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PROPERTY

Taranto becomes the first city in Italy to sell off houses for one euro

The bargain homes offer is no longer just for remote Italian villages. Taranto has become the first city to offer houses for sale for one euro, as part of a bid to improve the city's image.

Taranto becomes the first city in Italy to sell off houses for one euro
The Castello Aragonese, a symbol of the city of Taranto in southern Italy. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Livioandronico2013

We’ve all heard about remote, under-inhabited Italian villages putting crumbling houses up for sale for the price of an espresso. 

In fact, the list of idyllic hilltop villages in rural Italy offering up bargain properties for sale for the symbolic price of one euro just keeps getting longer.

But if you’re looking for something less rural, the city of Taranto is now doing the same, as the local council plans to start selling off historic properties as part of a drive to improve the city’s image.

Officials hope the one euro homes offer will help breathe new life into the run-down historic area, which sits on a strip of land between the sea and a lagoon, or mare piccolo and mare grande.

“We’re aiming to take measures which will result in the repopulation and development of the old city,” council official Francesca Viggiano told Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, saying they’d already had inquiries from New York, Milan and Rome.

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The council said its goal is to bring 25 thousand inhabitants to the città vecchia, or old city, which had some 40,000 residents in the 19th century.

Taranto today is a city of around 200,000 people, but the historic centre’s population has now dwindled to less than 3,000.

The council said it plans to start by offering five properties up for sale at the symbolic price, and hopes to list more if these sell.

But not everyone thinks the offer of a home in Taranto’s old town is such an attractive one.

Il Corriere della Sera described Taranto’s città vecchia as “a set of narrow alleys with dangerous houses.”

Many people reportedly left the area due to the poor condition of the streets and buildings, particularly after 1975, when a building collapsed killing an entire family in the historic centre.

A beach in Taranto overlooked by the Ilva steelworks and Eni refinery. Photo: AFP

Today in Italy the city is synonymous with Ilva, the controversial, heavily-polluting steel plant.

There are plans to bring the Ilva steel works up to acceptable environmental standards by 2024 but it needs major investment by owners ArcelorMittal.

Despite health concerns, the plant is unlikely to be closed down as, along with the Eni refinery, it’s one of the main employers in a city with a chronic shortage of jobs

READ ALSO: The towering task of cleaning up Taranto’s toxic steel plant

But the one-euro homes offer is “the nucleus from which Taranto must be reborn,” Viggiano said, “we no longer want the city to be associated only with Ilva.”

And the Italian government has recently awarded Taranto 90 million euros for improvements to the historic centre, including to water and sewage infrastructure, as well as the reconstruction of the waterfront.

As with other one-euro house schemes, which have been a hit in smaller towns and villages across the country in recent years, the one-euro homes offer in Taranto will come with terms and conditions.

Houses sold for just €1 in Italy are often in need of serious renovation work. File photos: Municipality of Sambuca di Sicilia.

And the total costs of buying and renovating these properties will of course be far higher than one euro.

New owners will need to foot the bill for extensive restorations, which could run to hundreds of thousands of euros.

That’s without considering potential costs of taxes and fees associated with buying and owning property in Italy.

They will also be required to live in the properties, a condition designed to stop property speculators snapping them up and selling them on for a profit.

The homes in Taranto are expected be listed for sale in the coming days. 

Please note: The Local cannot help you apply to buy any of these houses. Please address all inquiries to the municipality of Taranto. But do let us know if you decide to make an offer!

 

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PROPERTY

PROPERTY: Why buyers need to watch out for Italy’s conservation rules

Old Italian homes featuring frescoes, loggias or ancient cellars are appealing, but such buildings are often protected by Italy’s cultural heritage authority - meaning lots of red tape for owners, as Silvia Marchetti explains.

PROPERTY: Why buyers need to watch out for Italy's conservation rules

Italy is dotted with gorgeous hilltop villages full of centuries-old homes for sale complete with characteristic features. But many people don’t realise that these buildings, even if they’re abandoned or decaying, often fall under restrictions (vincoli) enforced by Italy’s ‘art authorities’, known as the sovraintendenza belle arti.

Due to the artistic and historic value of these buildings, they’re considered a part of the national heritage. This is usually because they date back to medieval and Renaissance times, or because they feature frescoed walls, emblazoned vaults or entrance portals with coats of arms. 

READ ALSO: How to avoid hidden traps when buying an old property in Italy

Italy has the most UNESCO-listed cities in the world, and here these vincoli are even more binding. Many buildings in Rome have entrance portals sculpted by Renaissance masters which are ‘off-limits’ even if they’re in need of repair. 

It is a widespread way of protecting Italy’s heritage, and yet awareness of the risks buyers face if their property happens to be ‘supervised’ are often hidden, and are especially unknown to foreigners.

In almost every old rural village there are private houses and palazzos with ancient loggias, decorated ceilings and lavish stone columns, and even simple former farmers’ dwellings with ancient cellars, over which the art authorities have the final say on renovation work, even small upgrades like adding an extra room or pulling down a wall.

READ ALSO: Charming or boring – What do Italians think of life in the old town?

Giovanna Rosetta Fraire was forced to give up her dream of buying a portion of a two-floor 1700s building in the village of Civita Castellana, in Lazio, because it needed upgrades but the frescoed walls, ceilings, decorated fireplaces and elegant entrance were ‘vincolati’ (under restrictions).

“It was a historic building with an artistic value. The peeling façade needed a makeover but it was still the original color dating back centuries so we couldn’t paint over it,” she explains.

“The rusty wrought-iron balconies were made in the 18th century while the location was in the heart of the historical center, right in front of the Gothic cathedral, so any change to the building would have affected the scenery, too.”

Fraire only found out about these rules by chance, just before signing the purchase deed, thanks to a tip from a local resident.

According to Italian law, fixes to similar buildings of value need to be coordinated and approved by the sovrintendenza, which seldom allows any changes to the exterior and only minimal ones inside crumbled rooms, for instance those struck by an earthquake.

Usually the structure of a ‘vincolata’ building cannot be modified at all: walls cannot be pulled down, nor a room expanded or divided in two.

And when old homes are embedded within the fortified medieval walls or share a wall with a castle or fortress it is even more complicated. 

Civita Castellana. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

Cesidio Diciacca bought a former abbot’s lodgings dating from the 1700s, embedded within the rampart in the village of Picinisco, north of Naples, 

He contacted the local belle arti before restyling it to find out whether there were any restrictions, which is always the best thing to do. Unearthing an updated map of your property from the catasto (land registry) is also useful. 

“The belle arti stopped all external changes as we are in the centro storico,” he says. “The only external fix allowed was to remove the top level of the guard tower which was ugly and out of place, and we had issues also placing solar panels. 

“The whole of the centro storico of Picinisco and neighboring hill towns are protected in some way which is both good and bad as it prevents necessary work of modernisation.”

It should be a matter of striking the right balance between preservation and valorization of old properties, but this is rarely the case in Italy when art authorities are involved. 

Cesidio Diciacca’s house in Picinisco. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

Giovanna Rossi owns a tiny dwelling in the picturesque Tuscan village of Pitigliano, where old homes are cropped on a high plateau and carved from the tuff rock. 

Like most other villages in the area, Pitigliano has Etruscan roots and many dwellings come with pagan caves considered by authorities to be monuments of anthropological interest, a bit like Matera’s.

“I have this stunning underground canteen accessible from my kitchen but cannot change it in any way to make it habitable, it’s a pity. I just show it to friends and keep wine bottles in it,” she says. 

Even private gardens and patches of land, set within or close to ’archaic’ protected parks where Etruscan or Ancient Roman tombs and ruins have been unearthed, have archaeological vincoli and cannot be modified without the necessary green lights.

These are ‘vincolati’ by authorities unless there are specific geological permits which allow the construction of a swimming pool, a gazebo or tiny cottage, following land surveys proving the spot is clear of historic finds. 

That’s without mentioning that when a Roman sarcophagus or column pops out buried in your backyard, you must tell the belle arti at once or face fines, and potential seizure. 

Other European countries have similar rules, like Historic England’s listed buildings, but these seem to create restrictions to a lesser degree compared to Italy’s huge and sometimes cumbersome heritage.

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