.
As a result, many buyers choose to pay more for a home that requires less work. By British or American standards, it’s still a bargain – it’s not uncommon to be able to buy and upgrade a property in a beautiful rural village for less than €50,000.
To discover the reality behind the €1 headlines, The Independent met with discount home buyers to hear their experiences.
“It was the same village where my family came from”
In 2019, Meredith Tabbone was already applying for Italian citizenship through her grandparents when she saw an article online describing a €1 ballot for homes in Sicily.
“I read the article and realized it was the same village my family was from,” says Meredith, from Chicago.
Within weeks, Mrs. Tabbone was the proud owner of a small two-story townhouse in Sambuca, a picturesque medieval hill town in western Sicily. Although she had visited Italy several times, she had never been to Sicily – but the luck of owning a house a few blocks from where her grandparents grew up far outweighed the risks.
While some Italian towns sell houses for €1, in Ms Tabbone’s case the process was slightly different. Bidding on this house only started at €1 through a silent auction, which it eventually won with a bid of €5,555. Even at this bargain price, there was serious work to be done.
“There were no windows, no running water, no electricity,” she explained three years later. “It was a house that was originally built in the 1600s.”
To tackle the major renovations, she set herself a budget of €35,000 and contacted a local architect via Instagram before her first visit to Sambuca in late 2019. Although they didn’t speak the same language, they got together. immediately connected on similar ideas, and he would go on to manage the whole project, which Ms Tabbone said saved him many headaches in the long run.
She has since bought the adjoining house, greatly exceeding her initial budget to renovate her €1 purchase. She plans to turn the properties into a dream second home and spend every third month in Sicily.
Despite the climbing fees, she doesn’t regret buying from Sambuca. “If I built this house in Chicago, it would be a $2 million+ house – but I can build it in Sambuca for $200,000.”
‘I just Googled “Where is the best place to invest in real estate?”‘
While the lure of a €1 property is incredibly tempting, it’s not for everyone. Some people prefer to pay a little more for houses that require a lot less work.
After receiving an inheritance from a relative, sisters Bradford Beckie, 40, and Laura Stephenson, 37, decided to invest their money in real estate.
“It was not enough to post a deposit on a property in London,” says Beckie. “So I started to consider buying overseas – I just Googled ‘Where is the best place to invest in real estate?’ and Sicily has arrived.
Further Google searches brought Beckie into contact with MyHouse, a real estate agency based in Cianciana, another pretty hilltop town in western Sicily. Another “one-euro city”, Cianciana has seen a moderate influx of foreign buyers in recent years thanks to its efforts to combat depopulation.
The sisters flew to Italy in late 2019 and spent the weekend touring properties. It didn’t take long to find the one they both liked – a two-storey house in the city center – and shortly after bidding for €9,000 it was theirs.
They pay a security deposit (half the bid) and fly to England, while the real estate agency takes care of the necessary checks. When they next visited in September 2020, they had a home in Italy.
“’Sign those papers, transfer the money and it’s yours.’ That was basically it,” Beckie says. “I remember we had to register for their equivalent of a national insurance number, which I did online – it took a few weeks.”
For the Stephensons, the process probably couldn’t have gone better, even though they purchased the property in the midst of a global pandemic. Beckie thinks buying the house at that time actually helped matters.
“I think there probably weren’t many people going through the same thing, so it all happened pretty quickly and smoothly,” she says.
Overall, the experience turned out to be incredibly positive for the pair. Only the renovations required a bit of patience as they became familiar with the local Italian deadlines. While the house was habitable when they bought it, it needed some work to bring it up to modern standards.
“The quality of work is exceptional. But you just have to get that time scale out of your mind. If you think something is going to take a month, it’s probably going to take six,” Beckie says.
“They welcomed us as part of the family”
Candice, 33, and Andy Beaumont, 39, from Hampshire, also found their dream property in Cianciana, Sicily, using the same estate agent as the Stephensons.
Although they paid more for the privilege at €35,000, they managed to afford a two-bedroom villa in the hills just outside town, with incredible views and 1.4 acres of land. adjoining land.
“The buying process wasn’t as stressful as in the UK, where you have to take out a £300,000 mortgage,” says Candice.
Because properties in Italy are so cheap, many people can afford to buy direct. Aside from the legal bureaucracy that comes with buying a house abroad (legal costs can reach €3,000), there is very little to delay the deal – if you have a good agent who speaks English, or a translator, that is.
Going through MyHouse, the Beaumonts found the process simple. After seeing a property they liked online, they flew out to see it for themselves before bidding. The whole process took about four months.
In fact, buying a car has so far proven to be the only major hurdle in their Italy adventure. “We can’t buy a car, and if we take a car from England it would have to be registered in Italy, but we can’t switch to Italian registration without being Italian residents,” Candice explains.
The issue of residency is one of the main headaches for Brits looking to buy in Italy. Although it does not hinder a purchase, buying a house in Italy does not allow Britons to reside since the UK left the EU.
On top of that, Brits can only spend 90 out of 180 days here, under the terms of the Brexit deal. As non-residents the additional council tax is also a factor, although Candice claims that even with the higher non-resident rate it is still around a quarter of what they pay in the UK .
As well as having a positive experience, the five buyers agree that the warm welcome they received in their little Italian idyll made the process all the more rewarding. For many of these towns, whether or not they are selling ultra-low-priced homes, the population is shrinking. The ability to have new residents for part of the year, or a steady flow of tourism, is seen as a huge boost to the local economy.
“Everyone is so friendly. We don’t speak Italian, but they are very accommodating. We have the most wonderful neighbors. They welcomed us as part of the family,” says Candice.