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PROPERTY

€1 homes offer causes property stampede in Sicilian village

Were you tempted by the recent news that a small town in Sicily is selling off houses for just a euro? If so, you weren’t the only one.

€1 homes offer causes property stampede in Sicilian village
An old house in Sicily. Photo: Zoe Guerrini/Flickr

Officials in the small hilltop town of Sambuca, Sicily, said they couldn’t believe the response after they put a few dozen properties up for sale for less than the price of a coffee.

The town announced last week that it is selling off old properties for €1 in hopes of saving the town from depopulation.

READ ALSO: Here are the houses you can buy for just €1 in a Sicilian village

Of course, there is a catch. Buyers will be required to sign up to spend upwards of €15,000 on renovating their new Sicilian homes, and to pay a security deposit of €5,000.

But that doesn’t seem to be putting people off.

Since the sale was reported by CNN’s travel channel and then international media, the deupty mayor said he can’t sleep and has been trying “not to go nuts” after reportedly receiving tens of thousands of emails and phone calls in just a few days.

Sambuca, Sicily. Photo: Comune di Sambuca di Sicilia.

If the interest so far is anything to go by, Sambuca might soon find the world on its doorstep.

Staff at the village’s town hall have had their English-language skills put to the test after a deluge of enquiries from the US and UK, as well as many other countries.

READ ALSO:  What's wrong with the Italian property market?

Enquiries are pouring in not just from tourists and would-be second home owners, but from businesspeople, too.

“A team of US lawyers, working for an American company interested in doing real estate business in Sambuca, wants to meet up with us,” the town’s deputy mayor, Giuseppe Cacopio, told CNN.

“A businessman from New York just called me, saying he's flying to Sicily tonight. And a very rich lady called from Dubai. She wouldn't say her name or who she works for,” he said. “She wants to buy all the dozens of €1 houses on sale.”

Prospective buyers have also contacted The Local Italy in apparent desperation after we reported the Sambuca offer on Friday.

“I need to know how I can buy one of these houses in Sicily,” wrote one reader from the US. “I need to move there right now!”

READ ALSO: Can you really spend three months living in the south of Italy for free?

Cacioppo said he was delighted by the global interest in his village – but said he won’t be able to satisfy everyone.

Perhaps though this huge amount of interest shouldn’t come as such a surprise

Sambuca is not the first town to use financial incentives in an attempt to breathe new life into an old village – or to be bombarded by international calls after doing so.

One mayor in Liguria had to beg people to stop calling after he suggested in a Facebook post that villages like his could offer a €2,000 bonus to people for relocating there.

after getting more than 17,000 phone calls he took down his post, saying “it was just an idea!”

In January 2018 the Sardinian town of Ollolai was inundated after it announced that it was selling 200 uninhabited houses for one euro in hopes of attracting new residents.

And the village of Gangi, Sicily, has had a one-euro homes offer in place since 2014.

Gangi, Sicily, has also offered one-Euro homes for sale. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

For those seriously interested in the idea of renovating one of Italy’s large number of unloved old houses, many of which are proving very difficult to sell, there’s no shortage of bargain-priced properties to be found across Italy.

More than half of Italy's small towns are destined to become deserted in the next few decades as their populations dwindle further.

Last week, another scheme to save a small Italian town was announced by Airbnb, which said that it is “sponsoring four people to move to the small village of Grottole for three months and experience authentic rural life in Italy.”

But rather than enjoying a free summer holiday, they'll be put to work revitalising the town's historical centre and showing visitors around.

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PROPERTY

‘It’s so frustrating’: My 25-year Italian property renovation nightmare

When US-based Davide Fionda embarked on renovating his mother's Italian property, he couldn't have imagined the obstacles and the timescale in store.

'It's so frustrating': My 25-year Italian property renovation nightmare

Building a home in Italy was almost inevitable for Davide, as he’s been visiting the same area in the Le Marche region, where his Italian-born mother grew up, since he was five years old.

Although he lives in Boston, US, and speaks with a charming East Coast twang, he’s also an Italian citizen and has long dreamed of having his own place to stay for the summer.

He began making this dream a reality back in 1997, when a barn that had been in his mother’s family for generations, in the village of Schito-Case Duca, was damaged by an earthquake.

“My mother, who had both her mother and sister in Italy, decided that it would be really nice for us to build our own new home instead of relying on family to host us each time we visit,” Davide said.

“The goal was simple. I would acquire the barn from my mom, renovate it and move in for the summers, as I’m a college teacher and can spend time in Italy,” he added.

“Simple” the goal may have been, but the project itself proved anything but, as Davide came up against unforeseen bureaucratic problems, legal hiccups and personal disappointments.

READ ALSO: The hidden costs of buying a home in Italy

As a former entrepreneur in his professional life, he said he’s “used to getting things done”, owning five companies and selling three.

But conquering Italian property renovation is his biggest challenge to date: “Never in my life have I had so many complications as I’ve had with this house,” he told us.

The earthquake-damaged barn. Photo: Davide Fionda

“In the beginning, I knew exactly what I needed and the costs to carry out the project. My mother was, and is still, living in the United States: the project started when she was approached by her godson, who is a geometra (civil engineer), to help her rebuild this barn.

“I started with what I could control. I sat down with an architect and we created a design. I did research on furniture and fixtures. But then the problems started,” Davide said.

His mother wanted a simple design: an open plan house with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the mountains, spanning two floors – a ground floor and a first floor for the bedrooms.

When they went to look at the progress in 2004, he said they were “horrified” at what they saw.

Instead of windows across the front as we asked for, with views of the spectacular Gran Sasso mountains, he took the entire view with two hallways for entering the property and for the bathroom. The bedrooms upstairs were unusable,” he added.

Davide describes himself as “not a typical Italian”, at two metres in height ,and says he always looks for suitable showers and beds when visiting Italy.

It was one of the reasons building his own home was so attractive, as he could custom-make it to fit his needs.

READ ALSO: What taxes do you need to pay if you own a second home in Italy?

But when they viewed the build, he discovered the first floor had ceilings of just one metre and 40 centimetres – not liveable for most people, never mind someone with Davide’s towering frame.

The results didn’t match the renovation plans that had been filed with the comune (town hall) – they wouldn’t have been approved otherwise, as Davide discovered Italian regulations deemed this height of ceiling in a bedroom uninhabitable.

He said he grew up with the geometra and knew him well, saying they were “best friends”. However, on raising the problems with him, Davide said the building professional “refused to fix the house”, adding, “he took my mother’s money and built a house with no bedrooms”.

He said his mother decided to stop construction after spending almost $100,000 on a house that they “could not live in”, adding that they “returned many times over the years to see the shell of the building that we thought we were going to call our home”.

READ ALSO: My Italian Home: How one ‘bargain basement’ renovation ended up costing over €300K

Faced with a stalled project and unsure what to do next, Davide tried to sell the property but got nowhere. He said the “market wasn’t right” for selling it, so he considered his options for fixing the botched renovations to date.

His Italian property project has been stalled for over two decades. Photo: Davide Fionda

Then, eventually, in January of this year he decided “he was sick of looking at it and it was time to act”.

He intended to use Italy’s Bonus ristrutturazioni (Renovation bonus), which allows homeowners to apply for a 50 percent tax reduction on carrying out renovation work.

On asking for professional opinions on whether the house qualified for this bonus, he said he asked five different people and got five different answers.

In the end, he discovered it was eligible and so he could, in theory, proceed with his latest plans.

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The aim is to create his mother’s original vision – an open plan space with huge windows overlooking the mountains and bedrooms on the first floor – but habitable this time.

Since the beginning of this year, however, Davide has been stuck and hasn’t made progress.

Setbacks have included trying to get a permit to renovate the house, which has proved difficult since the first geometra reportedly didn’t update the changes to the building.

This thorny issue goes back to exactly who owned the house, as Davide told us it had been sectioned off and parts of the house were owned by various members of the family.

The building headaches roll on for Davide. Photo by Martin Dalsgaard on Unsplash

“Italian law makes you want to rip your hair out,” he said.

Getting the deed in his name has been a huge obstacle in itself, as his mother wasn’t the sole owner and some parts of the land that belonged to her were never recorded.

It’s meant months of waiting while archives have been searched and deeds have been drawn up and transferred, made all the trickier by coordinating it all from thousands of miles away.

Plus, the house category was never changed to a residential one, listed previously as farmland and therefore illegal to live in.

It’s just more unexpected bureaucracy for a project that seems to have no end.

“It has been months and months of all these twists and turns, it’s so frustrating,” he told us.

“This has been a 25-year nightmare,” he added.

A partly restored, but unliveable barn for Davide now. Photo: Davaide Fionda.

Although Davide had originally planned to sort out the more practical parts of the project by the end of May, with a ticket booked to Italy to choose the windows, he’s still stuck in the paperwork part and can’t move forward.

Nothing has happened since January. Three or four times I said, ‘screw this’. But it’s not in my DNA to give up,” he said.

Although he has a strong will, the house has taken its toll on him.

Every time we go, this house stares us in the face and it’s upsetting. Family always ask us, ‘when are you going to finish the house?’ It’s a real source of heartache,” he told us.

From this point, he hopes the paperwork will be completed by August and then he can meet with the contractors to get the process started.

That in itself was a tall order, due to the construction demand and shortage of building companies Italy is currently experiencing.

READ ALSO:

It’s a problem made even more challenging by the fact that he’s based in the States and had to find a company that would apply for the credit for the bonus on his behalf.

Despite it all, he’s hopeful that he will get the house they dreamed of by next August and says he’s learned a lot about renovating property in Italy.

For other would-be home renovators, he advised people to “adjust their timeframe expectations” and expect “anything to do with land or real estate to take forever”.

So what is his secret for not giving up, despite the rollercoaster of events and emotions?

It seems he’s holding on to his vision of blissful summers in il bel paese.

“The beauty of Italy is to be, sit in a town square and have conversations,” he told us.

“It’s a beautiful thing.”

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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