Normally when people hear about European towns selling houses and even entire villages for symbolic prices — €1 — they’re not planning to move or change their lives but the offers are so intriguing that they wonder: ‘Why not’?
There are so many semi-abandoned small towns in Europe with local officials looking for creative ways to revitalize their populations and economies — and with plenty of empty small houses, villas and even palaces to offer — that the number of international real state agencies and house-hunters working in the “€1 real estate market” market has multiplied.
Television programs and digital media frequently run stories about those who decided to follow the lead and found their ‘dream home’ in a small hamlet with a great view of rolling pastures or not far from a sea or overlooking vineyards and olive groves in Italy, France, Spain and even Switzerland.
One well-publicized example is that of the actress Lorraine Bracco (Goodfellas, Sopranos) who bought a 200-year-old home in the Italian town of Sambuca di Sicilia, (one of the first to offer €1 deals), and made a television series (My Big Italian Adventure) about the renovation.
In the past three or four years Sambuca, with a population of 6,000 and promoted as one of the most beautiful towns in Italy, reportedly has sold dozens of houses and has many more on the market.
Airbnb enters the €1 market
Even Airbnb entered the Sambuca fad and has opened a competition offering a one-year rent-free deal to a person, couple or small family ready to live in and serve as hosts at a six-room townhouse in the center of the village — one of the €1 houses that has been beautifully renovated.
“Move to Sicily, live in a beautifully restored €1 townhouse and become an Airbnb Host,” the holiday-home rental giant offers.
The trend “has been going on since at least 2015, when entire Spanish villages started going on the market for less than the cost of a 1-bedroom apartment in London,” explains Dispatches Europe (which has a guide of properties on offer).
In 2016, CBS reported that “hundreds of years after an Italian bumped into America, Americans are now traveling to the tiny Italian village of Guardia Sanframondi, where they are snatching up houses for as little as $15,000 — and the locals are rolling out the welcome mat.”
There is even a book on how to buy a €1 house.
It’s still true that if you have the time and resources there are many new initiatives luring buyers for nominal figures in villages in Switzerland, Spain, Croatia and even Japan.
It’s also true that most are in deplorable state, often without plumbing or electricity or as Bracco said in an interview: “It was a s…hole that had to be totally renovated.”
With local help she did it, and explained that in the United States “you wouldn’t be able to do it without costing millions of dollars.”
There are also caveats around such ‘too-good-to-be-true’ deals: The potential buyers must agree to renovate the property within a certain time, usually three years, and live there. Otherwise, the house reverts back to the municipalities.
For more than €1
Italy has been in the lead offering creative alternatives to entice buyers and breathe new life into run-down towns. For years, according to official data, the country has registered one of Europe’s lowest birth rates and is on track to lose a full one-fifth of its population over the next 50 years.
One of the problems some mayors find when trying to implement the €1 program is that “the owners of abandoned houses were impossible to track down and the bureaucratic obstacles to dispose of the buildings proved huge,” The Local writes.
Some have come up with new schemes like the towns of Carrega Ligure in Piedmont, Latronico in Basilicata, Biccari in Puglia and Troina in Sicily that have launched websites to showcase cheap, renovated homes and have opened professional real estate agencies to help connect interested buyers with the owners of abandoned homes.
Those towns have found that placing cheap houses on the market was better than trying to sell them for €1. Montieri, in Tuscany, according to The Local, had initially advertised old houses for €1 but now markets them starting at €20.000.
Then there are other incentives: “The remote alpine village of Locana, in Piedmont, recently offered to pay up to €9,000 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,” the paper writes.
In the tiny Piedmont village of Cabella Ligure, buyers of cheap homes get tax breaks for renovations and get to pay lower property tax even if it’s their second home.
Other recent inventive inducements include offers of money to help families willing to settle or to start a new business.
High-speed internet for digital nomads
Now that Covid has nourished the tendency to work from home and from anywhere in the world, the most recent Italian initiative to revive decaying rural villages is to link them to high-speed internet and open the cheap real estate market to the growing numbers of digital nomads.
“The government has announced a billion-euro plan to promote the revitalizing of rural villages by facilitating the visas process to ‘remote workers seeking la dolce vita,’” according to Quartz.
“We have thousands of marvelous hamlets that these visas will be able to revive,” Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Culture, told London’s Times. “Now that people can work without being physically present in the offices, the isolation of these places is no longer a problem, but on the contrary, a charm factor.”
Just a few weeks ago, the government announced the introduction of a ‘digital nomad visa’ that was approved and signed into law as part of the new “decreto sostegni ter.”
With the one-year renewable visa for “highly qualified” remote workers planning to base themselves in the country, “Italy now looks set to join E.U. countries including Germany and Portugal in offering special visas allowing remote workers to move to Italy from outside the European Union,” The Local reports.
“The government has to work on a new bill to implement the law, defining all the procedures and details,” Five Star Movement parliamentarian Luca Carabetta, who promoted the digital nomad visa, told the paper.
“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 local contacts of plumbers, babysitters, doctors, electricians….” says Federico Balocchi, the mayor of Santa Fiora in Tuscany.
The city’s website promotes Santa Fiora as “uno dei Borghi piu belli d’Italia” (“one of the most beautiful villages in Italy”) and offers “properties, services and ultra-broadband infrastructure for smart working people at a hinterland that is synonymous with excellent quality of life.”
“Live in the village for a short time or forever!” the site invites.
One warning, though: Remote workers must prove that they will be working and not simply basking in the Tuscan sun.