Italy's $1 homes might be dirt cheap, but they need a lot of work - take a look inside

Mussomeli €1 homesMussomeli €1 homesTom Murray / Business Insider

  • I recently traveled all the way to Sicily to visit three towns that have sold homes for as little as $1.
  • The housing scheme has been widely trialed throughout Italy as rural towns attempt to revitalize their communities and economies that have suffered at the hands of urbanization.
  • While a home in southern Europe for $1 may sound like a dream come true, there is obviously a catch.
  • Most of the $1 homes I visited in Sambuca, Mussomeli, and Cammarata were derelict and in dire need of repair.
  • However, I was struck by their historic charm and potential - especially once I saw one that had been completely renovated.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Over the past few months, you may have become aware of a certain phenomenon.

A plethora of Italian towns have adopted a scheme of selling abandoned homes off for 1 euro ($1).

Urbanization has led to the dwindling populations of provincial settlements as cities and their suburbs thrive and become overpopulated. As a result, some of Italy's most beautiful, historic small towns are dying out.

The $1 housing schemes are designed to combat that, and what success there has been so far has led to a proliferation of similar strategies being deployed across the country.

Read more: A picturesque Sicilian town succeeded in selling off its abandoned homes after auctions started at just $1

The schemes have received plenty of media coverage, and many of the towns have become inundated with offers from foreigners on their insanely cheap properties.

However, a home for $1 was always going to be too good to be true, and most of these properties are often in a dilapidated condition, requiring thousands of dollars in restoration and renovation to make them habitable again - let alone nice.

I recently traveled all the way to Sicily to visit three of the towns that have adopted the $1 home schemes - Sambuca, Mussomeli, and Cammarata - to see what foreign buyers are really getting themselves into.

Here's what they look like inside, and finally, once they're renovated.
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The first place I visited was Sambuca di Sicilia. After CNN first reported the historic town's scheme back in January, foreigners flocked to the region to see it for themselves. Deputy town mayor Giuseppe Cacioppo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the influx of foreign investment was "an invasion — but a positive one" after the town sold 16 properties at auction.

The first place I visited was Sambuca di Sicilia. After CNN first reported the historic town's scheme back in January, foreigners flocked to the region to see it for themselves. Deputy town mayor Giuseppe Cacioppo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the influx of foreign investment was "an invasion — but a positive one" after the town sold 16 properties at auction.

Read more: A picturesque Sicilian town succeeded in selling off its abandoned homes after auctions started at just $1

Giuseppe Cacioppo was my guide in Sambuca, and he showed me around many of the properties that were for sale, had been sold, or had already been renovated.

Giuseppe Cacioppo was my guide in Sambuca, and he showed me around many of the properties that were for sale, had been sold, or had already been renovated.

Here's the exterior of one of Sambuca's $1 properties.

Here's the exterior of one of Sambuca's $1 properties.

Many of the properties in town were covered in scaffolding.

Many of the properties in town were covered in scaffolding.

Sambuca is famous for its Arab history, and many of the $1 homes have incredible curved ceilings like the one below, which is typical of Islamic architecture.

Sambuca is famous for its Arab history, and many of the $1 homes have incredible curved ceilings like the one below, which is typical of Islamic architecture.

I was told that many of the homes had been abandoned after an earthquake in 1968, which killed 231 people in southwestern Sicily. Many people simply cashed in on their insurance, and built new, modern homes just down the road.

I was told that many of the homes had been abandoned after an earthquake in 1968, which killed 231 people in southwestern Sicily. Many people simply cashed in on their insurance, and built new, modern homes just down the road.

The interiors were bare, but the original masonry was an extremely attractive feature and there was no mess or graffiti inside like I would later find in other towns.

The interiors were bare, but the original masonry was an extremely attractive feature and there was no mess or graffiti inside like I would later find in other towns.

With a washing machine already installed, what more do you need?

With a washing machine already installed, what more do you need?

I hoped that the wooden beams weren't the only thing propping the roof up in this room.

I hoped that the wooden beams weren't the only thing propping the roof up in this room.

While in Sambuca, I also met Tamara and Gary Holm, an American couple who were putting an offer down on a property in the town. They were buying from a private owner, so the house wasn't a $1, but it was still very cheap and needed less work.

While in Sambuca, I also met Tamara and Gary Holm, an American couple who were putting an offer down on a property in the town. They were buying from a private owner, so the house wasn't a $1, but it was still very cheap and needed less work.

Inside, a few items from the previous owners had obviously been left behind, like this creepy portrait ...

Inside, a few items from the previous owners had obviously been left behind, like this creepy portrait ...

... Which Tamara said looked like her mother, and naturally grabbed a selfie.

... Which Tamara said looked like her mother, and naturally grabbed a selfie.

There was also some extremely dated storage and tableware.

There was also some extremely dated storage and tableware.

And a very pink bathroom.

And a very pink bathroom.

The real selling point of the property was the roof terrace, which boasted stunning views of the Sicilian countryside.

The real selling point of the property was the roof terrace, which boasted stunning views of the Sicilian countryside.

We agreed it would be the perfect spot to put a hot tub.

We agreed it would be the perfect spot to put a hot tub.

The next town I visited was Mussomeli, which is famous for its hilltop castle.

The next town I visited was Mussomeli, which is famous for its hilltop castle.

Mussomeli, like Sambuca, has a fascinating history and beautiful old buildings (many of them churches).

Mussomeli, like Sambuca, has a fascinating history and beautiful old buildings (many of them churches).

However, the $1 homes in Mussomeli had not been cleaned out in the same way that Sambuca's had, and there was a lot of abandoned, creepy furniture lying around in the homes that I visited.

However, the $1 homes in Mussomeli had not been cleaned out in the same way that Sambuca's had, and there was a lot of abandoned, creepy furniture lying around in the homes that I visited.

This room looked like the set of a horror film.

This room looked like the set of a horror film.

This home had already been adopted ... by a pigeon.

This home had already been adopted ... by a pigeon.

Another home already had somewhere to sleep — sort of ...

Another home already had somewhere to sleep — sort of ...

... And bathroom facilities.

... And bathroom facilities.

It would take a lot of work to restore this living room back to former glory.

It would take a lot of work to restore this living room back to former glory.

After seeing these dilapidated buildings, I got to visit a property that was in the process of renovation, and I was pretty blown away by the transformation.

After seeing these dilapidated buildings, I got to visit a property that was in the process of renovation, and I was pretty blown away by the transformation.

This home belonged to Belgian couple Bert Vanbellingen and Nina Smets, who had bought several properties in Mussomeli.

This home belonged to Belgian couple Bert Vanbellingen and Nina Smets, who had bought several properties in Mussomeli.

While renovations were very much still underway when I saw the property, the deck was shaping up nicely, and it was easy to see how it would become the perfect place to sit and eat dinner in the evenings, or entertain guests.

While renovations were very much still underway when I saw the property, the deck was shaping up nicely, and it was easy to see how it would become the perfect place to sit and eat dinner in the evenings, or entertain guests.

The views from the deck were nothing short of spectacular.

The views from the deck were nothing short of spectacular.

Below the deck was a perfect example of how these schemes would reinvigorate the towns' local economies, as a local man was cleaning rubble from around the new brickwork.

Below the deck was a perfect example of how these schemes would reinvigorate the towns' local economies, as a local man was cleaning rubble from around the new brickwork.

The last town I visited was Cammarata, which was just a few miles northwest of Mussomeli.

The last town I visited was Cammarata, which was just a few miles northwest of Mussomeli.

Cammarata's town councilors told me that many young people, especially with families, were deterred from living in the town because of the tiny, winding roads, which were nigh on impossible to get a car around. Instead, they lived in the neighboring San Giovanni Gemini.

Cammarata's town councilors told me that many young people, especially with families, were deterred from living in the town because of the tiny, winding roads, which were nigh on impossible to get a car around. Instead, they lived in the neighboring San Giovanni Gemini.

Like Mussomeli, Cammarata's $1 homes were full of miscellaneous garbage ...

Like Mussomeli, Cammarata's $1 homes were full of miscellaneous garbage ...

... And lewd graffiti.

... And lewd graffiti.

Some of the exteriors looked like they were about to collapse.

Some of the exteriors looked like they were about to collapse.

Lots of the buildings clearly needed a bit of TLC.

Lots of the buildings clearly needed a bit of TLC.

Back in Sambuca, I managed to see what a finished article looked like. This was one of the $1 homes that Cacioppo had helped renovate himself. That stone wall is all original masonry, it had just been given a new lease of life.

Back in Sambuca, I managed to see what a finished article looked like. This was one of the $1 homes that Cacioppo had helped renovate himself. That stone wall is all original masonry, it had just been given a new lease of life.

The kitchen wouldn't have looked out of place in a trendy, New York condo ...

The kitchen wouldn't have looked out of place in a trendy, New York condo ...

... nor would this seating area with beautiful modern artwork to admire.

... nor would this seating area with beautiful modern artwork to admire.

The first floor even boasted a balcony, which was ripe for covering in flower pots.

The first floor even boasted a balcony, which was ripe for covering in flower pots.

The pièce de résistance, though, was the terrace, which had a beautiful white fabric awning that billowed in the breeze.

The pièce de résistance, though, was the terrace, which had a beautiful white fabric awning that billowed in the breeze.

The view wasn't half bad.

The view wasn't half bad.

The property was a testament to the potential that the $1 homes held.

The property was a testament to the potential that the $1 homes held.

After visiting many of the $1 houses in person, I can honestly still say that despite the garbage, graffiti, and pigeons, most still seemed like a good bargain.

They may have been derelict, and in need of thousands of dollars in renovations, but the properties I visited had bags of historic charm.

Furthermore, all three of the towns I visited were delightful. The people were friendly, the food was delicious, and the weather was incredible — I barely saw a single cloud. The only criticism you could levy at them was just how quiet they are, but that is, after all, why these schemes are being tried in the first place.

However, I was told that in Sambuca, some residents were already learning English to begin operating walking tours, open gift shops, and run B&Bs.

With the media storm surrounding Italy's $1 homes, it won't be long before the towns will be full of Americans, Brits, Russians, and more. Some aren't far off already.

I sensed there was, probably for the first time in decades, a hum of optimism in Italy's ghost towns.

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