After returning to her hometown of Camarata in Sicily, hit by Covid, 30-year-old architect Martina Giracello bought her first house in the ancient center. Or two houses, actually. She lives in one that costs 7,000 euros, with her friend Gianluca Militello, a freelance designer, and they are about to knock down the house next door, which costs 1,000 euros, to create a private balcony.
“It was affordable for us, and now we’re planning the renovation, which will cost us about 50,000 euros,” said Giracello, who studied architecture in the Sicilian capital Palermo and then lived in Spain and England before returning to the remote countryside of Cammarata. A few friends of the population of around 6,200 moved back at the same time and, like her, decided to stay permanently.
“People are now realizing how easy it is to live in small towns like this, where there are good train connections to big cities, where life is slower, cheaper and of a higher quality than in the city,” she said. “A good Internet connection does the rest . . . This way of living gives a lot more time to spend on personal projects, relationships and relaxation,” she added.
“Southern work” is the new buzzword for the movement from the northern cities of Italy to the isolated areas of the south. These are people who work remotely from anywhere – and include many Sicilians who have returned to the island since Vivid.
Cheap property is certainly an important driver. And if Giracello’s home buying seems cheap, one of her personal projects is to set up StreetTo, a not-for-profit organization that encourages overseas buyers to invest in even cheaper homes at home – in many cases, for as little as €1.
Cammarata is one of several towns in Sicily that joined the 1 euro (one euro houses) initiative, launched around 2010 by Gangi and Salemi. Since then, hundreds of privately owned homes have sold for over €1.
Maurizio Berti, founder of casea1euro.it, a website that offers advice on how to find and renovate these former village properties, thinks there are “tens of thousands of houses” in Sicily that could be part of this scheme.
“Because it is difficult to find living heirs of abandoned houses, it is impossible to know how much they will sell for. In the 1960s and 1970s, people went abroad or to Italian cities in search of work and never returned. Some may have died. some [descendants] Don’t realize you’ve inherited a house in Sicily.” says Bertie.
Other houses were left after the 1968 Sicilian earthquake, he said. “The owners were given the opportunity to rebuild in new parts of the city, so the old properties remained intact.” Nowadays, such houses are in small villages, sometimes with shops and restaurants, but maybe only bad roads and a bus twice a day, Berti said.
A typical €1 house will be around 50 square meters, with one or two rooms and small windows. “If you want to use it as a house, you have to buy two,” says Bertie. But these costs, naturally, are the tip of the iceberg: buyers spend from 400 to € 1,500 to renovate a square meter, most cities say that work will be done within three years after purchase.
Most discount-home buyers are foreigners who see the romance in the effort. “[The] The attitude of the Italians is ‘Why would I want to live where my grandfather lived 40 years ago?’ ” says Bertie.
Buyers from 18 nationalities have flocked to Mussomli, an ancient hill town of 11,000 residents in central Sicily, including many from the US, Australia and China, says Montreal-based project coordinator Olivia Lento, whose master’s thesis focuses on how Italian € 1 Houses help save cities from destruction.
The idea has become so popular that the BBC is to launch a new series in the UK. Italian workThis will see presenters Amanda Holden and Alan Carr renovate two €1 houses in Salemi and sell them for charity.
Among Musumeli’s new residents is Australian social media consultant Danny McCubbin. In the year He paid €1 for a villa in the city in late 2019, but plans to move there have been thwarted by Covid. Then the Italian government struggled to find a developer as they were all too busy working on the post-lockdown “super” green plan.
The initiative pays homeowners up to 110 percent of the cost of energy-efficient renovations, and has been criticized for spurring rate hikes and paying for fraudulent claims.
Last year, McCubbin presented in several press reports about the €1 plan, which he described as a great opportunity not to be missed. However, he eventually gave up because of the rising costs and the deteriorating condition of the house.
“I sold my house to the agency for €1 and bought a nice house with a view in the city for €8,000 and spent €5,000,” said McCubbin, who runs The Good Kitchen, a community kitchen. Vulnerable and elderly people in Mussolini.
“There aren’t many good €1 houses left here now, but many owners are selling houses that are livable and don’t require major renovations.”
The €1 scheme aside, buyer demand has increased significantly since the end of the Covid lockdowns in rural Sicily. Top real estate agent Engel & Völkers reports that sales in 2021 are 24 percent higher than in 2020. And in the first six months of this year, sales are up 20 percent over the same period in 2021.
The ancient cliff-top town of Taormina on Sicily’s east coast, and Ortigia, along the Sicilian mainland with prime properties in Syracuse, can cost as much as 3,000 euros per square meter, said Danilo Romolini of Romolini Immobilier. Overall, though, Sicilian house prices have fallen 3-4 percent since the outbreak began, with the market “flooded” by middle-class apartments, he said.
Overseas buyers now account for 60 percent of sales, according to Antonio Carnazza, a consultant at Engel & Vlkers’ private office in Sicily. They typically spend between €1mn-€1.5mn and are looking for “something with a fantastic sea view”, he said, close to the city of Catania for its nightlife and international airport. “There is less work here, but life is much better and cheaper if you can work remotely.”
Diletta Giorgolo, head of residential at Sotheby’s International Realty in Italy, describes Sicily’s “environmentally low-impact lifestyle” as a big draw for foreign buyers. Others see it as an investment opportunity – the biggest, most luxurious villas can rent for up to €30,000 a week, she says.
The demand from big-budget buyers may seem worlds apart from those looking for €1 houses, but most start house hunting in Sicily because they’ve heard of the scheme, says Carnazza. “It’s a good promotional tool for the island.”
Although these are old, some say villages that are “dying” because of their abandoned houses may be at the forefront, such as Salemi, which is “one of the most beautiful villages in Italy and has some precious properties,” Giorgolo said. She said she recently sold an eight-bedroom 16th-century town center property for €620,000.
McCubbin said the €1 house scheme was one of the “inspiring” things that drew him to Mussomy. “But once I moved here, I realized there was more to this beautiful place than cheap houses,” he said.
What can you buy? . .
Apartment, Salina, €220,000
One bedroom apartment in Malfa on the island of Salina off the north coast of Sicily. The property is on the first floor of a 19th century house with a shared garden, and has a terrace with sea views towards Stromboli. On the market with Savills.
Apartment, Palermo, €420,000
A two-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment in the heart of Palermo, the capital of Sicily. Spread over three floors of a former monastery, the property has been completely renovated and furnished with custom-made pieces, many of which are included in the sale price. Listed by Savills.
Baglio, San Pietro Clarenza, 1.85 million euros
18th century Radiation – A traditional Sicilian house built around a courtyard – at the foot of Mount Etna and 12 km north-west of Catania. The renovated home has 12 bedrooms, including four suites, a pool and gardens. Available through Sotheby’s International Realty Italy.
Since 2014, asking prices across Sicily have been on a fairly steep decline – although they are starting to bottom out. The average asking price in July was €1,120 per square meter, down 1 percent in July 2021, Immobiliare.it reports.
Sicily is the birthplace of Italy’s One Euro House program and has more €1 houses than anywhere else in the country, with 24 municipalities participating in Sicily.
Buyers using the €1 scheme must guarantee to start renovation work within a specified time frame (usually one year), pay all documentation fees and apply for the relevant building permit. The works must be completed within a certain period of time (usually three years).
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