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The Italian towns launching alternatives to one-euro homes

Though the number of Italian towns selling abandoned houses for a euro is still growing, some have found the scheme unworkable and are coming up with other ways of luring new residents.

The Italian towns launching alternatives to one-euro homes
Italy's one-euro home schemes aren't the only offers aimed at revitalizing rural villages. Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

Selling old homes for one euro is not an easy task. Even though many villages across Italy have successfully launched the scheme, there are others which have not fared so well.

This is mainly because the owners of abandoned houses were impossible to track down and the bureaucratic obstacles to dispose of the buildings proved huge. 

So, instead, they’ve come up with winning alternatives to lure new people and breathe new life into their depopulating communities.

The towns of Carrega Ligure in Piedmont, Latronico in Basilicata, Biccari in Puglia and Troina in Sicily have launched websites to showcase cheap, renovated homes, and have opened real estate agencies employing legal and technical experts to support interested buyers in contacting old owners who have abandoned their family homes.

“We attempted in 2014 to sell stone mountain cottages for one euro, but over the past decades the owners had all migrated beyond the Alps and we couldn’t get hold of them”, says Carrega Ligure mayor Luca Silvestri. “Also, the properties were divided among too many heirs which made things way too complicated.”

READ ALSO: The red flags to watch out for when buying an old house in Italy

“So we thought the best way was to help locals willing to offload their old homes by giving them an online platform, handled by village authorities, where they can either sell or rent the properties. Supply meets demand.” 

Occasionally some stunning villas and farms, in pristine areas, are also put up for auction to the highest bidder.  

Latronico and Biccari discovered that placing cheap homes on the market was a greater lure than trying to sell houses for one euro.

Both towns have now launched official websites where buyers can see photos, details, maps of available properties and even book a tour.

Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP

“Paradoxically, having given up on the €1 home project has turned out to be very successful,” says Latronico deputy mayor Vincenzo Castellano.  

“You need to push the owners to dispose of their old properties, if it’s just for one euro they won’t even bother. But if the price is higher, it’s an incentive”, 

Often, the one-euro scheme is just a bait to lure investors and revitalize the real estate market. 

Montieri, in Tuscany, initially advertised old houses for one euro but then placed them on the market starting at €20.000. 

Other spots have come up with appealing financial incentives to attract foreigners and reverse the dwindling population. 

The remote Alpine village of Locana, in Piedmont, recently offered to pay up to 9,000 euros over three years to families willing to move in and take up residency amid the snowy peaks and green valleys, as long as they have at least one child and a minimum yearly salary of 6,000 euros. 

READ ALSO: Italy heading for demographic ‘crisis’ as population set to shrink by a fifth

Meanwhile, the nearby town of Borgomezzavalle offers 1,000 euros for each newborn plus 2,000 euros to outsiders willing to start a business and register for VAT. 

Badia Polesine also offers each family willing to settle down a one-off €1,000 incentive. 

Several regions have implemented the so-called ‘residency income’, including Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Molise, based on paying families up to €30.000 for three years to move to live in a rural, mountain or offbeat village with less than 2.000 residents and packed with empty homes. 

Troina’s mayor Sebastiano Venezia even pays new owners to settle down for good: “If you buy a fully-renovated house in the town’s ancient district, and want to take up residency among us, the town hall will gift you up to 8,000 euros”. 

Also, home buyers in Troina won’t pay property and city services taxes for three years and are entitled to free kindergarten for their children and free school shuttle. Plus, there are ‘restyle bonuses’ of up to €20,000 available for ‘green’ renovations of old cheap homes.

READ ALSO:

In Cabella Ligure, a tiny village in Piedmont, buyers of cheap homes get tax breaks for renovations and get to pay lower property tax even if it’s their second home. 

Discounted rentals are another great alternative. In an attempt to attract newcomers, Santa Fiora in Tuscany pays digital nomads up to 50 percent of their rent, for up to €200 euros, for long-term stays of up to 6 months. 

Rentals in the village are quite low, in the range of €300-€500 monthly, so remote workers could end up paying as little as €150 per month.

“We have a brand new website where, along with details of available rentals, we’ve also put everything useful an outsider might need to live here and feel at home like a local: contacts of plumbers, babysitters, doctors, electricians and food delivery shops”, says mayor Federico Balocchi. 

The mayor however stresses that remote workers must show proof that they’ll actually be working, and not just holidaying under the Tuscan sun: “They need to forward to the Comune, by registered PEC email, a detailed plan of the project they’re working on, or a letter from their employer saying they’ll be working remotely for a while”. 

READ ALSO: Will Italy really pay you to move to its ‘smart working’ villages?

Foreigners who’d like to do business in Santa Fiora, for example by opening a B&B or restyling an old cottage into a hostel, could be granted up to €30.000. And there’s even a ‘baby bonus’ of up to €1,500 euros for each newborn.

Balocchi explains: “there are no visa requirements whatsoever for EU nationals, however for non-EU nationals visas are needed if they intend to work here.”

“They do not need the visa if they come for just three months as tourists and rent a house to look at the town, to get a feel for the village”, he says.

In fact, all foreign nationals are eligible to benefit from these schemes, as there are no restrictions or quotas based on nationalities or countries of origin

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PROPERTY

PROPERTY: Should you hire a renovation agency for your Italian home?

If you're renovating a home in Italy, will you need to pay a middleman to cut through the red tape and language barriers? Silvia Marchetti looks at the pros and cons.

PROPERTY: Should you hire a renovation agency for your Italian home?

The idea of snapping up a cheap, crumbling house in a picturesque Italian village may sound appealing – but doing so always comes with tedious paperwork and the hassle of renovation.

For this reason, a growing number of professional agencies have sprung up in Italy to cater to foreign buyers snapping up cheap homes amid the property frenzy.

In many of the Italian towns selling one-euro or cheap homes, there are now ‘restyle experts’ and agencies that offer renovation services handling everything that could become a nightmare: from dealing with the paperwork and fiscal issues to finding a notary for the deed, contracting an architect, surveyor, a building team and the right suppliers for the furniture.

They also handle the sometimes tricky task of reactivating utilities in properties that have been abandoned for decades.

I’ve travelled to many of these villages and looked at this side of the business, too. Hiring these ‘middle people’ comes with pros and cons, though the positive aspects can certainly outweigh the negatives – provided you’re careful to pick the right professionals. 

READ ALSO: Why Italians aren’t snatching up their country’s one-euro homes

These intermediaries are usually locals who have expertise in real estate and a good list of suppliers’ contacts. This allows them to deliver turnkey homes that were once just heaps of decaying rubble, sparing buyers time and money – particularly those living abroad, who then aren’t forced to fly over to Italy countless times a year to follow the work in progress.

I’ve met several buyers from abroad who purchased cheap homes sight unseen after merely looking at photos posted online by local authorities, but then had to book many expensive long-haul flights to hire the architect, get the paperwork done, and select the construction team (a few even got stuck here during Covid).

Thanks to their contacts the local agents can ensure fast-track renovations are completed within 2-4 months, which could prove very useful as the ‘superbonus’ frenzy in Italy has caused a builder shortage meaning many people renovating property now face long delays

Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP

Their all-inclusive commission usually starts at 5 percent of the total cost of a renovation, or at 2.500 euros per house independently from its cost and dimension. The fee also depends on the type of work being carried out, how tailored it is and whether there are any specific requirements, like installing an indoor elevator or having furniture pieces shipped from the mainland if it happens to be a Sicilian or Sardinian village. 

However, buyers must always be careful. It is highly recommended to make sure the local authorities know who these agents are and how reliable they are in delivering results.

Town halls can often suggest which local companies to contact, and this gives the renovation legitimacy in my view. In a small village, where everyone knows each other, when the town hall recommends an agency there’s always a certain degree of trust involved and agents know that their credibility is at stake (and also future commissions by more clients). 

Word of mouth among foreign buyers is a powerful tool; it can be positive or detrimental for the agency if a restyle isn’t done the right way, or with too many problems.

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

So it’s best to avoid agencies from another village, even if nearby, who come to you offering fast and super-cheap services, or local agencies that are not suggested by the mayor’s office. 

Then of course there can be other downsides, which largely depend on how ‘controlling’ and demanding the client is. 

For those not based in Italy full-time, the most important consideration is: how much can you trust these professionals to deliver what you expect, exactly how you want it, without having to be constantly on the ground? 

Photo by Philippe HUGUEN / AFP

Language can be a major obstacle. There are technical building terms that prove difficult to translate, and if the local agency doesn’t have English-speaking renovation professionals with a track record in following foreign clients it’s best to look for an intermediary with a greater language proficiency. 

I remember meeting an American couple once who got lost in translation with a village agent for days, and had to hire a translator just to hire the intermediary.

It’s always useful to ask for a ‘preventivo’ (quote) with VAT indication, considering roughly how much inflation could make the final cost go up. Buyers should also sign a contract with the exact timeframe of the works and delivery date of the new home, including penalties if there are delays on the part of the agency. 

READ ALSO:

But, even when there is complete trust, I think it is impossible to fully restyle an old home from a distance, contacting intermediaries by phone, emails, messages or video calls only. 

Details are key and there’s always something that could be misinterpreted. Buyers based overseas should still follow-up the renovation phases personally, perhaps with one or two flights per year to check all is going well and up to schedule.

Asking to see the costs so far undertaken midway through the restyle is useful to make sure there are no hidden costs or unexpected third parties involved – like buying the most expensive furniture or marble floor when not requested, or hiring a carpenter to build artisan beds.

While there is really no such thing as a hassle-free renovation, these agencies can ease the pressure and do most of the burdensome work – but buyers’ supervision will always be needed.

Read more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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