For the determined buyer with a strong vision and good home improvement skills, the sale of crumbling Italian houses for the symbolic fee of one euro has been a gift. Others, for whom hanging a shelf is a stretch of their handyman skills, could only look on in envy.
That is, until now. Several villages are offering houses that are move-in ready. The price is a little higher, starting at €10,000 or $12,000, but that gets buyers a place you can call your own without having to worry about adding a new roof or walls.
Carrega Ligure in the northern Piedmont region and Latronico to the south, have created online platforms where buyers can view photos, maps and details of old or abandoned buildings on sale and get directly in touch with the owner.
The tiny mountain hamlet of Carrega Ligure, currently home to barely 90 residents, straddles the regions of Piedmont, Liguria and Emilia Romagna. It is selling extremely inexpensive homes that are ready to occupy, alongside partly renovated ones that are in need of a total restyling. Located in the Apennine Mountains at an altitude of 3,100 feet, the town extends for about 22 square miles scattered across 15 inhabited districts. Suffice it to say, the population density is low. In one of the districts, there are only two residents. Farming and shepherding families abandoned their houses long ago to emigrate abroad or to relocate in large cities. It offers great views, fresh air and pristine surroundings. The town does not have any bars, supermarkets, shops or restaurants. A car or other vehicle is essential to get around. Local councilor and former Mayor Marco Guerrini, says advertising private home sales on one website run by the town hall ensures the properties will reach a wider pool of buyers.
“We’re giving them an online space for visibility otherwise nobody would know where and how to find these abandoned homes,” said Guerrini.
Those who venture to the town will find a place frozen in time, where many old rural traditions live on. Locals speak a dialect that is close to Genoese. Mule tracks lead to a spectacular cliffhanging castle. In the Middle Ages, the village served as a strategic hub along the old salt route used by medieval traders. It was a crossroads of pilgrims, monks, traders and donkey herders. Old mills rise along pristine streams with canyons, green valleys and deep forests. Shepherds still work here, although arable farming has long since died off.
Emigration in the 1950s and 60s has nearly emptied the districts. Former local families return just on weekends or holidays to open up their family homes. Everyone in town either knows each other or is somehow related.
“All you’ll find here is a great place to detox and unplug, no pollution and spectacular scenery,” says Guerrini, who launched the online housing initiative to help his townsfolk.
A few years ago, Carrega had unsuccessfully attempted to sell dilapidated houses for one euro, but had to give up when old owners proved too hard to track down. They had either migrated or there were too many heirs to locate.
“We came up with this other approach when we were able to involve old owners and convince them to join forces to recover the urban landscape. The houses on sale are not crumbling; many are in good shape and owners are usually people who still live nearby, but no longer use their family home,” said the former Mayor.
The website to visit is www.comune.carregaligure.al.it/wordpress/category/annunci-immobiliari/ Interested buyers can email the town hall at [email protected] and officials will forward direct contacts. One ready-to-occupy stone villa selling for €14,000 has an area of 870 square feet divided over two floors and has been fully refurbished. The upper area is totally restyled with old terracotta floors and recently painted walls. The ground floor, featuring a wide cellar, is semi-renovated. Importantly, the home has electricity and running water.
Another multi-story old shepherd dwelling of 990 square feet costs €10,000, but requires some work, which according to Guerrini would be in the range of €20,000. He says buyers could explore new rules aimed at supporting sustainable investments. Guerrini guarantees very low local taxes.
“This house has thick stone walls, a huge cellar which used to be the stable, built-in closets, stoves and wooden ceilings. It is over 100 years old,” says owner Pino Ballestrasse. “It used to belong to my grandparents. The outer structure and walls are in good shape, unfortunately we no longer use it and it’s been empty for many years. We live in another house nearby and are happy to meet interested buyers and discuss a good deal.”
Guerrini and the owners stress that prices are negotiable, particularly if interested buyers drive up to the mountain village to take a look. He says the town hall has already helped a few visiting foreigners leave with keys to a new abode. “This move has proven to be successful. Old people who are attached to their properties and hometown prefer to be backed by local authorities in the sale procedures.”
Carrega comes to life in the summer when visitors flock to the town for stays or cozy lunches with locals. Specialty foods of the area include handmade ravioli, gnocchi, cheese, chestnut and mushroom soups and green pies with wild spinach and nettle.
Those who prefer southern Italy can opt for Latronico, a picturesque hilltop town in the Province of Potenza, Basilicata, where local authorities have launched the online platform “Your House in Latronico” www.casa.latronico.eu/en/ to help owners meet buyers. Rentals are also advertised. “Through this virtual window we want to match supply with demand,” says Deputy Mayor Vincenzo Castellano. “People can view and choose the property most suited to them. And it’s constantly being updated. Locals keep emigrating so more houses are regularly added.”
Latronico is facing a race against time to repopulate. It currently has 4,000 residents, but each year the population has been going down by about 70 people. “When the old people die the descendants of emigres don’t even return during summer; their family home lies abandoned, shut and decaying,” Castellano adds. “Water pipes burst, mold and dust pile up. It makes no sense to keep empty, dying properties as frozen assets, so we decided to involve old owners who showed interest in this project and are eager to cooperate in recovering the urban landscape.”
Average prices, which Castellano says are all negotiable, are in the €10,000 to €30,000 range, depending on the state of the property. Some are ready-to-occupy, others are partly renovated. To incentivize sales of dilapidated buildings, the town hall promises zero taxes for ten years for anyone investing €20,000 in repairs and renovation.
The surrounding region of Basilicata is perhaps Italy’s most off-the-beaten-track and under-the-radar areas. Many of its mountain villages are hidden treasures.
“We’re located inside the pristine Pollino National Park at 2700 feet of altitude,” says Castellano. “Forget smog and noise. The air is fresh and healthy and we even have thermal baths. Recent studies carried out in our territory have demonstrated pollution levels are practically down to zero. Plus, the popular seaside location of Maratea is close by.”
Trekking trails wind up to the three-peaked Monte Alpi, cutting across beeches and silver fir woods dotted with strawberry plants, mushrooms and blackberry bushes. The rocky hills feature fish fossils, primitive caves, canyons and old burial grounds once roamed by monks. The village is divided in two parts, the old upper district of Capadavutu, where most houses on sale are located and the lower newer Capabbasciu area. There are lavish stone and marble portals adorned with flower and animal decorations, elegant courtyards and palazzos and votive shrines hidden in alleys.
A cozy two-story, ready-to-occupy dwelling with panoramic views, wooden staircase, majolica tile floor and freshly painted walls, sells for €12,000. While a larger, totally restyled and refurbished little stone villa, with two entrances and a terrace overlooking the main piazza costs €32,000.