The home buyers searching for La Dolce Vita

Buying a home in another country to find your Dolce Vita

Ever tempted to escape it all by moving abroad? We look at what happened to some of the homeowners who did just that – by buying a home in rural Italy for just $1. It may seem too good to be true but in recent years several small towns in Sicily have been revitalizing their sleepy communities by enticing new residents with some staggeringly good value housing opportunities.

You really could own a new home and start a new life in rural Italy for the tiny sum of just over one euro or less than a pound! (Just be aware, that some areas have mandated minimum renovation costs attached to the properties, which could end up costing as much as £100,000.)

The deals have hit the headlines, resulting in a rush of home buyer enquiries. But who bought these properties and did their experience really end up being the dream they envisaged? Are they still living there and did the houses become money pits?

One of the home buyers taking the plunge by purchasing a property in Mussomeli, Sicily, was Morgane Guihot, originally from Nantes in France. Mussomeli is a beautiful town with narrow, old and cobbled streets that cluster around a citadel perched atop the hilltop.

Morgane intended the property to be her second family home, rather than a main residence. She and her husband began renovations straight away, as many of the deals in Italy stipulate that you have to invest in the property you buy. They wasted no time getting stuck straight in, and have almost finished renovating the 50 sq m home, after fixing the floors and painting throughout.

It helps that Morgane and her husband were already home renovators with an attention to detail, so they were able to complete much of the work themselves. “We just need to finish the bathroom. The 15 square-meter panoramic terrace is fabulous.”

The couple and their children will be using their two-roomed home in Italy for Christmas and summer holidays. Morgane says she was attracted to the property at such a low cost compared to her native France’s expensive property market.

“But what conquered us the first time we visited was the charm of the place. It’s super cute and locals are so welcoming,” she said. The family already lives in a fairly rural location in France, but say Mussomeli is even quieter and more idyllic.

“Even if it’s not such a big change for us, what makes it exciting is the great location,” Morgane said.  “Everyone has been real kind and the girls working at the real estate agency followed us every step of the way, helping us with the paperwork and the translation of the deed. It went better than expected. And even our home – we thought it would be in a worse shape. We’d do it over and over again. We’re still very young, who knows. For now, it will be our holiday house, that will give us plenty of time to properly learn Italian.”

It is not just dilapidated houses in this area that have a bargain price tag. Belgian businessman, Patrick Janssen, picked a ‘superior’ dwelling at a higher price that still ended up being a bargain. He has now almost completely refurbished the property after being lured by the media coverage and the possibility of a life changing move.

“I’ll be honest,” he said, “we didn’t buy a €1 house. We were shown something like twenty five old buildings, some badly in need of repair, so at the end we opted for a three-room decent building for €10,000 and I invested more money in the renovation.”

Patrick has five children and he hopes to enjoy his new home, leaving it to his children in the future. “In 20 years’ time, my children will have a house still in perfect shape. If something happens to me, they’ll have a good place where they can live and, while they grow up, they can come here with their friends.”

In the meantime, he wants to use the property as a holiday location where the whole family can spend several weeks or even months at a time with the possibility of it becoming his retirement home. Indeed, with its panoramic terrace overlooking the districts rooftops, quaint churches and historic streets, this may be an excellent choice.

The purchase of his property went fairly smoothly, even though Italy has something of a reputation for excessive regulation and red tape. Janssen said: “Actually, I was quite surprised in finding that buying and renovating a house is so much easier in Sicily than in Belgium.”

It is important to remember that some of these properties may be completely off grid, with no running water or electricity. They could also be in a complete state of disrepair, so if you are aiming to buy into the dream of living abroad, there will be lots of renovation and cost involved. Some will see this ‘blank canvas’ as beneficial, a property on which to put your own stamp and renovate any remaining historical features. Indeed, some of these buildings are two or three hundred years old, good news for those attracted to historic property.

Property transactions can largely be carried out online and over the phone, making the process less tricky than might be anticipated. You can acquire property blueprints and documentation, and download most of what you need, even down to applying for your new fiscal code to pay Italy’s property taxes. If you wish to ‘go the whole hog’ and apply for Italian citizenship in the future then this is also possible as an ultimate end goal.

The rejuvenation of these sleepy areas of Italy will bring more economic activity to the area, even if only for the short time that the new property owners are using their houses as second homes or holiday rentals. If they decide to retire in Italy and make the country their permanent home then the objective will be complete. No one can argue that some of these areas are truly beautiful and perhaps the dream isn’t quite as impossible as we once thought …

If you’re buying a property that needs rejuvenating, and aren’t planning to move away from England or Wales, an independent Chartered Surveyor will give you professional advice on your proposed property purchase. Ask a Property Surveying Chartered Surveyor for a full building survey which will give you sound advice that will let you plan the finances.