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PROPERTY

The cheap Italian properties buyers are choosing instead of one-euro homes

Everyone has heard about Italy’s one-euro homes offer, designed to breathe new life into abandoned towns and villages. But there’s another affordable option that many foreign buyers find more interesting.

A view over the rooftops in the town of Mussomeli, Sicily.
A view over the rooftops in the town of Mussomeli, Sicily. Photo: Case1euro.it

Dozens of towns across Italy are now offloading crumbling properties for just one euro, but a few spots have come up with a clever move which is proving more alluring. 

They’re selling old but cheap turnkey homes that are immediately livable – or at least, only in need of minor fixes.

The most successful towns so far have been Troina and Mussomeli in Sicily, the quaint isolated village of Carrega Ligure in Piedmont, and the town of Latronico in deep Basilicata. 

Local authorities in these areas have opened real estate offices and created online platforms advertising empty old homes on sale for as little as €4.000, most in great shape and some even with furniture. Catalogues have been drawn up to show newcomers what’s on the market. 

These places have also put a few dilapidated one euro properties up for sale, but local administrators say the demand for these has been much lower.

OPINION:

“It’s interesting to welcome visitors who initially want a one euro house but then, after taking a look at other available, more expensive properties, change their minds and snatch up a ready-to-occupy home”, Latronico’s deputy mayor Vincenzo Castellano tells The Local.

Castellano believes the appeal of the one-euro homes leis solely in their “advertisement-like lure”; the thought of buying a house for less than the cost of an espresso would excite anyone. 

But then, he says, interested buyers are taken aback by the many requirements and excessive bureaucracy the schemes entail.

These include completing restyle work within three years and paying a guarantee deposit of between €2,000 and €5,000 on top of the extra expense and hassle of giving it a thorough makeover. 

The front door of a one-euro house for sale in Mussomeli, Sicily. Photo: Case1euro.it

Such strict rules pushed American buyer Anne Procianos Cohen to opt instead for a €20,000 traditional dwelling in Latronico’s old district. Minor work needed included re-activating the utilities. 

“We wanted a place we could immediately live in,” she says. “It was the pure joy of buying a turnkey house, not a shell, through speedier procedures and knowing exactly that we wouldn’t be bearing any unpredictable costs with a massive renovation. We needed a high degree of certainty in our investment.”

Anne and her husband moved in the house even before finalizing the purchase deed, and spent one whole month in Latronico this summer. 

“We loved the great added value of directly experiencing how local people lived in these old homes,” she said.

READ ALSO: The parts of Italy where house prices keep rising despite the pandemic

“Had we bought a one euro property and totally changed it, the house would have lost its charm, character and practicality. You can see that our house has an intelligent design to it, we wanted to keep that even if it meant spending weeks trying to figure out how the window shutters worked.” 

Budget is key. Procianos notes that you’re never really getting a one euro home due to unpredictable renovation expenses, and that even the notary costs, ranging between €2,000 and €4,000, are equal to those paid for the sale of a turnkey property.

I always say, you get what you pay for, so with a one-euro house we were afraid we’d get a … one-euro house worth that exact amount in all ways, but then how much more to spend? If you decide to go down that road, you need more financial resources and flexibility than we have.”

Procianos advises others who are willing to buy a cheap turnkey home – or even a one euro one – to first take a deep dive into local village life and pick the location carefully.

It’s been crucial to them that Latronico has everything – from boutiques to pharmacies, while good hospitals are nearby.

Choosing an isolated village could be risky, she says, as often in Italy these tend to be totally empty, without even a bar or supermarket. 

An Australian visitor tours one-euro homes for sale in the town of Gangi, Sicily. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Castellano argues that while buyers of ready-to-occupy cheap dwellings don’t get to re-shape these from scratch like a blank canvas, as they could with a one euro house, they’re offered a wider choice of newer homes and know exactly what they’re getting into. They also get to meet the old owners to negotiate lower prices. 

UK-based Muhammad Ramzan snapped up a panoramic apartment in Mussomeli for just €4,500, in need of minimal fixes, after touring the whole town and seeing 22 properties ranging from one to 550.000 euros, including a rural villa with pool. 

Mussomeli’s town hall has set-up a multilingual task force of volunteers who show visitors what’s for sale and assist them.

“You have more options when you search for homes that are above one euro, and that’s crucial to keep in mind,” Ramzan says. “If you focus on just one crumbling property and then there’s a problem with it, you run out of alternatives and get stuck.”

“There was always something missing or wrong with all the other 21 properties I visited and scrutinized – one had a low roof, another small rooms and required a lot of structural work.” 

“I finally picked a house overlooking the castle because of the stunning view and sense of utter rural peacefulness. The minor fixes needed, mostly of extra design, I do those in my own time, at my own pace”, he explains.

He advised other buyers to “take things slowly, avoid rushing in to buying a house. It’s better to think twice than to grab a one euro home sight unseen, maybe even online, just because you think you’re getting a great bargain.”

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

What frightened Ramzan away from the one euro scheme in Mussomeli was the higher risk entailed, linked to meeting the restyle deadline or face losing the deposit guarantee, and how much he’d end up spending to fully renovate it. 

“If you invest just 4,500 euros in a cheap, immediately livable property that’s way less than doing a basic restyle of a one euro home. I also kept some of the original furniture”, he says.

The goal of most one-euro schemes in Italy is to breathe new life into dying rural communities, but Procianos thinks this can also be a negative point. 

“Revitalization projects are extraordinary, however, we’re not needed to make a town vital because Latronico is already vital, and that makes a huge difference to us. It’s close to the coast and beautiful cities like Matera, there’s a pristine scenery and popular thermal baths.”

“Everything is close at hand”.

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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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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